A Review Of Akachi Adimorah-ezeigbo’s Children Of The Eagle

Introduction The novel, Children of the Eagle, is the third and last part of what the author herself calls “the Umuga trilogy”. The first and second parts of the trilogy are The Last of the Strong Ones (1996) and House of Symbols (2001). In this trilogy, the author explores the lives of men and women of four generations of two families and some other important characters who lived in the same period and whose lives impacted on one another. In this analysis, however, our focus is on Children of the Eagle. It is a long novel of three hundred and fifty pages,
made up of twenty-five chapters. The novel draws attention to the discrimination against women in a male-dominated society; however, it presents striking women characters - “children of the eagle” – and uses them to produce strong arguments in support of equal rights and opportunities for men and women in the society. Setting The novel is set in Umuga, a community in South Eastern Nigeria. The events in the novel are set specifically in 1990, but, as the author herself admits, the events of the novel also “look back, in time and space, and in the lives of the characters, to occurrences from the late fifties to the eighties. Narration In chapters 1 to 8, the story is told in the 3rd person point of view. It appears the author uses these chapters to present her characters and familiarize the reader with some key events of the story. From chapter 9, the use of the 1st person narrator is introduced and sometimes combined with the 3rd person narrator; from this point in the novel, the children of the eagle take their turns in telling the stories of their lives and of the family, all of which are supposed to provide material for the family book to be written by Nnenne. Through the use of flashbacks and the stream of consciousness technique, the author lets us into the thoughts, experiences, actions and events in the lives of these characters, into the events that had happened in the Okwara family as well as in the Umuga community. Plot The novel is the story of Eaglewoman and her six children, five of whom are women. These women – the eagle women – Ogonna Okwara-Nduka (a secondary school teacher), Nnenne Okwara-Okoli (a senior lecturer), Obioma Okwara-Ebo (a church leader, pastor and evangelist), Amara Okwara (a journalist), Chiaku Okwara-Kwesi (a medical doctor), and the only son of the family, Nkemdirim Okwara (a secondary school boy) form the centre of Eaglewoman’s life. Eaglewoman is a widow and, as the author puts it (p. 4), these children are “the joy of her life since the loss of Osai, her husband.” The focus of the novel is on the eagle women who form its central characters; they are ambitious and determined women, who are proud to identify themselves as women and are ready to stand out in a crowd. Like the eagle which is seen as a bird of distinction with extraordinary capacity to soar into the sky, these women have distinguished themselves in their various professions are poised to move higher up the social ladder, in spite of the barriers imposed by men in a society where women are treated with neglect. Feminism: Different Viewpoints The book is a feminist-oriented novel. It can be seen as a strong argument about the place of women in the human society: the author uses the different women characters to present different feminist viewpoints, which protest the injustices against women and call for a place of honour for women in the affairs of the society. Take for example Eaglewoman’s talk on women as vessels of love, illustrating her point with the example of the udara (apples) as symbols of love. First, she quotes from the Bible to remind her daughters that God calls the people he loves “the apples of his eyes”, and then explains: …apple and udara look alike. To us, udara is the symbol of love. It has the roundness of a virgin’s breast. It gives up sap that has the look but not the texture of breast milk... (p. 24) Through Eaglewoman, the author presents to us one of the feminist positions, particularly the one in support of having the woman play her traditional roles of childbearing and childrearing. This viewpoint is clearly expressed through the following words: Woman’s body is a vessel of love, which gives and supports life. All of a woman’s inside and outside combine to form and nourish her young: her breast milk is the life-giving nectar, which the baby sucks. It is a woman’s body that bears fruit, not a man’s. A child is the fruit of woman’s womb. (p. 25). Through Nnenne, we are introduced to an opposing feminist viewpoint: “Nnenne tells herself that many a feminist will challenge this assertion [Eaglewoman’s position], this objectification of the female body as a vessel of love...” (p. 25). Amara represents what can be described as an extremist position on feminism: she does not intend to bear children at all. Again, she holds an opposite view to that Eaglewoman on the argument on whose duty it is to cook for the family. The author uses the two characters to portray the two opposing views of feminists. Whereas Eaglewoman insists that it the woman’s duty to cook for the family, Amara raises the serious questions: “Who says a man should not cook? So a man has a mouth to eat food but not the hands to prepare it?” (p. 44). Generally, it is the daughters of Eaglewoman who actually take clear feminist position and are ready to fight against male domination. They are not prepared to sit on the fence and endure the injustices meted out to women in the community. Most of their actions are in protest against male domination