Title: The Slave Girl
Author: Buchi Emecheta
Publisher: African Writers Series,Heinemann Publishers.
ISBN: 978 0 435 90997 0
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” Jean Jacques Rousseau states in The Social Contract.
This popped up in my head while re-reading The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta. Freedom and independence is a state we all want to attain, right from childhood to the grave. It’s great to imagine a Utopian state of Independence where we are bound to none but the harsh reality is that we are bound to society and its menace of core values.
Reading the novel by late Buchi Emecheta is no chore, she was a woman and an Africa who had the insight of veiling things through the microscopic African woman eyes. I was among the multitude who wept at her demise early this year, 25 January 2017. She wrote about women for women and was enjoyed by a large population of women for her African womanist ideology. Don’t get me worked up on this, because there will be no end to it. Anyways, I was introduced to my first Buchi Emecheta’s book The Joys of Motherhood (the Sorrows of Motherhood) while preparing for W.A.S.S.C.E.
The Slave Girl was written in 1977, and in about 184 pages tell the story of a young girl, Ogbanje Ojebeta, who was bound with the ancestral world. Her mother was filled with anxiety on her arrival, after fifteen years of placating the gods, “before she had the little girl that she wanted so much to be her companion, her friend and her very own.”(73). Her mother Umeadi, had to consult the Dibia, native doctor, on ways to free her daughter from the bonds she was in. Ogbanje Ojebeta wore charms “made of cowries, top of tins brought here by the Potokis and real bells made from metal…”(10), which her father had gotten the charms from the native kingdom of Idu.
After she had been released from the spirit world, she suffered the death of her loving parents by the cold hands of ‘felenza’. She was sold by her brother into slavery for eight pounds, into the household of Ma Palanga, a cloth merchant and a family relative. She clutched to her identity, her charms as a reminder of her days of independence. (39, 68)
At the death of her master, she returned to Ibuza, her homeland. In her quest for freedom, she decided to choose a husband for herself, a new master, Jacob, who bought her back from Ma Palanga’s family.
Buchi Emecheta’s narrative adopts an omniscient perspective with a simple linear plot. The structure of the novel begins with a prologue and has fifteen chapters, each with a title addressing important issues in the novel. The language use is vivid, it makes use of simple everyday language and there’s an active feeling of translating the native language spoken by the characters to simple English syntax.
Ogbanje Ojebeta is used to symbolize Nigeria, at first held by the shackles of ignorance while colonized by the British government, and afterwards given her independence, ends up choosing the wrong government as its masters. In conclusion, the writer states “Ojebeta,…” who represents Nigeria, “…now a woman of thirty-five was changing masters.”(184).
‘The Slave Girl’ highlights a number of the issues facing the African woman by our society. It is a must read for every woman who understands the dynamics of African culture.
Feature Image Credit: www.mobofree.com