Three Suitors, One Husband is a humourous play that centers around Juliette. She finds herself between a rock and a hard place as she's compelled to marry a man unbeknownst to her.
She pleads with her father and her relatives to let her marry the man she loves but her pleas fall on deaf ears. Her family and relatives are of the opinion she should get married to the second suitor, influenced by the title he holds in the government, his social status and that the Secretary of State knows him personally.
Sensing her father's firm determination for her to get married to the second suitor, she devises a plan - steal the three hundred thousands francs paid by two suitors. She involves her cousin and fiancé so that she can get married to the man she loves; not the one forced on her.
The quiet village experiences dramatic events not accustomed to. Atangana finds himself in a hot soup as he's unable to repay the dowry paid by the two suitors, Ndi and Mbia. Desperate, he accede to the headman's suggestion that a wealthy man should be sought in the city to marry Juliette. This is after the witchdoctor they'd hoped for to reveal to them who stole the money happens to be nothing than a trickster.
The play ends in a satirical nature as Juliette is married to the young man she loves. A young man whose Juliette's people had objected getting married to as he could not afford the bride price.
The play, Three Suitors, One Husband is written by Guillaume Oyono - Mbia; a Cameroonian. Three Suitors.One Husband was originally written in French in 1960, and staged in Younde, Cameroon in 1961.
Structure of the Play
Three Suitors, One Husband is divided into five acts. The events in the play occur roughly in two days, with the larger portion of events occurring on the first day.
Outside Atangana's 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 Oyono, his son, are playing a local game, songho. Matalina, his niece, is cracking peanuts and will soon be joined by his mother, Bella.
Atangana laments his wife, Makrita, hasn't yet arrived from the bush (farm) as expected before midday. 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 own way. He tells him that the previous night, he asked his wife who distills the illegal brew, Arki, to give him one bottle. In response, she gave him only one bottle.
Abessolo asks him why he is angry when he had warned them to discipline their wives when they err including his daughter, Matalina.
The conversation drifts to Ndi, a young farmer who had coughed up one hundred thousand francs as dowry payment for Atangana's daughter, Juliette. Atangana reveals to them that Juliette's suitor, Ndi, will visit them in the afternoon.
He discloses there's another suitor, a civil servant from Sangmélina, who will also pay them a visit 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 to 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 bring a lot of money.
Juliette arrives home from school at Dibamba 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 about her marriage.
The 'great' man arrives in the afternoon as he had promised.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. Bride Price
Ndi, a young farmer, had approached Juliette's father with the intention of wanting to marry his daughter. Because of Juliette's education and value, Atangana demanded the young man to pay one hundred thousand francs.
However, the money paid by Ndi seems useless in the view that an 'important' civil servant might pay a higher sum due to his position in the government, and the wealth he commands. Mbia, the civil servant, pays double the price that was paid by Ndi.
Despite her pleadings she's engaged to a young man, her father insists she'll get married to the man. This is after her family learns that her fiancé, studying in Yaoundé, at the Lycée Lecrerc can't afford even one franc to pay for her dowry.
Knowing he's in trouble, as he has to pay the previous suitors the dowry money they'd given him, Atangana approaches Tchetgen, a trader from Bamileke, to marry her daughter. The trader who is selling various items in Mvoutessi, close to Atangana's house, says he can only pay two hundred thousand francs after learning Juliette is educated - she knows a lot of things.
Juliette is reminded that her brother wants to marry a young girl from another village. The dowry paid for her will enable them to pay for the young girl her brother wants to marry. Additionally, they expect to regain the money they had spent on her education at Dibamba, and other places.
In Act Two, page 31-32, Oyono, Juliette's brother, says he needs a lot of money to pay for her future wife. Her mother, Makrita, conjures with his statement by saying, "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..."
Ondua had pledged he would never send his daughter to school. In his words, Matalina will stay at home and grow peanut like his wife Monica. And some day, she'll attract them a wealthy suitor who'll bring him lots of strong drinks.
Thus, payment of dowry, in an African context depends on several factors, chief among them, the care it took the parents or guardians to raise their daughter and to enrich themselves by marrying their daughter to wealthy men.
Mbia, the civil servant, isn't a bachelor as Ondua had sought to know from Mezoe. Mezoe, softly, tells Ondua, "... he's only got eight wives." While we don't know why he seeks another wife, we can speculate he wants to gain a different form of satisfaction from an educated young woman unlike his wives who aren't illiterate. In his conversation with Ondua, Mezoe tells him, "She's the one who is going to rule the house, I can tell you that!"
Mbarga, the headman of Mvoutessi village is also a polygamous man. This comes in light when the witchdoctor, Sanga-titi, asks him how many wives he has. He replies, loudly, "Twelve wives, officially married.
There are several reasons why men desire to marry more than one wife. In the African context, a polygamous man alludes an aura of admiration (respect) from his peers. Also, it defines his social status.
3. Position of Woman
Generally, in Africa, and particularly in Mvoutessi, young girls, and possibly women, are treated as properties. Through them, their parents and relatives enrich themselves. Indignant, Juliette asks whether she's for sale, to try to give her to the highest bidder. Furthermore, she asks them whether she's a shop or some other source of income to enrich themselves. Onyo makes it clear to her that she's not a free person because a lot of money has been used to educate her. Until her dowry is paid, she'll be free from her parents.
