TITTLE: UNANSWERED CRIES
AUTHOR: Osman Conteh
SETTING: SIERRA LEONE
“Unanswered cries” is a modern novel where by the author presenting a moving story of Olabisi who is under pressure to be circumcised in order to realize the reality as a woman.
COVER OF THE BOOK
The cover of the book is relevant to the story. This is because it portrays the cultural dressing of the women in Sierra Leone and Africa as whole. It also shows how the girls discussed in the book are feeling by showing a fear of oppression, sadness and loss of hope.
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK
The title of the book “unanswered cries” is direct as it makes a person who wants to know the story of the girl to get it so easily because it is shown on the cover as to why she looks so sad, oppressed and hopeless.
ARRANGEMENT OF EVENTS
The writer arranged the events into chapters 1-9 whereby each chapter contains a picture which gives information about what is in that chapter.
Olabisi at home.
Olabisi is sitting washing the dishes when she hears the sounds of drums and singing. She asks her mother for permission to go and watch what’s happening but her mother refuses. Later on after a long conversation her mother agrees and Olabisi takes a camera with her to take some photos/pictures. Makalay (Olabisi’s Mother) stresses that Olabisi should be circumcised as well in order to earn a respect and becomes a responsible mother. She wonders how a girl can be circumcised while she doesn’t have a penis. Her mother gives her a sound slap believing that she has started sleeping with boys. She calls her a gborka.
Olabisi Fights Salay and Rugiatu
Olabisi, Salay and Rugiatu (Ya Posseh’s daughters) are on the way from the stream to fetch water. She curiously asks Rugiatu whether she is a gborka. She is surprised to see Rugiatu becoming angry and the two fight vigorously and Salay joins in to help her sister. In the process Rugiatu and Salay fall down and Olabisi starts to tear their pants to see what they have between their legs, which were circumcised.
Suddenly Salay hits Olabisi with a rock and she falls down unconscious. She later quarrels with her mother on the same issue. Then Ya Posseh arrives with a crowd of armed women demanding Olabisi to be taken to bondo camp to undergo female circumcision for what she did. Ya Posseh threaten to do something bad to Makalay who is pregnant. Olabisi overhears it and prepares to run away. Her Step father Dauda and Makalay chase her but she manages to push a bucket towards Dauda that sends him down.
Olabisi in the forest
Olabisi enters a thick forest and goes through it hoping to find a nearby village. She comes to a fenced hut and begins going around looking for the entrance. As she runs her footstep echoes and she thinks that an invisible creature or Ya Posseh is chasing her. Before she finds the entrance she hears the voices of women and climbs up the tree to hide but she falls down.
She climbs up again and watches inside the fence. She realizes that it is a bondo camp. The women are accompanied by a young girl who is going to be circumcised. She tries to run away but she is overpowered. She gives a loud cry but it goes unanswered. Seeing this, Olabisi decides to climb down only to find herself surrounded by Ya Posseh and her two daughters welcoming her to the bondo camp.
Makalay looks for Olabisi
Makalay dreams of Ya Posseh coming to punish her for disobeying the gods. She decides to search for Olabisi no matter the cost. Dauda comes back complaining for what Olabisi did to him. Makalay leaves the house and disappears into the bush looking for Olabisi. She meets Pa Amadu (a hunter) and promises to give him a goat if he finds Olabisi.
Back at the Bondo camp
Olabisi is still with Ya Posseh and her two daughters who welcome her to the bondo camps. To free herself, Olabisi fights the three of them and manages to overpower them. She then runs away but unfortunately comes to the river. On trying to cross the river she sees a crocodile coming her way and runs back only to find herself in the hands of Amadu- the hunter.
Olabisi arrives in Freetown
Ade Jones is in the house with Oyah (his new fiancée). She wonders how she got on Ade’s bed while she had just slept on the sitting room couch. They quarrel over the matter of Ade Jones relationship with Yamide. But Jones insists she’s only an ordinary friend. Oyah determines to leave the house but is stopped at the doorway by Jones’ questioning”will you marry me?… this year. December’
Suddenly a sound of someone running is heard and Olabisi enters. She narrates what happened and was about to happen to her. She then goes to the bathroom to take a shower with Oyah supervising her. While in the bathroom they hear a violent knock at the door. Makalay comes in demanding to take Olabisi to the bondo camp. After a long debate with Ade Jones Makalay says Olabisi is not a legitimate daughter of Ade but Abdulraman. He grips her throat and forces her to confess the lie until she renounces her statement. Then Ade says he’s going to take the matter to court.
