Sexuality, Money, Power and Occultism: A Review of Nyamnjoh’s Married But Available
By Frida Nekang Mbunda, Lecturer and Literary Critic, University of Buea, Cameroon
The problem with most African writers today is the inability to provide a stable interpretive sense of the contemporary African environment or what it truly means to be an African today, in the 21st century. This is because of the rupturing of identities resulting from culture and location displacements, especially within the new African metropolis which has led to a break down in social structure. The break down in social structure is as a result of violation of taboos and when taboos are broken, new forms and modes of discourse must evolve to contain that which has previously been unspeakable.
Nyamnjoh’s Novel Married But Available is a new mode of discourse that contains that which was previously unspeakable in Cameroonian society. The author moves from the common practice of exploring the Anglophone problem to present global and urgent issues that need to be address in this era of globalization. The writer in Cameroon is saddled with numerous problems that include the personal, the social, the economic and the political so the artist must go beyond the confines of his own immediate constituency, his own class in order to give sufficient insight into the lives of characters and into their responses to the events and problems that plague the society. Some of these problems are those of sexuality.
The novel is set in Mimboland, a nation under the iron grip of president Longstay who sees democracy as a very expensive disease. A land in which hedonism and the graving for power has led to oppression and occultism. Mimboland is ‘a land under the grip of a new erotic movement which consists of men doing it with men, women with women, and the insatiable amongst them with beasts as well’ (MBA, 328). A society in which pornography and virtual sex are addictive, everyone is going for them, the Police and men of God included.
On 18 March 2009, just ten weeks after the publication of Married But Available, Amnesty International urged Pope Benedict XVI to express the importance of eradicating discrimination based on sexual orientation, as he visits Cameroon on his first trip to Africa. Amnesty International has documented the arrest and detention of several dozen young men and women some of whom, over the last three years, have been sentenced to prison terms and fines for allegedly engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations.
The issue of sexuality is thus a major problem in Mimboland. Nyamnjoh’s novel thus deals with contemporary issues because it explores the intersections between sexuality, Money, power and occultism.
Power plays an import role in sexuality. For example, the romance between lecturers and students is rooted in power and control. The inevitable power difference between teacher and student, whatever the teacher's intention or motivation, makes it impossible for the student to be a fully consenting adult. A teacher's role is to provide intellectual guidance and professional support and advice. Such a role is antithetical to that of lover and constitutes an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. Men in position of power known as Mbomas, and customs officers who are in no longer exciting marriages desire young, sexually active women, but these girls often suffer because Mbomas are known to curse, crash and crush without Mercy when they are betrayed (MBA,43).
In Mimboland the craving for power and money has led to occultism and bizarre rituals. Permeating the entire social and cultural spectrum, magic stands as an ambivalent force that helps promote individual and collective accumulation as well as control social differentiation. Magic resources are used for domestic and public purposes. Mimbolanders, young or old, poor or rich, male or female succeed in amassing incredible fortunes or attaining power with the help of occult swindling practices. These swindlers, with expensive cars and flashy clothes, are the embodiment of occult economies and have become the role models for the new generation. These are the Mbomas, and include Politicians, businessmen, foreigners and even the masses, especially the feymen (the nouveau rich who mostly come from poor backgrounds with few prospects). They scam not only foreigners through the internet but also rich women with the aid of magic and witchcraft. ‘Magic and money’, as Bobinga Iroko intimates, ‘open doors that most can only dream of, they are the poetry of the dumb, the humour of those too busy or too important to flatter, the corrector of those ordinarily too ugly to be noticed, with the rich and powerful, it is all about instant gratification’ (MBA, 32).
Since being in power means being rich, people do whatever it takes to gain power or remain in power. For example, a man dances naked feet in fire with old chimpanzees, eats barks of trees, herbs and drinks concoctions and sleeps for days with his nose dipped in water (MBA, 69) just to be appointed or retained in high office:
At exactly midnight, the VC and the Reg, each dressed only in underpants drove to the university, with them two men dressed to look like elephants, carrying two dark clay pot, two shovels and two machetes and pulling along two dogs, two goats and two cocks. At the main gate of UM, the goats, the dogs and the cocks were slaughtered over the VC and the Reg who were lying across the gate, some of the blood was collected in a clay pot, mixed with herbs and given to the VC and Reg to drink, stating their wish as they drink. After incantation upon incantation, the elephant men dug a big grave in which, the slaughtered goats, dogs and cocks were buried along with an exercise book and a ball point pen: This ritual as the elephant men explain will protect the VC and Reg from Cam-no-gos ( (MBA, 53).
