Voices on the New Diasporas - an MIT student journal

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I'm Worth More Than A Cow

by Sadik Antwi-Boampong

Friday night. Gales of laughter could be heard everywhere. The little children with their crafted toys, sleeping mats, blazing lanterns run excitedly to the old man sitting under the tall baobab tree in the middle of the park. Each one competes to be the first to get there. The old man, Papa Adjasco, watches expectantly, his bright eyes glowing with joy. Papa Adjasco is revered in the village for his sharpness of mind. He is in fact, a living legend. He adores folktales and loves to tell these fascinating stories to the children on Friday nights.

Occasionally, the children come with their parents who also clamor for a spot beside him. Papa Adjasco tells stories for all ages. The stories take several forms: didactic, thrilling, and tragic and very often, comical. The children dream of the storytelling nights. They pray hard for that happy moment when they can listen to Papa Adjasco and savor every bit of it with relish, when the time comes.

Like every seven year old boy in the village, Baba finishes his chore of feeding the chickens, very early that night. He always behaves well on Fridays so that he will not incur the displeasure of his parents. As he feeds the chicken, he treats them with utmost care so that he can get it done quickly. However, if they fail to return his kind gesture, he practically forces the grains down their throats. Nothing can stand in his way and definitely not these chickens, who will soon find themselves in his mother’s pot of soup during the annual village festival.

He struggles to obtain a spot on the left side of Papa Adjasco and he can hardly believe his luck.

“My boy, how are you this evening?” Papa Adjasco asks, beaming down at him.

“I’m doing great, Papa.” Baba replies.

“Are you ready for the story?” Papa asks again.

“No! He’s not Papa, he is certainly going to fall asleep as usual!” A boy shouts from the back row and everyone roared with laughter. Baba is livid.

“That’s not true!” He strongly protests. Papa Adjasco only smiles.

“Show by hands how many of you girls are soon to marry?” Papa Adjasco asks. Almost all the girls raise their hands. “Well, this story goes to you.”

Papa announces and begins the story.

* * *

Once upon a time in the beautiful hills of Bolo, lived Agana, the dream girl of all the men in Bolo. She had a tall figure with well chiseled features. She was fourteen and in the second year of her high school education. She had always wanted to become just like her mother: a housewife with fourteen children. But after meeting with the visiting, government nurse who hailed from Bolo, she decided to become a nurse in the future. But she knew that dream could not come true.

She was fourteen and as tradition demanded in Bolo, she had to marry the man she had been to betrothed to by her parents. Asana, a final year student at her school, who had been very clever, gave up her dreams of furthering her education, to marry her husband just a year ago. But Agana felt that it was not right. She felt that she had a right to follow her dreams just like her eleven brothers. Was it a crime to be a woman? Was her role in the world, to kowtow to the beck and call of a man at all times? Would Nurse Zaina have been able to save her father’s life three months ago when he had been attacked by the village rogues for his hunting game if she had also foolishly taken a foray into marriage at an age of fourteen? Funny enough, these rogues were the very men her father considered, her “prospective suitors.”

Her father, Nna was a very difficult man. No one in the family ever dared to disobey Nna’s orders. Nna had a quick temper and took drastic decisions when resolving matters. For instance, during the harvesting season, he almost disowned Baga, his eldest son when he refused to help in marketing the grains from the harvest. This and many other circumstances made Agana shudder at the thought of a rebellion. Nna had only one daughter and to him, that was unfortunate because that meant that he would only receive one cow as bride price in his lifetime if Agana were to get married. Papa Bello had received twelve cows for his twelve daughters and was thought of as one of the richest men in the village. His sons-in law had helped him to build several huts and cultivated all his crops for him. Nna wished he was as lucky.

However, he contented himself with the fact that he had Agana because some men had no daughters at all. Also, he took solace took solace in the fact that Agana’s beauty, added more value and possibly might fetch him another cow since the suitors would compete for her hand in marriage. Several suitors came over to the house day after day to ask for Agana’s hand in marriage. Mama Sadi, his wife, was so elated her only daughter was finally going to get married and had already began teaching Agana certain things that would enable her to perform her role as a woman in the village.