Mothers are expected to teach their children moral values. Whenever a child becomes stubborn or rebellious, it's said that his/her mother never taught her good behaviour or he/she is siding with their mother against the father. Atangana laments to others about Makrita, his wife, "She's the one who teaches my children such disgraceful behaviour! Just look at Juliette!" Frightened, Makrita rebukes Juliette to prove it isn't true what her husband has said. "Juliette! Haven't I always told you to be obedient to your family? Why don't you try and behave like your cousin Matalina?"
Women are not sought on sensitive matters pertaining to the society or their family. They are treated as inferior. When Mbia arrives in Atangana's homestead, it's only men of the village who have congregated. The women are nowhere to be seen, intentionally left out in contributing in such an important occassion. Her father and grandfather rebuke her several times when she enquires why her opinion has not been sought after. She had to do what she's told to do without any objection. In addition, on several occasions, Mbarga has warned the male actors not to behave as crowds of women. This signifies men's opinion on women - they can't make concrete or sensible decisions.
Mbarga, the wiseman, so he calls himself, comes up with an idea of getting back the money that was stolen. He suggests the famous witchdoctor, Sanga-titi, should be called to perform his rituals to determine who stole the money.
Inspite of Sanga-titi being a trickster in the pretense he's a witchdoctor possessing spiritual powers, the play depicts the villagers' belief in magic. Even Kouma lamenting Sanga-titi is playing them 'blind,' doesn't deter the villagers from believing the man is a witchdoctor. They realize, later on, Sanga-titi was deceiving them that he could talk to gods and be informed by the same.
Ondua is satisfied with his daughter not going to school. He doesn't see the need of educating her. Matalina, too, doesn't see the need to go to school. Both of them have wrong conception of what constitutes formal education (school). Ondua believes Juliette is being corrupted at school which shows his naivety
Together with Abessolo, Atangana, Mezoe and Mbarga, they believe Juliette has been taught to be disobedient (rebellious) towards her family. In their words, the schools have corrupted her.
Unlike Matalina, Juliette has learned several things at school which are evident from her reactions towards her parents and the other actors in the play e.g. she knows that a person has a right to be offered room to voice his/her opinion. Also, her conception of love differs from her folks as a result of the subjects she's come across during her learning at formal institutions.
They believe the amount of bride price determines the extent of love a man has for the woman she wants to marry. Abessolo, astonished at Juliette's response that she needs to see the man before agreeing to be married to him remarks to the audience, "Did you hear that? She wants to see the great man before agreeing to love him." Directing his indignation at Juliette, he says, "Isn't that civil servant going to give us all lots of money to marry you What more could any man do to deserve a girl's love?"
In Act Three, page 39, the conversation in the kitchen details the level of ignorance that permeates in the village pertaining to the subject of 'romantic' love. Matalina enquires from Juliette, "But, Juliette! How could a girl refuse to marry a man who loves her enough to pay two hundred thousand francs for her? Other men couldn't have paid that much, you know!" In response, Juliette asks, "Does money prove love?" Makrita, covering her pot, asks her, "How could a man prove it otherwise?" Juliette replies, "I've told you my fiancé hasn't got any money, and yet I'm sure he loves me!" Matalina, sneering at such naivety, asks her, "You're sure he loves you? What has he given you already?"
What follows are questions directed at her to gauge the level of love her fiancé has for her. They ask her whether her fiancé has bought her dresses or car. Whether he has a large house, works with the government or makes a lot of money.
Hilariously, Mbarga calls Oko Mr. Doctor of palm trees because Kouma told him that Oko is a Doctor of Mathematics. When Mbarga queries what that means, Kouma replies it means he can count all the leaves on a palm tree. Furthermore, the playwright reveals the level of ignorance that reigns in the village: Oko is referred to as a Doctor of the Doctorate, and a Doctor of the Bachelor.
Ondua's insistence he'll not take her daughter to school and the notion that Atangana made a mistake in sending Juliette to school, and believing Juliette has been corrupted by the missionary teachers paints the level of distaste the villagers have for formal schools; and the rate of illiteracy in the village.
6. Taboo Foods
According to the customary laws of Mvoutessi, young women are prohibited from eating certain animals. Young men have to seek permission from the elders before eating the taboo foods.
Abessolo can't reconcile the fact that the younger generation of Ondua are allowing their wives to eat taboo foods e.g. wild boars and vipers.
The news that two young men killed a viper and ate a quarter, leaving three-quarter for the elderly leads to the elders cursing the younger generation.
7. Songs & Dances
There are two occassions when songs and dances take place in the village of Mvoutessi.
The first is when Mezoe asks the villager men, who had gathered during Mbia's visit to propose to marry Juliette, whether they're going to drink like dumb people. With the drum aiding as a musical accompaniment, the villagers sing and dance to the rythm of local songs - Nyeng and Anyeng.
The second occurs immediately after Oko pays Atangana the bride price of three hundred thousands francs. The singing and dancing is a celebration of Juliette having found a husband.
Both the songs and dances reflect the villagers' joyful celebration to what might have constituted the actions - celebration for being offered strong drinks by the civil servant, and the second is an applause to Juliette getting married.