The Political Characterization of Murume

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): 7-8. Published by University of Zimbabwe Publications, P.O. Box MP 203, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Lower down the social scale than Chisaga is Murume, who, as his generic name implies, represents the plight of the ordinary male worker on the farm. Murume is painfully conscious of the countless insults and innumerable moments of humiliation which he has endured together with his long- suffering wife. His position is further weakened by the fact that he does not have children who will succeed him as labourers on the farm— especially when his only son has left to join the freedom fighters who are a threat to Manyepo's life and interests. Consequently, Murume is tolerated rather than accepted by Manyepo. In addition, Murume has the misfortune of being married to a defiant woman whose speeches about Manyepo's ill treatment of workers cannot be silenced. Ironicaily, instead of taking the side of his wife in opposition to Manyepo, Murume is, like Chiriseri and Chisaga, anxious not to offend the ail-powerful master. Rather, he is keen to cling to what he perceives as one of men's privileges over their spouses. 'A man with a beard must control his wife', he repeats the traditionai but outdated saying, thus unwittingly underlinlng his own impotence. Murume perceives his role as that of a labourer who has to keep hls irrepresslble wife on a leash so that Manyepo's work is done without disruption. Interesting to observe in regard to Murume's role is how the traditionai patriarchal ideology in which a woman's position is naturally subordinate to that of a man is insisted upon, not for the benefit and cohesion of the African family but for the profit which Manyepo stands to gain from the sweat of Marita and other labourers. Furthermore, even the understandable desire by Marita and Murume to have more children, as tradition demands, would end up creating more youthful and therefore stronger labourers for Manyepo. What one sees here is a situation in which colonial capitalism stands to gain from the very traditions, practices and beliefs of the indigenous people. What Murume's role reveais here is a much more complex and larger process pertaining to how colonialists harnessed the indigenous social structures and practices for the accumulation of capital. In a chapter entitled 'Gender, ideology, economics and the sociai control of African women', Elizabeth Schmidt writes:

By forcing women to submit to male authority, the colonial regime both advanced its own project and mollified a potentially powerful opposition force—that of chiefs, headmen, and other senior men. Thus the origins of female subordination in Southern Rhodesia were not solely the result of policies imposed by foreign capital and the colonial state. Rather, indigenous and European structures of patriarchal control reinforced and transformed one another, evolving into new structures and forms of domlnation.9

The difference, of course, in Murume's case is that he is too weak to im'pose his full authority on Marita because colonialism has removed his material base (land) and thrown him into a wage economy which exploits him.

Compounding Murume's dilemma is that he is a vacillating character whose reverence for Manyepo borders on fear. Part of his problem is the belief that the misfortunes of his family are the result of an ancestral curse or evil spirit, hence his refrain about 'shadows'. He laments ineffectually: 'Too many shadows in our life. lt started long back Marita.' In a way, Hove, like Mungoshi in Waiting for the Rain, underlines the mysticism which often has the unintended effect of obscuring the perception of those seeking to understand historical forces which impinge negatively upon their lives. Murume's dilemma, like that of any worker, is rooted in the history of conquest and, as such, is economic and political in origin rather than spiritual perse. Unfortunately Murume's belief in mysticism amounts to an aiibi for doing nothing about his family's plight—more so when his budding critical consciousness is imprisoned by that mysticism. In Murume, Hove has portrayed a figure of pathos notable for his timidity and vulnerability—a man whose name is a mockery of his manhood, and a source of endless embarrassment.

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