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In this article, we will discuss several experiences of African women in patriarchal settings and the diverse responses and strategies they adopted as survival mechanisms, particularly in their relationships with other women. Why do women perceive each other as rivals, and in what contexts does this happen? To analyze the common patriarchal myth that women are their own worst enemies, we will examine Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana (1961); Asare Konadu’s A Woman in Her Prime (1967); Ifeoma Okoye’s Behind the Clouds (1982); Isidore Okpewho’s The Victims (1970); Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter (1980); and Flora Nwapa’s Efuru (1966) and One is Enough (1968), exploring how they navigated the sometimes complex challenges in their relationships with each other.


At the end of this article, you should be able to:

- Identify various patriarchal challenges women experience in their respective environments.

- Explore the general belief that women do not like one another.

- Discuss the various coping/survival mechanisms employed by women.

- Ascertain the realistic portrayal of women in both male-authored and female-authored novels.

Contexts that Promote Enmity Among Women

Women often find themselves in specific patriarchal contexts that foster distrust among them, especially when the focal point is a man. One prevalent scenario is polygamous marriages, where co-wives perceive each other as competitors for a man's love and affection. In some instances, they even go to great lengths to eliminate each other. Numerous African novels depict the rivalry between co-wives, offering valuable lessons. For example, in Cyprian Ekwensi's *Jagua Nana*, friends and professional prostitutes Jagua and Ma Nancy resort to deceit and lies to outsmart each other in the pursuit of male clients. Jagua attempts to snatch the wealthy Syrian from her friend, leading to envy, jealousy, and bitter rivalry. Similarly, Ifeoma Okoye's *Behind The Clouds* (1982) delves into the strained relationship between a daughter-in-law, Ije, and her mother-in-law. The bitterness arises from Ije's inability to conceive, prompting the mother-in-law to pressure her son, Dozie, to take another wife.

In *The Victims*, Isidore Okpewho explores the struggle among co-wives in a polygamous setting. Obanua, the husband, takes a second wife, Ogugua, after twelve years of marriage to the first wife, Nwabunoh. Nwabunoh's inability to have more than one child prompts Obanua's decision. Conflict arises when Nwabunoh refuses to share the matrimonial bed with Ogugua, leading to incessant quarrels with disastrous consequences.

Mariama Ba's *So Long a Letter*, presented in an epistolary form, depicts the female condition in Islamic religion in Senegal. The story revolves around Ramatoulaye, abandoned by her husband Modou Fall after thirty years of marriage for a young girl, Binetou, her daughter's best friend. Five years later, Modou dies of a heart attack, leaving twelve children for Ramatoulaye to care for. During Iddah, the mandatory mourning period for widows, she writes to her childhood friend, Assatou, who had divorced her husband, Mawdo. This semi-autobiographical novel not only exposes women's physical and emotional pain caused by fellow women but also illustrates their determined efforts to create better lives for themselves.

Ramatoulaye's courage in the novel stems from her ability to rebuild confidence, fight depression, and overcome self-pity. Not all women possess the courage to break free from marital oppression and dehumanizing marriages, demanding uncommon determination. The novel serves as a lengthy letter, unveiling the minds of women experiencing physical and emotional abuse in a society that fosters a culture of women's subjugation, often turning a blind eye to their suffering.

While many male writers reinforce women's inferior position in African society, female writers focus on female experiences, particularly in marriage within a patriarchal African context. They ensure that women play crucial roles in their novels, emphasizing their importance, initiative, and dynamism. This is evident in the character portrayals of female protagonists in the works of Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, and Zaynab Alkali. These empowered female characters challenge the myth of unchanging, naive, rural women who unquestioningly accept the social norms of a male-dominated society. In Flora Nwapa's *Efuru* and *Idu*, the heroines are depicted as dignified personalities facing problems and finding ways to solve them.

In *One is Enough*, Nwapa proposes a solution to challenging negative aspects of tradition through the character portrayal of the female protagonist, Amaka. She exhibits a determined will to survive without the entrapment of a loveless marriage. Forced to leave her marital home due to infertility, Amaka decides to bring meaning to her life. Leaving her teaching profession, she moves to Lagos, engages in trading, and invests her energy into it. Progressing in business, she acquires a house and a car, deliberately choosing to remain single. Her six-year marriage was filled with emotional abuse, especially from her harsh and overbearing mother-in-law, who facilitated her son's marriage to another woman. Amaka's new life is a rebellion against the patriarchal system, tradition, and motherhood, shifting from marriage to individualism and autonomy.

