Author: Yejide Kilanko
Yejide Kilanko tapped on my nerves with Daughters Who Walk This Path, and then, she steamrolled all over me. This book got me in my feelings.
The story is set in modern day Ibadan, a city in Oyo state, and it is a story many African women, and specifically Nigerian women, are familiar with. It is the story of our sisters, mothers, aunts, friends, and grandmothers. It is familiar. I kept hoping the evil I perceived was coming in the next pages would not manifest, but it did. I saw the impending doom from afar, way before Yejide pens it, because this is our story. And then every single time, it takes an unfamiliar turn.
She weaved the remarkable stories of two women, Morayo and Morenike, together, and gave us the gifts of their strength, friendship, and passion intermingled with their pain, hurts, and struggles. Right alongside these gifts, she placed before us the perils of patriarchy while juxtaposing the men who thrive in it with the women who hold them (the men) and it (patriarchy) up. The other women characters in the book encased Morayo and Morenike, and together, they all navigated the peculiar shade of African patriarchy. This is a feminist book, and it upholds the ideals of women supporting women. I met victims, fighters, overcomers, survivors, and protectors, and encountered women who chose to be silent, those we were muted and many we were just plain oblivious. They were all on the path that daughters walk — subservient to culture, society, men, tradition, and norms — and hopefully, walking towards the ultimate qualifier: THE FREE!
Morenike, Morayo’s cousin, walked this path and gave us a glimpse into a slice of the kind of woman I hope we are all thriving to be. She didn’t have a perfect path, but she used many of the broken pieces of her life to build her life back up, and a few more pieces to build up Morayo’s. She emerged as gold from fire and gave Morayo a mirror to do likewise. She enamored me, but she couldn’t have been the woman she was without the support of her mother and grandmother. They were the Most Valuable Players (MVP), defiant, in their own unique ways, in the face of rape, shame, and betrayal. Morenike’s mother, Mummy Ibeji, was my hero for the duration of the time she occupied space in the plot. Her strength was Morenike’s strength. Her grandmother was also a key figure, she was not feisty like her daughter, Mummy Ibeji, but she was a quiet storm and a solid backbone.
On the flip side, Morayo’s mother, Bisoye, handled the exploitation of her daughter quite differently. She chose silence and indulged her own discomfort instead of her daughter’s pain. She was a silent enabler and accuser. I wasn’t pleased with her.
Speaking of displeasure, Eniayo did not sit well with me either, specifically, her character development. She entered into our lives in the opening chapters with such power and force, and I expected a lot more from her. Don’t get me wrong; her character was not flat. It rose like the ebbs and flows of sea waves, raging at some point and settled in the background at others. Although I wanted more from her, I accepted her for what she was. In addition, I was not pleased with Morayo’s transformation from rape victim to campus slut. I understood what changed her from a carefree young girl with a beautiful outlook on life into a young woman filled with fear, shame, and anxiety. I could place my finger on that, but I didn’t understand why she slept with every penis on campus. That part of her evolution got lost on me, and it also pushed along the idea that loose women, or better yet, women who choose to have sex are victims of a sexually unbalanced childhood. However I was truly happy to see her evolve, she was the most developed character in the book; well she was the main protagonist.
Many of us are familiar with stories of one-time violent and brutal assaults laced with coercion and intimidation, but there is the assault that happens often in the reguler routine of daily living. It happens between husband-employers and nannies, older cousins and their younger cousins, teachers, and students, and friendly male neighbors and your twelve-year-old daughters. The list is endless. Morayo and Morenike’s situations started out as any form of rape and sexual assault would, physical and/or emotional brutality dished out by a person who has physical, financial, or emotional power over the victim. For Morenike, it was a one-time rape by her father’s friend and someone she trusted, and for Morayo, it was months, and maybe years of assault by an older cousin whom she also trusted. For the latter, I empathized with her when she admitted that overtime she began to enjoy the warmth his hands produced when he reached between her thighs. Let’s be real, sex was created to be pleasurable, and the body is partly a sexual tool. While many people shut down at repeated assault, others react differently. The body and mind can start to enjoy the act and even crave it. This information I had to take in and digest.
Yejide did a great job of letting us understand that reality, and her characters are admirable. She moves nimbly between them and the different storylines. The conversation is convincing, and most of the opening chapters mirrored my childhood with my siblings and neighborhood kids. Daughters Who Walk This Path leaves us with hope and ends with love, The characters implore us to see the valor in their actions, while reminding us that others, just like them, are still walking this tragic path. The question remains, “what are we going to do about it?”
I give Daughters Who Walk This Path 3.75 stars.