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Analysis of the Play: 'Three Suitors, One Husband'

'Three Suitors: One Husband' is a comedic play centring on Juliette, a young educated girl who finds herself at odds with her parents, paternal grandparents and elderly men. Indignant at her father for wanting to marry her off to a civil servant she knows nothing about, and that she wasn't involved in deciding who would be her long-term partner, Juliette states that she won't get married either to the first suitor, Ndi, or his father's and elderly council's preferred suitor, Mbia. Her protest and refusal to be subjected to this aspect of Bulu tradition fell on deaf ears. Not only does her father threaten to beat her, but also tells her with an authoritative voice that that is what has been decided so she's to abide by it.

As a result, she devises a plan of stealing the total amount of her bride price paid by the two suitors. The first suitor had paid one thousand francs, and the second paid double the amount of the first one. From the double amount paid by the civil servant, his father wanted to refund the one-thousand paid by Ndi, and remain with the rest. She hatches that idea which she shares with Oko, her fiancé, and Kouma, her cousin. Oko is reluctant to accept Juliette's plan but she alleviates his worry by telling him that his father won't have lost the money for he'll get it back when he, OKo, uses it to pay for her brideprice.

When Ndi is told by Atangana and his elderly men that they've found a better suitor for Juliette, the young farmer asks to be refunded the money. Atangana heads to his house to get his money. In utter astonishment, he doesn't see his briefcase which contained the money. Together with his elderly men, they plan on what to tell Ndi. Ndi is told to pay another one thousand francs to finalize the marriage. Sensing Atangana doesn't have the money, probably having been stolen, he tells them that if they won't refund his money, he'll report them to a local police station.

Fearful of what Ndi's utterance might lead to, they tell Mbia, who hasn't yet left the village, that if he'll add another one-thousand franc, he can have Juliette at that moment. Mbia asks them why he should add another amount to the one he'd already given. Is it they want to use his money to help another young man to wed Juliette? Doubting the truthfulness of the men, he threatens with sending ten police commissioners the next day to arrest them if they won't refund his money.

Mbarga, the headman of the village tells his fellow men they should ask for a local witchdoctor who will help them in knowing who stole the money. The witchdoctor appears to be nothing than a trickster. Realising his tricks had become obvious to the villagers, he runs for his life, with some of the villagers chasing after him.

The following day in the morning, Atangana and his fellow men discuss how they can get the money back. Mbarga says that the only way they can refund the stolen money is to find a wealthy man in the city who is willing to marry Juliette. Juliette enters into a compromise with her father that the first person who pays three-thousand francs, and nothing additional is asked of him, she'll readily accept to be his wife.

In the afternoon, a trader from another area arrives in Atangana's village to sell his merchandise. Atangana tells him that he can have his daughter if he wants. The trader is taken aback by Atangana's statement. He asks for the price. He tells Atangana he can't pay more than two-thousands, and that he'd part with that amount because of Juliette's social status - she's educated.

Since the trader didn't reach the amount Juliette had agreed with her father, Juliette breathes a sigh of relief. Later, Kouma is seen with Oko, and behind them is a band of musicians. Kouma introduces the young man to Atangana's father and other elders. He offers 'sweet-nothings' praises of the young man, and the realisation the young man would pay the expected money makes him an ideal candidate for Juliette.

The play ends with the villagers and Atangana singing and dancing in celebration of Juliette being married.

File:South Africa traditional wedding

File:South Africa traditional wedding

Structure of the Play

The play is divided into five acts. The unfolding events occur within two days beginning in the afternoon and ending on the next day in the evening.

Act One

Outside his main house, in Mvoutessi village, Atangana is making a basket while throwing impatient glances at a large alarm clock set before him. Abessolo, his father, is sculpting an ebony figurine while his brother, Ondua, and his son, Oyono, are playing a local game, song. Matalina, his niece, is cracking peanuts and will soon be joined by his mother, Bella.

Atangana laments his wife, Makrita, has overstayed on the farm. It's late in the afternoon, and she hasn't arrived. She's expected to be back at home before midday to prepare food for the men. Ondua, with a gesture of discouragement, uses an exemplary event to emphasize to his brother that women always want to prove they can have their way. He tells him that the previous night, he asked his wife who distils the illegal brew, Arki, to give him some. In response, she just gave him only one bottle instead of several of them.

