Ituen (Sacred Instinct, 2007) defends the rights of Nigerian women in a tale of two friends.
It isn’t easy to be a woman in Maketa, a tiny village in Akwa Ibom, Nigeria’s booming oil coast. In fact, it’s infantilizing, degrading, and threatening. Girls are subject to female genital mutilation and routinely assaulted; women are forced into unhappy, often polygamous marriages. Female lawbreakers must suffer a “Public Humiliation,” where “people would sneer, jeer and throw mud at her, and eggs if they could afford the waste.” In this novel, readers meet Hanatu Samson and Teresa Etebio, a pair of friends in their early 20s who face daunting odds and agonizing choices. Hanatu has been promised to a wealthy older man, one who showers her family with gifts and looks to be Hanatu’s best chance at a formal education. If she declines his offer, where will she turn when her family requires money or when she needs to secure powerful protection for the endangered girls of her village? Meanwhile, Teresa suffers life as the younger wife of a Shell Oil employee, one who treats her “like a tramp, to be used only when it suited him.” She wakes in the night to find her mother-in-law, Bimbo, attempting to drug her, numb her, and circumcise her. Moreover, Bimbo aims to circumcise Teresa’s child, too. The travails of both women are narrated feelingly, but also, at times, playfully. Hanatu is charmed by her family and her new suitor as often as she’s outraged about “the culture of silence over child abuse” in her country, and Teresa also shares secret joys—joys that connect her even closer to Hanatu. It’s a tribute to Ituen’s storytelling bravado that out of dispiriting elements, she’s able to create a moving narrative that embraces hard truths but ultimately emerges hopeful, even joyous. What might have been a despairing tale is instead winning and also serves as a warning.
Comedy and tragedy evocatively play out in an African village.