BUCHI EMECHETA: The Joys of Motherhood
What role does superstition play in the novel?
Superstition plays an important role in the novel. It is a reflection of the culture and tradition of the people. It arouses the interest of the reader by highlighting the belief in the supernatural. Beliefs based on superstition dominate every facet of life in the society presented in the novel. The effects are more pronounced in the rural setting, but there are beliefs based on superstition even in the urban setting (Lagos). At the center of the concept of superstition is the people's belief in a supernatural power called 'chi'.
This is shown early in the novel when Nwokocha Agbadi is injured by the elephant he is hunting. Sacrifices are made by slaughtering goats to appease Agbadi's 'chi' and ward off the spirit of death hovering over his head. While superstitious beliefs reflect the culture and tradition of the people, these beliefs sometimes portray the society in a negative light. The burial of Agunwa's slave girl with her mistress offers a good example. This incident based on the belief that the spirit of the dead woman must be made comfortable in the hereafter, exposes the brutality of some of the customs of the society. As she is forced into Agunwa's grave, the slave girl warns: "I shall come back to your household, but as a legitimate daughter". When therefore, Ona gives birth to Nnu Ego, it is thought that the slave girl's spirit is within her controlling her destiny.
The problems of Nnu Ego are attributed to the slave girl's thirst for revenge and several medicine men are consulted in an effort to appease her. Here we see superstition advancing the plot of the novel. Superstition in some instances serves to destabilize families. This is seen in the dream which Oshia has in which he claims that Adaku, his stepmother, is chasing him. Nnu Ego runs off to the medicine man who performs some rites and gives them some charms which he claims will give the boy protection from Adaku for some money, of course. Thus the rift between the two women is further deepened. Superstition is also used to expose the credulity of the ordinary people who allow themselves to be gulled by charlatans parading as witch doctors. Some of the superstitious beliefs which lead people to be preyed on by these witch doctors are shown as ridiculous.
The humorous incident surrounding Nnaife's guitar is an example. When sounds coming from Nnaife's guitar hanging on the wall wakes up his family, the general belief is that an evil spirit has entered the guitar. The medicine man is called as usual and he confirms this, calling for sacrifices to get rid of the evil spirits. It turns out that Oshia had put some mice into the hole of the guitar several days earlier and they are now causing the noise coming from the guitar. Superstition is therefore important in the novel. In addition to reflecting the customs of the people, some beliefs also show how heartless some of the customs are and how other beliefs expose the people's credulity.