“The Concubine” by Elechi Amadi, Book Review

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In the Concubine, Elechi Amadi tells us (his readers) a rather eye-opening and compelling story.
He opens the novel with this axiom:


“The Thunder-god feasts in his grove,
Then naps ‘twixt rainbows up above;
But justice suffers here below,
And we know not which way to go.”


As though to prepare his readers for an encounter with the gods, the supernatural, and the extraordinary, as it is mingled with the everyday affairs of the Igbo people. The Igbo community (at the time) which he naturally sets this story in, seems to expect divine interference in their everyday life as a rather normal cause of events. As they go about their day-to-day activities, in this book, Elechi Amadi lets us accompany them (through our mind’s eye), as the men go to check their traps in the forest, as they all go to work on their farms, as they sit in the reception halls of their homes, as the wives cook in their kitchens, as friends visit each other to gossip, as the whole village (both young and old) gather occasionally to sing and dance together, as they go to marry wives, as they discuss quarrels that involve beating of their wives, as they go to bed on their bamboo beds and mats, as they embrace, shun, and struggle with death, the whole time we are there with them through Elechi Amadi’s penmanship, we become a part of their
community.

Ihuoma, a very fine woman both in spirit and in person, turns out to be Amadi’s main character in this novel. A very beautiful well behaved simple woman, who also turns out to be something we all (including herself) struggle to grapple with in the end. Do all the men, women, children, and things linked to her life rise and fall because of her, or does she rise and fall because of them. This is a conundrum Elechi Amadi poses to his readership as well as his characters in this book.

Amadi naturally explores philosophical as well as spiritual phenomena present within the Igbo worldview with this book, such as; the polarity of existence which layers our universe – Oke and Nne (Nwunei), what many would simplify as the masculine and feminine; yin and yang; opposing yet balancing factors. He casually makes reference to this in his description of the drums in his storytelling. He also highlights the abominable perception suicide takes within the Igbo culture, the roles Dibịa play within the community, the hand of divine justice – Ofo na Ogu in the society, the application of body art (uli) with indigo, the idea of reincarnation and the personhood of Agwụ as something people contest with. Basically, the author touches on various cultural as well as spiritual realities of Ndị Igbo (the Igbo people) in his novel.

Elechi Amadi executes a poetic as well as proverbial use of language and metaphors in his writing of the Concubine, as though to illustrate that he too is very much influenced and an adept of the culture he writes about. The Concubine as a novel is definitely a good capture of what an Igbo community would look like pre-colonialism.

More Men Will Go

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By Odimegwu Onwumere

His jaded stances raised more questions than there were straightforward answers. He placed his hands on his jaws. His nonverbal cues indicated that he was concerned about something. There were almost twenty males in the kai-kai shop as Njoku drank.

In five minutes, Njoku downed three glasses of the drink, pulping his eyes and clearing his throat loudly because it was very hot. With each glass Njoku sipped, he murmured: Men’s traditional masculinity is being dragged into the sea of gender parity.

It was not usual for working-class men to gather at the neighborhood gin store, a place that was known for charlatans, as early as five in the morning and drink themselves insane. But they had to gather after the community radio made the announcement. It was a troubling announcement for the men. The men gazed into the thin air while seated, as if they were looking for answers to what had befallen them when Uwandu walked into the shop.

There were many voices supporting Njoku’s, saying, My wife, my wife. None of them really wanted to talk about what was going on with their spouses, but they unanimously knew the fate they each shared in the hands of their wives.

“I escaped from the grip of my wife!” Uwandu said, and gasped. “Since the new law was established, I have been her punching bag.”

They knew Uwandu as a loquacious man; hence they looked at him but didn’t bother to show him poignant support. They were all in on this. A man at the edge of the wooden bench shifted for him to sit down. Uwandu was really upset, but after gulping down two glasses of kai-kai in less than two minutes and hitting his chest, he sat down.

