The Suppression of Culture on the Women’s Voice in Northern Nigeria: A Study of Asabe Kabir Usman’s Destinies of Life and Zainab Alkali’s the Virtuous Woman

 This article is published by the Zamfara International Journal of Humanities.

 Abdullahi D. Umar*1 Hussaini Ibrahim Ka’oje*2

1, 2Department of English and Linguistics
1, 2Federal University Gusau

Abstract: Nigerian fictional detractors appear to have some fixed concepts round female authors. By and large, there has been unselective imprinting of some feminine writers either as feminists or female bigots. This exposes them as inept of addressing other contemporary issues of domestic interest other than those that affect the women unswervingly. Society’s culture comprises the shared values, understandings, assumptions, and goals that are learned from earlier generations, imposed by present members of society, and passed on to succeeding generations. It has been a norm and a tradition in the Northern part of Nigeria which is a predominant Hausa society to restrict women from voicing out their wishes and opinions because the culture considered them weak and inferior. Therefore, women are not expected to finalize decisions on who they would marry or who they love but their grandfathers, elder brothers and even maternal uncles would have the final say. The rights given to women in decision making are a very limited one. For instance, Maryam was married to Auwal in a forceful way, not minding her opinion or consent. The duo lived in a loveless marriage life for many years simply because their parents have decided. Destinies of Life (12) Similarly, Maryam, as culture dictated was expected to tolerate all the hardship in her marital home in order to please her parents and the family (13). These traditional restrictions in the northern part of Nigeria are still so prevalent in many parts of that society. The culture of patriarchy is a very strong determinant of male dominance … analyze the origins and conditions of men’s oppression of women (kamarae; 1992). This is not acceptable for abstract. A good abstract should comprise, a short intro (a sentence or two); aim/objective; methodology/theoretical framework; summary of findings, and conclusion.

Keywords: Culture, suppression, traditional restriction, Northern Nigeria, Hausa society


Women in the northern part of Nigeria are put under many cultural restrictions, imposed on them by the society. It is enough evidence the forceful marriage between Auwal and Maryam as cousins, in the Destinies of life against their wish. They were not in love with each other but the marriage was conducted just to fulfill their maternal grandfather’s Will which should not be disobeyed by their parents even after his death. Alkali portrays the life of a protagonist Nana Ai who tries to become economically stable after been divorced by her husband who later wanted her back but she refused owing to the fact that she wants to emancipate herself from the shackles imposed on her, in her marital life.


This study is motivated by the common bitter experiences of the marital homes in both Alkalis’ The Virtuous Woman and Kabir’s Destinies of Life. The protagonists Nana Ai and Aishatu respectively suffered unpleasant similar experiences which triggered our interest in this research work.


The prime questions one would like to ask are: is it not possible for any Nigerian woman author to chase leitmotifs of worldwide plea? If we response this query in the confirmatory, conceivably we will also be interested in disentanglement the rationale for the rather unjustified emphasis on the feminist angle in the interpretation of works by female writers at the expense of probably more important issues that more often than not remain unattended to in such works. If the contrary is the case, that is to say if one denies that women writers are capable of raising any issues other than those bordering on the perceived suppression, oppression, ostracism, vilification, etc. of the woman folk in their works, then the logical supposition would be that such a position would be too infantile and pedestrian to merit any serious attention as it would go a long way to support the deep seethed sentiments against which suffragettes have fought: the perceived preeminence of male folk over their female foils.


Asabe Kabir Usman is one of the few professors of oral and African Literature in the Department of Modern European Languages and Linguistics, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria. She attended Federal Government Girls Colloge, Oyo recently known as Old Oyo Girls for her secondary school leaving certificate. She further went on to acquire a Bachelor’s Degree in English Language which was completed in 1983 and also Masters of Arts Degree in Literatures in English at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto where she also attained a Ph. D, Literature in English. She has been a teacher and researcher in the tertiary institution in all her life. Her commitment to the northern has earned her a lot of pundits and made her delivered hundreds of speeches around the nation. Some of her works include Destinies of Life among others. Her area of specialization is gender studies most significantly the place of women in Oral and African Literatures in relation to their socio-cultural background and history earned numerous publications in national and international academic journals/books.


