October 27, 2018

Re: Life in family slave camps

By Yetunde Arebi


An integral part of the African family setting is the extended family practice. Hardly will you find a Nigerian home without an extended family member resident as some point. Many have them living with them permanently.


These people are either from the wife’s side of the family or the husband’s. Each side, usually comes with a sense of entitlement and justification for their presence in the home.

While it is not clear which of the sides take more advantage of the blood ties to claim right of access to the home, the cultural and traditional privileges accorded to men by society often earns the husband’s family more justification and claim to the house. The argument is that the man is the spiritual and physical head of the family and he (sometimes alone) finances the smooth running of the house.

The house is therefore his and his family must be given the due recognition and respect. The traditional role and place of the wife is evidently emphasised here and she is expected to kowtow if she wants to enjoy her marriage and relationship with her in-laws.

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However, those who pooh pooh this stand believes that though the wife is the second-in-command, she is firmly in charge of the running of the house and whatever she wants goes. You will only be able to stay and in fact, enjoy your stay if she wants you to. The fact that she has her husband’s ears and balls also means that she can manipulate things to her favour if she does not like you or want you around. It is based on this premise that the writer of the contribution I will be sharing with you today wrote. She wrote in response to an article titled same as above, which featured the experiences of a young lady living with her brother-in-law (older sister’s husband).  Simply called Sister G because of the nature of the sensitive information contained in the article, she narrated how her rich brother-in-law treats her and the rest of her family with disdain, shows great disrespect to their mother and never offers them a helping hand even though they are aware he can afford it.

Buttressing her position with various harrowing events in her sister’s home and how the guy often verbally abuses their family, she expressed dismay at how their loving mother ignores him and takes everything in her stride, insisting that they must endure the hardship in order to safeguard their sister’s marriage.

The first to break off from what she described as a slave camp, Sister G was able to complete her university education, left home for the Youth Service and never returned to her sister’s home. She said she had to share her story to prove to all that there is no permanent condition in life and that people must show kindness at all times. Reacting to Sister G’s article, Becky, directs her focus on wives and their reluctance to accept their husband’s relatives as theirs. She cites to different but similar examples with the wives of her brothers. Enjoy reading:

Dear Yetunde,

I READ your article about living with relatives and the associated problems. l want to say  here that, much as the in-laws (husband’s family)have their faults, the greater faults are that of the wives. After my school certificate exams, I went to stay with my brother and his wife. When I was going, my mother gave me some foodstuffs for them, which I delivered. My brother was then working in an oil company at a distant city and he was always a week on duty and a week off duty.

While he’s away, my brother’s wife will pack all the foodstuffs in the house to her room. Every morning, she would call my cousins or I to prepare pap and take it without anything. She will either buy Akara (bean balls) or Moimmoin (bean cake) to go with her own. On coming home in the afternoon, she may buy pounded yam or make Amala for lunch, while asking us to soak Garri and drink. Her excuse was always that we would eat good food in the evening. And what is the good food? Eba maybe, or Beans.

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She sleeps while we sweep the whole house, wash her son’s clothes and fetch water because they had no well or tap water in the house then. My cousin even washes her clothes. I couldn’t swallow my pride to do that anyway. Despite all that we did in the house, she would never permit my cousin to touch her things. She even went to the extent of calling my cousin abusive names because after washing her clothes and that of the kid, she (my cousin) used the remaining soap to wash her own clothes. One day, I couldn’t stand the insults any longer. So I had to defend my cousin, more so that my cousin is older than me. But for the grace of God, I could have beaten her up as my brother was not around.

Then one day, my brother heard all the atrocities she’d  been committing. As usual, she brought out a tuber of yam that we should cook and pound which we did. After wards, she dished out our portions as if we were both six or seven year old kids. I was 20 at the time while my cousin was 21. She made her regular statement “If it’s not enough for you, make eba and eat”. I refused to eat anything and when my brother asked me why, I told him that the portion given to us was not enough for me not to talk of the two of us.

He said “but you cooked it, you should have known  that it would not be enough, or what were you thinking? That day, I told him everything. He tried to settle it but the wife had done too many things for me to make friends with her. More so that she did not change. Tell me, if you were the mother-in-law and your son’s wife behaves that way to your daughter, will you be happy?

The mistake most wives make is seeing the husband’s family as a threat, instead of accepting each person as they are with love. His sister as her sister, his mother as her own mother and so on.

My immediate elder brother’s wife is another character. Though in her own case, she can greet from now till tomorrow, but even if you are spending a day, she might just come and say “ sister I cooked beans but I know you don’t eat it” or sister, there is yam, but nothing to eat it with”. The day I really got her idea was when I slept in the house.

The next day she said, “sister will-you take pap?” I said it’s alright, only for her to call a pap hawker and asked  me to come and buy it with my money. I told her I thought she had prepared it that she shouldn’t worry as I will go and eat in the Campus. (They lived close to my University so I was always going there for short stay over).

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On another occasion, there was no water on the Campus, so I went to a friend’s house to get some water and stayed over for some time to play with her child (my niece). Only for my brother’s wife to come and meet me there just as we were about going out. She said, “sister, we have yam (she brought the half tuber out) but there is nothing to eat it with”. I told  her not to worry. When she left, my friend asked me if her mother and two of her younger ones staying with us would not eat that morning. If they will, with what would they eat their own yam? I had no answer but I only told her I wasn’t surprised.

This particular brother is my half brother and his own mother is dead. If she were to be alive, I believe that my brother’s wife will behave to her in the same manner she has been doing to us. It is not as if I don’t have sisters-in-law that are good. My eldest brother’s wife treats all of us as if we are her own blood relations. Even when my brother is hard-up financially, she will prepare food and we will all share it like that. That was my explanation to my other brother that I had a face-off with.  It is not as if I don’t understand there are hard times, but I don’t understand where one person eats while others starve. Or one arm of the family eats and enjoy their stay while the others and treated shabbily and forced to leave in anger.

Where I come from, my mother used to buy the same things for her children and her house helps. So, even if my brothers’ wives take us as house helps, I do not expect such maltreatment especially when they will not do the same thing to members of their own families.

You can imagine that some girls pray not to have mothers-in-law or marry the first born son of a family, while forgetting that if they have brothers, the fiancé’s too may be saying the same prayers.

Becky by email

Do have a wonderful weekend!!