Abessolo asks him why he is angry when he had warned both of them to discipline their wives when they err including his daughter, Matalina.

The conversation drifts to Ndi, a young farmer. He had paid the agreed brideprice of one-thousand francs to have Atangana's daughter, Juliette, as his wife. Atangana tells them that the young farmer will arrive in the afternoon.

He discloses there's another suitor, a civil servant from Sangmélina who will also visit them the same afternoon.

Ondua asserts that it'll present Atangana a favourable chance to get a gun permit which is reinforced by Abessolo who asks him not to let the opportunity slide by.

Atangana wonders loudly whether the civil servant will pay more than 100,000 francs to repay Ndi and be left with some of his own. Bella and Matalina reassure him that the civil servant will meet the stated brideprice.

Juliette arrives home from school, situated in Didamba, in the afternoon. After greeting her people, she's informed of two men who seek to marry her. She is enraged they didn't bother to consult her on who she should get married to. Despite her protest, she's told she'll get married to the second suitor who is expected anytime soon.

Act Two

Mbia, the civil servant, is seen sitting in a big armchair in the middle of the stage. He looks and behaves like an important person. Introducing himself, he asserts that he's an important person, having worked in the government for 25 years, and that the Secretary of State knows him personally.

Abessolo refuses him to marry Juliette as they're related after he details his genealogy per the old man's request.

Mbia, agitated, demands his beer. Abessolo tells the villagers to return the beers. Instead, the villagers scramble to load themselves with enough beers.

Mbarga, the headman of the village, rebukes Abessolo for treating such as an 'important' man with disrespect. Mbia, who has come with his senior servant, Engulu, orders him to bring Mbarga some beers, and, ultimately, a case of wine, when Mbia mentions the 'likelihood' of the civil servant being elected from one government position to another - Mayor, Deputy, Secretary of State...

Before he leaves to attend a cocktail party at the Secretary of State's private residence in the evening, he is given a list of things he needs to bring with him before the marriage is finalized.

In the evening, Juliette meets up with his boyfriend, Oko. She tells him of the dire situation she's in. She comes up with a plan which she shares with him - she will 'steal' the three thousand francs where it's kept in her father's main house. She hands the briefcase containing the money to Kouma, her cousin, who had arrived. Oko will use it to pay Juliette's dowry.

Act Three

As the women prepare supper, at night, Bela is anxious to know why Juliette was opposed to marrying the civil servant. Later on, Matalina joins them, having brought with her some food given to her by her mother for Juliette.

Including Matalina, they're opposed to her marrying her boyfriend whom she says she's engaged to. They prefer the civil servant because he's wealthy, and works in a high position in the government.

Matalina leaves, shortly followed by the return of her father, grandfather and brother. She lights the lamp to lighten the area outside the main house. With them is Ndi, the first suitor.

Atangana finds himself in a tight corner when he can't find the money to repay Ndi as he'd found a better suitor for his daughter, Mbia. He enlists the help of Abessolo, Mbarga and Mezoe.

With much cunningness as he can afford, Mbarga tells Ndi to pay another one hundred thousand francs if he wants to marry Juliette. Realizing Atangana had been robbed of the money, the reason they're asking him to add the same amount to have Juliette as his wife, he tells them if they won't pay him, he'll head to the police station at Zoételé to report the matter.

Defeated, they ask for Mbia who was obviously in the headman's house drowned in the illegal brew, Arki. Atangana and his men convince him pay another hundred thousand francs to have Juliette as his wife. Suspicious of their intention, he threatens them with sending ten police commissioners the next day.

After Mbia leaves with his servant, Mbarga comes up with the idea of sending for the witchdoctor. He asserts that the witchdoctor, Sanga-titi, will enable them know who had stolen the money.

Act Four

The witchdoctor, arriving at Atangana's homestead, requires of several things to be given to him before he perfoms his rituals.

Sanga-titi having taken advantage of the villagers' ignorance, involves Mbarga on various matters pertaining to his personal life. Mbarga, noting the witchdoctor correctly knows his personal life, orders that the things asked by the witchdoctor should be brought so he can be helped.

Atangana too has to give to be helped to locate who stole the money.

Kouma, who had gone to call the Sanga-titi at the request of the headman, becomes suspicious of the witchdoctor. He asks the villagers, "Is he going to find the money with these tricks?"

