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Based on a True Story: Conclusion: "Ah, Long Ago, It Had a Story!"


Thonga kraalIn response to my request for their life stories, the "old women" of Magude offered me stories about "life"—their own, and anyone else's they could recall at the time—and endless skeins of talk contrasting the glorious ways of "long ago" with the deplorable shortcomings of "now." One might be tempted to dismiss many of these stories, with their layers of homely detail and bewildering (for an outsider) casts of characters and jumbles of everyday events, as having no real historical value, because in form and content they seem like gossip, old wives' tales, or the narrowly personal memories of aging peasant women unhappy about the disappearance of an outdated way of life. Yet this response would, first, ignore the lode of information that women's stories deliberately carry forward from the past: Valentina's mission memories from the 1910s, Albertina's corn prices from the 1920s, Rosalina's tales of interracial romantic intrigue from the 1930s—details that often challenge core assumptions of previous historical scholarship or that furnish rare glimpses of the interior worlds of agrarian southern Mozambique.

Dismissing women's life stories would also prevent us from hearing the metathemes that emerge when we listen to these stories at length, and from appreciating the gendered historical imagination that produces them. In particular, it would deafen us to the most insistent claim that arises from the combined life stories of Valentina, Albertina, Rosalina, and their peers: that vutomi (life), or mahanyelo (way of life), has changed significantly, as they see it, only fairly recently, not with the advent of such well-researched disruptions as labor migration and Portuguese colonial rule and never so utterly that the fabric of women's memories, though damaged, is beyond their repair. While in many ways the histories told by Valentina, Albertina, and Rosalina stand apart when placed in the context of the larger collection of stories we recorded in Magude, in other respects they perfectly echo those of the larger group. The differences, to return to the quote from Anne Michaels's novel, lie in the details, for the "assumption" these women live by, the notion of history that underpins their life-storytelling, is very much the same.

The stories Magude's elderly women told of their grandmothers—like the stories told here about N'waXavela Mazive, Fahlaza Dzumbeni, and Kondissa Khosa—establish a firm baseline for the narratives the storytellers construct of their own lives. Grandmother stories focus principally on marriage yet rarely on the relationship between a wife and her husband. N'waXavela, Fahlaza, and Kondissa are remembered through their marital status—as nhlantswa (sister/co-wife), captive wife among Chopi women, and "queenly" first wife, respectively—and the nature of their interactions with co-wives is assigned central importance, whether they figure as a proud "slave" refusing to assimilate to the culture of her captors (Fahlaza) or as a powerful nkosikazi (chief wife) commanding the labor of younger women (Kondissa). Other women similarly made a point of emphasizing a grandmother's position as one of "many wives" ("Long ago," we frequently heard, "they really marry a lot!") and tended like Rosalina to dwell on the prevalence of nhlantswa marriage in particular and on the advantages it held for women. Yet if polygyny provides a crucial nexus for grandmothers' remembered identities, so does the bond between a woman and her natal kin. To Valentina, N'waXavela is heroic because she leaves her vukatini to raise the orphaned grandchildren of her sister; Albertina credits Fahlaza's escapes from suffering—potential (if she had married Mavavaze) and real (as a Chopi slave-wife)—to the intervention of her kinfolk, acts that in the story are rewarded by Fahlaza's repudiation of her Chopi husband and her scornful mimicry of Chopi ways once she is safely back home.

Women from the district's border areas were especially keen to pass on stories of grandmothers who, born in the Transvaal, married into Magude but continued to maintain close ties with their families through visiting. Cufassane Munisse, for instance, described how her maternal grandmother traveled regularly on foot between Macaene and tinthaveni (in the hills—i.e., Lebombo Mountains), along with other women she met at her marital home. 1 Within minutes of the beginning of our first interview with Marta Mabunda, she astonished Ruti and me by recounting the harrowing story of how her paternal grandfather's sister, Maqiviso, left her husband's home in Muqakaze—with "shield and spear" in hand, and only a young woman (to carry her baby) for company—to track down her missing brother, walking past "flowing blood" and piles of corpses whose faces she "pushed through" one by one until she finally gave him up for lost and returned home. 2

The narrative value attached to a woman's loyalty to blood kin was also expressed through memories of grandmothers' fierce devotion to their own children: Albertina's vivid story of how Fahlaza sacrificed herself to save her husband and child from Chopi soldiers; the descriptive tag Lili Xivuri habitually attached to the mention of her maternal grandmother, who (like so many others) fled Hlengwini as a refugee from Nguni violence—"She runs, she runs, she runs with her children." 3 In the same way, grandmothers of Ndau, Hlengwe, or Chopi origin who married into the Magude area in the late nineteenth century were paid admiring tribute for hanging onto the lifeways of their own people long after being driven (or captured) from their homeland. Valentina repeated many stories (not included here) told to her by N'waXavela about the diet, farming practices, and hunting rituals of the VaHlengwe; Lucia Ntumbo often commemorated her Ndau maternal grandmother's practice of preparing old-style vuswa (from pounded rather than ground corn) for ceremonial offerings to appease N'waGwidimira's restless spirit and of wearing a strip of Ndau palu cloth around her waist, thereby demonstrating her refusal to adopt Shangaan eating habits and styles of dress. 4

