Have you ever imagined what it’s like growing up as the last child of nineteen children? I know.
Salutations, dear Purplers and welcome to this new post.
Today, I’m going to be telling you guys a little story about my ernoumous african family.
My family is a polygamous family: one daddy, two mummies. Some people may be cringing right now, but over here in Nigeria, until a few generations ago, polygamy was the norm (At least among my ethnic group). Monogamous husbands were seen as Sissy-boys.
Polygamy was a show of wealth and prestige among the Idoma people and ethnic groups with similar culturesl. It wasn’t strange for a man to marry as many as five wives, all living under the same roof. (They be getting in touch with the Bible days yo!)
You know how the saying goes, the more, the merrier. In fact, my grandpa had five wives of which some were even passed down to my uncle at his passing. (I know, a feminist’s nightmare) But that was the way things were at that time.
Although it was a norm, I only learnt about the actual circumstances that made my father marry two wives when I read his book last year.
All my life, I saw nothing wrong with my family. The house was this bustling circus of different people with different personalities. Being the last born, I got so much wisdom from my older ones actively and passively.
And then thereally was the advantage of getting so many hand-me-downs and monetary favours from my siblings. Back in my secondary school senior year, I has so much money given to my by my big sis’and bros that I basically became a “baller”.
The point is that whatever position I was heading towards, so many people had already walked the path before me, so I had the advantage of having foresight and being prepared for everything.
My family is made up of ten girls and nine boys. Excluding all the other extended family relationships that lived with us, rotating from time to time. Seven of those siblings are my blood sisters/brothers while the others are half sisters/brothers. Growing up, there was no division between them. Half or Blood, they were all sisters/brothers to me. There was no rivalry; little drama between the two wives (Maybe I was too young and naive to notice).
My mother is the second wife so considering Nollywood movie logic, she should have been the evil step-mother in the picture, but everyone pretty much just minded their business. My step-mom had her business, my mom had school and work.
I loved the bustling nature of my big family. It was just so exciting. Occasions were so crowded that we had to sleep spawrled on the parlor floor in pure sleepover fashion. Whenever food was being cooked, the girls would sit in circles, with this one cutting onions, that one pounding crayfish, others slicing cabbage in massive trays while laughing hysterically in Agatu language. It was loud. It was fun. It was family. For Christmas and weddings, a whole cow would be slautered to feed the masses.
Yes, the experience of growing up with so many people around was something electric and exciting. But now that I’m older, I realise that everyone had their own baggage. Being in such a family, there was a necessity for cliques. Everyone had who they were close to. And there was a tendency for you to be ignored or forgotten entirely. You had to find you identity in the midst of everything.
Considering the whopping age-differences between some of us, I couldn’t exactly start chatting with someone who was 15 years older than me (Even though I did listen in to their conversations a lot). My older sisters were more like nannies to me than friends. I played mostly with my two brothers (wrestling on the mattress in our upstairs parlor with my brothers, or watching them play video games; playing occasionally and crying when I lose, or mashing random buttons and winning by mistake).
Within the colourful painting of a big and bubbly family, there is the hidden darkness of abuse, bitterness, and resentment. A few years ago, this resentment bubble busted out as a little dramatic episode, starring my step-mom, her daughters, my mother and my father.
Accusations of abandonment and neglect were dished out. Fingers were pointed. My father was alledged of the betrayal of my step-mom and favoritism towards my mother. We were the antagonists of their story. The Nollywood movie had come to play.
I witnessed a lot of hate and bitterness displayed that day, bitterness that I never would have suspected in my wildest imaginations was hidden in my family. And although all has been forgiven, the episode only emphasized that beyond all that extravagance, something deep and dark was being harboured inside all of us.
I often wonder why my mental health is how it is. I never suffered anything traumatic, no form of abuse. I didn’t suffer abandonment, to be honest, I was sort of a brat. My brothers did pick on me, as brothers often do, but they were only teasing me, not necessarily bullying me. I was always surrounded by people, so where did my apprehension towards them come from? Why the social anxiety? The answer is mirrored in the underlying bitterness slung out of my seemingly “lively” family.
Now, most of my siblings are grown, living on their own and married. Our family house is now relatively empty. Things have changed. All my siblings left at home are my three brothers and myself. I am the only girl at home now and I even have a room all to myself. They other are out chasing careers, and taking care of children.
I occasionally still enjoy the hand-me-downs whenever I go visit my sisters but I am an adult now so I do not enjoy the monetary favours I used to enjoy in secondary school and part of my university days.
There are times when I miss the excitement of a massive family. But I have been disillusioned. I used to be so proud of being the last born of nineteen children. Now, I know that in the end, we are all on our own. Even in the biggest crowd, it is possible to be all alone.
Thanks for reading.