She taught Agana how to cook a lot of meals and on a day that a suitor was visiting, Agana had to give up school to stay in the house to cook something for him. At first, Agana decided to make the food very salty or tasteless so the man would not want her as a wife. What sane man, would want to get married to a woman with no culinary skills? But she did no go ahead with her plan when Nna requested to eat together with her suitor every time. Usually Mama Sadi assisted and sometimes even took over the cooking so that the food would turn out excellently.

Agana was getting scared by the day because very soon, Nna was going to give in to one of the suitors. She hated all the men with a passion. One day, as she was about to embark on her mile long journey to school, Nna called out her name twice, an indication in the Bolo culture that he was going to say something very important.

“My beloved daughter, sit down beside me. Sit down beside your proud father.” He said. Agana obliged.

“Mama Sadi! Mama Sadi! Come, my dearest wife.” Nna shouted and Mama Sadi obediently rushed from the kitchen into the parlor, smiling.

“Sit, my dear, I have great news for you.” Nna beckoned to his beautiful wife.

* * *

Wham! Nna slapped Agana. “Are you mad? Do you want to bring disgrace to me and this family? Mama Sadi, talk to your daughter!” Nna fumed and left, fuming with rage. Agana was dazed. It took a while for her to recover from the slap. She saw it coming. Tears rolled uncontrollably down her cheeks. She had told them boldly that she would not marry Timbili. Mama Sadi looked at her in shock.

“Agana,” she said gently placing her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “My dear, it is our custom. I went through it and I am very happy I did it. I have a wonderful husband and fourteen lovely children.”

Agana looked her mother in the face and this time the tears rolled profusely. Her pain had been heightened by her mother’s words. How could a woman not understand her fellow woman? How was it possible that her mother could not feel her pain? That was betrayal. It saddened her that her mother could look her in the face and lie so blatantly.

“Mother, was it your dream to become a housewife with fourteen children?” She asked in a muffled voice. Her mother looked away. “Answer me mother. I need to know. Please answer me mother.” Agana cried on. Her mother still looked away and said nothing. “If that was your dream mother, then I am very happy you achieved it. I also have a dream and I also want to achieve it just like you did, mother.”

Mama Sadi was amazed at her daughter’s wise words. Agana’s words pierced her heart like a sword. She felt her daughter’s pain because she knew how it felt. She had been there before and she had hated it. She hated herself for disappointing her beloved daughter with her words. But did she have a choice? No, she did not. No matter how much pain Agana was going through, she had to find the courage to get married to Timbili. Agana had to follow the customs of the land. Certainly, no married woman in the village could genuinely say that she loved it when she had to marry her betrothed. But they all did it in the name of custom. No woman had ever refused to follow the tradition and certainly, Agana was not going to be the first.

Somehow, every woman had managed to find the courage to do it and honored the custom of the land. It was a sign of honor for every woman and if a woman refused to do it, she was banished from the village: abandoned by family and friends. She was not going to let that happen to her daughter.

“Agana, my daughter,” Mama Sadi finally broke the silence. She stared into Agana’s sad black eyes and smiled at her innocence.

“Please listen to me. Twenty-five years ago, I was in your shoes and believe me; I went through the maelstrom of emotions you are going through now. I cried and cried and hoped for a change, just like you. But my daughter, this is the custom of the land and that is what defines the women. You will bring honor to your father if you agreed to marry Timbili. Timbili is a fine young man and very hardworking. He is from a rich family and will honor you with a wonderful cow for your bride price.........”

“Stop it! Stop it mother! I’m not worth a cow!” With that statement, Agana, now totally distraught, ran off to her room. Her mother remained there, completely saddened. And as she saw her daughter run into her room, tears rolled down her cheeks uncontrollably. But she wiped her face immediately her husband appeared in front of the door.

“Agana?” Her husband demanded.

“Everything is under control my dear. Everything is under control.” she lied to prevent Nna from getting worked up.

For the rest of the day, Agana remained in her room. She refused to eat or talk to anyone. No one and nothing existed for her. Her life was over.

* * *

“It’s time for a break.” Papa Adjasco announces. It was time for a musical interlude to wake up the sleeping kids and refresh every one.

“I agree with you Papa! Baba is drooling now!” Everyone bursts into laughter. Even Papa Adjasco laughs out loud. Baba, this time around could not produce a defense because he is asleep! A nudge from his best friend Danaa, brings him back to reality and there is more laughter. They drum and dance to a popular folksong about the tortoise and the hare. The cool wind continues to caress their bodies and the moon shone so brightly, illuminating everywhere with splendor. Papa Adjasco serves everybody a calabash of frothing milk and Baba is the first to finish it. Infectious gaiety fills the air. Papa Adjasco continues the rest of the story.

