Ikem on the Oppression of Women
(from Anthills of the Savannah)

[Added by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University]

The section of the novel narrated by Beatrice contains Ikem's statements about politics, revolution, and the role of women in both. Beatrice had once charged that Ikem had "no clear role for women in his political thinking" (83), despite the fact that he had written a full length novel and a play about the Women's War of 1929 which stopped the British administration cold in its tracks" (84). Long puzzled by this charge, he at last realizes: "You were damn right. You charged me with assigning to women the role of a fire brigade after the house has caught fire and been virtually consumed" (88). This realization in turn leads Ikem to examine the nature of woman's oppression in both European and African thought.

The original oppression of Woman was based on crude denigration. She caused Man to fall. So she became a scapegoat. No, not a scapegoat which might be blameless but a culprit richly deserving of whatever suffering Man chose thereafter to heap on her. That is Woman in the Book of Genesis. Out here, our ancestors, without the benefit of hearing about the old Testament, made the very same story differing only in local colour. At first the Sky was very close to the Earth. But every evening Woman cut off a piece of the Sky to put in her soup pot or, as in yet another rendering -- so prodigious is Man's inventiveness -- she wiped her kitchen hands on the Sky's face. Whatever the detail of Woman's provocation, the Sky finally moved away in anger, and God with it.

Well, that kind of candid chauvinism might be O. K. for the rugged taste of the Old Testament. The New Testament required a more enlightened, more refined, more loving even, strategy -- ostensibly, that is. So the idea came to Man to turn his spouse into the very Mother of God, to pick her up from right under his foot where she'd been since Creation and carry her reverently to a nice, corner pedestal. Up there, her feet completely off the ground, she will be just as irrelevant to the practical decisions of running the world as she was in her bad old days. The only difference is now that Man will suffer no guilt feelings; he can sit back and congratulate himself on his generosity and gentlemanliness.

Meanwhile our ancestors out here, unaware of the New Testament, were working out independently a parallel subterfuge of their own. Nneka, they said. Mother is supreme. Let us keep her in reserve until the ultimate crisis arrives and . . . Then, as the world crashes around Man's ears, Woman in her supremacy will descend and sweep the shards together. (89)

Postcolonial Web Africa OV Nigeria OV Achebe OV Anthills OV