European and Asian characters are conspicuously absent from women's grandmother stories, although valungu missionaries, explorers, hunters, merchants, and would-be colonizers were certainly moving into the areas traversed by interviewees' grandmothers at that time. To an extent, this silence is consistent with the apparent irrelevance of the world of men's politics (African or European) to women's lives in general, a silence manifested, for instance, in storytellers' professions of ignorance when asked for information about the wars that made refugees, slaves, or heroes of their grandparents. Such women as N'waXavela, Fahlaza, and Kondissa, according to the stories, focused on holding their families and households together while men went off to do their business as chiefs or soldiers; the women were unconcerned with things they could not "see" until events in men's world happened to obtrude on the field of everyday domestic life.

Yet the way in which European actors, xilungu influences, and masculine politics begin to creep into stories women tell about their mothers suggests an alternative explanation. Valentina's bitter tale of how N'waMbokhoda let her younger sister burn to death says nothing explicit about political context; however, this incident, which took place around 1910, was sparked by the return of Valentina's father to Hlengwini in response to a call to assume the chieftaincy—an event that must have had something to do with the struggling colonial administration in what was then Gaza military district. N'waMbokhoda's crime was doubly reprehensible, then, because in wanting to go home with Xihlehlwana she was allowing colonial politics to interfere with her duty as surrogate mother to her brother's child. Although Rosalina's stories of her mother, Anina, and her uncle's wife, Tavasse, are set somewhat later (1926 and 1938, respectively), they convey a similar view of the gendered meanings of colonial institutions and powers. Anina reluctantly follows the advice of her minister/brother-in-law and chooses an admirer to cleanse the tindzhaka of her late husband; but according to the story, she is the one to set the terms of this relationship. She balks at first, then gives in, but later rejects Musoni when she learns that her name has been sullied by the "jealous" gossip of his wives. Ultimately, she stands behind the mufundhisi, relying on him for protection—because she knows that his Swiss Mission connections insulate her from harm—while at the same time holding him responsible for the unpleasant outcome of the relationship. At the story's end, Anina is firmly retrenched in Dane's household, surrounded by her children and her fellow-widow sisters-in-law.

The story of Patapata and his unfaithful wife, on the other hand, highlights the escalation of Tavasse's marital crimes from troublemaking among her co-wives through lying to children and sexually betraying her crippled husband. Yet what Rosalina's narrative condemns most harshly is that Tavasse had her extramarital relationship with the régulo, and it is clear that Rosalina still holds Patapata's profitable connections with valungu at least partly responsible for his tragic end. Taken together, these stories tell us that involvement with official forms of colonial/xilungu power exposed families, marriages, and domestic communities to mortal peril, such that women (responsible for these domains of social life) were better off keeping their distance from them wherever possible. Yet a clever woman could take advantage of these new sources of power (by accepting, for example, the dubious support of an authoritarian brother-in-law) if her objectives were consistent with normative feminine responsibilities—in Anina's case, protecting her own and her children's health.

Other women, especially those who grew up in areas more removed from European influence than were the Limpopo River towns where Rosalina's early memories are set, recalled their mothers in stories that, devoid of reference to the colonial presence altogether, were anchored firmly in agrarian culture and economy. In Misse Xivuri's favorite narrative of her mother's life, for instance, she describes how Mbetasse Ngumbane grew up as the youngest of five daughters in Messa (northern Magude) and how, when she became pregnant with Misse, her parents asked for lovolo from the father-to-be in cash rather than cattle "because they already had too many cows" and wanted to hire a boy to look after them. 5 Lise Nsumbane recounted how when her mother, N'waFunana Muhlanga, was young she left drought-stricken Macia with a group of other women to trade clay pots for "food for her family" and ended up settling down in Facazisse, in a homestead that was looking for casual field labor—the homestead where she "found" and was courted by Lise's father. 6 Jane Mundlovu and Teasse Xivuri, both from western Mapulanguene, spent hours detailing for us how their mothers taught them the necessary knowledge of farming: proper hoeing technique, methods of intercropping, the agronomic requirements of various grains, and the physical properties of Magude's wide range of soils. 7

In other stories (not included here) that Rosalina told about her mother, Anina similarly appears as a hard-working farmer and shrewd domestic manager whose agricultural success rests on mutual-aid arrangements (kupfunana, "to help each other") with other women. Different kinds of field-labor exchanges among women were, in fact, prominent in the memories most older interviewees had of their mothers and of their own childhood, with the competitive pressure to prove one's individual "strength" in bountiful harvests—so that each woman or girl with her own fields would fill her personal granary and thus be able to contribute to the family food supply—was balanced against equally powerful incentives for cooperation across homesteads to accommodate sensitive cropping schedules, environmental uncertainties, and the philosophy that "everyone has to eat."