The rest of those who had congregated that night realize the witchdoctor had been playing tricks on them.

Act Five

The next day, in the afternoon, the village's men are gathered infront of Atangana's main house. Mbarga, Abessolo, Atangana, Ondua and Mezoe look dejected.

Mbarga, the wise man as he claims to be, tells the rest the only means of getting the three hundred thousand francs is by marrying Juliette to a great man in the city.

Juliette agrees to marry the first man who comes with three hundred thousands as bride price but on conditions she outlines to them.

Tchetgen, a Bimeleke trader, who has arrived in the village of Mvoutessi to sell his merchandise is asked whether he's willing to marry Juliette. He inspects Juliette and asks what is their price. He retorts the much he can pay is one hundred and fifty thousands francs.

Kouma arrives with Oko at the scene. He introduces the elders and Atangana to Oko, another suitor who wants to marry Juliette.

Juliette agrees to be married by Oko. Atangana is given money and tells Oko that the matter of marriage to his daughter is settled.

The play ends with the villagers dancing, in celebration of Juliette getting married to Oko.

Tribe dancing

Tribe dancing

Act Two

Mbia, the civil servant, is seen sitting in a big armchair in the middle of the stage. He looks and behaves like an important person. Introducing himself, he asserts that he's an important person, having worked in the government for 25 years and that the Secretary of State knows him personally.

Abessolo, Atangana's father, and Juliette's grandfather object to him marrying Juliette as they're related after the civil servant details his genealogy per the old man's request.

Mbia, agitated, demands his beer. Abessolo tells the villagers, who had gathered at the request of Atangana, to return the beers. Instead, the villagers scuffle for more beers.

Mbarga, the headman of the village, rebukes Abessolo for treating such an 'important' man with disrespect. Mbia, who has come with his senior servant, Engulu, orders him to bring Mbarga some beers, and, ultimately, a case of wine, when Mbia mentions the 'likelihood' of the civil servant being elected from one government position to another - Mayor, Deputy, Secretary of State...

Before he leaves to attend a cocktail party at the Secretary of State's private residence in the evening, he is given a list of things he needs to bring with him before the marriage is finalized.

In the evening, Juliette meets up with his boyfriend, Oko. She tells him of the dire situation she's in.

To get married to the man she loves, she tells him, and Kouma, her cousin, of her plan to steal the three-thousand francs in the briefcase which is at his father's main house. She'll hand the money to them which Oko will use to pay for her brideprice. Kouma will act as his introductory man.

Act Three

In the kitchen room, the women - Makrita, Bella and Juliette - are preparing the evening meal.

Later, Matalina joins them. She's brought with her some food given to her by her mother for Juliette.

The discussion in the kitchen revolves around Juliette's refusal to be married to the civil servant. The women prefer she gets married to Mbia than her boyfriend who she says she's engaged to.

Matalina leaves, shortly followed by the return of Juliette's father, grandfather and brother. Her mother tells her to light the lamp as the men have returned, and it's dark outside. She's stunned when she sees a new face and is informed that the young man wants her to be his wife.

Ralising he doesn't have a chance in having Juliette as his wife, Ndi, respectfully, asks for his money. Atangana finds himself in a tight spot when he can't find the money to repay Ndi. He enlists the help of Abessolo, Mbarga and Mezoe, an elder, who had also arrived.

With much cunningness as he can afford, Mbarga tells Ndi to pay another one hundred-thousand francs if he wants to marry Juliette. Realizing Atangana had been robbed of the money, the reason they're asking him to add the same amount to have Juliette as his wife, he tells them if they won't pay him he'll head to the police station at Zoételé to report the matter.

Defeated, they ask for Mbia who was obviously in the headman's house drowned in the illegal brew, Arki. Atangana and his men convince him to pay another one-thousand francs to have Juliette as his wife. Suspicious of their intention, he threatens that he'll send ten police commissioners the next day to arrest them if they don't refund his money.

After Mbia leaves with his servant, Mbarga comes up with the idea of enlisting the help of a witchdoctor. He asserts that the witch doctor, Sanga-titi, will enable them to know who had stolen the money.

Act Four

The witchdoctor, having arrived at Atangana's homestead, requires several things to be given to him before he performs his charms.

