Book Review | Female Children as Commodity of Trade in The Snuff Snub in Sonmazhi – Play | The Arts-Muse Fair

Book Title: The Snuff Snub in Sonmazhi
Author: Jibrin Bala Jibrin
Publisher: Image Prints
Pages: 51
Year: 2017
Reviewer: Paul Liam

Patriarchy and gender inequality are two subjects that continue to generate critical discourse amongst writers and literary scholars alike in literature. These concerns are not unconnected to the pivotal influence of these concepts on the larger society. It is particularly worthy of note that contemporary Northern Nigerian writers have renewed interests, perhaps with unprecedented gusto, in the thematization of these legendary subjects that have for centuries continued to shape gender discourse the world over.

In Africa and elsewhere in the world, patriarchy remains the definer of ancient family value system and the precursor of gender inequality. Patriarchy privileges male children over female ones, a trend that has given birth to the erroneous logic that boys are more important than girls are. Hence, boys were given priority attention whereas the girls were regarded as second-class citizens fit only for the kitchen and child bearing. This mundane belief continues to hold sway today in many African societies. 

In Nigeria and in Northern Nigeria in particular, the practice is still, very glaringly, being enforced. The right of the girl-child and indeed of women to self-actualization is still a major cultural and religious challenge. It is in view of the prevalence of this social problem that Jibrin Bala Jibrin’s play The Snuff Snub in Sonmazhi expounds this cultural anomaly in a melodramatic rendition.

This unfortunate trend of contrived patriarchal genocide against the female gender has been creatively portrayed in the works of new writers from the region such as in Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms, Hadiza Bagudu’s Fanta, Maryam Bobi’s Bongel, Halima Aliyu’s Fire on the Tip of Ice and Bilkisu Ndatsu’s The Truth. Older writers such as Zainab Alkali and Abubakar Gimba have equally treated these issues in their works as a way of drawing society’s attention to the inimical consequences of gender inequality on women in the society. Jibrin Bala Jibrin’s The Snuff Snub in Sonmazhi dramatizes the dehumanization of women and condemns the practice, which holds girls and women in low esteem and regards them only for their material importance in satisfying the lustful craves of men.

The play, set in Sonmazhi, a Nupe village, parodies the folly of men who view women as objects of sexual and material gratification without recourse to their happiness and wellbeing such as exemplified by Maraki, the antagonist in the play, who trades his daughter Ishiga, to Lonchita for a debt he took to marry his second wife Satu, who eventually absconds with her Casanova secret lover, Kalanki the Brass-smith, who later elopes with another lover after using and dumping Satu. Satu loses her pregnancy because of the physical and emotional abuse inflicted on her by Kalanki. Satu’s marriage to Maraki is against her wish and it is intended to offset a debt owed by her father, a debt incurred for her brother’s medical treatment. Why should a girl’s happiness be traded for that of her brother? This portrayal underlies the contempt with which society holds the happiness of female children. In other words, it could be deduced that girls exist to service the aspirations of boys.

Toroko, Maraki’s older wife is also married to him against her wish. Her father also had to offset a debt he owed by marrying her to Maraki. However, she, belonging to the old school has come to accept her fate imposed on her by the society. But her daughter, Ishiga, who belongs to the new school resists the attempt by her father to trade her to Lonchita as a payment for the debt he owes him. Her resistance proves abortive though as her father eventually succeeds in trading her off thereby killing her hopes of ever acquiring a higher education, true love and happiness. Eventually, Ishiga is married off to Ndako Kuyi, Lonchita’s son as his third wife.

The news of Ishiga’s pregnancy and ill health soon hits them and in her helpless state, Toroko asserts the most profound remarks which underscore the aesthetical and ideological depth of the play. She postulates, “Are female children now a commodity of trade? (pause: starts to sobs) look at what you have got my daughter into, slavery, and yourself, ha! You have indeed done great harm to your family.”(pp 41) Indeed, true to Toroko’s words, women who are denied the right to determine their own happiness and path in life are akin to slaves sold to eternal condemnation such as could be seen in the case of the women in the play.

Ishiga, in her protest to her mother on why she should not be given out to marriage against her own wish and aspirations reasons thus, “Nna! That was then. Things like these should not happen now. Girls I believe should start choosing whom they will like to spend the rest of their lives with.” (pp 18) As ideal as Ishiga’s remark sounds, the reality on ground proves contrary. True, times have changed but the male dominated society has refused to change along with the times and their retrogressive sensibilities towards women yet prevails. This is an ugly reality still lived by women in twenty first century Nigeria.

The above summarizes the crux of the play and the playwright does not pretend about his stand on society’s degradation of women especially young girls who should be allowed to mature into sane adults capable of making rational choices for themselves. The playwright succeeds in showing the disservice women and young girls go through in the hands of men who are obsessed in objectifying women in order to satisfy their own selfish desires. 

An ingenious display of artistry in the play is the use of soliloquy and dramatic irony where Kalanki elopes with Satu only to end up eloping with another woman, while Ishiga also believes him to be in love with her whereas he is not. This depiction is certain to elicit a good laugh out of the readers, in spite of the play’s main import. But even such flimsy portrayal is to buttress the unpredictable and undependable nature of men. It is a sarcasm deriding the lustful and selfishness of men. The Snuff Snub in Sonmazhi is a beautiful play with socially resounding messages and lessons for the society.

However, it is flawed in some ways; the dialogue in most cases is skewed and reads more like a narration, the actions are not dramatic enough and for an important subject matter such as highlighted above, the delivery is profane. There are also issues of grammatical inconsistency. The play nevertheless deserves some credit for its use of humour and thematic preoccupation.   


Paul Liam is writer and critic.