Sunday 7 August 2016

Fishing the Women in "The Fishermen"

In this review of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, Ada Chioma Ezeano does an interesting feminist reading of the book. Finally, there is a response to the question for a feminist reading of the text raised in our earlier review of the book. In this review, Ada Chioma Ezeano is thorough. 

For a complete reading, read our earlier review of the book here


Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin are fishermen who only discover their adventurous skills when the chief ventricle of their home leaves the home in Akure because his employer, the Central Bank of Nigeria, transfers him to Yola. Prior to this transfer, the Agwus fear no evil; the boys only fear their father who guerdons their skins for even insignificant wrongs. In The Fishermen, Obioma raises a prophecy that looks into the politics of gender while fictionalizing the society’s obtainable stories about the dependent woman.

The book hinges its story on the shoulders of Adaku Agwu, the mindless mother that leaves her sons to wander away because her husband is away, and in bits, chronicles about the gossipy hawker, Iya Iyabo, who can only raise malnourished sons because her husband is dead, about the woman who sleeps with a mad man because her husband is dead, and then about Abulu’s mother who raised a mad son, and a thieving son and a harlot because her husband is away. All these women are evidences that there are negative effects of having women depend solely on the man.

Chigozie Obioma’s story is a well told story that depicts the dullness of the other gender in the 1990s, just around when MKO Abiola’s raised hopes of presiding Nigeria gets annulled in 1993. It delineates the accumulated silence and passivity of the women and the dire consequences of this inordinate virtue on the society. It is studded with necessary pulchritudinous words and aims at leaving the reader with ultimate satisfaction. He weaves a resplendent story that reveals the adventurous spirits of boys, the dependent traits in women and the heroic genes in men. The gamut of his oeuvre lies in the grand depiction of the deception garnered for the women by the society.  It also shows the consequences of raising a girl-child to become nothing but a pride to her groom, the beautiful bride who drops her pride to groom her groom. In the African society, a girl-child that cooks all is preferred to the one that knows all.    

Adaku’s performative identity reveals her to be a helpless dependent female. She is simply a helpmate who upholds the irrational binary often invoked in regard to women. Under her nose, her first four boys break free to become what they should not be. And breaking free means shattering windows, hitting the crippled, skipping school, fishing fish and then the apocalyptic prophecy.  Adaku didn’t see that the gradual disappearance of Eme Agwu from the home caused an ebbing of her sons’ uptight discipline. And as a ‘falconer’ she stands on the hills to watch her sons die a slow death. ‘She is only fully realised in the presence of (her husband). Her maternal vigilance falls apart with his (Eme Agwu) momentarily absence.’

Another remarkable thing about Adaku is that she tells a plethora of embarrassing stories while her husband discusses politics and banking. Her husband is a banker while Adaku runs a fresh food store in the open market, and only tsked when her husband ordered her to quit going to the market on Saturdays. He changed her closing time from 7pm to 5pm. Still, she only tsked. Never mind that this is the same man who ignored his wife when she repeatedly reminded him of the consequences of leaving his growing boys for her alone.
All the women depicted in The Fishermen needed the umbrella of a man to be. And when there is no man, the women, like Iya Iyabo, whose husband, Yusuf, died in the war in Sierra Leone, swim in the seas of endless needs. She perfectly raised two malnourished sons while hawking groundnut and stories.

There is Aderonke who kills her husband, Biyi. Aderonke is another woman who depicts the passivity of women in the society. Here is a woman who depends on her drunken husband for money. Her child, Onyiladun, is sick, and instead of finding alternative means of procuring drugs for her sick child, she prefers to sit and wait for the drunk man to come home and bring the money as a man. But Biyi brings on something else. He beats her and her sick child, and to save her sick child as a mother, she commits murder. 

The mad man, Abulu, has a mother who remains nameless. Abulu’s father embarks on a journey and does not return, and there are three children to raise. However, can she cope without a man? Her daughter leaves home to become a harlot. Her sons become thieves. And she mindlessly stirs the insane one with the sight of her nakedness, and he rapes her. In her motherly presence, her son’s madness detonates after killing her brother. She couldn’t help because her husband isn’t there to help. If only she is conditioned to be independent.  
If only all the women in the book are conditioned to be independent…
The Fishermen is indeed one book whose footstep can cause a stampede. Obioma reminds the society, once again, of what is at stake if the society keeps raising girls to depend on the men in their lives, if the girl-child is expected to be nothing but a man’s daughter or a man’s wife. The narrative does not fail to deeply highlight the consequences of an unequal system for both genders. In fact, it mirrors Adichie’s statement that ‘Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.’ And Obioma has demonstrated that gender, if unchecked and uncorrected, will pose great dangers to the society.