and gender discrimination. Eaglewoman can be seen as a voice of restraint – calling her daughters back to sanity when she feels they are carrying the gender war too far. However, as the events of the novel continue to unfold, we see her conservative views being transformed by the trauma she suffers as result of society’s discrimination against women, her daughters’ fight against these injustices and the successes they record in the process. Despite her assigning a childbearing role to women, Eaglewoman does not understand why a woman who has no male child should be disinherited. She is not happy with the Umuga culture which sees the woman as part of her husband’s property. She does not understand why her husband’s relations should subject her to trauma after losing her husband. The Plight of Women As a feminist-oriented novel, Children of the Eagle, documents the plight of women: how women are oppressed or discriminated against in a male-dominated society such as Umuga. Various incidents in the novel are used to depict women’s plight. Perhaps it is in the land dispute that the author most clearly portrays the discrimination against women by the men in the society and the gender conflict it generates. When the children of Eaglewoman want to approach Ogunano Ezeala over the oppressive actions against their mother by her husband’s relations, they are told that women are not allowed to address the council directly. To them, this custom is barbaric and retrogressive. To prove their point that they are not as helpless as their mother thinks, and to “show these people that [they] know how to fight for [their] rights” (p. 50), Nnenne and Ogonna decide to adopt the written medium of direct communication. As Nnenne explains, “this means we’ll communicate with them directly as well as have a record of our petition and our demand for justice in case we need to go beyond the council to seek justice at a later date”. (p.52). Their action record success, as Ogunano Ezeala eventually bows to their demand and send people to demarcate the land. However, when they finally come for the demarcation, Pa Joel has to represent the Okwara family, in spite of the fact that the daughters of the family were right there. There was an incident that occurred before the birth of Nkemdirim, which lends credence to the view that the absence of a male child in a family, or a family populated by daughters, is a”misfortune”. In that incident, Uncle Reuben asks Osai to sell to him his plots of land in Enyimba City, and argues that the family has no heir. To Mama, he says, “You are hoarding family land for your clan of daughters”. Ogonna’s response to this incident underscores the trauma women suffer as result of gender discrimination: It was after
this incident that my sisters and I realized that women were not expected or permitted to own land in our culture even when they pay for it with their own money…It is viewed as a misfortune to have a family populated by daughters, without a son. It was a shock from which I did not recover for a long time. (p. 68). The novel reveals that the widow is compelled to remain in the house for too long to mourn the death of her husband. This is portrayed in Eaglewoman’s widowhood experience, as told by Ogonna: The year she was compelled to disappear from outdoor life in mourning for her husband almost atrophied her limbs. It was a crippling experience for her, who was always an active person. Arthritis set in, giving her knees a bad bash. (p. 71). The incident of Nkemdirim’s accident towards the end of the play also paints a pathetic picture of women’s plight in the community. While Nkemdirim lies in critical condition at the hospital, Pa Joel is overwhelmed with the fear that his bosom friend Osai wouldn’t have anyone to inherit his vast property if the only son, Nkem dies. Thus, he confronts the daughters of Eaglewoman with the idea that Amara should shelve her planned marriage with the white man, Nick, subject herself to the nluikwa which allows her to remain in the family and give birth to sons in order to perpetuate her father’s name. Pa Joel emphasizes the point that “our tradition does not allow daughters to inherit their father’s property.” Gender Conflict and Women’s Struggle for Equal Rights with Men One can say that the novel is about gender conflict and women’s struggle for equal rights and opportunities with men. The land dispute and other incidents in the novel have portrayed the injustices meted out to women by men in the Umuga community. The children of eagle are portrayed in the novel as typical feminists who do not allow the gender discriminative rules and regulations in the society to weigh them down. Instead, they stand up to fight for their rights, exploring every legitimate avenue to seek redress. For instance, when they discover that women cannot approach Ogunano Ezeala directly, they decide to use written communication, and thus address them directly at the end of the day. Another instance of gender conflict is when some Umuga men are honoured with titles, but not a single woman is similarly treated. Nnenne is completely dismayed by this gross injustice, and so writes the most strongly worded protest letter to the UPU, copying the Umuada. The protest letter, followed by the united pressure on the UPU and Ezeoba II by Umuada, yields positive results: women are also given titles like men eventually. In the words of Nnenne: “I told myself that this was a notable victory for women.” (p. 140). Again, when Pa Joel strongly recommends that Amara should shelve her marriage, subject herself to the ‘nluikwa’ tradition in order to