The Joys of Motherhood is a novel written by Buchi Emecheta. It was first published by Allison & Busby in 1979 and was reprinted in Heinemann’s African Writers Series in 2008.
It goes without saying that this book expresses in depth the burden of proof of a Nigerian woman’s womanhood through child bearing, “and above all to give birth to sons”. The book narrates the unfortunate fate of Nnu Ego, daughter of Nwokocha Agbadi and his love, Ona, with bringing forth children. Eventually, Nnu Ego bears more children than she and her lazy husband, Nnaife can cater for and then earns the respect of her people.
The book is set in colonial times and Nnu Ego and family have to adapt to the change, albeit without much success. Her life revolves around her children as she toils day and night for a better life for them, which despite her efforts, they never achieve. She experiences a plethora of emotions as she brings up her children, some good, some, not pleasant at all which explains her ‘joys of motherhood’. She deals with the travails of having to live with Nnaife’s second wife among others. The hope she has for the success of her children in life is her driving force as she sweats to give them her best in everything, only for her to die alone and miserably in the streets. Nnu Ego is considered a success in her village as a result of the number of children she bore but she, in reality, is not much of a success after all. The title of the book, ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ is, in more ways than one, very ironic as even after death, the oracle says thet her children are childless because Nnu Ego is still angry with them after everything.
About the Book:
Nwokocha Agbadi is a proud, handsome and wealthy local chief. Although he has many wives he finds a woman named Ona more attractive. Ona (a priceless jewel) is the name he has given her. Ona is the daughter of a chief. When she was young, her father took her everywhere he went, saying she was his ornament, and Nwokocha Agbadi would say jokingly, “Why don’t you wear her aroung your neck like an Ona?” (a priceless jewel). It never occurred to him that he would be one of the men to ask her when she grew up.
During one rainy season chief Agbadi and his friends have gone elephant hunting and having come too near the heavy creature he is thrown with a mighty tusk into a nearby sugar-cane bush and is pinned to the floor. He aims his spear at the belly of the mighty animal and kills it but not until it has wounded him badly. Agbadi passes out and it seems to all he has died. He wakes up after several days to find Ona beside him. During this period, he has sex with her, and after eighteen days he finds out that his eldest wife Agunwa was very ill and died later. It is thought that perhaps she became ill as a result of seeing her husband pass out.
The funeral festivities continue through the day. When it is time to put Agunwa in her grave, everything she will need in afterlife having been placed in her coffin, her personal slave is called. According to custom, a good slave is supposed to jump into the grave willingly to accompany her mistress but this young and beautiful slave begs for her life, much to the annoyance of the men. The hapless slave is pushed into the shallow grave but struggles out, appealing to her owner Agbadi, whose eldest son cries angrily: “So my mother does not deserve a decent burial?” So saying, he gives her a sharp blow with the head of the cutlass. Another relative gives her a final blow to the head and she falls into the grave, silenced forever. The burial is completed.
Ona becomes pregnant and delivers a girl child, named Nnu Ego (20 bags of cowries). The baby is born with a mark on her head resembling that made by the cutlass used on the head of the slave woman. Ona gives birth to another son but she dies in premature labour and her son also dies a week afterwards. Nnu Ego becomes a woman but is barren. After several months with no sign of fruitfulness, she consults several herbalists and is told that the slave woman who is her Chi (goddess) will not give her a child. Her husband Amatokwu takes another wife who before long conceives.
Nnu Ego returns her father’s house. She is married to new husband whom she does not like but prays that if she can have a child with him, she will love him. She does give birth to a baby boy, whom she later finds dead. Shocked, she is on the verge of jumping into the river when a villager draws her back and comforts her. She subsequently gives birth to four children. Her husband, a laundryman for a white man, is drafted into the army during wartime, but on her own Nnu Ego ensures all her children have a good life, sending two abroad to study. After she dies a lonely death, her children all come home and are sorry they were in a position to give her a better life. She is given the greatest burial in their town.
When all her children are unable to have offspring the Oracle reveals that this is because Nnu Ego is angry with them. Stories say that she is a wicked woman even in death. Still, they agree that she has given all to her children and that this is the joy of being a mother.
About the Writer:
Buchi Emecheta (born 21 July 1944, in Lagos) is a Nigerian novelist who has published over 20 books. According to Buchi, her works are “stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.” She also writes majorly on themes of child slavery, motherhood, female independence and freedom through education and has won recognised critical acclaim and honours, including an Order of the British Empire in 2005. Her books are based largely on her experiences living in London, in an unhappy marriage, solely working to provide for five children.