Sanga-titi having taken advantage of the villagers' ignorance, involves Mbarga on various matters about his personal life. Mbarga, noting the witchdoctor rightly knows his personal life, orders that the things asked by the witchdoctor should be brought so he can be helped personally, and his village to be rid of bad omen.

Atangana too has to give the required things to be helped to locate who stole the money.

Kouma, who had gone to call the witchdoctor at the request of his father, Mbarga, becomes suspicious of the witch doctor. He asks the villagers, "Is he going to find the money with these tricks?"His question is met with rude remarks, especially from his father.

The witchdoctor tells his servant to take home the things that have been brought by the headman and Atangana. Later on, the villagers who had congregated that night to know who had stolen Atangana's money realize the man had been playing with their minds. The scene ends with the villagers chasing after him.

Act Five

The next day, in the afternoon, outside Atangana's main house, the men - Mbarga, Abessolo, Atangana, Ondua and Mezoe - look dejected.

Mbarga, the wise man he claims to be, tells the rest the only means of getting the three-thousands francs is by marrying Juliette to a wealthy man in the city.

Juliette enters into a compromise with his father that she'll accept to get married to any man on one condition - he'll be the first man to pay three-thousand francs for her brideprice.

Tchetgen, a Bimeleke trader, who has arrived in the village of Mvoutessi to sell his merchandise is asked whether he's willing to marry Juliette. He inspects Juliette and asks what is their price. He states the much he can pay is two-thousands francs to the relief of Juliette.

In the evening, Kouma arrives with Oko at Atangana's homestead. He introduces the elders and Atangana to Oko who wants to marry Juliette. Oko's attire, his manner of speech, and how he walks, presents him as a 'very' important person. Kouma praises for the young man increases Oko's score in the eyes of Atangana and the other elderly men. And, the young man is accompanied by a band of musicians.

Hearing the young man will pay the three-thousand francs, Atangana says the marriage is settled. She's now his wife. However, Oko says that he has to ask her if she wants to get married to him. The men are astonished at hearing that. Since when in the village, one of them asks, has a girl had to be asked by her suitor if she wants to get married to him. Nonetheless, Oko asks her, and Juliette agrees to be his wife.

The play ends with the villagers dancing, in celebration of Juliette getting married to Oko. However, Atangana, sadly, having joined the others, is sad that he won't get anything from her daughter's marriage.

Thai brideprice

Thai brideprice

Themes

1. Traditional Beliefs and Practices

2. Status of Women

3. Modernity vs. Tradition

1. Traditional Beliefs & Practices

a) Bride Price

When Juliette reaches home from school, she's informed that two suitors are expected to arrive the same day. Ndi, Juliette's first suitor had paid Juliette's father one-thousand francs. However, the prospect of Juliette being married to a civil servant led her father and his elderly council to prefer Mbia over Ndi. Thereby, Mbia had to pay double the amount paid by Ndi. The extra one-thousand would be refunded to Ndi, and the rest would remain with his father.

The price set for Juliette which Ndi, and later Mbia, had to pay before they were allowed to wed her emanated from Juliette being educated. Tchetgen, the trader from Bimeleke, told Atangana he'd give him two-thousands because of his daughter is educated. This factor can be noted in modern Africa whereby a woman's level of education determines the amount her fiancé is expected to pay. This isn't the only factor in pre-colonial Africa that determined a woman's brideprice. Other factors that led to brideprice being set high was if a girl waa a maiden and whether she came from an affluent family.

There are several reasons why brideprice became a common African tradition that has persisted to-date. One of the reasons depicted in the play is that it's a form of compensation to the parents of the girl.

Since a woman would cease to be the daughter of her parents, and become a daughter of another family, the girl's suitor was required to compensate her parents for the expenses they incurred in raising her. This compensation came in form of brideprice. This is evidenced in the play when Juliette's mother tells her she belongs to her brother.

Oyono tells his sister that he needs a lot of money to pay for his future wife. Makita supports her son's statement. She says, "Your brother's right, Juliette. Girls are very expensive in Ebolowa. He needs lots of money, and you belong to him." When she responds she's a free person, Oyono exclaims, "A free person! Listen to that! A free person, after all the money we spent for her studies." Atangana, obviously angry at his daughter's stubbornness not to get married to the civil servant, adds, "Five whole years in Dibamba! I spent all the money I got from my cocoa for her, and now that I've found the right man to pay me back..."

