The Bride Price
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|Publisher||Allison & Busby
The Bride Price is a 1976 novel (first published in the UK by Allison & Busby and in the USA by George Braziller) by Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta. It concerns, in part, the problems of women in post-colonial Nigeria.
In the city of Lagos, the Ibo Aku-nna and her brother, Nna-nndo, are bid farewell by their father Ezekiel, who says he is going to hospital for a few hours – their mother, Ma Blackie, is back home in Ibuza, performing fertility rites. It becomes apparent that he is much sicker than he let his children know, and he dies three weeks later. They have the funeral the day before Ma Blackie arrives; she takes them back to Ibuza with her, as she now becomes the wife of Ezekiel’s brother Okonkwo.
The family is problematic in Ibuza – Ma Blackie has some of her own money, and so her children receive much more schooling than other children in the village, particularly the children of her new husband’s other wives. Aku-nna is blossoming, though she is thin and passive, and starts to attract the attention of young men in the neighborhood, though she has not yet started to menstruate. Her stepfather Okonkwo, who has ambitions of being made a chief, begins to anticipate a large bride price for her. Meanwhile she has begun to fall for her teacher Chike, who in turn has developed a passion for her. Chike is the descendant of slaves – when colonization started, the Ibo often sent their slaves to the missionary schools so they could please the missionaries without disrupting Ibo life, and now the descendants of those slaves hold most of the privileged positions in the region.
Chike’s inferior background means it is unlikely that Okonkwo will agree to let him marry Aku-nna, although his family is wealthy enough to offer a generous bride price. When Aku-nna begins menstruating – the sign that she is now old enough to get married – she at first conceals it in order to stave off the inevitable confrontation. When she finally reveals that she has her period, young men come to court her and Okonkwo receives several offers. One night, after she finds out that she has passed her school examination (meaning she might become a teacher, earning money by means other than the bride price) she and the other young women of her age-group are practicing a dance for the upcoming Christmas celebration when men burst in and kidnap her.
The family of an arrogant suitor with a limp, Okoboshi, has kidnapped her to be his bride in order to “save” her from the attentions of Chike. On her wedding night, she lies and tells Okoboshi that she is not a virgin and has slept with Chike; he refuses to touch her. The next day, word of her disgrace has already spread around the village when Chike rescues her and the two elope, fleeing to Ughelli where Chike has work. The two begin a happy life together, marred by her guilt over her unpaid bride price – Okonkwo, furious, refuses to accept any of the increasingly generous offers made by Chike’s father, and has gone so far as to divorce Ma Blackie and torture a doll made in Aku-nna’s image.
When Aku-nna feels sick, she goes home. There she is not sure if she will have a baby. Soon the doctor in Chike´s oil company confirms that Aku-nna will have a baby. Later on when she feels sick and screams, Chike brings her to the hospital. There Aku-nna dies in childbirth. Chike christens his baby Joy.
The Bride Price was favourably reviewed on both sides of the Atlantic. Peter Tinniswood, writing in The Times, called the novel "highly impressive", concluding: "In the last decade or so there has been some exciting literature coming from Black Africa, and this book is in the very top rank of the movement. I recommend it warmly and without reservation." Anthony Thwaite wrote in The Observer: "Buchi Emecheta is an unstrivingly poignant writer, who convinces through plain narrative authenticity and a feeling for character." Hilary Bailey remarked in Tribune that the novel "manages to pull off the trick of bringing the reader through to the realities common to us all", while the review in The New Yorker commented: "The clash of Christian and African cultures, of generations, of ancient and modern pieties, and of group custom and the individual will are all vividly portrayed in this pure, fluid novel.... The author has a plain, engaging style and manages to convey all the lushness, poverty, superstition, and casual cruelty of a still exotic (to Western readers) culture while keeping her tale as sharp as a folk ballad."
- Peter Tinniswood, Fiction, The Times, 24 June 1976.
- Anthony Thwaite, "Fiction: Faded truths", The Observer, 20 June 1976.
- Hilary Bailey, "The distraction of foreignness", Tribune, 18 September 1976.
- "Briefly Noted - Fiction", The New Yorker, 17 May 1976.