A Review of Lola Shoneyin’s book, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
“…when the time comes for you to marry, take one wife and one wife alone. And when she causes you pain as all women do, remember it is better that your pain comes from one source alone — Baba Segi.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is an engaging and heart-stirring tale. It mirrors the struggles and dilemma of the African woman. The story illuminates the excruciating pains, societal mockeries, and criticism many African women experience due to their childlessness. These women, therefore, have to devise unique, crafty, and traditional ways to salvage this unpleasant crisis.
This fiction is by Ogun State University and London Metropolitan University trained teacher of English Language and Drama, Lola Shoneyin. And it reveals the African myth-the erroneous belief that childlessness is solely traceable to a woman. This staunch mindset finds a way to exonerate the male gender.
The story equally unleashes the African woman’s unrelenting passion to shield her loved ones, and her quest to regain her lost identity.
The author adopts the first person singular in the exploration of each character. This helps the reader analyze the life of every character. The reader can safely conclude that there is a rationale behind any man’s demeanor, whether good or bad. The descriptions of each event flow freely with clarity and cohesion.
Baba Segi was a proud and endearing husband of four wives. He was a father to seven children, and a Nigerian businessman that sold construction materials. He believed that his decision to husband many wives and father gaggle several children revealed his affluence and the authenticity of his manhood.
Yet everything seemed to go on a smooth ride in his polygamous world until the arrival of his fourth wife, Bolanle, a university graduate. In her words, Bolanle had chosen this family, and there was no regret. What she had was a deep commitment. She spurned her friends’ advice against her choice to marry into a polygamous setting.
Bolanle wanted to regain her life and heal in anonymity from the memories of molestation and rape at age fifteen. She had been through hard times. She had said emphatically: ‘…and when you choose a family, you stay with them.’
Bolanle’s arrival culminated in intense heat and tension in Baba Segi’s polygamous home. The other wives, i.e., Iya Segi, Iya Tope, and Iya Femi, each fondly addressed by her eldest child’s name were practically resentful and jealous of Bolanle. They had a cynical mindset that Bolanle’s academic prowess constituted a threat to their peaceful cohabitation. They could not stand and watch her craftily steal their husband’s attention.
Their resentment toward her increased when she attempted to teach them how to read. This scheme led to the plot of her downfall. The other wives had drawn the battle lines. They worked on teaching her a lesson by the execution of their grand plan.
However, there was a secret that lurked beneath their seemingly perfect patriarchal home. It was one about Baba Segi, veiled only to Bolanle and Baba Segi himself.
What was the first plot to rid Bolanle?
The other wives planted fetish substances in the house and labelled Bolanle as an impostor. According to them, she had attempted to cast a fatal spell on Baba Segi’s life. However, Bolanle debunked the false accusation by her calm but logical approach.
Another attempt to get rid of their much detested Bolanle got them poisoning a meal prepared for her. But to their dismay, Segi, the first daughter of the family, ate Bolanle’s food. This led to her rolling on the floor in deep agony. This incident claimed her life. Baba Segi knelt beside her unconscious body pleading, “Tell the gods you want to stay here with me!”
Here was Bolanle, a young woman trying to find her life back at the center of the acclaimed societal norms. She was haunted by the cultural expectations that married women must bear children and take responsibility for issues around childlessness.
The height of it was that Baba Segi had clearly stated that her barrenness was a shame to him. Statements such as, “What is wrong with your womb?” “If your father has sold me a rotten fruit, it will be returned to him,” made life unbearable for Bolanle.
Bolanle declined from several attempts to seeking traditional healers and remedies. Hence, Baba Segi resorted to taking his prim and wife to the hospital for tests. Following Baba Segi’s boasts about his potency and social status as a patriarch was a torrent of unplanned outcomes.
The results of the medical investigations were heartbreaking for Baba Segi. In reality, Baba Segi, though not impotent, was not as virile as he had proclaimed. Bolanle had been exonerated!
Although it took some time, Bolanle ultimately had a firm grip on the puzzle- the unpleasant secret. This revealed secret unleashed the deception and fallacy upon which the foundation of Baba Segi’s household was hinged. Oblivion to Baba Segi, his three wives had adopted traditional means to conceiving, because of his unrevealed infertility issues.
Finally, the concerted efforts to evict Bolanle from Baba Segi’s house ultimately led to the display of their folly!
Lola Shoneyin once opined in The Guardian:
“The sad truth is, polygamy constitutes a national embarrassment in any country that fantasizes about progress and development. Polygamy devalues women and the only person who revels in it is the husband who gets to enjoy variety. You, poor women, will become nothing more than a dish at the buffet.”
The author, Lola Shoneyin is a native of Ibadan, Nigeria. She is the author of three notable anthologies: So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (Award-Winning poetry at The ANA Poetry, 1997), Song of a Riverbird, and For the Love of Flight.
She currently lives in Abuja with her husband and four children.