This post takes a critical look at the relationship between Kwei and Maa Tsuru in Amma Darko’s novel, Faceless. It is a significant relationship in the novel for the following reasons.
- Kwei and Maa Tsuru’s is the love affair that will produce the two most important street-child characters in the novel – Baby T and Fofo.
- The key themes of superstition, irresponsible parenting, poverty, unplanned uncontrolled procreation and its negative effects on all, among others, are on full display in this relationship.
- The plot of the novel Faceless is woven around the events and outcomes of this love affair between Maa Tsuru and Kwei.
The relationship involving Kwei and Maa Tsuru
Kwei is a native of a certain suburb of Accra known as British Accra. We meet him for the first time in the novel trying unsuccessfully to calm down his visibly distraught mother who is insulting him for choosing to impregnate no other girl but the supposedly cursed Maa Tsuru.
The pregnancy in question happens to be the very first one between the two. At the time, Kwei is a 23-year-old unemployed mason and Maa Tsuru is a 16-year-old orphan depending on her aunt’s kenkey business for survival. Her mother died giving birth to her and she has never been taken care of by anyone calling himself her father.
The narrative style on display in this chapter (Chapter 14) is just one of many instances of the narrative techniques known as flashback the novelist employs throughout her work.
There are at least three main forces that shape the love affair between Kwei and Maa Tsuru up to the time Kwei is forced to run away when their fourth child (later to be known as Fofo) is conceived.
The first of these forces is Kwei’s mother. The second is Maa Tsuru’s aunt. And the third and most important is the curse which is believed to have been placed on Maa Tsuru’s head on the day of her birth.
Let’s begin with Kwei’s mother and the curse, put together.
How Kwei’s mother and her superstition shape her son’s relationship with Maa Tsuru
Kwei’s mother is one woman who staunchly believes that Maa Tsuru is a cursed woman. So, even though she appears to see nothing wrong with her unemployed son impregnating an underaged sixteen-year-old (A baby is welcome for two main reasons – it will add to the number of the family and being a grandchild, it will create a good impression in her OBITUARY.), she is terribly disappointed in Kwei for letting a cursed woman carry her grandchild.
“Did it have to be her? Of all the young girls around here did it have to be the cursed one? The one girl cursed by her own dying mother? Is she the one you should go and impregnate?”
The unemployed Kwei’s woes in his mother’s house will worsen because he is fed by the woman. This makes it easy for her to pile as much pressure as she can on her son. She still regards the 23-year-old Kwei as a boy. When Kwei protests saying he is a man, she angrily reminds him that nothing about him shows that he is truly a man.
And when Kwei tries to refute the curse story, she goes straight ahead to teach her son some basic lessons in superstition:
“She cursed the baby’s father. Your lover’s father. But who told you she stopped there? Idiot! Let me tell you what she did. She went on and further cursed all of his descendants too. That was what she did. All of his descendants. And unless you have an out-of-this-word understanding of this word, tell me if a man’s own daughter is also not his descendant. Tell me.”
Kwei’s mother goes further to announce that neither she nor any member of their family will have anything to do with Maa Tsuru’s pregnancy. To crown it all, she stops giving food to Kwei.
Kwei’s mother continues to pile up the pressure on her son as the second pregnancy comes only to be followed in quick succession by the third and the fourth.
At the sight of Maa Tsuru’s fourth pregnancy, Kwei’s mother can no longer be comforted. She has arrived at the conclusion that something ominous is about to descend on her family. Her superstitious mind puts together the number 5 bad omen believed to be associated with her family and the curse on Maa Tsuru’s head. She demands that Kwei immediately go into a self-imposed exile to prevent a fifth pregnancy and save the whole family a major catastrophe.
How Kwei reacts to the pressure from his mother
Initially, Kwei tries valiantly to ignore his mother’s pressures. He, in fact, goes ahead to present a bottle of schnapps to Maa Tsuru’s family as a traditional gesture of “showing his face”. Then he goes in search of a job and money to come back and take good care of his pregnant lover.
Unfortunately, he returns with nothing but bodily scars which are rumoured to have been the remains of wounds sustained from criminal activities in which he got himself involved.