Alkali was born in Tura-Wazila in Borno State in 1950. She graduated from Bayero University, Kano with a B. A. in 1973 and obtained her Ph. D in African Literature in English in 1979. She rose to be dean in the Fculty of Arts at Nassarawa State University,in Keffi where she taught creative writing. She is regarded as the first woman novelist from Northern Nigeria. Some of her works include: The Stillborn (1984), The Virtous Woman (1987), Cobwebs and other stories in (1997), The Descendants, Tamaza (2005) and The Initiates (2007).


The methodology adopted in this study is the in-text or content analysis of both texts under review. The societal odds that restrict the female gender is what propels this research and it adopts the African Feminism perspectives which proposes for equal rights to women and tries to stop all kinds of maltreatment against the female gender. It calls for the reordering of the society.


Motherism: This model was devised and produced by Catherine Acholonu; a protruding Nigerian critic, author and feminist. She avowed that motherism is a substitute to feminism. According to Nnolim citing Acholonu, motherism is a … A multi-dimensional theory which involves the dynamics of ordering, Reordering, creating structures, building and rebuilding in cooperation with mother nature at all levels of human endeavour. (196)


Motherism supplementary advocates love, tolerance, service mutual cooperation for the sexes, not antagonism, aggression, militancy or violent confrontation plus protection and defence of family values. Similarly, it opposes the creeds of white/western feminism which is regarded as an-ti mother, anti-child, anti-nature and anti-culture.


The cultural feminism is a multiplicity of feminism which emphasizes essential differences amongst men and women, founded on biological differences in generative capacity. Cultural feminism attributes to those alterations distinctive and greater virtues in womenfolk. What women share, in this viewpoint, offers a basis for “sisterhood,” or agreement, camaraderie and shared distinctiveness? Hence, cultural feminism also inspires building a communal women’s culture.

The catchphrase “ essential differences’’ denotes to the conviction that gender differences are part of the essence of ladies or men, that the differences are not chosen but are part of the nature of woman or man. Cultural feminists contrast as to whether these differences are based on biology or enculturation. Those who believe differences are not genetic or biological, but are cultural; clinch that women’s “essential” qualities are so fixed by culture that they are determined.


Feminist Movements


Liberal feminism focuses on women’s ability to maintain their equality through their own actions and choices. It argues that the society holds false belief that women are by nature less intellectually and physically capable than men, thus leading various forms of discrimination against the female gender on various spheres of the society. Liberal feminism seeks equal rights with men by stressing that individuals should be treated in accordance with their talents, abilities and efforts as opposed to the characteristics of their sex. Women should not be discriminated in politics, social, legal or economical perspectives. In short, women should have right to choose, not their life chosen for them because of their sex. One of the notable supporters of this view is Betty Friendan.


Cultural feminists too incline to worth qualities identified with women as superior or and desirable to qualities identified with men, whether the qualities are crops of nature or culture.


The weight, in the words of critic Sheila Rowbotham, is on “living a liberated life.” Some cultural feminists as individuals are active in social and political revolution.


The term “cultural feminism” dates back at least to the use of it in 1975 by Brooke Williams of Redstockings, who used it to denounce it and distinguish it from its roots in radical feminism. Other feminists denounced cultural feminism as betraying feminist central ideas. Alice Echoles describes this as the “DE politicization’’ of radical feminism. The work of Mary Daly, especially her Gyn/Ecology (1979), has been identified as a movement from radical feminism into cultural.


Feminism has no universally accepted central movement or doctrine; researchers cannot attribute specific meanings to their acceptance of that identification. Similarly, many scholars suggest that the label feminism itself is becoming increasingly heterogeneous ( Reger 2008) ( Reger, 2012 Schnittker, Freese, and Powell 2003; 2019). MacCabe (2005) notes that most quantitative studies of feminism, or what Sandoval (2000) refers to as “the equal rights” form for feminism (56).


Most feminists are overwhelmingly women (Liss et al. 2001; MacCabe 2005), and those who have positive opinions about or exposure to feminism or feminist ideologies are likely to selfidentify as feminist as feminist (Myaskovsky and Wittig 1997; Reid and Purcell 2004). Relatedly, more years of formal education attainment maintain a steady and positive relationship with identifying as feminist (MacCabe 2005; Schnittker, Freese, and Powell 2003). Additionally, Schnittker et al. find an individual’s generation to be the strongest predictor of feminist identification-specifically, those who came of age in feminisms’ “second wave” are more likely to identify as feminists than feminism identification and hostile sexism three of those born in earlier or more contemporary cohorts-compared to other demographic markers as race and ethnicity (2003).