Another reason for the continuance of this traditional practice is the benefits derived from marrying one's daughter to a wealthier man. It's a means through which a girl's parents enrich themselves. In the play, Ondua had pledged he would never send his daughter to school. In his words, Matalina will stay at home and grow peanuts like his wife Monica. And someday, she'll attract them, her parents, a wealthy suitor who'll bring him lots of strong drinks.

This can also be seen with Juliette's parents. If she gets married to the civil servant, which she's forced and encouraged to, her family (including extended family) and herself will benefit from the union of her to Mbia. The opportunities they've feasted their eyes on include: Atangana will gain access to a fireman in less time, Ondua will receive lots and lots of drinks from the civil servant and etc.

b) Polygamy

Mbia, a civil servant, wants to have Juliette as his wife despite having eight wives. In this instance, Mbia's intention of marrying Juliette maybe because of her being literate. Ondua enquires from Mezoe if the civil servant is a bachelor. Mezoea informs him that Mbia has eight wives. He further tells Ondua, "She's the one who is going to rule the house, I can tell you that!" Since Mbia is also an educated man evidenced by his job - a civil servant - then it makes sense he wants an educated wife in his family to manage his home and other related affairs that require the use of literacy skills.

Mbarga, the village's headman, has twelve wives and is still in a process of having a thirteenth wife.

Even though polygamy is not widely practised in modern Africa, the reasons given by men for continuing on the ritual has never changed. And the debate for and against polygamy is a subject that's never been settled. While some African countries have legalised polygamy, others are silent on the matter. Christian teachings that uphold monogamous marriage and the hardships faced by majority of African men have led to a high percentage of men sticking to a monogamous lifestyle.

c) Superstition

Superstition, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is "a belief or practise resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation." Mbarga suggested that Sanga-titi, a local witchdoctor, should be called to ascertain who stole Atangana's money. The other elders including Atangana nodded their approval.

The witchdoctor had perfected his tricks in disguising being a person who the beings in the spiritual world reveale to him the cause of an event and the remedy. He knew the villagers trusted magic to explain strange things that have happened in the village or the cause of the occurrence of an unpleasant event.

If a meeting was held to determine the circumstances in which the money disappeared, there is a high likelihood they'd have known who stole the money. Instead, they sought other alternatives including seeking a witchdoctor's service to know who the thief is. They trusted magic more than combining their intellect to determine the probable killer.

d) Taboo Foods

According to the customary laws of Mvoutessi, young men are prohibited from eating certain meat. If they want to have a taste of the prohibited meat, they need to seek permission from the elders.

Abessolo can't reconcile the fact that the younger generation of Ondua is allowing their wives to eat taboo foods e.g. wild boars and vipers.

The issue of taboo foods isn't only prevalent in Africa to-date but also in many parts of the world. People of a certain age, gender or condition were warned against eating a certain food, though the emphasis was highly on meat. Additionally, in Africa, women had to wait for their husbands followed by children to finish their food before eating what was left.

A study carried out by Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow on taboo foods notes in his journal article, 'Food taboos: their origins and purposes' that whether food taboos are scientifically correct or not, this practice is "often meant to protect the human and individual and the observation, for example, that certain allergies and depression are associated with each other could have led to declaring food items taboo that was identified as causal agents for the allergies." Be that the case, he says, "any food taboo, acknowledged by a particular group of people as its ways, aids in the cohesion of this group, helps that group maintain its identity in the face of others, and therefore creates a feeling of "belonging."

The researcher further notes that it makes no sense to disallow a certain group from consuming specific foods while allowing another group to eat them.

Among the tribes he's included in his research that practise taboo foods are tribes from Papua New Guinea where taboo foods vary from one tribe to another. For instance, a menstruating woman isn't allowed to eat fresh meat caught in a trap because "it is thought that future traps will not fall." Additionally, "if the animal was caught with a dog, it is feared that dog will lose its ability to find scent. Similarly, bananas and pandanus: if a menstruating woman happens to eat some of these fruits, it is believed that the trees will then cease to bear. A woman herself must leave the communal longhouse and move to a shack some distance away for the duration of her period. If she should cook or step over food, those who eat it, particularly her husband, will become ill with cough and possibly die. Mature women must not eat fish and when pregnant are not even permitted eggs. Young unmarried men receive the best food and have to obey the smallest number of food taboos. When married, they, like their wives, can no longer eat fresh, but only smoked meat."

