“And by the way, Lanwa, you must stop preaching the sermon of our people’s old custom and tradition. This your long story of kinsman and cousin and half-brother connection with my late husband cannot catch me like a deer in a snare! I reserve the right to choose the type of life I want to lead. It could be that of woman deliberately aloof in self-contentment, untouched by the victimisation and oppression of the man; or that of a woman sulking the anger of an injury, protesting humiliations heaped on her, over the years by the man… Not your business Lanwa, how I want to live my life!” (From Lonely Days by Bayo Adebowale)
This was the manner in which Bayo Adebowale lent a voice to African widows in his book Lonely Days. Set in the rustic rural village of Kufi in South-western Nigeria, the novel tells the story of Yaremi, a woman thrown into widowhood by the death of her husband Ajumobi. Yaremi’s humiliation, loneliness and struggle for survival in Kufi are a microcosm of the plight of widows in the larger Nigerian society and indeed in Africa as a whole.
Yaremi’s character in Lonely Days is that of a hardworking and assertive widow who refuses to be cowed into accepting traditional injunctions of widow inheritance and remarriage set by her society.
In this book, Adebowale created living people, not just characters and showed his appreciation for Africa’s rich cultural heritage as reflected in its flora and fauna, in art, trade, child-raising, education, medicine and succession. In the same breath, he condemned widow inheritance and other cultural practices that subject widows to pain and humiliation. Lonely Days celebrates the beauty, industry, talent and resilience of the African woman. If you buy this book in the hope of buying a prose work, you would be utterly disappointed (for good though). It is not just prose but rich poetry and drama in one piece. What I find disturbing is the character of Ajumobi who beat his wife at some point only to be later described as a loving and caring husband. This however does not detract at all from the general merits of the book.
Lonely Days is a good read.
1) ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The novel Lonely Days is written by Bayo Adebowale, a novelist, a poet, a community leader and a former Deputy Rector of The Polytechnic, Ibadan. He is the Founder/Director of the African Heritage Research Library (AHRL) in Adeyipo Village, Ibadan, Nigeria. The AHRL is the first rural community based African studies research library in Africa. His writing is hugely influenced by his work at the AHRL. He is also the author of The Virgin (which has been adapted into a movie), Out of His Mind, A New Life, Village Harvest and A Night of Incantations.
Though set in the rural rustic village of Kufi, Lonely Days mirrors the plight of widows in the larger Nigerian society and indeed in Africa as a whole. Much of the story revolves around Yaremi, the novel’s protagonist.
The novel opens with Yaremi recalling the events leading to the death of her husband, Ajumobi and her predicament thereafter. While mourning Ajumobi’s death, Yaremi suffered great humiliation from extended family who strongly believed that she was responsible for her husband’s death. She became very lonely, not only as a result of Ajumobi’s death, but also because her two daughters, Segi and Wura, who would have kept her company, had been married off. Her only son, Alani who lived in the city had become so urbanised that he hardly visited Kufi. Yaremi had to fend for herself and take up manly roles. For instance, she had to farm all by herself and clear the bushes around her home in addition to her main job of selling taffeta products.
Yaremi was a very strong and hardworking woman. She got little help and some company from Woye, her grandson who lived with her. Yaremi enjoyed recounting her interesting childhood experiences to Woye in the form of stories while working on taffeta clothes. Through these stories, Woye learnt how to count numbers and also learnt the importance of hardwork and resilience.
Besides Yaremi, there were three other widows in Kufi who had gone through similar ordeals. They often empathised and shared their widowhood experiences with one another whenever they met on the narrow road leading to the village river. One of them was Dedewe who was tortured and humiliated by her husband’s relatives. Dedewe was made to sit alone by her husband’s corpse in a dark room and also compelled to own up to offences she never committed. Another widow, Fayoyin suffered similar fate. Her hair was badly shaved and she was forced to lick libation. The third widow, Radeke was also accused of killing her husband. These accusations stem from the people’s superstitious belief that no death was natural; hence, a husband’s death must have been caused by his wife.
Through Yaremi’s reminiscences, the author introduces his readers to Ajumobi. Ajumobi was a brave and powerful hunter who enjoyed boasting of his prowess as a successful hunter. In his lifetime, he was firm and had absolute control of his household. Ajumobi was a happy and lively man. Like most men in Kufi, he liked drinking palmwine in the company of friends. He was quite ambitious. Prior to his death, he planned to renovate his house and even take a second wife. Yaremi loved her husband greatly and in spite of their many squabbles in his lifetime, she missed his affection and companionship.