To defeat every opposition, the Honourable Minister of Forced Arms on his part commits incest with his daughter in a bid to stay superglued in power (MBA, 331). To get items for these rituals those who oppose the government are brutally murdered for example, BP (‘Burning Pen’) is found dead, his skull shattered and his brain and genitals missing. He looked more like the victim of a ritual murder than a robbery (MBA352). Later that evening, the president of the Students Union, Samson Freeboy Bigmop, and yet another member of staff closely linked with the strike – Chief Dr. Mantrouble Anyway, were found dead in mysterious circumstances, their bodies dismembered, their genitalia and brains harvested (MBA357).
The desire to get rich has led to occult and bizarre sexual habits like:
A beautiful young woman desiring wealth, drives up, parks her car, comes out with a banana in her hand, peels it, lies down by the pavement and begins to insert it into her womanhood, completely deaf to the screams and expression of shock by a bustling market (MBA, 332). … a rich and beautiful woman every midday drives out of town, parks her car and goes into a farm, makes love with a big black snake after which she vomits money (MBA, 332). Young boys enticed to hotels and forced into anal sex, men watch girls do it and married women are in a woman to woman sex relation (MBA, 333).
Desperate to keep her husband for herself ‘Aa-Shing, not only framed and displayed pictures of their happiest moments, told him stories about the pleasant past, but spiced his meals with popular love charms (MBA,33) and ex-parliamentarian is believed to use charms to keep his wife because he is financially down and wants this girl to take care of him eventually (MBA, 198).
Because the rich use their sex drive as evidence of the opportunities and impunities of wealth and power, sex is commercialised. Women are presented as objects and relationships even between husbands and wives are commercialized. For example, Dr .Lovemore tells his wife who denies him sex because of his infidelity, ‘Now that you have declared a ghost town on our sex life, I declare a ghost town on my wallet’. Dr. Simba, the Reg, has a queue of university girls at his service every day. He pays them with petrol coupons meant for the university to function properly, He has more children out of wedlock than he can recollect (MBA, 34). Lovebird Mr Moni is believed to have slept with more than 1000 women and to have decided how he would like to die, “on a woman and surrounded by women ‘just as I have lived my life’, he tell his friends (MBA 65). Women cheat because they are under the pressure to dress well, buy this and that, be there in a class and in places above their means or attainments (MBA, 64).
Married but Available is not just like any other novel that one can race through. First of all, it is a poetic novel – it deals not just with events but with charged emotions and is full of imagery, symbols, proverbs, allusions, etc – which compel the reader to slow down reading to reflect and decipher the imagery. Also the issues discussed in the novel are issues that seem taboo. There is so much conceit in some of the comparisons that one needs to be a genius or well read to interpret some of them, e.g. the filling of cars on page 351.
At every point of reading, I was forced to do the following: 1. stop reading for hours when I came across some bizarre situations (and they are many of such in the novel), one could just angry about the things done to women or the way women are presented; 2. stop for days to fantasize, when feelings of nostalgia were stirred in me and I felt like exploring the unexplored (for example, imagining myself registered into Helena Paradise’s club for women only and I believe most of my sisters who read this novel will desire same), or lip for joy when I see my sisters outdo men in their game and sometimes I stopped reading just to have a hearty laugh. Reading MBA cannot be as fast as reading other novels.
It is so amazing how Nyamnjoh got all what is in this text into one novel. He brings EVERYTHING about contemporary African into one literary text, what no author has done. I am thrill by the idea of research. Nyamnjoh’s imagination is impeccable and the atmosphere of research gives credulity to everything in the text.
Like Amos Tutuala who under the guise of the search for a deceased tapster takes his reader into the African universe, Nyamnjoh under the pretext of a fieldwork gives his reader an incisive view not only into sexuality in contemporary society (a society in which social taboos are disregarded, a Sodom and Gomorra), but into the political universe of Africa which is characterized by corruption, oppression, hedonism and occultism.
Check out this link -http://www.gefominyen.com/2009/04/the-woes-of-a-people-enslaved-by-alcoh... for another book review by thesame author titled - The Woes of a People Enslaved by Alcohol: A review of Francis Nyamnjoh’s: the Travail of Dieudonné