Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Wealth

By Buchi Emecheta

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The people of Ibuza were never to forget the night the people of Umu-Iso came for Nnu Ego. Her father excelled himself. He accepted the normal bride price, to show that he gave his blessing to the marriage. But he sent his daughter away with seven hefty men and seven young girls carrying her personal possessions. There were seven goats, baskets and baskets of yams, yards and yards of white man's cloth, twenty-four home-spun lappas, rows and rows of Hausa trinkets and coral beads. Her ornamented cooking-pots and gaudy calabashes were attractively arranged round crates of clearest oils. A new and more beautiful effigy of the slave woman who was her chi was made and placed on top of all Nnu Ego's possessions, to guard her against any evil eye. It was indeed a night of wealth display. No one had ever see anything like it….

Agbadi's heart was full to bursting point when, the second day, the people from Amatokwu's compound came to thank him for giving them his precious daughter Nnu Ego. They did so with six full kegs of palm wine. Agbadi smiled contentedly and invited everybody in his own compound to drink.

"My daughter has been found an unspoiled virgin. Her husband's people are here to thank us." (3.27-29)

Agbadi outdoes himself, displaying his wealth and generosity, in this marriage of his beloved daughter. After the bride price has been paid, and the marriage has been consummated, the groom's family sends a gift to Agbadi to thank him for successfully keeping his daughter a virgin until her marriage. We see that Nnu Ego's first marriage is between wealthy families, but she won't be so lucky with her second marriage.

All young people were the same: they never imagined they would get old. Why, not so long ago he had though that way himself. He had dreamed that he would make so much money from the white men by the time he was thirty he would be able to go back to his home town in Emekuku Owerri, where he would live as his grandparents had lived on the farm. (6.30)

Working for the white man is about making money, but reality doesn't match up to expectations. In truth, Ubani hasn't made the wealth he expected to make by working for the Meers.

Her only regret was that for this baby she could not afford a naming ceremony like the one they had given Ngozi. She had not felt inclined to do any kind of trading after Ngozi's death, and throughout the term of her second pregnancy she had been so apprehensive that something would happen to make her miscarry that she took things easy, concentrating solely on having the child safely. She had reminded herself of the old saying that money and children don't go together: if you spent all your time making money and getting rich, the gods wouldn't give you any children; if you wanted children, you had to forget money, and be content to be poor. (7.62)

Nnu Ego's wealth is her children, but that doesn't fill an empty stomach.

The older woman laughed. "You know I'm no better off than you, but at least a man pays my rent." Her husband, Abby's father, was a European who had been in the Nigerian colonial service; he had gone home after Abby was born, leaving Mama Abby fairly well provided for. The wise woman saved all the money to use for her son's education. She herself had white blood in her; she came from the Brass area, the rivers region of Nigeria whose people had had longer contact with foreigners than those from the interior: some places were so full of fair-skinned people that one might be in a world where whites and blacks had successfully intermarried and produced a nation of half-castes. By now Mama Abby had passed child-bearing age, though she would die rather than admit it to anybody. She had the slim figure of a girl and had learned the art of looking every inch a lady. She still moved with the upper crust of society, but she preferred to live fairly cheaply in rented accommodation and spend most of her money on her only brilliant son, for that would secure her a happy old age. The days when children would turn round and demand of a parent, "If you knew you couldn't afford me, then why did you have me?" had not dawned. So Abby's mama, though a woman whom many righteous would frown up on their wives associating with, bought her way into respectability through her son, who was destined to become one of the leaders of the new Nigeria. In Nnu Ego's case her husband was not there to tell her whom to talk to and whom not to. She had to eat, and she needed friends. She was like a beggar, and since when did beggars have a choice? (9.45)

Mama Abby is not a traditional woman, but she knows that following part of tradition will help her in her old age. Investing in her son now will be the way for her to gain wealth and comfort.