Olabisi’s case is taken to court
Both Olabisi and her father feel nervous about appearing in the court. His father helps her to rehearsal the words used in court as taught to her by Oyah. Words like ; ‘objection’, ‘sustained’, ‘overruled’ etc. on the first day of hearing the case bondo women appear in the streets of Freetown in hundreds and thousands singing songs of protest. They carry a banner with words:
“FEMALE CIRCUMCISION! A MOTHER’S DECISION!”
Olabisi, Oyah, Makalay, Salaam Sesay (Makalay’s lawyer) judge Lansana Kanu and other spectators are all in the court. Olabisi becomes the first witness to be called, Oyah cross-examines her, she narrates what happened, and then Mr. Sesay follows. Olabisi admits her relationship with Edward Cole that they made love at age of fourteen. Ade is called as the next witness he asks the court to differ with Mrs Makalay Kamala. Then Mr Sesay asks him a few questions and Ade stands for his decision that Olabisi should not be circumcised. The judge adjoins the court. Eddy appears to comfort Olabisi but she tells him to stay away from her. She kicks him in the shin. Then she runs off.
Obabis takes pregnant tests.
Olabisi is ashamed and asks for forgiveness from his father. Oyah comes in and suggests that -Olabisi should see a gynaecologist-(a doctor who treats women). Ade is shocked but Oyah insists that Olabisi must take pregnancy test. On hearing this, her stomach becomes upset and she starts vomiting violently. On Monday, the case continues. This time Dr. Asiatu Koroma is called as a witness and explains the medical reasons why Olalibisi should not undergo FGM. She even says her own daughter is soon to die of HIV AIDS acquired during FGM.
Finally Ya Posseh the Digba sowey is called as a witness on Makalay’s side. She also gives the history of bondo tradition from the days of the ancestors. They nicknamed it mama Africa. She then gives the benefits to girls of going through the bondo ritual. She says it teaches women to be committed in their marriage, preparing women for their role as parents, the bondo initiates are taught the skills needed to successfully manage the household etc.
Oyah then steps in to question Ya Posseh. She asks Ya Posseh to justify her claims since there are millions of good mothers who handle all the women responsibilities and they never went through bondo ritual and the fact that some girls die in the process. Nevertheless, Ya posseh defends her position by saying that death can attack someone at any moment, so it does to bondo women.
The last witness to be called was Makalay. She gives reasons why Olabisi should be circumcised, including helping her to control her sexual desires, be taught how to be a real woman and being beautifully dressed.
Oyah wonders how a college educated woman support such a tradition based on medical ignorance and superstition. She also challenges Makalay on how FGM helped her because she was once a girlfriend to Ade then to Dauda and was already circumcised.
When the questioning session was over, Judge Lansana Kanu concluded that Olabisi Jones shall not be forced against her will or the will of the father to undergo FGM. Olabisi was happy for the decision. Three months later Ade and Oyah were married.
The title of the book has dual meaning; in a more specific sense it refers to the cry of many girls who are forced by their parents to undergo FGM against their wishes. Their cries are not answered because nobody cares. Look at the following paragraph from page 29.
On a broader sense it may also imply the cry of the whole traditional society in wanting all their girls to be circumcised including Olabis but their cries are not answered. They claim it up to the court demanding that their cause is right and defend their position but eventually the court judge gives a decision against them. This is to say their cries were not answered.
She is the main character in the novel who is against bad cultural practices (circumcision), she is courageous as well as Eddy’s girl friend.
She’s Ade Jones and Makalay’s daughter. She almost becomes a victim of traditional practices by being forced by her own mother to undergo female genital mutilation.
