Africa Speaks: Letters Home
Young house servant, Plateau quarter, Niamey, Niger, 1992
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Karimoune Hima 3/16/92
My Dear Uncle,
I received your letter, and I have taken good note of what you say about customs of marriage in our society. What you have all suggested is that I should come back home in order to follow the customs.
I am very sorry, Uncle, I can't. You know that your opinion about marriage has always been the bone of contention between you and me, and between the elder generation and us young people.
So you want me to become a family father with all the responsibilities demanded by the tradition: to stay at home, to work hard, to assist in the elders' decisions, and so on. There would be no way for me to go abroad or to continue my studies. I cannot do that.
According to our new generation, marriage is a question of power, possessions, and suitability. To get married, you must make your own decision, you should have a lot of money, and you should choose the girl you love.
Neither you, nor the older generations did this, but we men of the new generation must do it.
You also talked to me about my studies, saying that I should abandon them and join the family for a while. I know that the custom requires marriageable boys to join the family in order to sit for customary practices. This also does not suit the new generation.
I cannot do it. Uncle, I know that I must not disobey you, but try to understand. Everything has changed, and the new way is being put in practice everywhere. My education makes me a part of the situation.
Please do not mention this again. I hope you understand me well.
Copyright 1998 Karimoune Himacontents
Spice merchant, Filingue market, Niger, 1992
Mahaman Issaka 3/16/92
My Dear Aunt,
Before dealing with the topic that makes me write to you, I should say something which is dear to both Hima, my junior, and me. We have no parents in this world except you. It is you who raised us, and you are the teacher who directs and advises us about our lives.
Last week I received a letter from Hima, complaining about the family council that was held about his future household. It seems that the family wants to marry him to our cousin Fati, daughter of Uncle Dodo, the senior brother of you all.
Hima in his letter told me that the family council has arranged for everything except the actual date of the wedding, which will probably be decided in one month.
Aunt, it is very important to remind you that Hima is still a schoolboy. He is only in secondary school. When will he reach University if he is married now? He won't, because he will be concerned with wife and children in a few years.
He mentioned in his letter that Fati and he have never talked to each other about love. He also doesn't want to have an arranged marriage, in the family circle, because its negative ways are scientifically proved. If he accepts Fati, it will destroy his plans for the future.
I ask you, Aunt, to transmit this message to our family because I am aware of your important position near to the family elders. You are the one who understands us and can explain such things to your relatives. Possibly you can get them to take back their decision. We hope you will succeed and this marriage will not take place.
Try to convince the elders that they should accept our different ways of seeing things nowadays. Please try, Aunt, as you did two years ago, when the family council refused to send children to school. A local proverb says that when the music changes, so does the dance.
Copyright 1998 Mahaman Issakacontents
Oumarou Issa, March 16, 1991
March 16, 1991, Niamey,
Greetings from Niamey! I'm apologizing for not writing to you sooner. This is because my days were filled with much work and I was not able to write letters. But from now on, I'll try to send more letters to both you and Mum.
How are you, Dad? How is life going on for you this year? I hope the whole family is well.
On my side, for the time being, everything is all right except that I'm still disturbed by your position as far as my belief is concerned. I still remember how openly you opposed my conversion to Christianity. You, together with my uncles, threatened to curse me if I kept on rejecting the traditional religion and performed Christian service.
But Dad, I'm sorry, because I can not change, whatever may be the sanctions. I one more time reveal to you, Dad, that it is out of the question for me to follow your advice.
But this doesn't mean I'm disobeying you. Try to understand the matter. I remain your son and you my father for ever and ever. I'm ready to obey you in all matters but religion.
Only a couple of weeks ago, my church held a meeting whose outcome is to pay me a scholarship to go to Switzerland for biblical training after my university studies. And I plan to become a minister of God at the end of my studies instead of a civil servant as you wish. I'll give you more details and reasons when I drop a line to you later on.
Now, concerning your wish for me to get married to my cousin Maria, let me tell you that I cannot bear it. Not only do I do not have any intention to get a wife, but also I cannot accept that you impose your will on me. Yet I thank you for all your suggestions. I know you care very much about me.
But let me remind you that things are no longer the way they used to be. I cannot abide by traditions and have Maria as my wife. Not only do I not love her but also I'm not supposed to marry her. As a Christian, I'm not allowed to take a wife outside the Christian community. This would be a disobedience to my faith, and I hope you agree with me it is much better to obey God and disobey man than the opposite.
You so many times, Dad, argued that according to the customs, it is your duty to find a wife for me, Otherwise you will lose your dignity. What? I don't believe this. Dad. I will always respect you. And I think it is high time for people in our country to get rid of such ideas. Things are evolving so much.
Finally I hope you will understand me, and try to comfort and convince my mother on these points of view. Say my hearty hello to Mum and the other members of the family.
Please, Dad, take care to write soon so I can know how you are doing.
Yours sincerely, your son,
Copyright 1998 Oumarou Issacontents
Scene at Niger river ferry landing, Niger, 1992
Yacouba Souley 3/16/92
I seize this opportunity to write you this letter with some few words, but before I can say a word I want to know your present condition of health. I hope the family, and you, are all well. I'm also very well, as are all my family in the city.
Perhaps you know, Mother, how it is with city life. It is not easy. Everything you need demands money. It is not the same as the village. Despite its difficulties, people manage to survive.
Now Mother, the essential of this letter concerns the proposition you made for me to take a second wife. Dear Mother, you know I never discourage you, and don't want anything to make you sad. I always try to make you happy and respect your propositions. But for this matter of becoming polygamous, Mother, I don't think our ideas will marry each other.
I know your complaints, Mother: according to our rural way of life the elder of a family must of course be polygamous. That will give to his mother honor, respect, and more consideration.
But Mother, try to understand me and excuse me. In this stage of life, it is a big problem to have two wives. Don't you see that, in the rural area, it is easy to feed more than five months. It's not the same in the city.
So dear mother, without hiding anything from you, I can't be a polygamist. I know it's painful to say, or to disobey, but try to understand.
Dear mother, tell these in-laws that I obey and respect their responsibility, but for this matter, I can't do it. A man must think for what is going to come tomorrow.
So dear Mother, I think you have understood my opinion and you accept my excuse. Extend my greetings to mothers, brothers, sisters, and all the elders of the village. I am wishing them long life, long stay, good understanding, and prosperity.
Your faithful son,
Copyright 1998 Yacouba Souleycontents . . . home page . . . send an email message