June 14, 2024

‘A Path of Stone’: Nengi-Ilagha reawakens a life of purpose in women

  • April 22, 2024
  • 6 min read
‘A Path of Stone’: Nengi-Ilagha reawakens a life of purpose in women

By Nkwetatang Nguekie

IF you are fortunate to lay a hand on this novel by Bina Nengi-Ilagha titled A Path of Stone, its imposing massiveness will either remind you of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, or Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Nengi-Ilagha possesses an in-born, refined patience and carefulness with which she treads her scholastic and artistic grounds. Her penetration is seemingly subtle, unprecipitated, but painlessly protracted. She garnishes her plot of domestic high tension with the elements of nature, especially rainfall, farming, harvesting, petty trading and picnicking. And before you finish reading this compelling colossus of 550 pages, you feel like having had a collegiate affinity with a graduate of a creative writing.

Nengi-Ilagha is a retired Director of Programmes at Niger Delta Television (NDTV), Bayelsa State, Nigeria. She was born in Calabar to Beauty Aputu and Dagbo Alazigha of Okoloba in the Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. She was educated at the Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls School (ACMGS), Elelenwo, and at the University of Port Harcourt, both in Rivers State.

She is an award-winning author of the novel, Condolences, and a collection of eleven short stories, Crossroads. She also writes children’s stories. Nengi-Ilagha has won various awards which include Dean’s Certificate in Creative Arts, 1984: University of Port Harcourt (Prof. Ola Rotimi), Rivers State Civil Service Merit Award’ First Position RSTV, 1996, Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prize for Prose, 2001 – Condolences as manuscript, honourable mention, Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prize for Prose, 2001 – Crossroads, first of three finalists as honourable mentions at the maiden edition of the Nigerian Prize for Literature Award, 2004, sponsored by NNLG – Condolences published, Outstanding Literary Achievements Award in the year 2004 by ANA Bayelsa, Special Literary Role Model Award by NewsRay magazine, 2006, and Community Service Award by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Bayelsa Chapter, August 2013 – NDTV.

A Path Of Stone is more than in-depth baptismal exposé on the marriage odyssey of a young widow, Atari-Joy. After the death of her husband Pere Alazibo (which she is accused by her late husband’s family of being responsible), her pregnancy (which she is unaware herself), sparks a series of interminable clashes between her husband’s family and her. “She had a tough job on her hands bringing up seven children by herself.” As the hair-raising squabble begins over her late husband’s property, she regrets that “A lot of the time, people did not consider what would happen to their possessions after they died.” When Chief Zoro leads her late husband’s family members to loot and plunder his hard-earned property, they argue that she is their wife. She retorts, “I am not your wife! I was married to your son!” In the midst of this deplorable situation, her friend, Hulda, sums up the tragedy of widowhood in most African societies, “A widow is treated like a bad omen. You suddenly become someone to be abhorred, an outcast.”

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After the cavalier plundering of her late husband’s property by his entire family, Atari-Joy puts herself together, awakens her potential, and embarks on fashion designing. She opens a workshop, employs professional tailors, and in no time she starts exporting her African attires to different countries. At this juncture, listen to what she says with her own mouth, “I think Pere made me lethargic, but once I was forced by the challenge of his absence, the hidden me came out.” If I may ask, why must we always wait to be challenged before we unlock our maximum potential? This is exactly what marriage does to couples, especially the women. It takes them away from themselves completely. It dampens their sense of purpose and of initiative. It steals their taste, robs them of their unalloyed happiness, shatters their dreams, and lulls them to languid sleep. They tend to reason as awkwardly as if they have drunk that intoxicating opium which John Keats wishes to drink in his poem titled ‘Ode to a Nightingale.’

On page 420 of this novel, Nengi-Ilagha says, “There is some form of stupidity even in the wisest of us that only God sees.” What, according to you, is this form of stupidity? As writers grow old in the profession, they start speaking like prophets. And in most cases, their writings take us back to our youth, and we see the grievous mistakes which we made either because of our excitement or because of influence on us by the society. Then, our old age is saddened by regret. If by the time Atari-Joy was singing and dancing happily on the altar for having wedded Pere Alazibo, you told her that she was plunging herself into a protracted lethargy resulting to an extended family pandemonium, she would have charged you with jealousy. And now, as a widow, she now sees how she has wasted her precious time. She now prides herself with picking her life once more from the thrash can like dirty linen to be laundered in a public launderette.

Nengi-Ilagha has shouldered Linda Jummai Mustafa in emancipating the African woman. With their novels, these two women of valour have passed a very puissant and poignant message to the society at large. Their message is that the majority of married women are undergoing a hidden suppression, discrimination and dehumanisation in their marital homes which is more than enough to cause their untimely deaths. Some of them have committed suicidae And it should be noted that if you were never married, you would never be a widow. If you are not married, you will be called a prostitute. Choose your path wisely. If not, you will choose A Path of Stone like Atari-Joy.

Nengi-Ilagha is a dazzling feminist, and this her novel is undoubtedly an award-winning pièce de résistance. Her grammar, vocabulary and discourse extempore, persuade me that the beautiful ones have already been born. It will take God’s grace for a female teenager of this android generation with a rotten educational system and a rotten self-discipline to attain her ambassadorial articulation of the Queen’s prestigious language.

* Nguekie, a Cameroonian writer, contributed this piece from Bamenda, Cameroon

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