Despite the benefits that may be derived from prohibiting certain groups of people from eating specific foods, it may affect the physical health of those who require it to a certain amount. Furthermore, several studies have shown that food also contribute to the mental health of an individual e.g. improving one's mood.

Researchers Tela, Gebremariam and Beyene carried out a study in their country, Ethiopia, on the relationship between food taboos and misconceptions about pregnancy. In their journal article, 'Food taboos and related misperceptions during pregnancy in Mekelle city, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia,' the researchers concluded that "misconceptions related to pregnancy food taboos should be discouraged insofar as they may restrict women's consumption of nutritious foods which could support maternal health and healthy fetal development. Health providers should counsel pregnant women and their husbands about appropriate pregnancy nutrition during ANC (antenatal clinic) visits."

On the effects of pregnant mothers observing this traditional practice, they state that it can cause both short and long-term complications for both mothers and growing fetuses "including spontaneous abortion/miscarriage, fetal growth restriction, preterm delivery, and pre-and post-partum haemorrhage. Subsequently, undernutrition during pregnancy can be a precursor to chronic malnutrition, stunting, and ultimately poor growth and development of the child."

e) Songs & Dances

There are two occasions when songs and dances take place in the village of Mvoutessi.

The first instance is when Mezoe asks the village men who had gathered to witness the arrival and purpose of the visit of the 'great' man as to whether they're going to drink like dumb people. With the drum aiding as a musical accompaniment, the villagers sing and dance to the rhythm of local songs - Nyeng and Anyang.

The second occurs immediately after Oko pays Atangana the bride price of three-thousand francs.

In the play, the traditional songs and dances reflect the villager's celebration of what might have led to the joyful occasion. In the first case, villagers sang and danced for being offered free drinks, and in the second, it was a joyful celebration of the two lovebirds cementing their their love to each other.

African women

African women

2. Status of Women

In the Bulu village, young females have no say on who they should get married to. This is reserved for their parents or guardians. Her disapproval of her father for not consulting her on a matter concerning her life shows women are not involved in decisions that will affect them. This was a prevalent scenario in pre-colonial Africa whereby a girl's future husband was decided by her parents. She would get married to a man who she'd get to know from scratch once in his house as his wife.

Bella remarked to Juliette's statement that she's in love with Oko that girls are not allowed to fall in love without the permission of their families. So, the implication was that a girl would have to seek consent from her family before falling in love with a male person. It's her parents, her elders and the elderly in her family who'd to deliberate which man she was supposed to open her heart to. Not that they offered her advice which man she should get married to, but which man she ought to be his wife.

In the African context, though it isn't limited to the continent only, there is a persistent belief in the minds of African men that it's tge duty of women, not both of them, to teach their children moral values. If a parents' child received praise e.g. for their high intelligence or good behaviour, the father would receive the recognition. But if a child exhibited behaviours that were backwards or his intelligence was low, the mother would be blamed for such an occurrence.

Other than women being considered inferior to men, they're also regarded as man's properties. Atangana tells his parents and sibling that it's his wife who teaches him, not their (both his and her wife's) children to be disrespectful or rebellious. This is a clear indication that women aren't esteemed as partners in marriage but properties to facilitate a man's desires. Makrita's job is to produce for him children, raise them, teach them how to behave, and do the house and farm work as dictated by the tradition.

Oko wanted to hear from Juliette whether she truly wanted to be his wife. He understood gender equality and that women's concerns and ideas should be factored to, not heard and ignored. The women in the village have no voice. However, Juliette represents the African women who've stood up against their opposite sex demanding that they've rights like them that should be respected, and they're no less equal to them. She's fed up with men's dominance over women, and the end of the play depicts how African women have been successful in being recognized as part and parcel of a community; not an asset.

The denied involvement of women in decision-making is one of the most pressing African issues that hasn't freed the continent from wearing off African men's superficial attitude towards women. Women are still viewed as inferior which explains why a lack of equal representation in various ministries and institutions in an African country is widespread. "The concern over women's marginalisation and invisibility in Africa policy-making," notes Oluwagoyin Olatundun Ilesanmi in her article, 'Women's Visibility in Decision Making Processes in Africa - Progress, Challenges, and Way Ford,' are likely caused by "restrictive laws, cultural diversities and practices, institutional barrier, as well as disproportionate access to quality education, healthcare, and resources." The researcher asserts that it's not an impossibility for the continent to reverse these discriminatory practices which can be "achieved by implementing the right mechanisms across the continent."