Not only was Uwandu loquacious among the men, many men were like that since they hadn’t much that occupied them, so they spent their strength talking about something that was reserved for women. Njoku thought that the part in which men in the Nuella Community could formerly fulfill their familial responsibilities without losing their identity was constrained by the new legislative agenda, which was announced by the community radio. Other men were yet to comprehend the reality of the programme of the local council, which was painstakingly designed to highlight the role of women in their culture, had been expertly inaugurated.

Uwandu said that the women suddenly began behaving suspiciously around their husbands. The radio said about 2,000 men have experienced severe domestic abuse at the hands of their wives in the past few months. As a result of the law’s increased protection of women from men, women have become more autonomous, and the cutting wit was that they attack their husbands at the slightest provocation. Njoku was too worried that it had become an escalating phenomenon in the bud.

The voices of men who were being increasingly beaten by their spouses could be heard in the neighbourhood from the gin shop. The men at the bar found it hard to believe. The women were afraid to come into the bar and beat up the men because they knew that no one was in their right senses. The men believed the nascent scenario to be fiction rather than the truth. But it was true that the new law had taken place and their wives weren’t giving a hoot about what their husbands were going through.

Their male children were not safe, either. The women scolded them anytime they talked about the fate that had come to their fathers. The women preferred their daughters to their male children since the law was against male children, which were once held in high esteem. The men were in a total mess, a dungeon of a sort. Moreover, the women would return from the day’s transactions and would not care if there was food for their husbands or not. This had moved the men to stop eating food cooked by their wives in protest of the overbearing new law empowering women.

Njoku was in charge of the boycott, which sought to highlight the extent to which women were abusing their husbands at home. The girls were not excused from exhibiting the new power their mothers wielded. They frequently pushed the boys to the wall. A man who assaulted his wife received a seven-year prison term including hard labour. The boys would be beaten by council members in the town square should they beat any girl. Everyone in the town was a dissident. There was unrest, yet women benefited from the disorder.

What bothered Njoku and his squad the most was the council’s failure to take home hostility toward men seriously. Even their wives, who used to respect them, were not affected emotionally when the men did not eat their food. The women only come around the gin bar to engage their husbands in heated arguments. They did not show any concern about whether their husbands’ foods were eaten or not since they were cooking. The women ate as much as they liked, and were happy with their children.

These men have been in the gin shop for six weeks, drinking kai-kai and planning to free themselves from their empowered wives. Most died from alcoholism. Njoku vowed to die rather than abide by the new law. Others have become a shadow of themselves because of their excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet. All restaurants were run by women. And they did not cater to men. The men were not only physically beaten but, even worse, they were demoralized. This, in particular, was why men stopped eating their women’s foods, as lobbied by Njoku.

Men who were beaten by their wives were ridiculed by the community and considered unusual. The community was yet to switch to living with the law. Njoku gave the men the courage to speak up. Many men were still holding their heads with hope, waiting for a response that the law had been rescinded. The women saw the men’s screams as a matter of masculinity running into trouble. When Njoku saw that every system they had was wasted, he contacted his brother in the UK to gather other residents of the country to help bring international attention to their plight. But his brother said the UK does not support a man’s failures, his insecurities, and his stress.

“In the UK, women said that sex and gender roles in the environment have changed completely since many men lost their jobs in the UK due to some social and economic downturn,” Caleb explained to Njoku on the phone. “Occupations such as nursing, teaching, social work, and care, which are considered to be for women, are not affected by the economic impact as many male occupations in large companies.” Uwandu contacted his brother in the United States of America to draw the world’s attention to their situation in Nuella town.

“In the United States, women work to earn money while men work full-time in the kitchen and care for children, a well-known development,” Johnson explained to Uwandu on the phone.

The development of Nuella town has angered many people, much like an erupting volcano. Older women were most angered. Njoku and the alcoholics wanted to return to their old culture, which generally recognised masculinity. But they were astonished that women left the home that was assigned to them by gender to hold more opportunities in education, politics, government, and social consciousness formed for them by the council. Njoku believed there was more to this situation than met the eye.