She is engaged in premarital love affairs with Edward Cole. She is a revolutionist who wants to see FGM stopped since it is mostly done against the girls’ will. She is aware of the dangers of FGM and thus protests being circumcised according to bondo tradition. Her experience of living in town make her believe that only boys undergo circumcision so she wanders what in the woman is being circumcised in the process. She advocates for change in the society by tabling a dialogue whether or not FGM is important for girls today.
This is Olabisi’s mother, an educated woman and a school teacher. Despite her education she supports FGM (female genital matulation) which she was supposed to condemn with all her might. She represents those people whose education has only helped them to solve their financial problems and never the change in attitude. She forces Olabisi to be circumcised because she fears the bondo spirits. She is initially Ade’s girlfriend then she gets married to Dauda. She believes that FGM helps to reduce sexual appetite to girls and makes them committed to their husbands, but fails to explain why FGM failed to make her committed to Ade but she moved again to Dauda. She is a very strict mother as she treats Olabisi rudely to make her behave well. She doesn’t want changes in the society so not worth being emulated.
- Ya Posseh.
She is Salay and Rugiatu’s mother and girls’ circumciser. She is believed to have powers even to speak with the spirits. She is among the women who perpetuate FGM in the name of ancestral tradition. Like Makalay she also believes that FGM has a way of making girls real women and creating a sense of commitment to their husbands. She does not want changes in the society and thus not worth being emulated.
- Asiatu Koroma
She is a medical doctor by profession. (Gynecologist) who examines Olabisi and proves that she is not pregnant. She uses her education and position in a positive way educating the people the effects of FGM. She helps the court in reaching the decision of setting Olabisi free from the traditional practices. She is aware of the possible complications that can arise as a result of going through FGM both immediate and long term. She advocates change in the society.
She is professionally a lawyer and Ade Jones wife. She uses her education positively by defending the rights of women. She stands as an advocate in Olabisi’s case and helps her to come out a winner and Makalay with her Lawyers become losers. She is aware of Ade Jones unfaithfulness in relationship and asks for more commitment unless otherwise they should stop the relationship. She represents women who are revolutionists and in need of change in the society.
- Ade Jones
This is Olabisi’s father married to Oyah. He also wants changes and doesn’t want her daughter to be circumcised against her will. He is a womanizer as we are told he has five girlfriends apart from Oyah. He also had Makalay with whom they bore Olabis. He has true love for Olabisi and wants her to be happy by protecting her from traditional influence.
- Salaam Sesay
He is professionally a lawyer. He also represents people who would do anything in the name of money. Although he is educated and certainly knows the harmful effects of FGM, nevertheless, he supports FGM to get money from his clients. He is among the people who are a stumbling block in the way leading to development because to him what is important is money not humanity or dignity even when he knows the effects.
- Judge Kanu
He is professionally a lawyer who uses his position to grant justice where it is due. He conducts Olabisi’s case and makes a wise decision that Olabisi should not be forced to undergo FGM against her will or the will of the father. He is among the people who fight for the oppressed. He is also after changes.
- Edward Cole
The boy friend of Olabisi, he betrays Olabisi in the court. He turns out to be Olabisi’s enemy.
- Dauda Kamara
Makalay’s husband in Bondo society. He runs after Olabisi to save his unborn child as the spirits want Olabisi to be circumcised but he fails.
The novel is set in Sirra Leone. Although scanning through the themes one can realize that the setting in a more general sense represents African communities where FGM is common.
Moreover, to drive the message home the author has employed (rural) village and urban (town) setting.
The village setting includes the following sub-settings
Home; Olabis always quarrels with her mom at home based on their disagreement on the issue of FGM
Bondo camps; we are also introduced to the practices at the bondo camp and what is going on there.
Forest; we also see a large forest where hunting is taking place. Hunting is typical feature of rural setting.
Additionally, drawing water from the stream sums up the village setting.
Urban setting in Freetown is also portrayed with the following sub settings.
Home the urban home is different from the rural one. For example we are told that Olabis went to take a shower in the bathroom. ‘Exactly, Olabis turned on the shower’ pg 45. This is common in town
Courtroom. We are also introduced to courtroom setting and how the case proceedings take place. Most courts are in town.
Streets in Freetown. Bondo women are seen all over in streets of Freetown.
