"Portmanteau Biota" and Ecofeminist Interventions in Zakes Mda's the Heart of Redness *

By Sewlall, Harry | Journal of Literary Studies, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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"Portmanteau Biota" and Ecofeminist Interventions in Zakes Mda's the Heart of Redness *


Sewlall, Harry, Journal of Literary Studies


Summary

When Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and the first person ever to win the award for environmental activism, was asked by Time magazine's Stephan Faris, "What's the world's biggest challenge?", she replied: "The environment. We are sharing our resources in a very inequitable way.... And that is partly the reason why we have conflict" (Faris 2004: 4). Conflict over natural resources is very much at the centre of Mda's novel The Heart of Redness (2000). The historical past, emblematised by the cattle-killings in the Eastern Cape during the 1850s, is linked to the present through the ecological consciousness of Qukezwa, whose character is conceived in mythopoeic terms. Positing the notion that Qukezwa is the quintessential ecofeminist in the novel, this paper foregrounds her role as a catalyst in the war of words between the "Believers" in the prophecies of Nongqawuse and the "Unbelievers". Her seemingly reckless act of cutting down foreign trees may be viewed as a protest against what Alfred W. Crosby has termed "portmanteau biota" (1986: 270), a collective term for the organisms that Europeans took with them to the lands they colonised. Qukezwa's actions register a strong message to those governments which exploit Planet Earth without regard for the deleterious consequences of their actions.

Opsomming

Op die vraag "Wat is die wereld se grootste uitdaging?", gestel deur Time Magazine se Stephan Faris aan Nobel-vredespryswenner Wangari Maathai, die eerste vroulike Afrikaan en die eerste persoon ooit om die toekenning vir omgewingsaktivisme te ontvang, antwoord sy: "Die omgewing. Ons deel ons hulpbronne op 'n bale onregverdige manier.... En dit is deels waarom ons konflik het" (Faris 2004: 4, my vertaling). Konflik oor natuurlike hulpbronne is die spil waarom Mda se roman, The Heart of Redness (2000), draai. Die historiese vedede, versinnebeeld deur die grootskaalse beesslagting in die Oos-Kaap gedurende die 1850's, sluit aan by die hede deur die ekologiese bewussyn van Qukezwa, wie se karakter in mitopoetiese terme gestalte kry. Uit die hoek van die standpunt dat Qukezwa die kwintessensiele ekofeminis in die roman is, lig hierdie referaat haar rol uit as katalisator in die woordstryd tussen die wat in die profesiee van Nongqawuse glo, en die wat nie glo nie (die "Believers" en die "Unbelievers"). Haar skynbaar roekelose daad om uitheemse bome af te kap kan beskou word as 'n protes teen wat Alfred W. Crosby "portmanteau biota" (1986: 270) noem, 'n kollektiewe term vir die organismes wat Europeers saam met hulle geneem het na die lande wat hulle gekoloniseer het. Qukezwa se handelinge stuur 'n sterk boodskap uit na die regerings wat Planeet Aarde uitbuit sonder inagneming van die verwoestende gevolge van hulle dade.

   Ecological awareness, then, will arise only when we combine our
   rational knowledge with an intuition for the nonlinear nature of
   our environment. Such intuitive wisdom is characteristic of
   traditional, nonliterate cultures, especially of American Indian
   cultures, in which life was organised around a highly refined
   awareness of the environment.

   (Capra [1932]1983: 25)

   There is no unmediated way of existing in harmony with nature, and
   there never has been. Once we make human decisions on how to exist
   in our surroundings, we are already involved in sociocultural (and
   again, theoretical) modes of thought.

   (Bennet 2003: 300)

1 Introduction

Time magazine reporter, Donald Morrison, assessing the state of South African writing ten years after the country attained democracy, places Zakes Mda, a well-known dramaturge, among the vanguard of novelists such as Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, Breyten Breytenbach and Andre Brink (Time, 14 November 2005, pp. 58-59). Mda spends his time between the United States, where he is a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, and South Africa, where he combines his interest in film-making and painting with beekeeping.

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