By Yetunde Arebi
Christmas turned out not so great for my friend’s daughter, Tolulope, after all. She’d departed Lagos for Ekiti state early Christmas Eve with Kunle, her husband of barely six months full of excitement, joy and expectations. Shola, her friend of several years and now sister-in-law had gone ahead of them to help them prepare all they would need to have a comfortable and enjoyable stay back at the village. It was Tolu’s second visit to her in-laws, the first had been a brief one day event to introduce her to his father and close family members, shortly before the wedding.
She had also met quite a number of them when they came to Lagos for the wedding. So, in a way, the Christmas trip was to say thank you to all of them for their support during the wedding. Saying thank you was even more important as Kunle’s mother, second wife of his father had died a few years back and so did not witness the wedding ceremonies, everything was performed on her behalf by the other wives in the family and her own family members. Besides, Kunle is like the apple of his father’s eyes since his older brother lives far away in America with his family.
Everything was going on fine and she was in fact, enjoying every moment of the visit, well, until about mid day Tuesday when she was summoned to a meeting by the women of the family. According to her story, the women sat in a circle and she was made to kneel down in the middle. Then, the eldest, Kunle’s aunt, a primary school teacher, whom he’d already described to her as a no nonsense woman, was unanimously ascribed the post of spokeswoman. She began by welcoming her to the family.
She told her that though she was also regarded as a daughter, but her primary role in the family was as a wife. That they had noticed that she had settled in well but it was necessary for them to point out certain things to her so that she will not offend anyone more than necessary.
They told Tolulope that they are aware that being a city girl and from a rich family, she has exposure different from that of village life but that she has to adjust to their own rules in the family if she wants to remain one of them. The woman said she had observed that Tolu was calling her husband by his name and this ought not to be so. She asked who is older between them and Tolu affirmed that Kunle is. Then, she continued. She said since Tolu was not present at Kunle’s naming ceremony and she is a wife, she ought not to call him by his name, especially in public, and never in their presence.
That she knows they are “alakowe”, (lettered people), but that does not mean that they should turn society upside down. That Tolu must desist from calling her husband by his name from that moment. That she must coin a pet name for him, different from even the love endearments they call each other. The sweetie and honey tags must be limited to their bedroom and not outside of it. She would call him the coined name until they have a child and thereafter will call him by his child’s name whenever they are among family members. That she has been disrespectful to them by boldly walking around and calling him by his name.
Still finding the whole drama amusing at that moment, Tolu said she thanked them and made to stand up only for one of them to order her down asking if she’d been given permission to stand up. She said she quickly apologised because the woman who shouted her down happened to be her friend, Shola’s mother. It was at that moment that she realised that she had landed in big trouble and became afraid. To make matters worse, her husband had gone into town with some of his cousins and was not expected back anytime soon.
Shoulder and head slumped now, she heard another voice addressing her. The woman told her that though they were aware of her relationship with Shade, but since she has now married her brother, the relationship has changed. She said Tolu can no longer address Shade by her name and must call her ‘aunty’ as she is now her iya-oko (mother-in-law).
That they have been watching her for the past two days, walking around without shame and calling everyone by their names. She said she was shocked and as she raised her head to look at them, she noticed that Shade had walked into the room and was busy fiddling with something on the table. Tolu said she expected her friend to come to her rescue but was surprised when she walked out of the room without a word.
Then, as if on a second thought, the women decided that she could give Shade a pet name because of the relationship they had prior to the wedding, otherwise, it was disrespectful of her to call anyone or any child born to the family before her arrival by their names. They asked if she was not aware that if it were in the olden days, no matter how small any of them may seem, God forbid that anything should happen to her husband, any of the young boys in the family could become her husband as is custom. On returning to her room, she must get a piece of paper, write a list of all the young in-laws and write their new pet name of her choice or theirs, next to the names.
At this point, Tolu said she began to cry and as if trying to justify their actions, they started telling her how things had changed from the time they got married and came to the family as young brides. They said it was their duty to point out to her how she was to behave as a member of the family and that she too will one day sit in their position to induct a new bride and advice her. They said she must have realised that Kunle is called Alakan, a name given to him as a child by one of the oldest wives and which have stuck, such that even some of the children now call him brother Alakan. When they eventually gave her permission to leave, she said she apologised for her mistakes and promised to be a better person.
My friend and I were shocked beyond words. “So, what did your friend and husband have to say about it”, I asked? Tolu said she has concluded that Shade is no longer her friend but simply her in-law, and would treat her as one from now on. She said Shade’s silence when she came in and saw what was happening, was a confirmation that she knew they had such a plan.
If she did not have the power to stop them, she had a duty to warn her ahead. After the drama, Shade also kept a safe distance from her and even when she refused to eat dinner and was packing for the trip back, she did not really try to make her feel better. But why would Shade do such a thing? Esprit de corps with her family members? Fear of being reprimanded by the women? Settling a score with her friend and putting her in her place? Desire for recognition and respect as a benefactor? And why her mother too? If anyone has benefited from the relationship, at least in the last one year, it was Shade and her mother. So why would they now turn to front-line opposition members?
“I hope you didn’t go there empty handed oh”, I asked, still puzzled as I was unable to make sense out of the whole story. But Tolu said they bought salt and onions which were distributed to all the women in the compound including neighbours. My friend said she also sent Ankara fabric to Shade’s mum. Perhaps it was not enough, I said. Maybe they were expecting something else, some of them having attended the lavish wedding ceremonies sponsored by Tolu’s parents in honour of their first daughter? “Well, if the women (Shade and her mum) did not perform up to expectation, what about Kunle”? Naturally, it caught him unawares and he was furious. But Tolu managed to calm him down since they had plans to leave early the next morning. Tolu’s mother also spoke to them after listening to her daughter’s ordeal, insisting they must pretend that all was well.
Now back in Lagos, the unanimous decision is that the couple stay as much as possible away from the village should they have to go, they would stay with Kunle’s maternal family members or lodge in a hotel in town. Shade has been elevated to the status of an aunt, though without her brother’s approval. Tolu’s mother is unperturbed as she believes they have more to gain from her daughter than she from them. But what is the fate of Kunle’s father who obviously is in the dark of the unwholesome treatment meted out to his young daughter-in-law? Now he has been denied regular visits and care from his promising son.
There is no doubt that women are builders of the home; custodian of culture, tradition and societal values. Through them life is preserved and a continuum ensured. Thus, women are in a way institutions in themselves, wielding much power. However, in playing their approved roles in society and family circles, many forget to do so with the fear of God in their hearts.
We often fail to correct with love. We forget to empathise with our fellow women. We forget how we felt when similar treatment was meted out to us, believing that if we went through an experience, then the next woman must suffer same fate. Not all the women in that gathering were illiterate, one of them was a senior primary school teacher and Shade’s mum is believed to have attended Modern School, surely, these must count for something. It is experiences such as Tolu and Kunle’s that drive away young city people from the villages, believing they might be attacked by some evil spiritual forces. Unfortunately, most fingers point at the women. As for Shade, I am yet to figure out her game!
Do have a wonderful weekend!!
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