In her concluding remarks, she says, "African women have only been marginally involved in decision-making. Creating opportunities for the institutionalization of women's visible involvement in decision-making in Africa will strengthen the acceleration of sustainable development goals on the continent. Consequently, governments of individual nations in Africa are expected to create an enabling policy environment and engagement strategies for the institutionalization of women's visible involvement in decision-making at all levels—families, communities, statewide and national levels. There is also the need for international agencies to continue to support women's organizations' visible engagement in decision-making in Africa."

Xhosa elders

Xhosa elders

3. Modernity vs. Tradition

Abessolo, a hard-lined traditionalist, rebukes his sons - Atangana and Ondua - for being easy on their wives. According to him, men should beat their wives so that their women would know their place. He advocates for men to discipline their wives when they err so as not to repeat the mistake. This belief among men is still prevalent in modern Africa.

Abessolo's remark indicates that Atangana and Ondua don't beat their wives. This implies that the two have been influenced, to some degree, by the western culture which calls for equality and respect among couples.

In pre-colonial Africa, certain foods were reserved for a particular age group or gender. It's believed that a curse or bad luck or something bad would befall a person who ate the prohibited food, which was mostly meat. Abessolo can't understand why the younger men would allow their wives to eat taboo goods. Together with the other elderly men, Abessolo was indignant at the two young men who hunted an animal whose meat they're prohibited to eat unless they first seek permission from the elders. As a result, the elderly men cursed the young boys.

Women didn't have a say in who they should get married to. It's upon their parents to choose for them. As noted in the play, there were two major reasons why parents or guardians of a female required a bride price for their daughter. Firstly, to enrich themselves. Atangana and the others are happy their daughter will be married to Mbia, a civil servant. They can't help to count endless opportunities that'll be presented to them once Mbia becomes part of their family e.g. easy access to a gun. Secondly, to be repaid, though not fully as it's impossible, for having raised who would cease to be their daughter and become another family's daughter.

It's a foreign concept in Africa to involve women in decision-making, or even if they're involved, the final decision was made by the husband. The fact that Juliette wasn't involved in deciding on the man she'll spend the rest of her life with indicates how lowly women are viewed in her village. This implies that women are considered the weaker sex (inferior). Serious discussions were reserved for men.

Finally, it's the responsibility of women to teach their children moral values. That wasn't the duty of men. If a child behaved well, their father would be proud of them but if the child misbehaved, a finger would be pointed at their mother. Makita rebuked her daughter when her husband remarked that she's the one who is teaching his children bad manners. She was afraid of being accused of teaching vices to their children which is not expected of a woman. Furthermore, Atangana says that his wife teaches his children, not their children, raising another issue of who belongs to who. It's evident children belong to the father; not the mother. In other words, women and children belong to the man. They're his properties.

An educated young girl, Juliette has differing views on the traditions of her Bulu tribe. She believes women are equal to men, and therefore should be involved in decisions concerning them. They too are humans with feelings that should be acknowledged by men instead of being treated as an asset whose time has arrived to be sold to the highest bidder without being consulted.

It's an alien concept to Atangana and the other elderly men when Oko told Juliette's father that he'd have to ask her if she's interested in becoming his wife. The idea of a man proposing to a wife is a western concept. This puts Juliette and Oko on the modernist pedal - young Africans who've subscribed to modern ideals.

The subject matter revolving around the play is the clash between African traditionalists and the young Africans who have been attracted to western culture. Owing to the young characters having gained formal knowledge, and influenced by the western culture, their minds have been recharged to engage their mental faculties on issues and decide for themselves whether they're beneficial to them or not.

The playwright has illuminated the demerits of some African traditional practices, and consequently, inviting Africans to ascertain whether it's beneficial for Africans and which traditions should be done away with. As opposed to the play, 'The Lion and the Jewel," whereby tradition has triumphed over modernity, in 'Three Suitors: One Husband,' the opposite is the case. Overall, both plays stress the need to adopt aspects of western culture that are beneficial to individual Africans and collectively, and eliminate from their traditions elements that are degrading and have no value to those practising them.

© 2020 Alianess Benny Njuguna

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