So Long a Letter


Mariama Bâ

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So Long a Letter: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

While admitting that she must be reopening old wounds for her friend, Ramatoulaye proceeds to describe the breakup of Aissatou’s marriage. She explains that Mawdo’s mother, Aissatou’s “Aunty Nabou,” simply could not accept that her son had married a woman of low birth. Nabou resolves to visit her brother, Farba Diouf, who is a customary chief in Diakhao, a rural town far inland. After a long journey she visits the tomb of her noble ancestors, which is located in the town, and pays her respects there. Nabou is received in her brother’s house like a queen: she is served the choicest bits of meat, and relatives from all over the area come to visit her. Toward the end of her visit, she tells her brother that she needs a child by her side—her children have married and her house is now empty. Farba, hearing this, immediately offers to surrender his own daughter, Nabou’s namesake, to Nabou’s care. Aunty Nabou returns home with the young Nabou in tow.
Nabou’s symbolic journey to the country’s interior is like a journey back in time: the rural town of Diakhao is still very much under the spell of tradition, unlike cosmopolitan Dakar. And while the rituals Nabou rehearses there are antiquated, Ramatoulaye still describes them with a degree of awe and respect—they are somewhat beautiful and powerful, even if they ultimately quicken Aissatou’s personal troubles. Still, the ease with which Farba offers up his young daughter is certainly appalling. She has no say in the matter, and is exchanged like a mere commodity. It’s also worth noting that Aunty Nabou, a woman, has internalized the sexist aspects of her culture seemingly as much as any man, and feels no qualms about accepting her niece solely as an object.
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