It was clear that the insults Nuellan women used to hit their husbands were not a scam. And they knew that it was difficult for their men to walk in modern times without abandoning their tradition, but they would gladly agree to drink from the sweat of their modern wives. Uwandu explained to the men how he had been doing housework with the wife since the new law. They could all agree that the law had ruined their reputation. On the other hand, women argued that it did not make sense for men to continue working in traditional gender roles while they benefited from modern education and the civilized jobs women did, which were inevitable. And men didn’t avoid the rewards women got from such jobs, or at least saw them as interfering with culture.

The women wanted situations where there was a reduction in what was too masculine. They wanted their men to be ready to help in the kitchen, do homework with the kids, change diapers, and pack food. They saw marriage as a partnership and were ready to end masculinity, but the men were still holding on to old ideas. The women did not want their men to stick to their traditions but help in housekeeping, which included feeding the children, cooking, washing the house, fetching water, making a cup of tea for the guests, etc.. These were jobs only for women. And they said no, men must help them.

Most of the men insisted that all their wives’ anger was nothing more than a desperate attempt to keep the men in the harsh violence of the Nuella community. As Njoku and his group argued, the women were happy that the violence against women was now affecting men. “Imperfect men,” they said. “We are for every significant commitment and improvement in the advancement of women’s rights.”

The men were shocked, saying that the modern man was caught between the responsibility of taking care of his traditional work and being seen as no longer the woman’s protector and provider. The women believed that in today’s society, men and women provide and protect. On the other hand, in many circles, they said that in this sense, things were not good in the town of Nuella anymore, as the new law had caused the people of the village to become angry with themselves and look down on themselves.

Older women objected to what had befallen the men, saying that it was the law that was to blame for violence against men. And the fact that the Nuellan women were named as abusers meant that the men would not be men anymore. “I will accept the fact that when someone talks about violence or abuse, that person should not ignore the fact that women were created with two mouths,” the head of the older women, Onugba, said. Licentious women started using the law as an excuse to sleep around. Meanwhile, the older women described violence not only as physical pain but also as emotional pain, which changed and destroyed some of the men in their homes even before the law was enacted.

Njoku and his members were wondering if some women who abused them no longer believed that there were different body chemicals that made up men and women. “For these women, they saw men and women as equal and believed they should be equal?” Njoku rhetorically asked. This brought the issue of violence to an alarming level, a heated debate. The older women maintained their stance and did not accept that their daughters should abuse men now or in the future when they get married. They believed that even before the law, many women had sent their husbands packing, getting drunk, or even dying. They said that no matter how anyone examines it, men and women fight with what they call violence. Therefore, they were surprised when women cried about violence against women without telling society that women should also stop doing what they do to men.

Also, the older women believed that no sane man would see a woman on the street and start raping her. They believed that there were men and women who, through maturity and self-nourishment, were able to reduce physical and verbal abuse towards each other. Conservatives among the women considered it shameful for a woman to disobey a man, regardless of the woman’s status. They said that women should always love men.

The women’s group led by Onugba was of the belief that men are always good and right. It was this belief that had saved their marriages for many years, whereas the younger women were plunging into marriage challenges because they were challenging their husbands’ rights in the homes. “This was how nature created them,” Onugba told her group. The older women encouraged liberals among them to study men, especially their husbands, to know when they wake up, when they go to work, when they come home at night, and what kind of food they eat. They should also prepare whatever food the men liked to eat and make sure that everything was arranged for them, even if the women were predictably also working. They added that until women understood men’s nature through respect, which in turn would create men’s love, violence between them could not be stopped.

The conservative Nuellan women believed that a woman’s time should be spent praying instead of worrying about men. And watching the many comings and goings of men was a terrible waste of time. They said that most men couldn’t even pray. “If a woman looked at a man and expected him to work in the house instead of asking the man to help her, she was wasting her time,” Onugba said. “This was what a woman should have done instead of harassing a man or abusing a man.”

