Monday, 27 December 2010

The Jealous Queen

I have been blogging for a little more than  amonth now and I noticed that although I had wanted to focuss on all sorts of books from all over the world I have mainly talked about American and European books. So I decided to mix it up and throw in an African tale I recently read. It's called The Jealous Queen from the Ibo-people in Nigeria. I have rewritten and shortened it for you, because the original is ten pages long.

There was once a rick king called Chuckwudi. He had hundreds upon hundreds of servants and was loved by his people, because he was a just and kind ruler. He was getting older and was worried about who would be his heir, because he had only 7 daughters and no sons. So he said to his wife that he would have to get himself a second wife, in the hope that she would give him his much desired son. The Queen Nwakaego however was pregnant, so he waited until the baby was born in case it was a son. Nwakaego however bore him another girl.

The king became so mad, that he locked himself up in his room for three days and didn't eat or drink. On the third day he told his wife he would marry again. Nwakaego was heart-broken and gave him a condition. The other woman shouldn't live in the house and shouldn't be seen as a Queen, otherwise Nwakaego would kill herself. She gave him a day to consider and finally, he accepted. A little house was built behind the palace and the search for a bride began.

Many rich men came to present their daughters to the king, but he didn't want to marry any of them, because all of them were around his oldest daughter's age. The Queen persuaded him to marry Okwuoyibo,  a poor hunter's widow, because she thought Okwuoyibo wouldn't be a threat to her. Okwuoyibo was so happy during her weddingday that she didn't notice the hateful stares that Nwakaego gave her. The little house seemed like a palace to her and she thought her life would be so much better now. But she was wrong.

Nwakaego had forbidden the servants to serve and help Okwuoyibo and she had to beg for her food from the palace guards. The king wondered why she was so cast down, but Okwuoyibo thought he had ordered the servants to ignore her, so she didn't tell him of her sorrows. But then Okwuoyibo became pregnant and she was sure everything would be better now, because she was convinced she carried a son. She told Nwakaego, still convinced of her innocence. Nwakaego was terrified by the possibility of Okwuoyibo having a son and treated her only more cruelly.

In the last days of her pregnancy Nwakaego offered Okwuoyibo a room in the palace under one condition. During the birth only Nwakaego would be present and if it was a girl, she would bring her to the river and dump her there. But if it was a boy they would immediately call their husband. The gullible Okuoyibo believed her and accepted, but Nwakaego had decided that in case it was indeed a son she would also dump him at the river.

When the day had come she covered Okwuoyibo's eyes, telling her it would help against the pain. A little boy was born, but Nwakaego exclaimed: 'A girl.' and rushed away to the river and dumped the little boy there. She didn't know however that she was being watched by an old woman, Obiageli, who took the little boy in. Okwuobiyo went to the king and told him she had delivered a dead baby-girl, as she and Nwakaego had agreed. The king was grief-strikken and became sadder every day.

Five years passed and they were aweful for Okuoyibo. She had to work hard until the late hours and wasn't given any rest. She had stopped hoping her life would ever be better. The little boy, Chukwuemeka, grew up and became a beautiful and kind little boy. One day he asked Obiageli about his parents and she promised they would visit them, but they would have to ask the king for permission. They dressed up in their best clothes and set out.

When they arrived at the gates they were made to wait for hours, until they were finally led into the Grand Hall. There the king was with his hundreds of servants and the Queen Nwakaego. Obiageli told him she had a personal message, so he sent away his servants. She however said she wanted to talk to him in private, so he also dismissed the Queen. Then Obiageli whispered into his ear everyhting she had seen that fateful night and showed him his son.

The king was overjoyed and he called Okuoyibo and whispered it into her ear. She hugged her son a thousand times and was as happy as a mother could be. Nwakaego was banished from the country, never to return. Chuckwuemeka and Obiageli came to live in the palace and Okuoyibo became Queen and she was loved by all the people. When the king died she became ruler, until her son was old enough. He became just as beloved as his father and ruled just until the end of his days.
This story does not belong to me!

I do like this story, but there is also something off about it. The bad person in this tale is definitely the Queen Nwakaego, but just try to imagine how she must have felt. You went through eight pregnancies for that guy and simply because they're all girls he decides to marry someone else. I don't think I'd like that very much. Of course, she almost killed the baby, but to banish her for life  and threaten to kill her when she comes back seems a bit harsh. And what about all his daughters? They seem to be pretty worthless to the king and aren't mentioned once in the tale. I could imagine that having their mother banished would have been very hard and to see their younger brother ascend to the throne.

Of course you have to see these sort of tales in their settings. Maybe the daughters didn't mind because they accepted that they weren't fit to be rulers. If it had been like that for generations, why would it be different with them? Okuoyibo seems to be the heroine of the tale, if that is possible. But I think she is rather weak and that is also why I used the word 'gullible' to describe her in the story. She seems to believe everything that Nwakaego syays, but why trust someone to whom you are so obviously a threat? I don't think that's a very good trait to have as a queen.

The only character I really like is Obiageli, who takes the little boy in. She takes care of him and when he asks for his parents she takes him to see them. I haven't been able to say it in as muh detail above as in the real tale, but the king is impressed by her behaviour when she comes to him. She talks in a way that demands respect and submission. Once again it seems as if the older woman is above the younger women. She is given respect, she gets a private audience with the king, while Okuoyibo can't even dare tot ell him she is mistreated.

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I kind of agree with you but I also think that is because of the culture I live in. Here women have more rights than in many African countries, like Nigeria. I think it would be interesting to get someone's opinion who have lived in Nigeria...