In *Efuru*, the novelist explores various aspects of Igbo tradition and communal life through the experiences of the protagonist. Efuru's story illustrates the harsh realities of an Igbo community transitioning to the modern age. In the novel, Efuru experiences two unsuccessful marriages. Adizua, her first husband, violates traditional customs by failing to pay the dowry for his wife and encouraging Efuru to move in before fulfilling any requirements. Their relationship lacks the blessing of tradition, having disregarded the involvement of their families and community in their arrangement, leading to potential consequences for violating traditional laws.

The community anxiously awaited signs of Efuru's pregnancy, but when no swelling was evident, they erupted in anger. Protesting against this perceived anomaly, they labeled Efuru a 'man' and questioned how two men could live in the same home as husband and wife.

Efuru's apparent barrenness not only created a problem for her and her husband but also for the entire community. Adizua initially downplayed the situation, reassuring Efuru of his sincerity: "whether you have a baby or not...I will be the last person to do anything that will hurt you..." (p.26).

Facing an oppressive situation, Efuru desired her husband to take a younger wife, but Adizua opposed the idea. Eventually, Efuru becomes pregnant, giving birth to Ogonim, but not for Adizua, who yielded to societal pressure and took another wife.

Traditional norms clearly define the role of women in marriage, and even if a woman is financially more prosperous than her husband, she may still be made to feel sub-human, especially if she is childless. Efuru's challenging experience with Adizua teaches her a lesson that proves useful in her next marriage. Her union with Eneberi, though initially promising, ends in another round of unfulfilled expectations, despite their love for each other.

Once again, as in her first marriage, the women in the village engage in gossip, spreading various rumors about Efuru's inability to have her own biological children. They perceive Eneberi as foolish, not because he loves his wife, but because he seems to accept her barrenness. In the case of a woman 'failing,' like Efuru, the prevailing belief is that the man should take steps to have children with other women.

The introduction of the river goddess, Uhiamiri, into the novel's plot serves as a comforting balm for the female protagonist, Efuru, who has endured much embarrassment and shame from her people, especially fellow women. Moreover, Uhiamiri's presence signifies that the happiness of a virtuous woman like Efuru should not solely depend on her ability to conceive. The goddess has other blessings to bestow upon her adherents, enriching a woman's life spiritually and alleviating anxiety about having a child:


She had lived for ages at the bottom of the lake …

she had never experienced the joy of motherhood.

Why then did women worship her?" ( pp. 221)

The novelist employs Uhamiri as a symbol to convey that women's happiness and fulfillment extend beyond marriage and the ability to procreate. It is associated with economic empowerment, liberating women from unnecessary anxiety related to prescribed social norms, expectations, and petty conflicts and misunderstandings with fellow women.


In this article, we have explored various contexts that promote conflicts among women, as portrayed in selected African novels. Additionally, it has been emphasized that, for the African woman, whether married or not, economic empowerment is vital to her dignity and personhood.


In summary, this article has covered the following key points:

- Certain contexts foster enmity among women.

- These contexts are commonly interpreted to imply that women do not like each other.

- Numerous Nigerian male-authored and female-authored novels delve into this prevailing belief.

- The most crucial factor contributing to a woman's sense of fulfillment is being economically empowered.


Chukuwma, Helen (ed.) (1994). Feminism in African Literature: Essay on Criticism. Enugu: New Generation Books.

Emenyonu, Ernest. (ed.) (1986). Literature and Society: Selected Essays on African Literature. Oguta: Zim Pan-African Publishers.

French, Marilyn (1982). Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals. New York; New York Press.

Hans, Bertens (2001). Literary Theory: The Basics. London: Routledge.

Nfah-Abbenyi, Juliana Makuchi (1997). Gender in Africa Women’s Writing: Identity, Sexuality and Difference. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Moi, Toril (2001). What is a Woman? And Other Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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