Polygamy exists in several cultures, says Nigerian author Lola Shoneyin during Sharjah’s #BookTalks event - GulfToday

VIDEO: Polygamy exists in several cultures, says Nigerian author Lola Shoneyin during Sharjah’s #BookTalks event

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Author Lola Shoneyin and Emirati poet Wael Al Sayegh hold a session during #BookTalks in Sharjah.

Saratu Abubakar, Staff Reporter

Nigerian novelist and poet Lola Shoneyin was at #BookTalks at Al Rawi Café in Sharjah discussing her multiple award-winning debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, which explores the structure and effects of polygamy in Nigeria. The event is part of the ongoing year-long Sharjah World Book Capital (SWBC) 2019 celebrations.

Against the Al Majaz Waterfront on a chilly Friday evening, Lola Shoneyin, warm and lively, shared her journey of becoming an author and explained the different concepts in her debut novel in a discussion moderated by Wael Al Sayegh, Emirati poet and CEO coach.

Shoneyin began her journey as a writer between the walls of a boarding school she was attending in Edinburgh as a child.

Lola-Author Lola Shoneyin stands for a photograph with her book.

“Every weekend we were made to write letters to our parents. These were thoroughly scrutinised before being sent off so that any criticism of the school could be censored. This made me think of creative ways to complain about the school to my parents by making up strange and elaborate stories,” she said.

On getting into university, Shoneyin started writing poetry, she used it as a tool to destress. She published three books of poetry, before she started writing prose.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives, set in the south-western city of Ibadan, Nigeria, explores life choices, the effect of being formally educated in the midst of uneducated people, sexual violence and, most importantly, the inability to conceive in a polygamous home.

According to Shoneyin, “Though polygamy is a major issue in Nigeria, it is in fact a universal issue.”

With the exception of the fourth wife, Bolanle, the other wives of Baba Segi were addressed by the names of their children. So, there was Iya Segi, Iya Tope and Iya Femi. Iya meaning mother in Yoruba.

With polygamy as the backbone, the major issue explored in the book is the societal belief that to be woman enough and be respected is to be Mrs somebody and Iya somebody. You have to have both and lack of being an Iya made things harder for Bolanle, despite being the only educated one out of the bunch.

 According to Shoneyin, one of the reasons that polygamy is rampant in Nigeria is that women are still defined by their marital status.


“Children shouldn’t be what determines a woman’s fullness,” she added.

For the moderator of the discussion, the biggest takeaway from the book is that polygamy is not restricted to religion, Islam in this case and it is not just rampant in the Arab world, other cultures around the world also engage in it.

The book discussion was followed by a book signing session.

Lola-Signs Lola Shoneyin signs a copy of her book.

This was followed by a performance by Maimouna Jallow, a Nairobi-based storyteller and director of Positively African, an organisation that brings together a pan-African network of activists, artists and academicians working at the intersection of art and social justice. Her standout one-woman performance based on The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives accompanied by music mesmerised the audience, giving them a glimpse into the lives of the characters in the novel.

The book will soon be available in Arabic.

Organised by Al Rawi Bookstore & Café in collaboration with the Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 Office (SWBC Office), #BookTalks events are monthly gatherings that aim to promote a culture of reading among community members and help them develop a deeper literary understanding and appreciation through their interactions with prominent Arab and international authors who speak at these events.

A recent report said under the directives of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the emirate, which is the current Unesco World Book Capital, has pledged financial support to further the activities being undertaken to restore one of Africa’s most iconic libraries, the McMillan Memorial Library, in the centre of Nairobi.

Kenya’s Book Bunk Trust, the body established by Kenyan publisher Angela Wachuka and Kenyan writer Wanjiru Koinange will oversee the restoration of three libraries in the city.