Yaremi was economically self-reliant and assertive. Most men in Kufi resented her as they expected their women to always play second fiddle or be in a subordinate position to them. Like other widows in Kufi, Yaremi was expected to remarry by all means. Radeke, Fayoyin and Dedewe had gone through the cap picking ceremony where they chose new men to replace their deceased husbands.
Yaremi resisted all pressure and chose to remain unmarried. She demonstrated her resolve by turning down proposals from three suitors and refusing to pick up a cap at the cap picking ceremony organised to facilitate her remarriage. As a result, the village elders threatened to confiscate her husband’s property and banish her from the village. The story ends with Yaremi taking off her widowhood garment and expressing a renewed determination to remain in Kufi in spite of all odds.
i.) Widowhood or The plight of widows:
The theme of widowhood is the novel’s central theme. The widows in Lonely Days were subjected to pain and humiliation. The widowhood experiences of Yaremi, Dedewe, Fayoyin and Radeke are a miscrosm of the plight of widows in the larger Nigerian society and in the African continent as a whole. The author condemns widow inheritance, forced remarriage and other cultural practices that subject widows to pain and humiliation.
Another important theme that runs through the novel is the theme of loneliness. Yaremi was very lonely and had to do most things by herself. For instance, she had to appeal to Uncle Deyo, Ajumobi’s friend to assist in mending her leaking roof and rebuilding the walls of her house.
Yaremi suffered humiliation from extended relations who accused her of killing her husband. Dedewe, Fayoyin and Radeke also suffered humiliation. For instance, Dedewe was made to sit in a dark room by her husband’s corpse while Fayoyin’s hair was badly shaved. Hardwork or Diligence: The theme of diligence is expressed by Yaremi’s industrious character. The author uses several anecdotes to encourage hardwork.
iv) Male chauvinism:
This is a belief or notion usually held by men that women are inferior to them. Yaremi suffered resentment from most men in Kufi because of her self-reliant and assertive status.
v.) Survival, Resilience and Determination:
Yaremi had the will and the determination to survive in spite of her predicament as a widow. She worked very hard to earn a decent living and refused to be cowed into accepting traditional injunctions of widow inheritance and remarriage set by her society.
The novel explains how superstitious beliefs impact on people’s behaviour. For instance, wives were accused of killing their husbands because of the belief that someone had to be responsible for every death. They also suspected feathered creatures like birds as they were usually linked to witchcraft.
In Kufi, the people believed that there were good and bad deaths. Yaremi consoled herself with the notion that Ajumobi died a good death. It was also believed that the dead people watch over the living. This explains Yaremi’s many monologues addressed to her late husband, Ajumobi.
Yaremi is the novel’s protagonist and heroine. She is Ajumobi’s widow. Much of the story in Lonely Days revolves around her. Yaremi’s humiliation, loneliness and struggle for survival in Kufi are a microcosm of the plight of widows in the larger society.
Her character is that of a hardworking and assertive widow undaunted by societal pressures. Through Yaremi’s character, the author celebrates the beauty, industry, talent and resilience of the African woman.
Though her marriage to Ajumobi was not entirely perfect as they fought on some occasions, she loved her husband nonetheless. The author also uses Yaremi’s character to portray the dilemma most widows face when considering a second marriage. Through her character, one understands that a widow’s remarriage comes with so many unanswered questions.
Woye is Yaremi’s grandson. He is the son of Segi, Yaremi’s daughter. He lived with Yaremi until it was time for him to start school in Olode. He kept Yaremi company and assisted her in making taffeta products which she sold in different markets. Through Woye’s character, the author celebrates childhood innocence and stresses the importance of informal home training before formal education.
Ajumobi is Yaremi’s late husband. He was a brave hunter who loved to boast of his hunting prowess. He died after a brief illness. He was an ambitious man. For instance, prior to his death he planned to renovate his house and take a second wife. He was short tempered and often reacted to Yaremi’s nagging. Like other men in Kufi, he beat Yaremi on few occasions.
Segi and Wura
These are Yaremi’s daughters. Segi is Woye’s mother. Yaremi discussed her fears of remarriage with Segi when she visited Kufi.
Alani is Yaremi’s son who lived in the city. He hardly came to the village having taken to city life.