perpetuate their father’s name, the women of eagle reject such a barbaric idea and are ready to fight for the right to inherit their fathers’ property even as daughters. In the words of Nnenne: “we will not sit back and allow even a little portion of our father’s property to be lost to his children.” (p. 341). Apart from standing up to fight for equal rights with men, children of eagle even take their feminist crusade a step further when they take turns in giving public talks to the Umuga women on the need to reject the status quo and come out to take their rightful position in the society. Nnenne stresses that women should first liberate themselves from the prison of “low self-esteem”. She also canvasses the idea of women coming together and talking to one another, and then talking to men. (p. 87). As Obioma puts it, in her own address to the alutaradi (wives of the extended family): “Woman needs to occupy the rightful place God reserved for her: beside man, not behind or before him.” (p. 88). Ogonna believes that women should empower themselves economically as a way of securing their freedom.. She advises them to “find something to do to generate income for yourself so that you can take care of your children. To buttress her point, she quotes her grandmother, Aziagba’s words: “a woman, who waits for a man or a husband to supply her needs, ends up cooking only water in her pot.” (p. 91). The struggle for women’s rights can also be seen in activities of Adanna’s NGO, which is called Gender Equity Watch (GEW). It is revealed that the organization promotes the advancement of gender equity in the country. (p. 173). Adanna indicates her readiness to give to children of eagle “all the moral and financial support… including [her] organization, Gender Equity Watch.. [as well as] mobilize the Women’s Legal Centre…” (p. 342). Evil Effects of the Civil War The novel also raises the issue of the disasters which the Nigerian civil war visited on the people of the South East. Some of the effects of the war on the people as depicted in the novel include poverty, starvation and other associated problems. Take Obioma’s experience as a student then, for instance. Because her once-prosperous parents had been crippled financially by the tragic war, she falls into the trap of sexual exploitation by a Nigerian soldier, Lanre Roberts, through the collaboration of Obioma’s fellow student, Florence, who herself is also a victim of the same sexual exploitation by another Nigerian soldier, Major Ibrahim. Obioma is later confronted by an unwanted pregnancy. She refuses doing abortion at last, and eventually gives birth to the child, who incidentally becomes the only son of the Okwara family – the much guarded family secret which must not be exposed even in the family book that Nnenne has to write. Ogonna lost her heartthrob, Harry Ozoemena, to the war, and was thus denied a compatible life partner. Her marriage to Uzoma, an incompatible partner, has left her with nothing but psychological trauma. The novel also gives some graphic description of the war casualties: “The dead lay grotesquely everywhere. Some people were buried alive in bunkers that were directly hit by bombs. Lying on the path was a hairy leg, which was torn from a man’s body. A crudely amputated arm lay in the dust, in front of us.” (p. 223). Religious Charlatanism The novel also touches on the issue of religious charlatanism. This can be seen in the flashback to when Osai fell into the hands of a man who called himself Jesus of Ikot Abais, who was in the habit of bewitching his gullible victims and trapping them to worship him as the Messiah. This issue created serious family crisis that nearly destroyed the marital relationship between Osai and his wife, Eaglewoman. As Eaglewoman recounts: The man and his church fought me, instructed your father to divorce me or banish me to Umuga if he did not want to divorce me. Jezebel, that was the name they called me. (p. 122). Military Dictatorship and Human Right Abuses. There are references to the arrests, the abuse of people’s rights in the novel. There is also a reference to the killing of a journalist: Look at what happened to that distinguished journalist… One will just die like a dog and nothing comes out of it. There is no justice in the land. Everything stinks. Corruption slaps you in the face everywhere. (p. 165). Decay in the Academic Sector The novel also raises the issue of decay in the academic sector. There is corruption among the academics in the university who place barriers on other people’s way to progress or promotion. Adanna, for instance, had to leave her university job to form an NGO as a result of the harrowing experiences she went through in the university, especially in her department. (p. 169). As recounted in the novel: There are stumbling blocks in the way of illustrious academics. Ethnicity, gender inequality, religious bias, sexual harassment… come into play in determining people’s progress or lack of progress. The corruption also affects the industrious students, who could be having a raw deal as a result of the weakness in the system, especially female students. The female students are more vulnerable to sexual harassment which is on the increase. As the author puts it, “sexism brandishes its tyrannical side like a weapon, against woman,” (p. 171).

Article Written By Abugu Benjamin

An English Language Graduate of Lagos State University, he is the author of many books and educational materials used in schools and colleges across the country.

Last updated on 30-07-2016 10K 0

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