* * *

“Mother! He is adorable!” Agana gushed.

“Who?” Her mother asked, astounded. “Timbili! All the girls in the village are talking about him and they all want him. I want him, mother.”

“Ummmm…” the elder woman was lost for words. She could hardly believe her ears. It was only two days ago that Agana refused marriage to Timbili. Is this Agana, my daughter? She was seeing a very different girl and she was pleasantly surprised about that.

“Oh my daughter, you have made me proud. I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear this. Your father must hear this.” Mama Sadi rushed out of the kitchen to share the good news with her husband, who surfaced immediately in the kitchen to embrace Agana.

“I am proud of you, my dear. You will see how happy you shall be. Timbili shall honor you with a very fat, pregnant cow!” The trio laughed at the joke.

“Napre!” Nna called his youngest son. He sent Napre to invite Timbili and all his brothers to dinner that night. He sent Agana’s brothers to people all over the village to announce the good news. That night, Timbili and his brothers enjoyed a delicious meal prepared solely by Agana. They set a date for the marriage ceremony and as Timbili was leaving, Agana gave him a lingering kiss. Timbili was ecstatic. The marriage ceremony was in three days and he could hardly wait to share connubial bliss with Agana.

The following two days were filled with preparation for the ceremony. Working in tandem with the other married women in the town, Mama Sadi did a great job to get everything in order for the ceremony. On the eve of the wedding, everything was set and they were all frazzled. But thoughts of the colorful occasion that awaited them had a tonic effect on them. Agana prattled on and on about her excitement the whole day till everybody grew tired of her and turned in.

When everyone was fast asleep, she grabbed the bag and set the plan in motion. With a lantern blazing the trail, she started her journey to Bompese, her journey to freedom. There was no one on the path she chose and she took very few items so that she would not arouse suspicion. The path was lined with gnarled trees that curtained it in a way she found sinister but she remain undaunted. She went on and on and after three hours, she was a long way from home.

Finally she stopped. Her heart was racing like a prey seeking refuge from the cheetah in the dry savanna plain. Her legs were numb and her feet were sore and she could hardly breathe. She was very hungry now and desperately needed to eat. Agana had half run and half walked a distance of three miles. The forest she found herself in was the thickest one in the town. People seldom used the forest because of the wild animals that lived in it. But she had no choice; she had to use it. That was the only exit from her village, Bolo into Bompese, the neighboring village.

Two minutes passed and there was still no sign of food. All the berries she came across were wild berries her mother had warned her about when she was a child. Ten minutes passed, and there was still no food. There was no time to waste so she gave up. .She would rather die than have anyone find her. Danger was still imminent. Agana grabbed her bag and just when she was about to follow the route, she heard distant voices. The voices grew closer and she immediately recognized the voices. Timbili! Timbili and his brothers had managed to find her. A voice told her to run and another told her to hide behind one of the trees and let Timbili and his men pass by. Cleverly, she chose the second option and once Timbili and his brothers had passed, she retraced her steps to a point and chose an alternative path.

Later, Agana continued her journey. She was going to look for Nurse Zaina in Bompese and tell her about her dilemma. Surely, that woman should be able to assist her somehow. Whatever came out of it, she was ready to face it. At last, she came across some berries that she loved and sat in a shade to enjoy them. She saw a hunter passing by and quickly hid. But the hunter had already seen her so he came over and spoke to her. Agana told him about her situation and he felt very sorry for her.

“That custom is no more practiced in my village” He remarked after awhile. He lived in a village north of Bolo. He was going to definitely pass through Bolo to sell his hunting game. He gave her plenty of food to eat on her way and she thanked him.

“God be with you. May He keep you safe child.” And with that he started to leave.

“Please tell my parents that I am worth more than a cow.” Agana requested. The hunter nodded. He continued his journey to Bolo, to sell his game but most importantly, to deliver Agana’s message.

* * *

My children, let’s end here for tonight. Lets meet here same time tomorrow for what happens to Agana.” Everyone is chagrined. All the children leave for their respective homes. Baba returned home dreamy and when his mother asked him to tell her the story, all he could say was, “I’m worth more than a chicken,” and went to bed.

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