A flatulent and wealthy man has four wives, but he is unhappy because one of them does not get pregnant. It is the story of a Nigerian polygamous family, narrated with crudeness and a point of acid humor by Lola Shoneyin (Ibadan, 49 years old), novelist, poet and engine of countless African literary initiatives, including Aké, the largest book fair in Africa. . The author of the celebrated The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives (Editorial Malas Compañías) recounts the fierce competition for a plate of beans under one roof in the absence of viable alternatives and suffocated by an implacable patriarchy. Shoneyin, who answers by videoconference, knows firsthand what he is talking about. His grandfather had five wives.

ASK. The women in your book fall to pieces. Is sorority not possible in a polygamous home?

ANSWER. When he was 10 years old, I saw a picture in the newspaper of a man with his three wives. They were pretty and they were all dressed alike. I ran to my mother and said: “I want my life to be like that when I grow up. I want to find a man who will marry me and two of my friends. He will be great because we will be able to go shopping and do everything together ”. My mother sat me down and talked to me about the reality of living in a polygamous family.

Q. She advised him never to marry a son from a polygamous family.

R. He told me that children from polygamous families learn to be very lively, because they live in a very competitive environment. His biggest fear was that, having been born into a monogamous family, he wouldn’t know how to defend myself in such a marriage.

Q. She knew it from her own experience.

My grandfather was a king who had five wives. My grandmother was a teacher, like him, and they had a marriage that one would describe as modern.

R.. My maternal grandfather was a king who had five wives. He went to a missionary school and later to the university. He worked as an itinerant teacher. My grandmother was also a teacher and they had a marriage that one would describe as modern. He was a loving husband and father, but due to a system of rotation of power, my grandfather had to become king in Iperu and that changed him. My grandmother couldn’t believe that she was going to get married up to five times afterwards.

Q. In Nigeria, almost a third of women live in a polygamous household, but on the global feminist agenda it sometimes seems like a forgotten issue.

R. I guess partly because it’s not a problem many Western feminists have to deal with. It does not affect them like women in other parts of the world. If we want to be true feminists, we have to respect women’s decisions, but at the same time that would mean accepting that all women who are in polygamous homes, or at least the majority, choose it and that is where the problem arises. Many young women find themselves in these marriages because they have no other choice or education. It is a complex balance. For some families, marrying off their daughters to a polygamous man is sometimes the only way to progress financially thanks to the bride money they receive. They do this by marrying off their daughters to men who have money and several wives.

Q. There is economic need, but not only.

R. It is a cultural question. In Nigeria it is practiced by people of all ethnic groups and all religions. Historically, a man’s wealth was measured by the number of wives and children he had, and in many parts of the country this is still the case.

Polygamy in Nigeria is a cultural issue, it is practiced by people of all ethnic groups and all religions.

Q. His view of polygamy has evolved over the years.

R.. Partly because I had a highly educated friend who chose to be a third wife, since her husband-to-be was wealthy enough to buy her a house and he would only visit her two days a week. Getting married meant that she would be freed from the pressure of her parents, she could have the children she wanted so badly, and she would have her own space. She made me think about the question of choice.

Q. The only character in her book who chooses her destiny is a woman who has gone to college.

R. Education helps, it gives you more opportunities, but in a very patriarchal society where women often do what their father advises, they end up in polygamous families. Sometimes, moreover, the first wife has received an education, but then her husband marries another and without deciding, ends up in a polygamous home.

Q. The movement me too It does not worth for anything?

R. Among the youth there is a growing awareness of women’s rights, and of their capacity to fight for them, but if it is not accompanied by a change in the way of thinking that reaches the institutions, there will not be great changes. Women are more aware, but the structures remain deeply patriarchal and there is little space to exercise those rights.

Q. Many African intellectuals and writers live in Europe or the United States. You returned to Nigeria and stayed.

R. In the last 22 years I have only spent about five years outside of Africa. It has always been important to me to live here. It is very difficult to survive in Africa as a writer, but in my case, I enjoy considerable privilege. I founded my first publishing house when I was 23 years old. My life path has made it possible for me to make this kind of decision, to live here, to promote Nigerian literature, to set up events and institutions. Someone has to do it and I’m up to it.

Q. You denounce the difficulties of publishing in Africa at affordable prices, and that it is often easier to read African authors in London than in Lagos.

R. In the late 1990s we saw a wave of new publishing houses established by young Africans seeking to make the supply of African writers available to the continent. However, part of the problem is that when African writers sell the rights to their books to Western publishers, it is then extremely difficult to obtain those rights to publish them on the African continent. What they prefer is for booksellers to import the UK edition so that it reaches the African continent. They are not able to sell the English rights to a publisher, say, in Nigeria. They talk about piracy, that the books wouldn’t print correctly… but they are very condescending excuses.

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