They also explained that even in countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, where laws have been created to help women reduce gender-based violence, some men still choose to die rather than be humiliated by women. Worse yet, go to prison. “Only women who feel humiliated scream fight against women. “Women must not demonstrate to the world that they, too, enjoy beating their men,” said a woman who married nearly sixty years ago.” And for women, seeking women’s rights without being civil was a subtle way to achieve racial justice.” Njoku and his group, undeterred, realizing that they had supporters among the women, decided to return home.

Njoku called his brother abroad to explain the latest development. On the phone, Caleb said, people who understood each other invented a phrase like this: Men, new women — to show how men have been feminized. Caleb retorted that most men also eat garri and melon soup because of feminism anyway. But of course, Njoku knew that women’s feministic food was not for all men.

Njoku was shocked when he and his brother interrupted the call only to find out that while they were away, their rejected wives kept their sons as girls by buying them cosmetics as gifts. No wonder Njoku swore that it was not during his time that the men of Nuella would have an identity crisis, no matter how the women brought down the men? Suddenly, Uwandu, who was drunk, looked at Njoku and saw the situation in front of him: The council’s law had helped to turn men into puppets in front of women by encouraging girls to believe that they could do whatever they wanted in life, thereby sexualising men, and forgetting that, for a long time, men have been working to protect women.

When the women, who were not part of the old women, saw Njoku and his group, they did not hide their anger but said that women no longer needed men as caretakers, protectors, or fathers of their children. “An anonymous sperm donor can perform the task of creating a child if a woman so wishes,” said Uwandu’s wife. Uwandu called his brother Johnson abroad to let him understand what the situation was. Johnson comforted Uwandu.

“Since the 1960s, modern mothers have raised their sons to be women and to have feminine values like taking responsibility for housework, self-care, understanding and attention, and obeying all the wishes of a woman,” Johnson said. “In the West, the philosophy of free democracy was that of a secularist, usually a feminist.” When he dropped the call, Uwandu learned that feminism had created a crop of men who were now soft and insecure.

Meanwhile, Caleb had told Njoku that in the West, anti-feminists were wondering how men grew up in the eyes of women without knowing anything about masculine qualities such as courage, determination, self-sacrifice, justice, courage, freedom, self-discipline, and honour because a woman always played the guitar.

Only a few people knew about these features in the Nuella community. Uwandu recalled that Johnson told him that the self-proclaimed feminists in the West said that all the famous people today, in money, politics, etc., none of them served in the military, and if any, they were few. The women had no more respect for strong men. It’s a recipe for disaster, women believe. “These people don’t think in a military way, so there’s this idea that people are good people. If we are very kind and considerate to everyone, they will be too,” Johnson told Uwandu. Njoku learned from Caleb that politicians in Washington lacked the practical skills of analysis and policy.

Nuellan women wanted their men to beg, but the men stuck to their guns, saying they couldn’t learn to be cowards now. They would defend their masculinity. Although they knew that modern civilisation condemned all forms of violence, Uwandu explained what happened to the men as an extension of the unprecedented influence of women from Western countries spread around the world.

“Women’s voices were heard, but they wanted unlimited opportunities with men. They didn’t want macho men, as they trained their sons to have a feminine face and appearance,” one of the men read a message Johnson had just sent to Uwandu’s phone. Njoku said women have been doing it since the Second World War, when men were on the battlefield, leaving women in the workplace. He learned this from history books. But since 2009, women, especially single women, have overtaken men as breadwinners in places like America, buying more homes than single men. Yet they raised children who had never had a father in their lives or who had no idea what it took to be a man?

“In many states, like the New Hampshire state legislature right now, it’s mostly women,” Caleb told Njoku. “Women in power continue to rise.” There was a heated debate between the men and women. “The sad thing is that these mothers no longer value family values. Their sons became Mr. Moms from birth,” said Onugba. The men later decided to follow the law and receive permission from their wives, otherwise there would be no peace at home. Since the return of the men, the number of men using drugs and alcohol has continued to increase. In the months and years to come, they will no longer be able to marry their wives. Njoku knew that the new law was a hidden plan to destroy men and make them drunk; a plan to destroy the male reproductive system.