Studies examining data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and National Elections Survey (NES) have found an association between feminist roles and the role of women in politics (Harnois 2004; Schnittker et al. 2003). Other studies have demonstrated this relationship using Morgan’s Liberal Feminist Attitude and Ideology Scale, a scale of items related to feminist ideology and feminist goals (Morgan 1996; Myaskovsky and Wittig 1997; Williams and Wittig 1997).


In fact, the media has identified a feminist backlash that has arisen due to an overt rejection of feminism and antifeminist attitudes coinciding with an era of post feminism that began in the late 1980s (Faludi 1991; Hall and Rodriguez 2003). One of the most striking examples of this shift is how few women associate themselves within the feminist movement, and specialized polls and nationalized survey results show that only a quarter to a third of women self-identify as feminists despite strong support for gender equality and women’s rights (Hall et al. 2003; Huddy, Neely, and Lafay 2000; Schnittker, Freese, and Powell 2003).


According to Allison (2013), it is a dangerous game asking what feminist literature is or feminist anything for that matter since feminism is a self-defined term; that anyone who proposes to have the correct definition of feminism is a liar. After sounding this note of warning, which one would do well to heed, Allison goes ahead to suggest that “feminist literature presents female characters with faculties, desires, aggressions, lusts, and conflicts. They are the mistresses of their own destinies: making their choices and playing their hands while telling their own stories and engaging us, the readers, in their extraordinary journeys” (Allison 2013: 1). Although no definition is without shortcomings, in this essay, this is our understanding of feminist literature and that includes all kinds of literature jostling for recognition under this nomenclature such as “liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, socialist feminism, cultural feminism, black/African feminism, womanism, African womanism, stewanism, and motherism”, which have been painstakingly reviewed by Azuike (2003: 23


– 39). Apparently therefore, this understanding of feminist literature places Kabir’s Destinies of Life and Alkali’s The Virtuous within the feminist fold, for in these two novels are found strong female characters such as Aisha, Maryam, Nafisah etc. and Nana Ai, Laila and Hajjo for Destinies of Life and The Virtuous Woman respectively. These are female characters whose characterization negates the stereotypical roles ascribed to females by the male dominated world. 

The Plights of Northern Nigerian Women in Their Marital Homes 

Kabir’s Destinies of Life portrays northern Nigeria, Culturally; women are not given their equal rights as men particularly to express their opinions in different spheres of life. This is what restricts Maryam from protesting against her parents’ wish to marry and be staying with Auwal even though she is not interested:

….  “At  the  beginning  of  the  marriage,


Maryam was a pitiful sight; she forced herself to remain with Auwal just to please her parents.’’ Even though Maryam was unhappy in her marriage, the idea of divorce didn’t cross her mind at all. After Aisha was born, their lukewarm relationship years in a loveless marriage, Maryam felt enough, was enough.


She could not go on; especially after realizing that she was not the only one who had accepted family and cultural pressures and married an unwilling partner; Auwal was just trying to keep the marriage alive because of baby Aisha and family members who believed the marriage could one day work, otherwise, he was also not interested. They were like two birds that have been caught and put together in a cage and one of them had to be brave and break the door down or else they might end up in a psychiatric hospital.’’(Kabir Usman,12)


Similarly, as the cultural demands, Maryam was expected by her family members to endure and tolerate all the hardship in her marital home, when they told her that “a good Hausa Woman should suffer in silence.’’(13)


Again, Maryam could not consent to her marriage to Auwal and was not given the opportunity by her parents to have her free choice.


“She thought of the pains she had gone through over the years in a loveless marriage; she reflected on how she had been forced to marry Auwal, her cousin, and despite her protests, she had to obey her strict parents who had threatened to disown her if she refused to marry him.’’ (26)


Once again, Aisha herself could not be allowed as the tradition dictated to defy Baba’s orders when Umar visited him in Jos and asked her hand in marriage:


“Back in her room after they had left, Aisha thought over what Umar had said, his interest in her and his wish that they get married. She started sobbing. Things were happening too fast for her liking. She hardly knew Umar but, she could not say no to Baba; not after he had given Umar his blessings. She must free herself finally from the memories of Muktar.’’(38)


It has also been a tradition to suppress a woman’s voice in northern Nigeria whenever she attempts to voice out her right or act upon it. A clear testimony of this was when Baba refused to accept Aisha’s intention of leaving Umar.


