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Buchi Emecheta: The Rape of Shavi

Emecheta’s attempt at satire is fascinating but very unsubtle. The story starts out in the small country of Shavi. The Shavians were originally held by another king, whose country used them for sacrifices. They managed to escape and journeyed to a land next to some lakes where they settled. They now have what seems, in many respects, an idyllic community. They have no wars. When they need to make sacrifices, they sacrifice birds, not humans, to the god Ogene. Everyone seems to be happy. They do have droughts, which are a problem, and sexism abounds but is accepted by both sexes. This is seen at the beginning when the king, a slow and careful man, is about to celebrate the end of the latest drought by taking his ninth wife. His first wife finds out about it and is very upset. She demands the present of a cow as compensation and, as he rants and raves, a fire-eating bird crashes nearby, presumably sent by Ogene.

The fire-eating bird is, of course, a plane. A group of Westerners, fearing a nuclear holocaust, had built a lead-shielded glider and escaped Europe but their plane had crashed. There were seven survivors, three men, two women and two children. Despite the fact that these are essentially liberal, educated people, they soon have a negative effect on Shavi. Two each of the men and the women are paired off (by the Shavians, not by themselves). The third man, bitter that his wife had left him for an African-American, rapes what he assumes to be a servant but who is, in fact, the heir apparent’s intended. As the heir apparent must marry a virgin, the women keep the matter quiet but exact their revenge. The remaining six live for a while with the Shavians but the women in particular resent the fact that are expected to do menial work. However, the plane is repaired but when it takes off, they have a stowaway – the heir apparent. His visit to England is as you might expect but he returns with new and harmful values as well as a car and guns. Emecheta drives home the point about imperialism and violence and greed in an effective if somewhat obvious manner but her story is still well written and an interesting counterpoint to the story of the civilising influence of the white man in Africa. At the end, the heir apparent says to his brother What exactly is civilisation? to which his brother replies I don’t know what it is but we have it, the best of it and it would be difficult to argue with that.

Publishing history

First published 1983 by Ogwugwu Afor/Umuezeokol