- "One Wife Be for One Man":Mariama Bâ's Doctrine for Matrimony
I done try go church, I done go for court Dem all dey talk about di new culture. Dem talk about equality, dem mention "divorce" Dem holler am so-tay my ear nearly cut:
One wife be for one man—Aig-Imoukhuede, "One Man One Wife"
Frank Aig-Imoukhuede's pidgin poem points to the predicament faced by an African man who, in spite of his approval of Western tenets and norms, is reluctant to accept monogamy, one feature of the European metropolitan civilization. It emphasizes the chaos in the life of the modern African male desirous of a second wife, especially when the reason has little to do with the quest for a male child or the fact of the ascertained barrenness of the first wife—repugnant as these conditions are to the [End Page 561] feminist. The protagonist of the above poem sounds like a "civilized" African whose attempt to have more wives is either the result of a need to sexually gratiate himself or a desire to shame an older wife who had refused "to take her place" as dictated by oppressive traditional norms and customs. These men appropriate what is "good" in Western culture and turn to their hitherto rejected culture to seek legitimacy for their palpably animal passion for more marital partners.
Two of Mariama Bâ's compatriots-Sembène Ousmane and Aminata Sow Fall—have each considered the impact of a later-day polygyny on the chief characters of Xala (1974) and The Beggars' Strike (1979) respectively. One is impoverished by multiple marriage, the other humiliated in the hands of his "sweet-sixteen" second wife. In each case, the first wife is an accomplished woman, wife, and mother, an aesthetically pleasing female well-versed in good comportment and self-respect who considers marriage as a positive social and customary commitment in which the man is unquestionably the lord and the master. For instance, in Sembène Ousmane's Xala, Adja Awa Astou, El Hadji Bèye's first wife, is said to have "given up her Christian faith so as to enjoy more fully the pleasures of married life" (11). [« s'était apostasiée par amour pour mieux partager les félicités d'une vie conjagale » (24)]. Before he introduces the discussion on his move to bring in a second wife, Mour Ndiaye in Sow Fall's novel acknowledges Lolli's goodness and addresses her thus:
Lolli, you know how much you mean to me. You know I wouldn't exchange you for anything in the world. . . . I appreciate all your good qualities, your patience, your kindness. Life hasn't always been easy for me; you've put up with all the hardships and difficulties that this has meant for us and you helped me overcome all the obstacles. You're my lucky mascot and you know it.(26)
[—Lolli, tu sais combien je tiens à toi. Tu sais bien que je ne t'échangerais contre rien au monde . . . Je connais tes mérites, ta patience, ta bonté. La vie n'a pas toujours été facile pour moi, tu as enduré tous les maux qui découlaient de cette situation pénible, et tu m'as aidé à surmonter tous les obstacles. Tu es mon portebonheur et tu le sais.(37-38)]
Furthermore, the women are productive; in other words, their husbands cannot claim that they are looking for children as they already have many of them. In Xala we are informed that El Hadji Bèye has six children from his first wife and five from the second and yet has decided to take a third: "So, to date El Hadji had two wives and a string of progeny. Eleven in all" (4). [« A ce jour, El Hadji Abdou Kader Bèye avait deux femmes, une Kyrielle de gosses. Onze » (11)]. In The Beggars' Strike Lolli is said to have got "eight children, some of them old enough to be married" (33) [« huit enfants dont quelques-uns son en âge de se marier » (46)].
Much as marriage is a theme in the two works by...