She smiled to see the wonder and surprise on Nnu Ego's face. She would have passed on her former stall to Nnu Ego, she said, but she was leasing it to someone who would pay her yearly.

"That will take care of my rent, at least," she finished, laughing.

"You mean you won't have to depend on men friends to do anything for you?"

"No," she replied. "I want to be a dignified single woman. I shall work to educate my daughters, though I shall not do so without male companionship." She laughed again. "They do have their uses."

Nnu Ego noticed that Adaku was better dressed—not that she wore anything new, but she put on her good clothes even on ordinary market days. She laughed a lot now; Nnu Ego had never known her to have such a sense of humour. Adaku said she had a separate room of her own, much bigger than the one they had all shared before…

After that she stopped going to Adaku in the market…Why should she deceive herself? The woman was better off as she was; she would only be socially snubbed. Nnu Ego said to herself, "I may not be snubbed, but can I keep it up? I have no money to buy food, let alone abadas in which to attend meetings and church." (15.3-8)

The irony in Nnu Ego's situation is the fact that she has behaved like a good woman should behave, and poverty has been the end result. On the other hand, Adaku is a brazen woman, leaving her husband to become a trader and a prostitute, and she grows wealthy as the result.

Nnu Ego went with Oshia to his new school in Warri. Her heart sank when they arrived. Here were the sons of very rich men, one could see from the cars that brought them. She called Oshia gently and said: "You must not go the way of these rich boys. They have so much money in their families. Son, I wish you did not have to come to this school, I wish you had chosen one of those in Lagos were things are cheaper and you meet ordinary people."

"I won't copy them, Mother. I will work hard. If I had stayed in Lagos, I don't think our home would have been conducive to my studies. There are so many quarrels over money, and me having to help selling this or that."

"You are not running away from your people, Oshia, are you?" (16.13-15)

Nnu Ego instinctively recognizes that the culture of the wealthy will estrange her son from his family. She doesn't yet realize that education itself will separate him from his traditional parents.

Oshia was looking into the darkness as they sat side by side, not touching, but Adim could feel him resenting his questions. "What help can one give with only twelve pounds a month? That is what they pay now, even with a good Cambridge school-leaving certificate."

Adim did not know what to say. It sounded a lot of money to him. The school he dreamed of attending was only six pounds a year for day boys; if his brother could earn twelve pounds and ten shillings a month, then they would be rich. That was a great deal of money, he told his brother enthusiastically; "What will you do with all that money? I'm not sure our father earns up tot hat."

Oshia had laughed again. (16.25-27)

Oshia has already absorbed the values of his wealthy classmates, and he doesn't see how he can possibly help his family, even though his monthly salary upon graduating will be almost 3/5 of his father's yearly salary (which we know from earlier in the book to be twenty pounds a year).

Nnaife did not go to see Oshia off on the day he left for the United States. Nnu Ego, Okpo, Adim and several of their friends went to the airport to wave him goodbye. It left an emptiness in Nnu Ego's heart that was hard to communicate. Please God, teach him to be used to being alone, for a person like Oshia who put ambition first at the expense of his family was always a loner, Nnu Ego thought as she returned home dry-eyed. Friends and well-wishers were surprised to see that she did not cry; and when they predicted that soon her son would be back and driving her about in a big car, she knew that they had all missed the point. She was not destined to be such a mother. She realized that now. Her joy was to know that she had brought up her children when they had started out with nothing, and that those same children might rub shoulders one day with the great men of Nigeria. That was the reward she expected. (17.43)

The rewards of education should be enjoying wealth, but Nnu Ego knows that her only reward will be appreciating her children's prestige. It will never be her prestige as well.

Nnu Ego dried her tears and said primly, "Oh, I haven't just got daughters, I have a son in 'Emelika', a boy in grammar school, and another who is going to be a farmer."

"Oh, you are a rich madam," the driver said. (18.102-103)

A mother's wealth is in her children.

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