NOLLYWOOD’S FANTASIES AND NIGERIAN BRIDES
Nollywood movies are the rave in many Nigerian communities here in the United States. One woman confesses her addiction to them. A guy I know subscribes to a satellite package that gives him access to Nigerian television channels. He pays a bundle every month because of the Nigerian movies – and the bragging rights!
I've never been into Nollywood but I've seen a few over the years. One remains vivid in my memory. It has less blood and the story line, though a severe stretch of the imagination, is not entirely incredible. I enjoyed watching it mostly because one of my favourite female celebrities, Ms. Onyeka Onwenu, is in it.
Nollywood has since transcended its early days of blood, ghosts, witches and stuff. Its storylines are now more diverse. However, there is a recurring theme that runs through many current productions. It is anchored on the issue of Nigerian men in America who go home to marry and bring the wives back to America. The underlying assumption is that the men are doing the women a huge favour by bringing them into a Paradise of love and immeasurable wealth.
There was this one I watched. I liked it right away because there was no blood – though a lot of wife-beating and unbelievable spousal cruelty that started right after the husband came into sudden wealth. Eventually, the man threw out his wife and married a much younger woman. But they didn't live happily ever after because the new wife had “only daughters,” the seeming nemesis of Nigerian men.
The first wife went to live with her older brother and life was very difficult. Fate intervened and she was Cinderalla-ed by the modern-day Prince Charming. He flew into town, speaking “American accent,” flashing some dollars and looking for a bride to take back to America. He found her.
I will digress and tell you a joke we have here about the Akwa Ibom man's “etok (small) syndrome.” Here it goes:
“Da (friend, informally), I am phoning to invite you to come and meet my etok (small) wife that I went home to marry so that she can cook etok soup and make etok gari for me. I need someone to take care of my etok house when I go to my etok job. I am hoping that soon she will have etok children for me.”
It is spoken in the Ibibio accent rather than in Annang because an Annang man will quietly (stealthily?) bring his wife home and think, “If anyone wants to see a Nigerian wife, let him go home and marry his own. Mine is not an exhibition piece.”
A Yoruba man will throw a party the first time he makes contact with the woman. The day she arrives here, the entire Yoruba community will deck out in aso ebi and declare a week-long holiday. Okay, I exaggerate but you get the idea, and now back to our Nollywood story.
In the movie, the Nigerian man in America marries the divorced woman and brings her back to the US and we assume they live happily ever after. In the second part, we see the woman's attempts to make contact with the son she had for her former husband. It's a nice feel-good story but it is very far from reality. In the first place, many Nigerian men who go home to marry want 20-year-old never-been-married-hopefully-virgin young women.
The theme of salvation/redemption for Nigerian women through marriage to a US-based man really bugs me. Certainly, the Nollywood fantasy reflects some women's actual yearnings. However, on Nollywood screens, the fantasy acquires legitimacy and gets further perpetuated. I don't know if I should shatter someone's illusions, but girl, this is a huge whopper-sized myth! It is reminiscent of a fairy tale I grew up with.
Arit-Eno, a willful girl, turns down every suitor in the village. One day, she disobediently follows her mother to a market in Obio Ekpo – Land of Ghosts. There, she meets the most dashingly handsome man ever and falls in love at first sight. The man's name is Udobong. (No relation of mine!) He tells her all the sweet nothings her fantasies have prepared her ears to hear. Against her mother's advice, Arit-Eno goes home with Udobong. The man begins to disintegrate (literally) right before her, but this process doesn't start until well after they have passed the point of no return.
Udobong, it turns out, is not whom he pretends to be. Not only is he a ghost (metaphor for things that don't exist) but everything on him is borrowed. Everything! The other ghosts from whom he had borrowed body parts come out from the bushes one by one to collect their limbs, eyes, ears, etc. All that is left of Udobong is his skull and Arit-Eno's first task as wife is to carry it home. Eeuw!!!
She can't ever return to her old home. She therefore hunkers down and makes the best out of the situation. There is no chance that she'll live happily ever after but she can always say she is a survivor.
That is what many women do when they find that their Udobongs are empty skulls and nothing about them is real. An Udobong will borrow, come home and flash some dollars at impressionable young women. He marries and brings her over – after the long visa process. The bubble has been known to burst even before the woman recovers from the jetlag.
In a future column, I will introduce you to two women whose lives illustrate the truth every young woman in Nigeria should know: when it comes to a Nigerian man in America, what you see is definitely not what you get.
Before you decide that his gods shall be your gods, his people your people and abandon your land for his, read about their experiences. Also these might provide new angles for Nollywood. But then, the movie industry sells dreams and fantasies, not boring reality.