“A home without daughters is like a spring without a source.”
The River and The Source, published in 1994, a time when the feminist movement was gaining popularity around the world, is an amazing read. It aims at telling the story of the strength and character of the African woman in the African society. Margaret Ogola wrote this book to display the African woman’s spirit of welcoming change and the challenges that come with it especially in an African society where men take charge of most things if not everything.
Akoko, the protagonist, is an extraordinary female right from birth. Her bride price is set so high yet even the society around her acknowledges that she is special by flocking to pay it. We see the epitome of the African woman’s strength, as represented by the protagonist, in the bold and courageous decisions she makes while the country faces invasion. Akoko and the three generations of women that descend her make amazing strides in society with regard to embracing the changes (societal and cultural) that came with colonization and the Western religion. The laughs and tears that Ogola so effortlessly displays in the book really keep an audience.
Though The River and The Source is an important feminist novel, seeing as that the protagonist and her female descendants are given important and strong characters in family, the nation and history, it is also enslaves women to a bubble where certain expectations are placed on them which may not be a hundred percent realistic. To begin with, Akoko is perfect according to the description: beautiful, intelligent, compassionate and reasonable. This creates an expectation that women should live up to these standards lest they are termed as anything less. It is quite overbearing to assume that a woman should be flawless in order to earn her place in society among history shapers.
There is no dispute that that the novel is a beautiful work of art that teaches young girls to be their best selves, hence why the curriculum adopted the book. However, the story is in such a linear style that there is absence of any real conflict within the characters. They are simplistically developed and are either good or bad with no blur in between. Ogola painted a world in which there was no grey area and everything was clearly distinguished which is quite unrealistic. There is no real conflict between modernity and tradition, culture and religion or duty and education. The characters simply accepted, without question, the ‘natural, predetermined’ path to a positive conclusion for the women.
The novel is not only feminist but also African hence my disappointment in how colonialism is portrayed. Struggle against colonialism and desire for freedom among others characterize an African novel. Ogola makes colonialism seem like a positive thing, as if it was the needed push for women to assert their role in the society. In this light, the book lacked a firm anchor to history. It shakes the fundamentals of African culture with no real struggle. In the novel for example, a woman can leave her matrimonial home and challenge men. Not that I am against education but Ogola gave education importance over duty with so much ease which implies that duty had no personal importance to Africans.
As a narrative for the high school cohort, the book has a strong five stars. However, it does not augur well outside the curriculum, in which case I would give it four stars. As an African narrative, the African people are misinterpreted as people who were lost and ergo, embraced colonization as a direction into the light. As a feminist artwork, in as much as women’s strength and power to adapt evolve and embrace change was foregrounded, it also seals them in a box of ideals in which a woman should be perfect to mark her place. With all this in mind, especially Margaret A. Ogola’s unquestionable talent, the book’s true review is an active mental battle between flawed and intentionally imperfect.
If you haven’t read Margaret Ogola’s River And The Source. You can buy it on Amazon through this link.