‘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.
The Bride Price was a bittersweet read for me. The story is about a girl named Aku-nna who lived a fairly comfortable life in the city of Lagos, Nigeria with her family. But after the sudden death of her father, her family moves to their hometown, a village called Ibuza. Life is very different for Aku-nna in her hometown: by tradition, her mother has to marry her uncle (her father’s oldest brother), her education isn’t seen as a priority, she becomes an introvert, village life is quite mundane, and her uncle plans on gaining a large sum of money from her bride price. Aku-nna’s uncle already makes plans to marry her off to the highest bidder once she reaches womanhood, but Aku-nna simply desires to finish her secondary school education, become a teacher, and marry the man she falls in love with. Once Aku-nna starts school, she falls in love with one of her teachers, Chike. Aku-nna and Chike keep their love secret, because their love is forbidden in Ibuza. Chike is from a family whose descendants were once slaves, hence making him “unfit” to marry Aku-nna, according to her family (who are descendants of a noble family).
Old traditions and new Western missionary ways of life are constantly interrupting Aku-nna and her quiet, confused spirit. Buchi Emecheta portrays the struggles of Nigerian women during colonial times. The roles of women during this time were very different from the roles of women in Nigeria today. In the novel, women are imprisoned in traditional norms: they are meant to serve their husbands, bear children (preferably sons), and have little say in family affairs. The men in the story dictate the course of Aku-nna’s life. Her schooling, the people she interacts with, her chores at home, and who she marries are all controlled by her uncle. If Aku-nna rebels and marries Chike, her life could be in danger, because her acting father must accept her bride price. If the bride price is not accepted and she elopes, it is believed that she would not live to raise her children – this is an old taboo known to Ibuza. “If a girl wished to live long and see her children’s children, she must accept the husband chosen for her by her people, and the bride price must be paid. If the bride price was not paid, she would never survive the birth of her first child” (p. 176). Aku-nna’s life is more or less dependent on her greedy uncle’s need for a high bride price since old traditions require women to have no say in their future marital affairs and superstitious beliefs seem to rule their lives.
Emecheta’s brilliant style of writing and the traditional proverbs she uses allow readers to sympathize with Aku-nna and her predicament of being in love with a “slave” while having to marry a man she would never love. This is a classic love story and Emecheta writes about it passionately. The ending of the story is quite shocking and actually had a psychological hold on me for a while. Nevertheless, this was a great novel and I loved learning about the roles of Nigerian women and the traditions of the people in Ibuza during the pre-independence era.
Publisher: African Writers Series (Heinemann)
Review by Darkowaa Adu-Kofi