Mama Essungue was born during a period when girls' education was considered a waste of the family’s resources, since girls were destined for marriage into another family. Hence, instead of school, girls were groomed for marriage from an early age. For mama Essungue, leaving her family and moving in with her marital family happened at the tender age of seven. She'd lost her mother at five and her father, who had another wife, believed her intended and his family would take better care of her as her step mother was unkind. Mama was welcomed into her marital family by her husband and his first wife who was old enough to be her mother and whom indeed she called “Ayih” (mother). She was raised along with Ayi’s children, babysitting for the younger ones until she came of age for marriage. Growing up, her husband saw the need for her to learn a trade and enrolled her in a sewing school where she learned to sew dresses. Today, I look back and think of my mother as the fashion designer of her days.
Listening to my mother’s stories about her life, I came to the realization that she loved her husband, not just as a wife would love her husband but also as a father figure. This did not surprise me because indeed he raised her as one would a daughter before she became his wife.
Mama will grow up to become a wife at thirteen and had her first child and Pah Ejuma’s first born son at the age of fourteen. These were my mother’s best years because she had a husband whom she loved dearly and who loved her in return. She felt very secure and was well taken care of, and had the liberty and freedom to contribute to the family with income from her sewing and selling of food stuff from her farms.
Unfortunately for my mother, the wicked hand of death struck and took her husband when she was in her late twenties and her entire life fell apart. She was left to raise her children as a penniless single mother because my father’s family claimed all of my father’s estate and sold his properties. We were left barely hanging onto the empty house as they even took away my father's precious cutlery which he'd acquired as a cook for the Germans in his youth. The land surrounding the house was also sold, leaving us with only the small area the house was built on.
From that moment on, mama faced the world head on to ensure she and her children survived and that we went to school no matter what.
By Olga Ekume-Ejuma