Monday, May 5, 2014

ASARE KONADU's A WOMAN IN HER PRIME




Ah, the pre-colonial era again in west Africa! Pristine life in the villages, "rudimentary" approach to life complete with simple customs and tradition, belief in fetish et al.    

Author Asare Konadu depicts all this well in his quite well known work of fiction, A woman in her
prime. Of course the village life (at Brenhoma) here knows nothing about the white
man, never mind electricity and all its marvels...      

The story is weaved around a woman in the village, POKUWAA, whose life is blighted for
donkey years by an inability to have children. This is not only an
anathema but a disaster in this society; as we read:     

'The first year, then the second year passed and there was no child. She remembered that this
had made her heart sad because of the people of Brenhoma. To them, to
be barren was the worst to happen to a woman. The approach of her time
(period) caused her apprehension every month. Seeing her blood
saddened her very deeply...'

Not that the female protagonist has no rights, or is completely suppressed in her society. In fact she has formally divorced her first two husbands because of her inability to have
children by them. Her latest man (husband) is Kwadwo, by all accounts
a good man, though he is already married to another woman (his first
wife).  

Kwadwo goes out of his way to support Pokuwaa in her nigh-forlorn quest to
at last get pregnant. We learn early in this work that he's prepared
to spend a whole week with her during special rites designed to make
her pregnant; but his choice is not as easy as he makes it sound (as
if his first wife is compliant):  

 ‘He knew he was lying. The talk with his (first) wife had only resulted in a quarrel. She had protested vehemently against his spending all that week with Pokuwaa saying that she would
not sell her rights to any barren woman. Kwadwo had left the house in
anger. Even as he told his lie now, he was looking for shadows,
fearing that his angry wife could rush in at any minute now to make
trouble’.            

Although women characteristically take a back seat in the village (not
being allowed to attend serious meetings) it appears their powers are
more subtle than meet the eye, as we read:

‘Pokuwaa was there in the area of the meeting of the elders which decided this. She knew
that the men's decisions had really come from the women and travelled
with them to the meeting place...’.

In the end Pokuwaa loses all faith in the alleged all-powerful
deity, Tone, and decides that if she be childless, so be it:

"I am a woman," Pokuwaa said. "And a woman does want a child; that is
her nature. But if a child will not come, what can I do? I can't spend
my whole life bathing in herbs..."

Ironically this is when she becomes pregnant, at long
last. The exhilaration over this is initially shared with her mother
and her best friend:          

‘While Pokuwaa was setting her pot down, her cloth came loose and fell
 away. Her mother, who was watching her, caught her breath at the
sight of her breasts and exclaimed, "Adwoa! Let me see. Let me see
something." She seized her daughter's breasts in her trembling hands.

"What is this?" She exclaimed. "Do you feel pain in them? Are they
swollen?"

"Hei! She is pregnant," Koramoa (her best friend)
exclaimed. "Pokuwaa!"...’

So all's well that ends well, even if some pundits might deem this as rather
simplistic. The novel ends on a happy, hopeful note with a
nigh-certainty that all would be well in the end. Pokuwaa is at last a very
happy woman..

The author, the late Asare Konadu was a significant and prolific Ghanaian writer during his lifetime; works like A woman in her prime show why.
- Review by O Bolaji

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