Academic journal article African Studies Review

Cape Verdean and Mozambican Women's Literature: Liberating the National and Seizing the Intimate

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Cape Verdean and Mozambican Women's Literature: Liberating the National and Seizing the Intimate

Article excerpt

Abstract:

In Mozambique and Cape Verde, writing in Portuguese by African women has directly engaged political reconstruction by denouncing colonial oppression and embracing national freedom. This article addresses the recent history of Lusophone African women's fiction, which has been pivotal in inscribing the intimate arena of sexuality and motherhood into power relations and has also revealed ways in which the domain of violence intersects with private lives. By focusing on two novels that exemplify this trend, this article demonstrates links between the political and the intimate. It also shows how Lusophone African authors contribute to healing social conflict through their narratives, and draws some conclusions about gender relations in the Lusophone African experience and across the continent.

Résumé: Au Mozambique et au Cap Vert, les écrits de femmes africaines en langue portugaise ont participé directement à la reconstruction politique en dénonçant l'oppression coloniale et en adoptant les principes de liberté nationale. Cet article aborde l'évolution historique récente des romans d'écrivaines africaines de langue portugaise, qui ont été essentiels pour introduire les domaines privés de la sexualité et de la maternité dans l'arène publique des relations de pouvoir, et pour révéler les

Introduction: From National Bodies to Intimate Worlds

Recent fiction by African women writing in Portuguese has introduced themes that demonstrate the interconnection of national identities and personal stories of marriage, sexuality, and madness. In this article we will discuss two novels, A Louca de Serrano (The Mad Woman of Serrano) by the Cape Verdean author Dina Salústio (1998) and Niketche: Urna historia de poligamia (Niketche: A Story of Polygamy) by the Mozambican novelist Paulina Chiziane (2002). These two novels indicate a new direction in Lusophone African fiction, though the authors build on a history of several decades of publications by African women that have addressed a range of political issues affecting women in the Portuguese-speaking nations of Africa. In the space we have available, we will focus on Cape Verde and Mozambique, two nations that share little beyond their common language and a history of Portuguese colonization.

African literature has been pivotal in addressing political dissent, exposing the legacy of colonialism, and challenging distorted Western images of the continent. By means of their writing, internationally recognized authors such as WoIe Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Ngügí wa Thiong'o have dismantled European blindness regarding Africa and "restored African dignity" to its people through the printed word (see Nnolim 2006). Likewise, acclaimed female African writers such as Mariama Ba, Buchi Emecheta, and Ama Ata Aidoo have narrated their political engagement without ignoring the bitterness of their private lives, exposing specific African conceptions of womanhood and describing women's negotiations of their multiple roles within and across shifting social boundaries. In their writings they have depicted the power dynamics of their societies and the intricacies of kinship, motherhood, and wifehood, all of which have been deeply politicized and destabilized in colonial and postcolonial ideologies.

African women's fiction has been pivotal in inscribing the intimate arena of sexuality and motherhood into power relations. In the past, African women were often absent from the world of print, leading scholars to cast them as "muted" or "silent" vis-à-vis a male-dominated discourse (Ardener 1975) . Silence, however, must be articulated with specific social, economic, and political structures that ensnare human suffering. Within such contexts, women are neither mute nor silent but are too often "unheard" (Farmer 1999:82). Similarly, women's purported silence is not necessarily indicative of passivity, but may be used strategically as a political weapon to withdraw from participation in a colonial or postcolonial rhetoric of subjugation. …

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