The novel is rich in its style. The novelist has employed the straightforward narration. We are told of Olabis in the village, and the experience there, then forced to undergo FGM runs back to town then to court. In the middle there are cases of flashbacks like when Olabis narrates what happened to her and when Ya Posseh narrates the history of FGM. The story is told using a narrative technique. But also there are cases of dialogue especially in the courtroom.
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM).
Female Genital Mutilation is the removal of a woman’s genitals usually the sensitive part known as clitoris, this is done to inhibit sexual desires. The book revolves around a mothers’ desire to get her daughter circumcised, we see an age old institution (Bondo Secret Society) established just to perpetrate this practice. Yah Posseh sits pretty on top as the high priestess (chief circumciser) a job she performs with great zeal and determination.
We further see other characters such as Makalaay, Yah Posseh, Oyah, Rugiatu and Sallay who have all faced the knife sometimes in the past. Membership of the Bondo secret society is an exclusive affair only achievable through circumcision. The group of six young naked girls in the Bondo Secret Society’s dance procession are all being led away to be circumcised.. This practice is prevalent in Africa, in Tanzania it is widely practiced in the lake zone regions, Singida, Tanga, Dodoma etc.
Is defined as the belief or faith in magic or supernatural powers that cannot be explained by logic. This theme manifests itself through Makalaay who’s terrified of the spirits; she believes the spirits would make her experience difficult childbirth if she doesn’t obey them by offering her daughter for circumcision Yah Posseh also believes in the spirits and apparently acts as their messenger, for instance she tells Olabisi ‘’the spirits wants you circumcised’’ pg 35.
Also the hunter Pa Amadu wears an amulet on his left arm designed to make him invincible to wild animals. Amulet is a piece of cloth worn around the neck or arm believed to offer protection
When one fails to act in discretion or accountably, they are said to be irresponsible. Ade Jones is a father to a teenage girl now that comes with a lot of responsibilities. As a father he’s supposed to be a role model to his daughter, model her to be a responsible and personable girl and counsel her whenever necessary. However our dear Ade failed miserably on that front because he employed a laisser-faire approach instead of a hands-on methodology in exercising his parental duties. This gives Bisi a lot of freedom which she inevitably misuses. If he were a responsible parent maybe he could have salvaged the whole situation from the onset hence avoiding the embarrassing debacle in the courtroom.
PRE- MARITAL SEX
Girls are seen to involve themselves in sexual affairs before turning to the age of eighteen. Makalay is circumcised while she is ten years old. She starts having sex at the age of fourteen and becomes pregnant at the age of sixteen. The same thing is shown to Olabisi who involves in sexual affairs with Edward Cole while she is only fourteen.
The city dwellers example Oyah, Dr. Asiatu Koroma and Olab isi are shown to go against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) while the village dwellers example Yah Posseh, Makalay and other Bondo women are there to support it. They want to preserve the traditional practices of their spirits by going through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This makes Olabisi to escape from her mother’s village.
Some of the characters have been shown to have many sexual relationships. Example Ade Jones who lives with Oyah without marrying her, he is accused of having five girl friends by Makay’s lawyers (Salaam Sesay) while in the court. He is also seen to be in conflicts with Oyah because of Yamide.
This is the act of being disloyal to someone who trusts you. In the novel, the situation is experienced by Makalay when she is betrayed by Pah Amadu and he did not bring Olabisi back to Makalay, instead he helped Olabisi to reach the town. Also the betrayal of Edward Cole to Olabisi by disclosing the secret that he had sex with her several times.
Makalay is shown stay away from her husband (Ade Jones) and stays with another man in the village called Dauda Kamara. This causes problems to Olabisi who finds herself in difficult situation.
Awareness refers to the state of knowing or realizing something including its advantages and disadvantages. Awareness has been revealed in different scenarios. First Olabisi is aware of the harmful effects of undergoing FGM and her rights of decision making thus she protests to go through the process. Dr. Asiatu and Oyah are also aware of the medical complications and potential dangers that come along with FGM thus they help to prevent Olabisi to undergo FGM. Ade Jones is aware of her child’s right to decide whether or not she should undergo FGM.
