The polygynous household in Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives: a haven in a heartless world
Moolla, F. Fiona
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Despite Lola Shoneyin’s public condemnation of the impediments to female autonomy, equality, freedom, dignity, and self-realisation inherent in polygamy, the polyvalent nature of her contemporary Nigerian novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, suggests the necessary material and moral complexity of any analysis of plural marriage in postcolonial Africa. Parodic play in this novel highlights how the apparently monstrous patriarch and the daily perversions of traditional marriage and household ideals represent the only security for both relatively advantaged and disadvantaged women in twenty-first-century Nigeria. I embed my literary analysis of the novel within a survey of history and religion to show how monogamy confirmed the moral superiority of the colonial and Christian missionary projects and justified their social interventions. To contextualise this study of the novel, I also use socio-anthropological literature that connects the global forces promoting romantic love as the sole foundation of monogamous marriage with, ironically, the global flows that create the punitive economic and social conditions to which plural marriage is an entirely rational response shaped by local cultural contexts.