Gender and Colonialism in Chenjerai Hove's Bones

Rino Zhuwarara, Ph.D., Chair, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

This material originally appeared in Rino Zhuwarara, "Men and women in a colonial context: A discourse on gender and liberation in Chenjerai Hove's 1989 Noma award-winning novel -- Bones," Zambezia: The Journal of the University of Zimbabwe 21, No. i (1994): 4. Published by University of Zimbabwe Publications, P.O. Box MP 203, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Stated briefly, the novel is about Marita as a wife in a peasant community, as a labourer on a vast commercial farm, as a mother whose only son opts to fight for freedom, and, finally, as a woman whose experiences symbolize those human aspirations which revolve arbund the need for freedom and self-fulfilment. But the story is told fromthe point of view of Janifa, whose voice is only one of the many voices in this novel which register, in their varied and sometimes contradictory manner, responses by a defeated people desperate to adjust and survive in a harsh colonial world.

Bones has the distinction of being one of the first novels in Zimbabwean literature to focus on African reaction to colonialism from the point of view of gender. On the one hand are a group of African males anxious to be accommodated by the new colonial dispensation. On the other hand are Marita and one or two of her female disciples whose outlook and sensibilities clash with those of their male counterparts. Playing the historical role which Ayi Kwei Armah in Two Thousand Seasons has dubbed as that of the Askari is Chiriseri, 'the baas boy'. He is second-in-command to Manyepo and a loyalist, notorious for using language to humiliate and cow recalcitrant workers of the likes of Marita. lt is as if the original act of brutal conquest of the so-called native at the turn of the last century has to be sustained in a form characterized by a one-sided domineering discourse which systematically diminishes the self-esteem and confidence of Blacks. More significantly, Chiriseri's role has elements of what Frantz Fanon calls 'the collective auto-destruction'6 of the native in so far as the venom of the foreman is directed against his fellow victims. As such he is the colonlal version of the overseer associated with the slave plantation—a man whose job security depends on his ability to brutalize those under him:

You women over there, stop gossiping about the latest love potions and get on with your work. You were not brought here to share your gossip with baas Manyepo. He brought you here to work. lf you are too old to work, then say so and baas will get someone to take your place. Do not smile at me as if I am your husband. As for that woman with a terrorist for a son, she will one day feel the harshness of my arm, l tell you. You came here to look for work on your own and,if you think baas persuades anybody to keep you here, you are dreaming. Baas knows all the things you do which you think your terrorist son will help you with. lf you think you come here to fill the baas's forests with shit, then I tell you one day you will eat that shit yourself.7

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