For some time now, there have been clamours for books on storytelling which featured prominently in schools and at homes in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1908s. Such books as Eze Goes to School, Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, were the delights of schoolchildren. Sadly, this interest is being eroded in the country.
The importance of storytelling lies in the fact it helps a society to know its roots. For instance, African writers, like Chinua Achebe, provided historical information using storytelling narratives to help readers learn about life and culture in prehistoric African societies before the invasion of Europeans. Within the complex oral culture of the Igbo, elaborate storytelling is a prized art form as well as a crucial social tool. Children learn their families’ history through their mothers’ fireside tales, and clan members absorb communal values through stories told over and over again at clan gatherings. Therefore storytelling in both the oral and written tradition can help adult learners understand the impact of colonialism in Nigeria.
It is against this backdrop that the book, Broken Promise & Other Stories, written by Ejine Okoroafor, a United States-based novelist and practising medical doctor, can fully be appreciated. The publisher of the book is a United States-based Trafford Publishing Corporation.
The 87-page book contains four short stories, “Broken Promise” , Kizito and I”, “Pension-Plan Nurse”, and “Nwabuife”, each of which exposes the trauma the l girl child undergoes in Africa. All the stories are set and plotted in Oguta town, in Imo State, Southeast Nigeria. One of the stories is a tragedy in that one of the main characters died.
The first story, which is the title of the book, is about a young man, by name Gogo, who lives in the United States, and has not formalised his stay in the country. Gogo received a call from his younger brother, Ndudi, informing him (Gogo) of the death of his village girl friend, Maryam, who had a three-year-old daughter ,Kaka, for him. Maryam took her life after waiting endlessly for Gogo to fulfill his promise to bring her and Kaka to America. Gogo deeply loved her, and was hoping to bring her along with Kaka to the United States, but was yet to tidy up his immigration document when he got the devastating news. Maryam took her life because of the stigma of having a child out of wedlock.
The second story titled, “Kizito and I”, is about a love tango between Anucha, a young woman from a well-to-do Oguta family, who has just graduated from university and a young man called Kizito, who also had just left university. They are full-blooded Oguta indigenes. They met at a party in the town, where Kizito immediately fell in love with her. It was a case of love at first sight. They both spent one year in Kogi State for their National Youth Service. The relationship almost broke-down because of Kizito’s misunderstanding of Amuche’s family background. Eventually, they got married and travelled together to the United States.
The third story, “Pension-Plan Nurse”, is about a couple, Atuokwu and Ntianu, his wife living in the United States, with their three kids. They are Oguta indigenes. The family is never at peace, because of Atuokwu’s spurious demands on his wife Ntianu for money. Atuokwu claimed that he brought her from the Oguta village to the United States and sponsored her training to nursing school to qualify as a licensed nurse. Therefore, the woman should write a cheque to him every month as compensation for the good gesture. Because of Ntianu’s refusal to heed to his request, there was never a moment of peace in the house. Their kids were scared of their father, whom they say treated them harshly; they were never comfortable anytime he was in the house. They all dreaded him.
The woman, while appreciating and acknowledging her husband’s contributions to her professional development , does not think her husband is doing the right thing sitting at home, asking for money all the time when he could go out to look for jobs. Since her husband was laid off from work, she has been the one shouldering the family. She felt the man was being uncharitable in his demands and comments. Had it not been for the stroke, which almost took his life, Atuokwu had planned to harm his wife. It took his confinement in the hospital and rehab for him to realise that he was heading for the wrong direction.
The story about Nwabuife, a daughter of a mad woman called Ada, who was living with a childless woman whom she called Ine Oyibonanu, is pathetic. Oyibonanu had picked her up when the mad woman gave birth to her in a thick forest near the Uhamiri Lake. She natured her and she has been living with her in a polygamous family. Almost all indigenes of the town know her mother and that she does not have a father hence she suffers discrimination both at home and in schools. Nwabuife suffered sexual abuse from a son of one of the wives of Oyibonanu’s husband. One day, she resisted another rape attempt and stabbed the rapist. Nobody bothered to listen to her own account of the incident. She was bitten into a coma and banished from returning to her adopted mother.
All the stories are written in lucid and simple language. It also shows that the author is at home with the current happenings in Oguta.
The author’s focus on Oguta appears to be another way of recreating her experiences while growing up in the town. Although the stories are fiction, they reflect current realities not only in Oguta but also in Nigeria. It shows that, despite being away from Oguta, Okoroafor is still in Oguta in sprit. Her stories show the travails of female children in Africa.
Ejine originally hails from Oguta, Imo State, Nigeria, her flair for writing prose and poetry stems from childhood, and especially as her mother was a literature teacher. She was introduced to the magic of books from a very young age and devoured multiple tomes and genres. Her love for reading has since transitioned to writing and since culminated in the publication of 6 books, including two novels (A Rose in Bloom & Pathos of a Wilting Rose); two poetry books (Whimsical Rhapsody and Emotive Napalm), as well as children’s books (Inem’s Folklore Series and Adventures of Nana Jill).
Some of her poems have also been published in the anthologies, Twilight Musings, Songs of Honour and other sites on the internet. Besides her literary pursuits, Ejine is a renowned traveller, who deems herself extremely lucky, to have lived in Nigeria, Ukraine, United Kingdom and currently residing in the USA, as well as visiting over 20 countries around the world.
The author reflected this in her stories as a way of projecting the town of her birth. Through her stories, Ejine Okoroafor appears to be filling the void created by the demise of novelist Nwapa, who was concerned primarily with women’s issues. Nwapa engaged her home town’s custom and religious beliefs centring on the pre-eminent lake goddess, Ogbuide, in her quest to champion womanhood.
Nwapa took certain artistic liberties and critically deconstructed local custom in her cause to promote women. While her primary concern was women’s reproductive rights and welfare, she also cherished Oguta culture, voiced her critique with caution, and was increasingly critical of foreign intrusions. Like Nwapa, Ejine Okoroafor, in Broken Promise & Other Stories, while not openly confronting subtle devaluation of the women folks in African culture, covertly tries to re-enact the position of Nwapa in the four episodes, all of which put the female folks at the receiving end. For instance, in the first story, “Broken Promise”, Gogo, a male could not fulfil his promise to Maryam, a female, after making her have a child out of wedlock. In the second story, Amuche almost suffered the same fate. She was raped by Kizito’s friend, Ogonda, when she visited him (Kizito) in Port Harcourt. She had to travel to Port Harcourt, because he had become incommunicado almost putting the planned-marriage in jeopardy.
The third story reflects the same pattern, a rapacious husband wanting to lord it over his wife. The fourth episode shows the injustice meted out to a female child. Nobody bothered to find out why she had to do what she did. She acted in self defence and stabbed Uncle Boyoyo, who was trying to rape her.
The book is a must-read for people who want to know more about the travails of a girl child in Africa.