HUMILIATION and OPPRESSION
There are many cases that show humiliation to women in this novel. But generally the act of forcing young girls to be circumcised against their will is itself humiliation. Most girls are taken to bondo camps at the age when they are unable to defend themselves. Olabis narrates how she saw a girl trying to escape for her safety but was overpowered by older women who held her screaming but her cries went unanswered. Also Olabis is humiliated by her mother for examining her secret parts when she is unconscious and discovers that she has lost her virginity.
Love is a mutual feeling of attraction between two people usually a male and a female. Male and female relationships are a common occurrence in the book. There’s a relationship between Ade and Oyah. Olabisi’s relationship with Eddy also stands out prominently in the book.
Stigma is defined as the sign of disgrace which sets a person from other ‘normal’ members of the 10. Society. In the book uncircumcised girls are considered lesser beings only fit for village riffraffs. They are abused, disrespected, looked down upon and generally disregarded, heck, they can’t even get married. A Gborka is an outcast in the eyes of these villagers.
POSITION OF A WOMAN IN THE SOCIETY
In this novel, a woman is portrayed in different position as follows,
- A woman is portrayed as an educated person, example Oyah who is the lawyer, Dr. Asiatu Koroma who is the gynecologist. They both stand strongly to make sure that Olabisi is not circumcised.
- A woman is portrayed as a leader, example Yah Posseh who leads the villagers of Bondo society.She is the chief female circumciser.
- A woman is shown to be as a conservative person. Women of Bondo do not want to change to practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) despite the bad effects of it like excessive bleeding, transmission of HIV/AIDS and death.
- A woman is shown to be a liar, example Makalay cheats on Ade Joneswith another man. He makes him believing that Olabisi is his daughter while she slept with another man called Abdulraman who is said to be the biological father of her daughter.
- Women have been portrayed as revolutionists. In this case we see Olabisi, Oyah and Dr. Asiatu standing firm to fight for the freedom of women and rights of the child of decision making.
- Women have also been portrayed as child bearers and caretakers. Makalay is the mother of Olabisi who is very strict in ensuring that Olabisi observes good family standards like avoiding boys until she gets married. Also Oyah takes good care of Olabisi as her child although she is not her real biological mother.
- A woman is shown as a tool for pleasure by men. Ade, is using Makalay for pleasure after impregnating her he goes to Oyah. We are told he has some more five girlfriends. ”you answered truthfully. For you have had five girlfriends, and you are now living with a woman who is not your wife” pg 62. Olabisi is also used by Eddy for the same reason since they are not yet married.
- A woman is also show a picture of ignorant and foolish people. They should have been the ones to oppose FGM but surprisingly enough they are the ones supporting it. They are also ignorant of the dangers brought by FGM but they think only of the benefits ignoring the harmful outcomes.
- A woman is portrayed as cruel people who perpetuate a cruel custom. If we consider how FGM takes place, we wouldn’t imagine a woman standing in court to defend it. Oyah asks Makalay “Mrs Kamara, do you not find it surprising to see a college-educated woman supporting and defending cruelty to a child…”
- A woman is portrayed as superstitious. The whole process is carried out on the basis of superstitious grounds. The belief in bondo gods and spirits. For example Makalay says “when a circumcised woman reveals to a gborka the secrets of the gods, something terrible will happen to her.” Pg 85
Although it takes only a small part but that isn’t a reason to ignore discussing it. There have been cases of corruption in the novel. Amadu -The hunter is given a task by Makalay to look for Olabisi in which case he would be give a goat if he succeeded to find her. Unfortunately, she finds her and receives some money from her and helps her escape. This shows how our society fails to reach some intended goals because of individualistic tendencies of few members of the society who use every opportunity coming their way for private gain. Olabisi says:
“I ran back and… and bumped into this man, a hunter. He said if I gave him enough money to buy two goats instead of one, he would show me the way out of the forest instead of taking me back to my mother”
INFLUENCE OF EDUCATION.
Meaningful education is that which helps to build a person by helping him/her to change the society by changing the way he/she thinks. When education fails to change a person’s mindset and the way he/she looks at things that education was but a waste of time. In the book both scenarios have been manifested. Makalay and Salaam Sesay represent a group of educated Africans who for them education is just a means to earn salaries and manage the family budget.
