Nigerian authors have consistently and effectively critiqued insidious connections between masculinity, political power, religious fundamentalism, and capitalist interests. The unstable political structures in Nigeria since the 1970s have led to such critiques. This essay deploys the idea of polygamy in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah (1987) in contrast to the exploration of polygamy in Nigerian-American dramatist Tess Onwueme’s early play The Reign of Wazobia (1988), written a year after Chinua Achebe’s novel. As a third generation African writer, and one whose work is less well recognized than other African novelists and playwrights, Onwueme occupies a relatively marginal role in the Nigerian and African literary canon. Nevertheless her work facilitates an analysis of neocolonialism, though in contrast to Achebe’s realist narrative, her evocation of myth and tradition appears to take the discussion into a pre-colonial past as in many of Wole Soyinka’s plays.
My reading of Onwueme’s play claims that the past is not an idealized space and time but rather a strategy used by the dramatist to comment on postcolonial realities and polities. As an arrangement involving sexual and economic relations, a discussion of polygamy in Wazobia is crucial to examining the interplay of gender, sexuality, and political power in Nigeria during the late 1980s when Achebe’s novel and Onwueme’s play were first published. Nigerian feminist anthropological and sociological studies are useful in assessing gender and power dynamics in Onwueme’s play. Since these studies sometimes valorize pre-colonial pasts, I also look at feminist responses to such an idealization, again with Onwueme’s play as a reference point. In accounting for “polygamous postcolonialsm,” which I define as a negotiation between national and transnational capitalist interests often in favor of the latter at the expense of the former, this essay also offers a feminist critique of the social structures supporting polygamy. The conclusion describes why it is as crucial to examine political structures in Nigeria from a transnational feminist perspective today as it was in the 1980s.