Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
Proverbs 18 vs 22 from the Holy Bible reads, “He who has found a wife, has found a good thing, and obtains favour from the Lord.” It is often quoted to the groom during a marriage ceremony. Perhaps this is done for him to appreciate and cherish the woman standing before him, the one who is in the process of becoming his wife.
If one is in possession of a “good thing”, it is likely they will want to keep it for as long as possible, hold it dear and make sure that it endures no harm.
But having found a good thing, is it possible that out there on God’s green earth there could still be something better?
Should a man happen to find another woman whom he would like to make a wife, does that increase the amount of “good things” in his life? How many “good things” can one accumulate and how many are enough?
There is also that favour from God to consider, is there such a thing as too much favour?
Does finding a second wife, third or perhaps even fourth wife multiply God’s favour?
One wonders if these are questions that polygamists ask themselves or perhaps use to justify to themselves and maybe others, marrying more than one woman.
The practice is not foreign to the continent of Africa, it is practised around the world, though not as widely practised as it perhaps might have been in the past.
World over communities interpret polygamy differently for various social, cultural and religious reasons. There are those who advocate for it as part of tradition and custom, while others scorn it as retrogressive and immoral.
The book, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” by Nigerian writer Lola Shoyenin presents a humorous yet sobering account of a polygamous family.
Baba Segi has four wives and seven children. He is a man of wealth with a large house, a thriving business and a loving family.
Problems, however, arise after Baba Segi marries his fourth wife Bolanle, the only one to hold a university degree. The other three wives resent her for multiple reasons and do not shy from making it known to her.
Two years into the marriage and Bolanle has also not conceived a child, which creates discomfort in the relationship between her and her husband.
The book navigates these dynamics, jumping from third person narrative when recounting the current narrative to first person where the different characters narrate their parts of the story and how they got there.
As the story progresses, the tension in the Alao household mounts and the older wives connive to get rid of Bolanle as they view her presence as a threat to their marriages and livelihoods.
The book is well written with a number of quirky characters who one can immediately take a liking to or detest.
By allowing the different protagonists to share their stories, however, Shoyenin gives insight into the lives and journeys of the wives, how and why they ended up in a polygamous relationship.
This sensitises the reader to some of the more horrid hearted characters by illustrating that people are oft a product of their circumstance.
“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” tackles a number of themes outside marriage. It covers family and the effects that parents have on their children through how they treat and act around them.
Mental and physical health is another aspect covered in the book and looking at the effect that one has on the other.
Other themes are patriarchy and masculinity, how these impact on the lives of so many people particularly women and children who are often left in vulnerable positions.
By the end of the book one is left with multiple thoughts and feelings on Baba Segi and his large family. The story makes one question the meaning of family, happiness, pride and what it means to have “a good thing”.