|Print | Back||June 12, 2012|
African VoiceAngel Mother
by Imo Eshiet
"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 men.
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 husband's property.
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 sufficiently well.
"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 opportunity.
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
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