Dedewe, Fayoyin and Radeke
These are three other widows in Kufi. Their experiences reflect the injustice and ill-treatment meted out to widows by members of the society.
Ayanwale, Olonade and Lanwa
These are Yaremi’s suitors. She turned down their marriage proposals when each of them approached her privately. She further rejected them all in public during the cap picking ceremony.
The novel’s location is Kufi, an imaginary village in the South-Western part of Nigeria. The author uses Kufi to represent and illustrate the larger society’s treatment of widows.
The author uses mainly the third person narrative. However, on few occasions the author let Yaremi tell her own story.
3) CHAPTER SUMMARY
- Yaremi mourned the death of Ajumobi and tried to console herself with the fact that Ajumobi did not die a shameful death.
- The mourners falsely suspected her of having killed her husband.
- She became very lonely with no husband or children to keep her company.
- Woye, her grandson became her only company. She told him stories of her childhood and taught him number games while making taffeta.
- Chapter 2 captures Yaremi’s everyday routine especially how she worked hard in the kitchen, in the forest while gathering firewood and in the dyeing yard where she produced her taffeta.
- Yaremi is portrayed as a very strong, beautiful and agile woman in spite of her age.
- This chapter describes the narrow road leading to the village river. This road served as a meeting point for widows in Kufi.
- The chapter also features stories of humiliation, torture and ill-treatment of other widows in Kufi namely Dedewe, Fayoyin and Radeke.
- Yaremi showed her versatility by combining different tasks. She made stitches, discarded husks of palm kernel and blew chaff off the melon seeds.
- She spent her leisure time exchanging pleasantries with neighbours and telling Woye stories from her childhood days.
- The importance of time management was emphasised in this chapter.
- Woye is portrayed as a very playful child. Yaremi taught Woye how to make scarecrow to ward off hawks.
- The chapter reveals the people’s superstitious beliefs.
- Chapter 5 describes events leading to the death of Ajumobi.
- Yaremi is portrayed as an independent woman who was no longer under the control of a man.
- This chapter introduces the readers to the character of Ajumobi. Ajumobi is described as a brave and powerful hunter. He was also very ambitious.
- Yaremi recalled the moments they spent together and showed how much she adored him.
- Ajumobi expressed his desire for a polygamous marriage.
- The author describes moonlight night in Kufi.
- Yaremi recalled her relationship with Ajumobi in his lifetime.
- She recalled how she insulted him on some occasions and how Ajumobi beat her.
- After his death, Ajumobi appeared on different occasions.
- Yaremi attempted to ask Ajumobi several rhetorical questions.
- Yaremi expressed her desire for Ajumobi’s affection.
- This chapter describes how Yaremi sold her taffeta in different markets and how she dealt with her debtors.
- Woye’s ill-health worried Yaremi. She gave him special attention and made several promises. These were aimed at making him recover quickly.
- Woye recovered from his illness.
- This chapter describes Kufi women. They were hardworking and showed so much devotion to their husbands and children. It also describes how women coped in polygamous homes.
- Yaremi displayed her generousity by sharing her food with others.
- Yaremi became influential and assertive. Most men in Kufi resented her for these attributes.
- Ayanwale, Olonade and Lanwa proposed marriage to Yaremi.
- Yaremi displayed manly attributes.
- She chided her suitors and turned down their marriage proposals.
- Ajumobi appeared to Yaremi in her dreams assuring her of his presence and support.
- Her extended family planned to organise a cap picking ceremony to facilitate her remarriage and a purification ritual to make her forget the past.
- Dedeke, Fayoyin and Radeke tried to talk Yaremi into remarriage.
- This chapter features the cap picking ceremony.
- Yaremi refused to pick a cap at the cap picking ceremony.
- The villagers were angry.
- Yaremi suffered great resentment from the villagers as a result of her decision to remain unmarried.
- She recalled her happy days with Ajumobi especially how he showered her with love, care and affection.
- She considered leaving Kufi for Adeyipo, her parents’ village.
- Segi visited Adeyipo village. Yaremi confided in Segi and expressed her fears.
- The chapter features many unanswered questions associated with a widow’s second marriage.
- Woye looked forward to starting school in Olode.
- Woye returned to Olode with Segi, his mother.
- Alani, Yareni’s son arrived from the city.
- Uncle Deyo scolded him for keeping away from the village and from his father’s properties.