She still upholds the harmful traditions despite the fact that she learnt in school how harmful FGM is. On the other hand there are people like Asiatu and Oyah have used their professionalism to bring about changes in the society by condemning what is bad. Without fail they joined hands and fought for- Olabisi until they snatched her from the bondo ritual. This is the positive effect of education.
This is the state of being un able to obtain basic needs or inability of someone to make the basic demands like food, clothes and shelter. In the novel, Makalay’s kitchen is made by rusty corrugated iron sheets which could almost fall by the blow of the wind. This can also be portrayed when Salay and Rugiatu were working bear footed from the well.
This is the disolation of good moral and people in the society. In the novel moral decay is shown when Olabisi involved herself in early sexual relationship while she just fourteen years of age. Also Olabisi replied back Makalay her (mother) as it was a peer.
- Title, Osman Conteh has made theuse of direct title as the novel explains about the little girls who go to the Bondo camp and get circumcised.They shout because of pain but the cry goes un answered.
- Setting, the events have been explained in real setting because of places like Freetown that real exists in Sierra Leone.
- Plot, the events have been narrated in a straight forward way (chronological plot).The narration starts when Olabisi sits on a low stool when she washes dishes, her steps to join and dance with Bondo women who go to the camp without herself to know it, her struggle to get rid of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and her victory in the court.
- Diction (Language use) The novelist has made the use of; vernacular words example “gborka” which means a woman/ a girl who is not circumcised “lappa” which means a piece of cloth that is tied under The armpit as well as “juju” which means magic power.
- The use or religious words, example subanallah” said by Makalay to Olabisi, also the words like “pastor” and “imam” are said by Salaam Sesay to Ade Jones in the court.
- The use of legal language (Language used in court), there words like
- “objection”, “overruled” and “adjourn” are much used in the court
- Figures of speech example simile when Yah Posseh says, “The Bondo
- tradition is as old as Africa”
- There is also the use of hyperbole, when the narrator says that Yah Posseh’s mouth is like the cave -where bats go to sleep
- The use of words that imitate the sound (Onomatopoeia) , example “BAM” to imitate the sound of gavel hit by the Judge Lansana Kanu in the court
There is actually a lot to learn from the novel.
- Parents should be close to their children so as to make them avoiding bad behavior. Olabisi manages to fool her father by having sex with Eddy while she is only fourteen. It can probably be said that Ade Jones has failed to take full control of his daughter.
- Parents should respect children’s right and not simply press their wills on their children even when they affect the children.
- Some of cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), can cause the spread of HIV/AIDS. The daughter of Dr. Asiatu Koroma (Umu), gets infected with HIV/AIDS because of being circumcised. Female Genital Mutilation can also cause death due to the loss of excessive bleeding; it can therefore be avoided and omitted.
- Family separation is not a good thing as it causes children to suffer. Olabisi’s parents (Makalay and Ade Jones) are shown to be separated from each other. Makalay lives in the village (Bondo Society) while Ade Jones lives in Freetown. This makes Olabisi to miss full parental care and faces the problems of circumcision as she visits her mother.
- Female Genital Mutilation is very dangerous because it places the life of young girls at risk. Olabissi is shown running alone in the forest something that may results into danger. Also a little girl is shown bleeding after being cut her critolis.
- Some of cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), can cause conflicts in the society. Olabisi comes into conflict with her mother because of circumcision; she also fights Salay and Rugiatu because of it.
The novel is relevant in a number of ways;
- FGM is still a common practice among most African societies. It is practiced in rural communities by ignorant masses ignoring all the consequences that come along with FGM.
- There are educated people who support outdated customs like FGM, Superstition etc as did Makalay.
- Most girls are forced by their parents to undergo FGM and when they stand against such practices nobody listens to them. Their cries go unanswered. This is common among the Kuryans of Northern Tanzania.
- Corruption, ignorance and believing in superstition are also common phenomena in our country and Africa in general.
- We also have girls who are now aware of the effects of FGM as a result they are now protesting to undergo the process.