Iyawo, a hugely important component of human existence, evokes interesting feelings. The word “Iyawo” has gained such ascendancy that it has reached even Eastern Nigeria. It is not uncommon to hear people in Ikwuano or Okigwe call out “Iyawo” sometimes with a very different intonation from Yoruba, the original owners of the word. However, the meaning of the word remains the same in Ibadan or Aramoko or even in those Eastern enclaves.
The word, without adducing extraneous thoughts, simply and amply means “wife.” And young wives are the ones most often identified by the generic appellation. In the northern parts of the country, the equivalent of the same concept is said to be “Amarya” without prejudice to “Matar.” And to all intents and purposes, that is where the similarities end. This is so because there are deep-seated cultural differences when issues concern a new wife.
For instance, one Iyawo – actually my uncle’s wife – sent us around as she liked, and it was only normal that we catered to her as the minors in the house. She was always ready with her fresh, leafy stems to promptly discipline any of us that defied her instructions. She flogged disobedience out of me and my cousins and sundry relatives back in the days.
But in Yorubaland, especially Ibadan, it is believed that Iyawo does not enjoy such moral luxury and privileges. She would not even call her husband’s siblings and other children there by their names. She is sentenced to calling them “Brother” (Buoda) or “Aunty” (Anti) whenever she needs their attention. It is doubtful if it is in her place to dispense discipline, unlike the Iyawo I knew could do in my childhood days.
It was the Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who gave an interesting insight into the word “Iyawo” during his lifetime while discussing marriage with newsmen. The legendary musician had married 27 women in one day at a ceremony in Lagos, which made the maverick prophet a pacesetter in that regard. This, some believe, more than anything else and beyond what anybody could argue, appeared to have given him the solid ground to discuss marriage and Iyawo issues.
Fela had defined marriage, which is “Igbeyawo” in Yoruba language, as “Carry suffer look.” His uncanny definition of marriage threw many off balance, but it was vintage. Fela, who had dismantled the word into convenient syllables to draw his analysis. He said it meant “gbe iya wo” and gave the English meaning as “carry suffer look”, which is a transliteration of the words.
Fela’s Iyawo theory came to mind when one tried to figure out a convenient convergence of the cacophonous socio-economic realities of today’s Nigeria. Since the beginning of September 2020, Nigerians have cried more about economic hardship than they had done since the beginning of the year. The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the citizenry most of the year, but government’s hike in prices of commodities at the beginning of September 2020, coupled with already soaring inflation has turned out to be its most inconsiderate decision so far.
The link with Fela’s queer definition of Iyawo is in what foisted on Nigeria and Nigerians this kind of uninspiring government. In 2015, millions of Nigerians cried for a change in government and that the Jonathan administration should be voted out for a better handling of the country. Nigerians’ call for change drowned every other voice in the polity. However, many of the millions that were rooting for change did not properly interrogate what would come when politicians aligned to give us the change.
A few days to the beginning of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Brookings Africa Growth Initiative Nonresident Senior Fellow, Richard Joseph, made three interesting observations in his article entitled “Nigeria’s renewed hope for democratic development.” He said: “First, the 2015 elections were the most credible the country has experienced since constitutional government was restored in 1999. Second, the winning party brought together political leaders of two traditionally antagonistic sub-national groups: the Hausa-Fulani of the north and the Yoruba of the southwest. Third, with Buhari as commander-in-chief, the armed forces are expected to rout Boko Haram and enable 1.5 million displaced persons to return to their communities.”
Professor Joseph’s first and third points are there for anybody’s free analysis. The interest here is in his second point. A significant number of Nigerians saw that marriage of strange political bedfellows was unhealthy for the country, and upon deep reflection, observed that its fruits were always going to be bitter and inconvenient. Historically, the Yoruba of the South West are not known to play in the same political league as the Hausa-Fulani of the North. The two powerful groups are, using Joseph’s words, “antagonistic” because in many aspects of life, one is upwardly progressive in political ideology while the other is ultra conservative.
By dragging a South West that thrives in progressive ideology into a political marriage with an unbending, conservative North, the Yoruba has been subsumed as the Iyawo. She has therefore, like true Iyawo, lost the grounds to speak up against her husband and his family, irrespective of their atrocity or cruelty. The entire country can feel the pangs of this marriage as it concerns each sub-national group. It is even the Iyawo that is made to wear a broad smile to openly tell the sweetness of her marriage while she tearfully crumbles into her family’s bosom when in seclusion.
That is one of the reasons the country has suddenly begun to hear Vice President Yemi Osinbajo speak again on the government. He has of late been churning out lucid arguments for the hardship his government is piling on Nigerians. He has conveniently ignored what sacrifice government operatives should be making. He has not spoken on the need to cut the cost of governance, reduce ministries and reform our odiously expensive legislative system. He is waving with a smile and crying in the heart.
In Efua Sutherland’s ‘The Marriage of Anansewa’, Ananse ignored his reluctant but helpless daughter eve as she cried “…Oh, my father is selling me, he is selling me… I will not let you sell me like some parcel to a customer, I will select my lover myself, I will not take part in any photograph engagement.” The bride, Anansewa was sold by his father, Ananse. Adaobi Nkeokelonye in her beautiful analysis of the book said: “Secretarial education was the carrot Ananse dangled to Anansewa, symbolised in the overpriced typewriter he gives her. Yet beneath all these, Ananse aims to fulfill his ridiculous ambition, and Anansewa’s marriage was a means to his successful ending.”
Isn’t marriage is a wonderful thing?
To our husband, “the accumulation of powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands whether of one, a few or many and whether hereditary, self-appointed or elective may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” James Madison, the fourth president of the United States gave that suasion.
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