Title: The Bride Price
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Publisher: African Writers Series (Heinemann)
Publication Date: First published by Allison and Busby in 1976. This edition published in 1995
Reason for reading: For my African reads and also on my TBR
‘Always remember that you are mine’, says Aku-nna’s father before he dies. But as Aku-nna approaches womanhood her ambitious uncle makes plans to marry her off for a high bride price. Caught in a web of tradition, lust and greed, Aku-nna falls for the one young man she is forbidden to love.
As with the Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta is concerned with the effect of the second World War on families of post-colonial Nigeria, particularly the Igbo people. Fighting in a war that has nothing to do with his country, Aku-nna’s father dies of a leg injury he sustains while in combat. The family suffers when their only source of income is no more and they have to re-locate to the village of Ibuza. Here, Aku-nna, her mother Ma Blackie and younger brother Nna-ando all come under the heavy-handed and often sly protection of her uncle Okonkwo who nurses the ambition of marrying Aku-nna off for a handsome bride-price.
Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price covers many themes from bride price to tradition and the caste system in Nigeria. Aku-nna’s lover and later husband Chike, is a slave born to slave parents and therefore she is forbidden to marry him. But Chike wins her with his kindness, deep love and concern for her well-being. For a teenage girl who is fatherless and whose guardian is only interested in marrying her off to the highest bidder, whose mother is now married to her brother-in-law and therefore has minimal interest in her daughter, Chike’s attentions are more than welcome. Perhaps, being an outcast, he finds much in common with the lonely and impressionable teen.
The Financial Times dubs the The Bride Price a classic love story and I couldn’t agree more. But beyond the love story, lies the compelling story of young, intelligent, passionate, courageous and determined girl, bent on defying the traditions of her people, which sought to keep her chained to a mediocre present, and a future of nothingness. Aku-nna’ rises above her situation and becomes a teacher. She marries her lover, Chike. But is she able to live happily ever after?
Again, Emecheta’s novel seem to illustrates how cultural norms imprison women, in particular for we have cultural beliefs triumphing in the end. Are these in themselves bad, for people are identified and defined by their very traditions and belief systems. However (and the onus is on however), traditions that are detrimental to the well-being of women, that places barriers to the development of women ought to be done away with.
The author does offer some hope though that, someday, these barriers will be broken. Me thinks these barriers have taken too long in breaking.
The Bride Price is powerfully and poignantly written, compelling and passionate. I must say that I did not like how the story ended, though I empathized so much with Aku-nna and her lover and wanted them to soar above all their predicaments. But I guess scientific reasons could convincingly explain Aku-nna’s unfortunate demise and make nonsense of the superstition surrounding her death.
I recommend The Bride Price to all lovers of African literature and all those who love to read romance, particularly in an African setting.