“Her threat to leave Umar was thwarted by Baba. He had begged and counseled her to stay. “Where will you go to Aisha after four children? Leaving Umar is not the best for you right now. Ibrahim is already ten, Zainab is about finishing the university and Sadiq will be in the country within weeks. They already need you, especially Aisha who is in her Senior Secondary School. Who will give them the motherly love they need?’’(69)


The feeling women are the weaker sex is still prevalent in the dominant Hausa society and culture of northern Nigeria hence the feeling that they are inferior.


We have seen that in Alkali’s The Virtuous Woman when there was an accident that caused death of many people and many injured, “the school teacher took a panicky look at the scene and turned to the passengers.’’ “Get back, ‘he shouted urgently. ‘Get the women and children back into the lorry. By God, this is no sight for them.’’ (63)

Moreover, in another place it is said that:


“They heard the school teacher’s voice, as from a great distance, telling them to go back. What business had they among the chaos, he had shouted angrily. As Nana dragged Laila towards the lorry, a wailing child was forcibly thrust into her arms. Through streaming eyes, she looked down at the other twin, the sick one. Nana turned and caught hold of the school teacher.’’(64)


The Concept of Hatred and Compassion


In Hausa society, a widespread practice is teenage marriages. Most often, a female child is betrothed at birth to a man that is old enough to be her father. As soon as she reaches adolescence, she is given out in marriage to the man. These women are too young for pregnancies and most often cannot give birth naturally. A lot of them suffer lifelong diseases as a result of this, yet the practice has not been stopped because it is part of their institution


These young women are strained into marriages without love against their desires. They do not have a say in their lives, but to marry whomever their parents have chosen for them. Most often, the Hausa girls have dreams and potentials but they lost their dreams before they realize it. This is due to the fact that, their society does not encourage them. They learn early in life that they are inferior to their male folks. Therefore, they allow society to decide and live their lives for them.


Destinies in Life and The Virtuous Woman are texts that have captured lives in its completeness. Hatred and compassion were portray in the life of the protagonists, Aisha, Ai and others in the novels. The admiration life of Aisha did not begin with her. It begin with her mother Mariam, whose quest for true love, sought for separation from her first husband Awwal as an ‘’unwilling partner”. This was so because they both decided to accept ‘’family and cultural pressure’’ and got married without loving each other.


Women Liberated Themselves through Formal Education A strong female character plays itself out in The Virtuous Woman through the depiction of Nana Ai, Laila and Hajjo: three young ladies who have defied traditional beliefs on the position of the woman in the kitchen in her husband’s house where she is expected to produce as many children as possible and satisfy all his whims and caprices. In this novel, we see a parent expressing pride at the success story of his daughters, “My daughter and granddaughter are wonderful children.” (Alkali 1985: 3) The pride this parent feels at his daughter and granddaughter gaining admission into the prestigious Queen’s College coupled with similar achievements by another girl in the village, Nana Ai, four years earlier and the gratitude of their parents goes a long way to portray a society that has accepted a woman’s ability to operate at par with her male counterpart in society as can be discerned from their meeting, journey, friendship and intimacy with Bello and Abubakar, students from King’s College. The spirit of friendship that transpires between the girls and the boys is shown to be devoid of the usual inferiority complex that characterises women in similar company.


