A Soul's Journey
By Ruth S. Idakula
Ada’s Daughter was an intriguing read for me. As a Nigerian, it always fascinates me to read the stories of Nigerian-born people, especially women, who find themselves on this side of the waters. Finding out what their experiences at home were and what they brought with them here culturally is a course of study for me. There is also, inevitably, a cultural exchange, a sharing, that is valuable to the growth of any group of people. Ada’s Daughter is a personal story, but it is also a story of social injustice and cultural oppression that is set in a very crucial time in the history of West Africa.
“Every society has its growing pains, and no society, developed or developing, is immune” (Ada’s Daughter).
Ada’s Daughter is the story of Jacqueline Maduneme, an Igbo woman from west Nigeria and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law alumna. Her story is not necessarily unique in terms of the current human condition, especially with social and political unrest resounding around the world at this moment. What does make it unique are the specifics of the environment that she grew up in. Just several years before Maduneme’s birth, Nigeria had just declared itself independent from Britain. It had been a British colony since the early 20th century and now was being faced with the self-governance of a new nation that included roughly 250 ethnic groups.
Maduneme came into the world at the heels of the Biafra war that saw much bloodshed, particularly amongst the Igbo people. Also, the new bourgeoisie were trying to secure their places in the new Westernized Nigeria that was rife with economic, political, and social communities. Unfortunately, this gave way for neglect for some of the safeguards that traditional culture put in place to protect the more vulnerable in society.
All this sets the backstage of Maduneme’s story, and by no means does it justify the abuse she was subjected to. There are many cultural aspects to the oppressive conditions she endured at the time, and still many were emulating behaviors of their white oppressors in Nigeria. Where there is great upheaval and unrest, human beings seem to allow their most base selves to take over.
Maduneme grew up in, even by today’s standards, a privileged household. Her father was a chief and looked up to in society, and her mother a Western-educated woman. But her life was filled with dysfunction and pain. Her relationship with her father induced a fierce protection of her brother, David, and a complex relationship with her mother. After being sent off to boarding school, she encountered a hierarchical system where younger students were preyed upon by the older ones. Between school and her family, there seemed to be no escape from the predatory natures of those around her.
In her book, she says, “If men are taught that a strong, independent woman is something to fear, they will put that woman in her place with physical, mental, or sexual abuse. If women have no rights, they will become angry and take their anger out on their children, who turn against each other. If poor children have no future but to become servants in the homes of wealthy families, they will become filled with resentment and take their anger out on other children as well.”
Maduneme’s dream was to escape to America, but once she got here, she found that there were other challenges she had to face. This part of her story echoes the surprise and even shock that Africans experience in the U.S. when they find that issues of color are still so ingrained in the culture. Maduneme had to go within herself to begin a painful journey of claiming her identity and her destiny.
Maduneme’s story is one that accentuates the transcendence of humanity over brutality. It is a reminder that one is capable of overcoming the most horrendous of circumstances. Living in Nigerian traditional society as a girl or woman has challenges of its own. A mainly patriarchal system that also has an imprint of European supremacy brings forth a condition that is ripe with abuses, especially for the most vulnerable. Ada’s Daughter carries with it themes of empowerment for women and youth and a culture that is healthy enough to value all members of its society and treat them accordingly.
When I talked to Maduneme, I asked her what her purpose and vision for writing her memoir was. She spoke of hope for justice for people that have been damaged by oppression. She spoke of a need for a “mental house cleaning” not just for individuals but for society as a whole.
She and I also laughed as we shared similar stories of growing up in Nigeria. I shared with her that my mother also had a fascination with Jacqueline Kennedy and our middle names both mean the same thing, “God’s Gift.” I found her to be a delightful, funny, charming woman who has taken things in stride. She spoke of still being proud of her culture because it is part of who she is and a continual source of strength. “I am Igbo,” she says. After years of “disliking” herself, she managed to conjure up a power that disallowed her to turn over her power to someone else. Maduneme is a firm believer that no tragedy is bigger than oneself.
Ada’s Daughter is a book that tackles the question of what freedom means fundamentally. It grapples with our issues of fear and how that interferes with the basic human rights we all deserve. Most of all, it is a testament to the power of the humanity in each of us to recognize that we can define these things for ourselves and as painful as it may be, to not only survive but to find true joy. Yes, it can happen.
Jacqueline Maduneme, J.D. ’97 is currently a successful lawyer, an entrepreneur, and a mother of three adult sons. She lives in South Carolina and works for the rights of the underprivileged.
Ruth S. Idakula was born and raised in northern Nigeria. She has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and has been a proud resident of New Orleans for the past 14 years. Ruth is a freelance writer, social justice activist, and mother of three sons.
View the complete spring 2012 issue of LOYNO.