- Uncle Deyo took Alani to Ajumobi’s cocoa plantation showing him the farm’s boundaries.
- To Yaremi’s chagrin, Alani announced that he was returning to the city and was not interested in cultivating his late father’s farm.
- The village elders threatened to confiscate Ajumobi’s properties and banish Yaremi completely from the village.
- Yaremi resolved to remain in Kufi in spite of all odds.
4) USE OF FIGURATIVE EXPRESSIONS
The author’s generous use of figurative expressions is evident throughout the novel.
This is a figure of speech that equates two things that are not the same. Comparison is done without the use of “as” or “like”. In Lonely Days, the number game, for instance, has a lot of metaphors in it. Page 8 paragraph 3 reads: “Three is the dirty calabash on my mother’s wooden rack…”. See also paragraphs 4, 6, 7, and 8. You may also see paragraphs 1 to 6 of page 10. Another use of metaphoric expression is seen on page 9 paragraph 3 when Yaremi said “Work was music to us, Woye.” See also the last paragraph of Page 15 where the author directly compares life with fire by saying “Life is fire”. The slippery and narrow river road in Chapter 3 is equally metaphoric. It is directly described as the “Widows’ Road” on which widows thread with caution. The author’s description of a new wife on page 58 also contains a number of metaphors-“A new wife is a polished drum…”; she is a fresh lily…”
This is a figure of speech that compares two non-similar things by the use of “as” or “like”. The author uses simile to describe Yaremi’s loneliness- “Yaremi felt thoroughly abandoned, like a stone at the bottom of a lake” (page 3); “… the extended family’s mockery heaped on her like the strange showers of a January rain” (page 3). Uncle Deyo used simile in describing Alani’s long stay in the city- “You flew away, Alani, like a bird with no destination; like a stone-missile flung aimlessly to an unknown destination from the leather-strap of a catapult”. (page 135)
This is a figure of speech in which human attributes are given to inanimate objects. An example is seen on page 60 paragraph 1- “the moon peeped and vanished, to reappear playfully again among the woods, seducing onlookers’ souls with serene beauty…” 4. Hyperbole: An exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally. It’s used for emphasis and comic effect. Ajumobi’s boastings in page 50 contain a lot of hyperbole.
5. Rhetorical Questions:
These are questions that do not require answers. Yaremi asked lots of rhetorical questions on page 69- “where are you now, Ajumobi?” is an example of a rhetorical question. Segi also asked rhetorical questions on pages 126 and 127 where she raised questions on remarriage.
5) IMPORTANT LITERARY DEVICES
Exposition is a literary device used to introduce background information about the characters, setting and events to the reader. In Lonely Days, the author explains the character of Ajumobi, the marital life of Ajumobi and Yaremi, and events leading up to the death of Ajumobi through Exposition. This exposition is presented through Yaremi’s thoughts, dialogues between Yaremi and Ajumobi as well as monologues.
The falling action in a work of literature is the sequence of events that follow the climax and end in the resolution. In Lonely Days the falling action occurs after Yaremi refused to pick a cap at the cap-picking ceremony: She suffered great resentment from the villagers because of her decision not to remarry. They also threatened to banish her from the village and confiscate her husband’s properties.
Rising action is what happens in a story leading up to the most exciting part of the story. In Lonely Days, the rising action occurs where Yaremi’s extended family planned to organise a cap picking ceremony to facilitate her remarriage and her co-widows (Fayoyin, Radeke and Dedewe) tried to persuade her to choose a husband at the cap-picking ceremony.
is the part of the story where the tension or action reaches its highest point. In Lonely Days, the climax occurs at the cap-picking ceremony when Yaremi refused to choose a suitor by picking a cap.
Resolution is the part of the story’s plot line in which the problem of the story is resolved or worked out. It comes after the falling action and it is typically where the story ends. In Lonely Days, the resolution occurs when Yaremi resolved to remain in Kufi in spite of the village elders’ threat to confiscate her husband’s properties and banish her from the village.
6) LIKELY QUESTIONS
1. Attempt a chapter summary of Lonely Days.
2. Discuss the character and role of Yaremi in Lonely Days.
3. Discuss the following: i. Five stages of plot ii. the setting iii. the relationship between Yaremi and Ajumobi
4. Discuss the components of oral tradition in Lonely Days
5. Identify and discuss four themes in Lonely Days.