They Sold My Sister by Leteipa Ole Sunkuli
In They Sold My Sister by Leteipa Ole Sunkuli we have the theme of marriage, discontent, control, independence, tradition, freedom and equality. Narrated in the first person by a young twelve year old girl called Naliki the reader realises after reading the story that Sunkuli may be exploring the theme of marriage, particularly forced or arranged marriages. The narrator’s sister is being forced to marry Ole Sirayo. Nyamala does not love Ole Sirayo nor does she wish to marry him. This may be important as Sunkuli may be placing a spotlight of some of the customs and practices that occur in Kenya and which are deemed by others to be acceptable. Acceptable because they are rooted in tradition. It is as though any independence that Nyamala has is being taken away from her. Within days of her father accepting a dowry for Nyamala she is removed from school. The only independent environment that Nyamala knows and she is forced to go and live with Ole Sirayo and his parents. It is as though Nyamala is to live a life of discontent and a life without choice. It is also interesting that the only voice of dissent within the story comes from Tumuka. The narrator’s brother. He can see the importance of keeping Nyamala in school but his protests fall on deaf years.
Tumuka though only briefly mentioned in the story is still nonetheless an important character as he in many ways symbolises modernity and a shift from the traditional beliefs that his parents hold on to so dearly. Though because he is still only a young man there is very little he can do to change his parent’s mind. It is also interesting that the narrator knows that what has happened to Nyamala is also going to happen to her. She will not be allowed the freedom to choose her own husband and like Nyamala will be sold for a pittance to any man that wants her. This too may be important as it suggests that Sunkuli is critical of the tradition of forced or arranged marriages. At no stage in the story are any of the women mentioned really given a voice. They live in a patriarchal or male dominated society and do as instructed by the male. It would also appear as though once a girl reaches womanhood she is eligible to be forced into a marriage. Something that happens for both Nyamala and the narrator.
What is interesting about this is the fact that neither girl has really lived their life and may have travelled no further than to the local town. The world as a place would be foreign to them and having seen other girls forced to marry. Each girl may accept that this is their faith. Education which Tumuka rightly considers to be important means nothing to the narrator’s parents. It is not part of their tradition and as such there is no need for it. It is as though both parents live in a small world in whereby nothing appears to change. There is a strict allegiance to tradition in the village. With any other influences being considered to be negative. Leaving the reader with the sense that if something is not part of the traditions of the village it is of no use to anybody in the village. Which may leave some critics to suggest that there is a sense of paralysis within the village. It is a place that time has not changed. The only voice of authority that is recognised is that of the narrator’s father.
The fact that the narrator may end up having to marry Ole Timau might also be important. Just as Nyamala did not wish to marry Ole Sirayo likewise the narrator does not wish to marry Ole Timau. Though many critics can see how inappropriate the marriage would be. The narrator’s father does not think so. Again he is following in the traditions of the village. He will be paid handsomely for the narrator and the narrator will no longer be a burden to him. For that is what the narrator’s father may think of both the narrator and Nyamala. Any opportunity that the narrator may have to advance her life through education will be lost. However she does intend to contact Tumuka. As to whether this will help the narrator is another thing. Tumuka had very little if any success when he tried to stop Nyamala’s marriage from happening. The only options open to the narrator are to either marry Ole Timau or flee to Nairobi. A difficult thing for a girl of twelve to do. If anything the narrator has no control over her life. She is obliged to her father and his traditional beliefs. She also knows that her mother will be of no benefit to her either as she is submissive to her husband. It is the men in the village who have the power to define the direction of another person’s life.