Mukoma’s Marriage and other Stories by Emmanuel Sigauke (2004) Booklove, Gweru: Zimbabwe, ISBN: 9780797456600.+ Reviewed by Tanaka Chidora, Lecturer Dpt of English, University of Zimbabwe
Emmanuel Sigauke’s 2014 collection of short stories is still hot from the oven. I have to admit that my first bite provoked more bites until I could not just put it down.
The most striking feature of this collection is the narrator. He may not be an entirely new feature on the Zimbabwean literary scape, going back as far as Mungoshi’s Coming of the Dry Season (1972). While Mungoshi’s narrator is the brooding type (my erstwhile favourite), Sigauke’s narrator is the witty, paradoxical kind, paradoxical because much as you may want to believe in his childlike innocence, his eye for the finest details betrays that innocence.
He is precociously observant in a way that reminds me too of Naipaul’s narrator in Miguel Street. For instance, while running away from Mukoma’s disciplinary action, the narrator is not too hurried to fail to give his readers an inventory of the features of Mhototi, his village: “I shot out of the hut and ran towards Chigorira Hill, past Chimombe’s donkey, past old man Bhunga’s graveyard, jumped over graves, past the big rock behind which we relieved ourselves every morning…”.
In one sentence in which the primary purpose is to tell us of his fear of Mukoma’s whip (or fists, sometimes), the narrator tells us that they do not have a pit latrine (or Blair toilet) and one can imagine what it is like behind that rock. Sounds familiar?
In fact, Mukoma’s Marriage and Other Stories will not fail to resurrect memories of life in the village – the numerous school fights and grown-up people fights and the village bullies and gangsters, mukoma’s disciplinary regime and manhood tests (those inevitably include a fight with Simba, the strong primary school bully), the daring provocation of the ire of bees (nyuchi dzegonera), the first tentative stirrings of manhood which only need a sex-hungry Amaiguru to provoke, the church gatherings that bear promises of girls with suggestive chests, or a schoolboy’s acute awareness of the presence of the female teacher! Sigauke’s narrator offers you these familiar memories in an unfamiliar way that will not fail to make you smile or even laugh uproariously on your own at the expense of being thought crazy.
Pervading the stories like the spirit of a recalcitrant ghost is Mukoma. The most memorable aspects of Mukoma are his wives and the fights. One would have expected the collection to be entitled Mukoma’s Marriages and other Stories because the marriages are so many that sometimes one loses track of which wife the narrator is talking about.
And then the fights! The fights are so numerous and violent that one would expect Mukoma to be dead by the time the stories end. Somehow, Mukoma reminds me of our brothers back in the days. They would nurture in us the belief that a real man does not fear. A real man fights and does not wet his shorts at the mere suggestion of a challenge. A real man does not run away when his mother’s ‘breasts’ are kicked by an opponent in an extravagant show of bravery.
The character of Mukoma is not new to Zimbabwean literature. The most memorable ‘mukoma’ (brother) character is Marechera’s Peter in The House of Hunger who loves his young brother, whom he calls ‘book shit,’ in a brutal manner as if the colonial experience has taught him that only brutal expressions of delicate emotions are the way to go.
But no mukoma character in Zimbabwean literature has ever been as relentless as Sigauke’s Mukoma. From the beginning of the each story to the end, Mukoma is not altered by events; he alters them. His love for the narrator is like an electric tug between brutality and affection. And reading the mind of the narrator concerning Mukoma is a challenge. Does he love Mukoma? Does he fear him? Even readers are left with serious uncertainty concerning Mukoma because one rarely knows what it is that will make Mukoma angry – sneezing while he is busy reading his magazines, or glancing at a picture on one of his magazines, or spraining your ankle, or not supporting him in one of his numerous fights or even supporting him!
What is it that produced such a character?
Is it South Africa and its notorious Wenera? Is it colonial Rhodesia and all its brutalities? What is it that Mukoma is fighting? He seems to be fighting with everything and everybody. He fights to get possessed by an ancestral spirit; he fights not to get possessed; he fights with the war veterans; raising his young brother is a war for him; he fights with some of his wives; he fights with his lodger; he fight in the village; he fights in the city…he fights all the time.
Talking of the city, the narrator suddenly comes to town and he is in Form Four. Any narrator who shifts from the village to town is usually expected to narrate the shock of his first urban experiences, the shock of the transition from country dawns to city lights. But not this narrator. He just naturally narrates his urban experiences as if he was born in the city. Instead, he chooses to take us on a journey of Mukoma’s marrying patterns which, ironically, do not vary. Maybe the only variation is when he ‘marries’ a landlady. Otherwise, many of his wives are the kind you would find at Kubatana Beer Garden any time any day. In all these marriages, Mukoma says the first and the last word. Even when he asks for the narrator’s opinion concerning his choices, the only opinion the narrator can give is support.
It is very attractive for many Zimbabwean writers whose stories are set in the 70s to devote themselves to the war. of liberation. In this collection, that war is like a shadow that flittingly passes by. In fact, while the war is raging on, Mukoma is fighting his own kind of war. Even after the war, he fights with those who have been to the war! Those who have been to war hate Mukoma for enjoying the fruits of the independence yet he never fought for it. Concerning the fruits of independence, our very clever narrator is quick to point out that they included “two droughts so far and, therefore, government or donor-grain handouts to the village…”
I have a feeling that this kind of narrator has not been properly exploited in Zimbabwean literature. The narrator’s unusual humour, his calmness and his inimitable love for digressions make Sigauke’s collection worthy one’s money and time. I cannot wait to hear what readers will say concerning this collection, especially the womenfolk. This is the story of Fati, the narrator, and his half-brother, Mukoma, and Mukoma’s women. The women are an interesting lot. They keep coming. They keep making babies for Mukoma. Most interestingly, they keep getting fed up and going and before you blink twice more women come to take their places. I know this aspect of the collection is going to attract the interest of a certain section of readers.
Sometimes, it is vain to explain how good something is when the best one can do is to let the good speak for itself. I therefore find it prudent to conclude with a generous quotation from the collection:
‘By the time Brutus stabbed me, Mukoma had already left to fight with the Mhere boys. Earlier in the morning, at home, he had told me that he just wanted to come and hear my English, and to see if I had the right gestures for it, adding that he was not interested in the prize-winning ceremony that would follow the big performance, nor did he care about meeting with my teachers to discuss my progress. I don’t think when he left I had finished dying because even before Mark Anthony arrived at the scene, Half the audience had left the play and gone to watch Mukoma’s fight. Miss Mukaro, the teacher who had directed the performance, came to where I lay dead and whispered, “Caesar, your big brother.” I sprang up and looked where Mukoma had been standing and saw that he was gone.’
Zimbabwean writer, editor and poet Emmanuel Sigauke is currently Professor of English at Cosumnes College (in Sacramento California). He was born in Mazvihwa in the southern part of Zimbabwe.