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Introduction: Author | Albertina | Rosalina | Valentina

Rosalina Malungana


Rosalina MalunganaRosalina Malungana was my other close neighbor in Facazisse. Like Juliana Kwinika, she devoted generous amounts of her time to my education in local culture, language, and history. Unlike Juliana, however, Rosalina was firmly convinced of the value of her knowledge of the past, and in our first few weeks together she missed no opportunity to remind me that she had fascinating stories to tell—when, that is, she could fit storytelling into her busy schedule. Awake every morning before dawn to kindle a fire for what she called, in Portuguese, her "breakfast" (a routine that on its own marked her as a person with an educated, urban past), Rosalina would, after eating, set off immediately down the path to her fields, teetering under the weight of the hoe slung over one shoulder.
audio Rosalina Malungana
Audio Interview
She never returned home until dusk, long after women half her age had left off farming for the day; and she rarely arrived without an additional burden of some kind: firewood, manioc dug from the soil of her late mother's homestead, an interesting insect to show her new mulungu neighbor. As Rosalina and I were getting to know each other, there were three observations she was fond of repeating about me: first, that I reminded her of Miss Randin, her favorite teacher at the Swiss Mission girls' school in Lourenço Marques, which she attended from 1928 to 1932; second, that my mother must have "beaten" me a lot when I was young, since (like Rosalina) I was "not afraid of hard work"; and third, that John's quiet disposition reminded her of her own late "husband," a Portuguese truck driver named Agosto Capela.

Rosalina's comments were overtures to me, but they also revealed the principal motifs of a life she was determined to narrate, for reasons I initially attributed to her discomfort with her postwar status as a ward of the Antioka church. Alongside these nostalgic stories, though, Rosalina expressed a more embittered set of memories, beginning literally in our first conversation. These memories centered on the failure of her late brother's wife, another Facazisse resident, to ensure that her five grown children lent support to their childless aunt in her old age, a duty that should have been rendered in recognition of all that Rosalina had done to help with their upbringing during her years as a market woman in the colonial capital, Lourenço Marques. "I am all alone in the world," Rosalina repeatedly told me during our first weeks as neighbors. "Only God helps me now"—God and her faith in a lesson she had learned from her mother: that a woman's only guarantee against suffering was to "seize" her hoe, her one independent means of survival. Wanting, that is, to depict herself as someone whose experiences paralleled what she imagined of mine (education, a correct upbringing, marriage to a good man), Rosalina also felt compelled to explain why—through no failing of her own—her life had not turned out as she had intended.

Rosalina was born in 1914 into a prominent Swiss Mission-connected family in rural Guijá. One of the very few older women I met who knew and made a point of remembering the year of her birth, Rosalina in her life stories stressed her unique relationship to history in a variety of ways, many of them contradictory. She took just as much pleasure in recounting the exploits of her maternal grandfather, one of "Ngungunyana's heroes," as in reminiscing about her earliest interactions with Portuguese colonial society. She spoke proudly of her paternal family's long association with Swiss missionaries but narrated in animated detail the strategies she used to defy the strict Christian discipline of her uncle, Dane Malungana, a mufundhisi (pastor) for the Swiss Mission in whose household she lived after her father's death in 1920. Even her defiance took apparently contradictory forms. She secretly performed the female adolescent rite of kukoka mitsingi (to pull [i.e., stretch, elongate] the labia majora), which her non-Christian mother and aunts insisted she undergo, despite the risk of a beating from her uncle, but she also accepted the romantic overtures of Portuguese and mestiço men during her years as a student in Lourenço Marques.

It was during this time that Rosalina met Agosto, with whom she had her first and most serious intimate relationship. Neither colonial law nor her uncle would permit the couple to marry formally. Rosalina described Agosto as her only nuna (husband), recalling him as an ideal mate for reasons that drew on both Christian and Shangaan cultural norms: He was an "Adam" to her "Eve," because he was kind and never beat her, and he was a model mukon'wana (son-in-law) because he always visited and helped Rosalina's maternal kin. After Agosto's sudden death from illness in 1940, Rosalina followed her mother's advice (and example) by refusing to commit herself permanently to another man, who might not treat her as well as her first husband. Unlike her mother, though, she did periodically enter other relationships—all of them with Portuguese men— because, she recalls, they helped her to obtain housing, nice clothing, an urban network of family and friends, and the latitude to pursue economic activities of her choice. These relationships also enabled her to forge a rather eclectic repertoire of spiritual resources combining Christianity, divination, spirit mediumship, dream interpretation, and a Portuguese dice-throwing game called Napoleon Bonaparte. 1

Despite these apparent contradictions, the cast of selves presented in Rosalina's life stories fit seamlessly and unproblematically together. As Rosalina told me more and more about her life, her initial lament about being "alone in the world" was gradually eclipsed by a quite different refrain: that she had always done exactly "what [her] heart wanted" and that, all in all, she had led a relatively "lucky" life. Indeed, as Rosalina's neighbor I was able to witness the complex web of relational networks in which she was embedded. Rarely "alone" at all, she had a steady stream of visitors arriving at her doorstep—relatives who stopped by simply to pay their respects and women of all ages from Facazisse and the surrounding area who were engaged in (or sought) an arrangement of mutual assistance with her, usually justified in terms of some kind of real or fictive kinship. A single mother who helped Rosalina on her fields in exchange for a portion of the crop, for instance, was the granddaughter of the sister of the wife of Rosalina's uncle Dane's son. Rosalina and Nestacia Another young girl who lived with Rosalina for a while, chipping in where she could with domestic and farm work, was a great-granddaughter of a brother of Rosalina's mother. Rosalina also did a fair amount of visiting herself when she could scrape up money for transport, riding by train or truck to Chokwe, Chibuto, and Maputo to spend time, and revive connections, with far-flung members of her extended family, including people she knew from her years living on the racially mixed margins of colonial towns.

Yet for all Rosalina's skill at juggling these dispersed pockets of kinfolk, it was evident when I knew her that her life choices had come at a certain cost. She had to struggle harder than other women her age to maintain support networks in Facazisse, where she moved in the early 1970s to look after her ailing mother. And her status as childless and never officially married encouraged some of her neighbors to refer to her as a gelegele (prostitute) or a noyi (witch), most predictably when her diligence with her hoe paid off in abundant harvests. In some ways, the fact that Rosalina and I were so often seen together, and that I spent more time interviewing her than anyone else, only fuelled the resentment of detractors whose criticism focused on her xilungu pretensions. Rosalina responded to this grumbling by becoming more determined than ever that she would be the one to tell me the truth about her life, "because there are people here who might tell you lies about me, and if you want to know the truth you must hear it from my mouth." 2 As these words suggest, life-storytelling was a practice Rosalina self-consciously engaged in, not solely with me but with anyone who might challenge her authority to define the meaning of her past.

Introduction: Author | Albertina | Rosalina | Valentina


Note 1: Rosalina's account of her experiences with interracial relationships are discussed in Heidi Gengenbach, "'What My Heart Wanted': Gendered Stories of Early Colonial Encounters in Southern Mozambique," in Women in African Colonial Histories, ed. Jean Allman, Susan Geiger, and Nakanyike Musisi (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002).  Back.

Note 2: Interview with Rosalina Malungana, 22 October 1995, Facazisse. For a deeply self-reflexive study of a similarly motivated life-history subject in Mexico, see Ruth Behar, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993).  Back.


Binding Memories: Women as Makers and Tellers of History in Magude, Mozambique