Even though he is unable to properly marry Maa Tsuru, Kwei continues to do his best to cater for her. He no longer insists on mason jobs only but accepts any odd job that comes his way. Kwei is at this stage still committed to being responsible for his manly actions. So far so good. Then, as if out of the blue, comes the third pregnancy.
Maa Tsuru’s third pregnancy marks a turning point in Kwei’s attitude. It is at the sight of the third pregnancy (Baby T) that Kwei begins to change for the worse. The pressure from his mother mounts and his own limited means have been stretched too far to their elastic limits. It is no wonder then that Kwei begins to show signs of irresponsible behaviour.
“How? Why did you let it happen?” He yelled at Maa Tsuru as if she single-handedly made the pregnancy happen.
In a desperate move to avoid the additional burden of a third child and more pressure from his difficult, superstitious mother, Kwei starts behaving unlike his old self.
- Kwei goes further to forsake Maa Tsuru. He tells her plainly that she is not his wife.
- He tells her not to cook for him any longer. Neither should she come near him again.
- He accuses Maa Tsuru of being a bad luck woman with a bad, overly fertile womb.
Now, under intense pressure, Kwei begins to seek refuge in the curse story his mother has repeatedly been hammering into his ears.
He almost instantly goes to get a new woman the writer chooses to call MELON BOSOM. Then he tricks Maa Tsuru into his room and beats the very life out of her, hoping to destroy the pregnancy in the process. But it does not work. Kwei concludes that a baby who can survive such brutish beating suffered by her pregnant mother cannot be a good omen. Shocked, terrified and disappointed, he flees from home once again.
In his absence, however, the third baby, a girl, must still have a name.
People conveniently begin to call her Tsuru’s Baby. This later evolved into Baby Tsuru and finally Baby T.
But it appears that Kwei still loves Maa Tsuru. He is able to stay away for only a year. This time, Kwei returns with apologies and gifts for his woman. Despite her aunt’s protestations, Maa Tsuru accepts Kwei back into her life. And the fourth pregnancy is the result. This is Fofo, the heroine of this novel.
For Kwei, it is this fourth pregnancy that will be the last straw to finally break the camel’s back. Under intense pressure coming from his mother and given his own state of joblessness and helplessness, Kwei quickly disappears without a trace for good.
So Maa Tsuru gives birth to her fourth child with Kwei in his absence. Just like the third, Kwei is not available to name her. So when someone suggests that the baby resembles an old family person who went by the name Fofo, it is readily accepted and sticks for good.
Maa Tsuru’s aunt
Much as she tries to exert some control over her niece’s relationship choices, Maa Tsuru’s aunt has almost no success as compared to Kwei’s mother. Her warnings to Maa Tsuru to stay away from Kwei fall entirely on deaf ears. Maa Tsuru has never been wise with her relationship decisions. Neither has she been willing to take advice from anybody.
Likewise, her attempts to discourage Kwei from following Maa Tsuru yield no tangible results. One big reason for this is that Maa Tsuru has uncles and older family men who are easily influenced by gifts of drink and the like. A hilarious instance is the case of one such uncle who vows to beat up Kwei in response to his beating Maa Tsuru only to drink himself into a stupor, vomit right at his gate and fall into a slumber in the vomit.
It is obvious that these males are just one more group of irresponsible men that Amma Darko freely satirizes in Faceless.
From the detailed and orderly account of the events in the relationship between Kwei and Maa Tsuru you have read so far, you will begin to realize that Kwei has not always tried to be an irresponsible father or lover. He has, at the initial stages of their relationship, done a great deal, in spite of his jobless status and the negative attitude of his mother, to be a caring partner to his lover, Maa Tsuru. So what went wrong? How come Kwei metamorphoses into a woman beater and a run-away father? The answer to this question can be traced to the following factors.
- the unrelenting pressure coming from his implacable mother
- the financial difficulties caused by his continued joblessness and from the unplanned pregnancies that keep coming in very quick succession
Kwei may never have really seen any truth nor sense in the curse myth surrounding Maa Tsuru, but when he feels his back against the wall, it is this superstitious belief that provides him with the only convenient excuse to run away from his responsibilities.