“It’s testicular dysgenesis,” said one of the men, a doctor. “It is a syndrome that has been around for 50 years, and it could be sexually perverting chemicals or endocrine disruptors that are so prevalent in today’s society that they are used to reduce fertility in men.” The man added that there were legal supplements that contained estrogen that were intended to make men feminise. Njoku’s team had no choice but to endure, watching their women become free and sexually independent. But since the men returned, there has never been peace in the Nuella community as it was before the council issued a law allowing women and men to come to the beginning of their weakness.

When normalcy was thought to have returned to the community, although on a fragile peace, there was an uproar in Njoku’s house. His wife was shouting. As Uwandu and other men rushed to see what it was – whether he was being beaten by his wife – they were rather shocked to learn that Njoku had committed suicide. The wife handed the men a note that he wrote before taking his life. Uwandu, who was in tears and staggering from the hangover liquor, read it.

“More men will go,” were the last words of Njoku.

The End.

Odimegwu Onwumere is a riding journalist, writer and poet based in Rivers state, Nigeria, who has developed from a novice himself to assist with showing the essential writing skills and equitation to younger writers. Onwumere has forever been extremely associated with working with like-minded individuals. He has won multiple writing awards. Twitter: @odimuegwu

Email: apoet_25@yahoo.com

Odinani Book Club: “The Concubine” by Elechi Amadi

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For the next Odinani book club pick, we will be reading “The Concubine” by Elechi Amadi. If you wish to participate in the Book Club discussion, please send an email to egwuatu.nwaikenga@gmail.com.

Synopsis: The novel’s beautiful, hardworking protagonist, Ihouma, is admired by all in her village. Yet those who express their love for her meet with mysterious tragedy, leaving her devastated. This enticing odyssey, where exemplary attributes go unrewarded and the boundaries between myth and reality are muted, outwits readers with unexpected twists that make them want to keep turning the page.

Odinani Book Club: “Akata Warrior” Conclusion

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Ndewo nu (Greetings everyone). We will be having our next Odinani Book Club Meeting on Sunday, August 21. We are concluding “Akata Warrior” by Nnedi Okoroafor.  If you wish to participate in the Book Club discussion, please send an email to egwuatu.nwaikenga@gmail.com.

Synopsis: A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Odinani Book Club: “Akata Warrior” by Nnedi Okorafor

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For the next Odinani book club pick, we will be reading “Akata Warrior” by Nnedi Okorafor, which is the sequel to “Akata Witch.”  If you wish to participate in the Book Club discussion, please send an email to egwuatu.nwaikenga@gmail.com.

Synopsis: A year ago, Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, was inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she began to develop her magical powers, Sunny learned that she had been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.

Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.

Odinani Book Club: “Omenuko” by Pita Nwana

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For the next Odinani book club pick, we will be reading the classic work “Omenuko” by Pita Nwana. Published in 1935, it was the first novel written in the Igbo language. Its available for free at this website. If you wish to participate in the Book Club discussion, please send an email to egwuatu.nwaikenga@gmail.com

Synopsis: Omenuko chronicles the true life story of a quintessential Igbo businessman, otherwise known as Chief Igwegbe Odum of Ndizuogu who lived between the 19th and 20th centuries. 

(Video) 4 Elements of the Human Soul – Igbo Mythology (reincarnation, purpose, divinity, spirit bonds, more)

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This video shows the four spiritual elements that make the human soul according to Igbo spirituality. These are Chi, Eke, Mmuo and Onyeuwa. This is important to understand if you’re building a foundation in Odinani (Igbo Cosmology/Spirituality), and to add insight on the nature of the human soul. This video also touches on how to determine your destiny, predestination, how reincarnation works in the Igbo world view, and how these parts work together to make you who you are.