Author: A’aisha Abdulkareem
Publisher: Kraftgriots, March 2020
Reviewer: Uchenna Emelife
A’aisha Abdulkareem’s Yar’fari is a fictional work that tells a familiar story, but from a fresh perspective. The title Yar’fari is a Hausa phrase for ‘firstborn female’, which is what the novel revolves around. The story is about a young Fulani girl, Teni, the firstborn of her parents who lives in a highly traditional setting but dares to dream beyond the expectations of her primitive society. Teni craves education, the same one she sees her male peers getting when she’s carrying out her domestic chores. She is sadly, however alone, in this craving because it’s considered by her grandparents as unnecessary for a girl-child to be educated when she would still end up married. The only seeming support she gets is from her absentee father who sadly cannot meddle in her affairs because Teni being his first child, tradition limits him.
Teni is lost in one of her fantasies when the news of her impending marriage to Abu at such tender age of 13 is brought to her. The news is more of a notice than a permission to seek consent. Reading that scene, you’d think it wasn’t her marriage that was being talked about. Hope you are aware that your marriage is coming up in a month’s time before the month of Ramadan?” is all what Baba Salisu, her grandfather says to her. That alone was enough to shatter every dream she had of education because she knew marriage while being a lovable institution would never give her the opportunity to go to school.
Teni ironically turns an object of envy among her peers after this news gets out. Her friends unlike her have no business with desiring education. Who would blame them? “To every young girl in Kwane, getting a good husband was the ultimate. This was what the society had managed to instill in them, making them believe that marriage was the ultimate success in their lives and a fulfillment of their womanhood, subsequently followed by childbirth. The life circle of the girl-child is characterized by all these.” A’aisha recounts. “Does my being a female exclude me from growing up to live a life of my dreams and desires?” Teni on the other hand constantly laments.
She would later give in to her grandparents’ decision and marry Abu whom she eventually grows to love. Her love is however brought to an abrupt end when an unfortunate event happens; the death of Abu, her husband. Teni had thought accepting her marriage meant the end of every trial in her life, but again following a loss she felt dearly, she is instructed to replace with another she doesn’t love. Teni finds her voice this time. She refuses and leaves the village that has only brought setbacks in her life for the capital city, where her parents live. She defies tradition; a Fulani tradition that forces parents to alienate their firstborns; a tradition that only made life miserable for Teni. Her more informed father welcomes the idea with open arms same way he did her. His dream of having Teni educated was now feasible. Teni too was not willing to sit and mop over her seeming miserable life, she is enrolled in school upon request and gives her all to achieve academic excellence leaving no time for social relationships. Her hardwork is rewarded by the many accolades she wins. In the end, she learns to love again. Not someone picked by her parents, but a like-mind who loves everything about her; strengths and flaws alike. In the end, she makes her choice as every girl deserves to make.
The striking thing for me about Yar’fari is how relatable the story is. I live in Sokoto which is considered the heart of the north and I can tell you that there are many Tenis whose dreams of having a life for themselves are shattered by obnoxious traditions or forced marriage decisions. Every week is a marriage of a teenager who is yet to know her left from her right and yet somehow the street cheers it on. Those who are not Tenis are Leemas (Teni’s friend) have been brainwashed by their society to see marriage as the ultimate achievement. These are the most worrisome because a good life to them is finding a husband, nothing about striving to make something out of themselves. They would later become victims of stifled voices in their marriages with no right to speak on whatsoever circumstance.
What is sadder is that this narrative cuts across Northern Nigeria and even Nigeria as a whole. This is the infamous picture of the girl. She is constantly policed on how to live her life by men, by tradition, by religion. She is made to uphold a certain standard not for herself but to make her worthy of marriage. She is not to show off her successes because that will scare men away. She is to remain silent and endure physical and otherwise abuse in her marriage because she’s a woman and that’s what would make her a good wife and many more unfair scenarios. It is for this reason that literatures like Yar’fari are timely especially since it revolves around Northern Nigeria where there is a seemingly higher subjugation of the girl and like A’aisha said in an interview, “We believe that literature can help to stir the ship in positive directions.”
Uchenna Emelife is a campus journalist, creative writer, content creator, and a literary enthusiast. He has written for Nigeria’s Nation Newspaper, the ICIR, Opinion Nigeria and Minority Africa. A third-year student of Literature-in-English, Uchenna was awarded “Rookie Journalist of the year” by the National Union of Campus Journalists (NUCJ) in 2019 and “Essayist of the year” by the local chapter of the NUCJ and “Campus Reporter of the year” by Pen Press UDUS. In 2020, he co-pioneered a book club in his school, Book O’Clock UDUS where he reports and writes about books. He currently serves as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of Pen Press, UDUS, and the Programs Director of Minority Africa.