This depiction of boys and girls operating at same level in pursuit of opportunities hitherto considered the exclusive preserve of males is so beautifully done that the report of Dogo’s male chauvinistic statements must be understood as vestiges of a past that should be best forgotten. A close perusal of the novel actually shows a society that does not reinforce such strong sentiments Dogo Expresses: What is the use of sending a female child to school? If she turns out well, the man she marries gets the benefit of her education. If she gets spoilt in the school, I get the blame. It’s my name that gets dragged into the mud. It’s my house that becomes her refuge. Whichever way you look at it, the father of a female child is the loser. Let the girls stay at home and help their mother; when it is time for them to marry, let them marry. (Alkali 1985: 47) Even the way Dogo ends up in life can be attributable to the result of his holding onto archaic sentiments that clearly belong to the past. It should be noted that Zaynab Alkali and Asabe Kabir have been in the forefront of encouraging girl child education. They see western education as a means of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and also of the opinion that the woman should not be totally dependent on her husband. Vividly, they encouraged women to strive hard through western education to be supportive of their husbands in winning bread for the family. By the end of the two novels The Virtuous Woman and Destinies of Life, the reader can convincingly agree and assume that characters like Nana Ai and Aisha have gone through the experiences of life in terms of bathos, pathos humorous and other similar experience any human will go through in the journey of life. Nana Ai, she bought a car for her husband. After breaking up with him, she is able to build herself up due to solid economic foundation and resourcefulness. She makes her way to Lagos where she buys a house, a car, maintains the services of a chaufferur and a nanny. She becomes so suceessful that her estranged husband wants her back.



Discussion of the Major Findings and Suggestions


Usman and Alkali have portrayed women in the light of immense plight towards the conservative concept of marriage to both presumed protagonists in the texts. Aishatu and Nana Ai have nothing to celebrate or appreciate about marriage rather than subjecting them to torture, ridiculous, family, and societal total rejection without empathy or sympathy. That the Government(s) concerned and other agencies should make and implement laws that would give equal rights to women in all endeavors.


Usman and Alkali intelligibly depicted their characters especially females with no identity or cultural value unless attached to the males' world or domain. Aisha became a domestic slave when she lost confidence in her husband’s sincerity of purpose. The educational planners and curricula developers should formulate syllabi that would give equal educational rights to women as their male counterparts.


As both Destinies of Life and The Virtuous Woman moved to the resolution stage, Nana Ai has raised against any chauvinism odds to rescue herself by becoming economically independent similarly Aisha initial dreamt of only being successful with the help of her husband faded away and she became so strong in which she faced her destiny with complete vigor and accomplished by becoming self-reliance. Early compulsory marriage should be discouraged by the lawmakers and rulers: political, traditional, and spiritual.


Knowledge is required for the pursuit of individualism; the pursuit of individualism has a pre-requisite here-knowledge. The difference in philosophical stance between the two novels may be attributable to the very different initiatives required by the woman as test and the woman as a writer.


Although in socio-cultural terms, the right to speak may be a privilege awarded by marriage to women, the existential vision of Kabir and Alkali seems to suggest that a wife’s free speech is mandatory. Without the free discourse of the wife, the husband could be by the white ants hiding in manure.


Men have considered women from time immemorial as blank pages on which men may write indiscriminately.


As Alkali emphasizes the right for equal education for women and discourages the early compulsory marriage, Kabir on a similar note, however, discusses the dominance of men over women through their laws denying women inheritance, discouraging them from expressing their love, among others.




In The Virtuous Woman, Alkali emphasizes the right to equal education for women and discourages the early compulsory marriage; Kabir on the other hand discusses the dominance of men over women through their laws denying women inheritance, discouraging them from expressing their love, among others.


Indeed, what Kabir and Alkali have portrayed in their respective texts are genuine feministic works base on respective context challenges and agendas. That is a way to get men to respect women’s feelings and emotions and not to treat them as objects for satisfying selfish desires.


In this study, both writers portray how a northern Nigerian Women are muzzled up and dominated culturally in the society. Their voices are no longer heard or given the respect and recognition expected or deserved.

The society’s cultural tradition and practices subjugate and continue to dominate women. Aisha’s parents: Auwal and Maryam were married off without their consent or having love for each other. This simply in order to fulfill their maternal grandfather’s Will which could not be defied by their parents even after his death. Also, Aisha herself was not expected to disobey Baba’s orders after he accepted Umar and given him his blessings.


In the case of Maryam, for instance, the relatives told her that:

“a good Hausa woman should suffer in silence.’’ (13)


Again, we see the threat imposed on Maryam by her parents who had threatened to disown her if she refused to marry Auwal.’’ (26)


All these are clear indications that a woman’s voice in the predominant Northern Nigerian Hausa society is culturally and traditionally suppressed and dominated, with the feeling that a woman is very weak and therefore could not have her own interest or be allowed to express it.




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