"All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." Abraham Lincoln
Akon Ben Eshiet, née Akon Jacob Iwok, lived many years ahead of her time.
She was born in an age when in my culture, women who refused to look at the
world through the eyes of men were literally impaled on an iron cross. But
being by nature a free spirit, she refused to submit to traditions, customs and
institutions too blind and obstinate to accept women on equal terms with the
She spoke her mind in front of men hidebound in tradition and male authority.
She could not be intimidated and once she made up her mind, she carried
through strongly. Such traits of character as independence of mind or self-assertion by women were strictly forbidden in my community. Women who had
any such tendency were expected to mask it and become tradition compliant or
risk social and cultural sanctions.
Because she impressed her personality forcefully, many men and even women
who accepted the men's version of who they were in the community publicly
scorned her determined ways, but she wasn't bothered that they thought her
audacious. To rub her nose on her insolence they would often tell her that an
impudent grasshopper usually learns humility in the jaws of a roaster. This
was an unkind and a not so subtle reference to her mother, who was murdered
in her farm because she stood up to those who wanted to appropriate her late
As far as Mother was concerned, their objections mattered only as mere hot
garbage and did nothing to affect her determined and forceful self. To make the
point that she was obstinately unwilling to live by the way men in their
imagination framed women, my irrepressible mother would flaunt her defiance
and wittily fire back at those who slandered her that the liver of a lion is vain
wish for the dog!
As a close witness for more than three decades of her life, I came off indelibly
impressed that she lived unashamed of her convictions. It took such deep-rooted convictions to get us to weather the oversized challenges we, as her
family, struggled against in our childhood. At the time though, we barely had
any appreciation for either her enormous burdens or her compelling fortitude.
Hard to please and like even by her children, she counted no close friends. Her
assertive streak of character, however, enabled her in the long run, to defang
many long-held prejudices and to wear down age-old and stubborn stereotypes
about women in a space markedly dominated by men.
Those who bore the brunt of her driven life, including her eight children,
thought she was a pain! Growing up I oftentimes wished she was not my
mother. She was too scolding, quarrelsome and simply difficult to deal with.
But thinking about just how silly I was at such times helps me to better
appreciate the truth in the ancient wisdom that foolishness dwells in the heart
of a child.
If anyone had told me when I was a child that I would fondly miss her after her
death, I would have thought the person did not know my ill-natured mother
"Spare the rod and spoil the child" was her scripture of choice. She accepted
and applied this in a literal sense. Since I was rather unreasonably willful as a
child, a streak of character I inherited from her, I got the rod so often on my
backside that I naturally was convinced mother could kill me if I offered her the
Quite frankly, mother was not fun to hang around with, at least not in those
growing up days. It did not help my feelings towards her that she not only
lashed with the whip but also with a sharp tongue. Yet by the time she passed
on, I had not merely forgotten all I had perceived as her harshness, but also
keenly wished I had been able to tap into the rich vein of all her life and lore
and all the difference she made in our family and community.
I came to have a deep appreciation for my mother when I started facing the
challenges of raising five children under circumstances by far more comfortable
than the ones under which my siblings and I grew up. It was then that I
realized what dreadful stress she certainly had faced raising eight children and
several hangers-on in very demanding circumstances.
If that kind of understanding were an event rather than a process, I most
obviously would have been more sympathetic and amendable to my parents'
instructions than I was as a child. I guess that, perhaps, is the pleasure or
heartache that hindsight gives
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North