All interviewees, however, when asked about their girlhood, gave as much weight to memories of kutlanga (play) as to work. Playing, an activity always centered in a spatially and age-defined network of "fellow girls," included "pulling mitsingi" out in the woods, dancing at the xitikini, and listening to older women tell stories around the fire at night. Mitsingi—and, in particular, the "Mahuke!" challenges through which girls competed (and sometimes fought) for seniority and respect among their fellows—were not only a treasured memory. They were also the subject most interviewees first associated with "long ago," focusing their stories on the secret nature of the practice, the mystical importance of knowing "medicines" to help lengthen mitsingi, and their constant struggle to elude the prying eyes of boys and Christian authority figures who called this activity "heathens' work." Yet church pressure, as Rosalina's story makes clear, was rarely sufficient to persuade girls to ignore the counsel of their female elders. Indeed, as many women explained, the more secret a girl's mitsingi-pulling, the more respectfully (in women's eyes) she was behaving.

The greater success of the Swiss Mission's equally firm prohibition against dancing is reflected in its virtual absence from Rosalina's and Valentina's girlhood stories. For Albertina, however, as for the vast majority of interviewees, dance held at least as central a place in the memory as did mitsingi narratives, for it was during afternoons and evenings spent at the xitikini that girls performed dances and paraded costumes passed on to them from their mothers, that competitions between groups of girls and boys from different maganga (subdistricts) or matiko (chiefdoms) not only established another set of rankings but provided opportunities for courtship and sexual conquest, and that young people commented through song on events and personalities in the adult world around them. Out in the countryside, farther from the "news" of town and mission station, these songs typically addressed such issues as marital conflict, witchcraft, and locusts, famine, or other agrarian crises. Albertina's song about women carrying vukanyi to "Pareji," and a song Valentina sang for us about the First World War—remembered as the "war of the maJeriman" and the "war of the mundzuruka" 8—illustrate how the colonial world impinged on girls' perceptions of community life. But again, what women highlighted in their stories was not interest in colonial matters but how girls of different places came together to play, assess one another, jockey for boys' attention, and prove that at traditional feminine skills they were as skillful as their contemporaries and their foremothers alike.

In a similar manner, through their stories of work, schooling, trade, and travel in their youth, women asserted that even as some of the features of the political and economic landscape were changing—as Banyans traders provided new markets for cultivated and gathered products, as mission and state schools sought to wrest education from mothers and grandmothers, as the church battled the "immorality" of kugangisa by taking courtship out of girls' (and to a lesser extent, boys') hands, and as new means of transport and new schedules (e.g., of school holidays) altered, for some, the conditions of visiting kin—the basic underpinning and orientation of women's lives remained much the same. Even Rosalina and Valentina, far more immersed than most of the other interviewees in the puritanical Christianity of Swiss Mission schooling, repeatedly cited ntamu (strength) and xichavo (respect) as the twin pillars of their girlhood education, like other women understanding these concepts principally in the terms taught to them by their mothers and grandmothers.

For them, as for the others, "strength" meant not simply the ability to work hard but also dedication to farming, the drive to achieve an independent means of survival through food production. "Respect," in turn, meant not merely obedience to elders and men but perhaps even more importantly deference to laws that masungukati taught girls about proper comportment during menstruation and courtship, what men expected and desired from sexual intercourse, and the ways to win a mother-in-law's approval and devotion. In these stories, women's feelings about European schooling, Portuguese Catholic mission schools above all, range from indifference through ambivalence to fear and adamant opposition: Albertina's story of her grandmother's refusal to let the priest "seize" her for school (because learning xilungu ways, she believed, would make her granddaughter lazy) is in fact a relatively mild response for this period, with a far greater number of women recalling their mothers or grandmothers telling them they would kuxanga (go crazy) 9 and become magelegele (prostitutes) if they so much as set foot in a xilungu school. As Elena Khosa recalled of her childhood in Xihlahla, directly across the Nkomati River from the Catholic São Jeronímo Mission school:

E: Long ago, we fled, truly! [laughs] We refused, because they want to kill us, the whites! It wasn't wanted! School, it wasn't wanted, when we were small. We stayed in the woods, we were afraid of school. Boys went around looking for children, they seize them, to go to school. . . . My mother, my grandmother, they helped us to hide, because they say, "If you study, you'll become prostitutes."
H: Why did they say that?
E: They'll steal your daughter, [girls] were stolen by whites at the school, they go away with them. Well, the parents, when they hear about this problem, so-and-so was stolen, because of school, well they don't want it, because they won't eat the cattle [i.e., receive bridewealth for her]. 10

If mitsingi tales expressed women's most exuberant memories of girlhood, stories of women's early interactions with valungu (usually Banyan) merchants were the ones that took me most by surprise. Yet across Magude district, virtually every woman we interviewed told some version of Valentina's and Albertina's "tea and sugar" story, varying significantly only among women who grew up in the western and northern reaches of Mapulanguene, Phadjane, and northern Moamba district. There, girls' first exposure to the colonial economy involved not shopkeepers but European commercial ranchers or their managers and hired hands, whom women, unlike men, 11 generally remembered as "good people" who built roads and wells, let women draw water from their pumps, erected fences to keep cattle from bothering their crops, drank byala with their African neighbors, and often courted or "married" local girls with the help of older women acting as go-betweens. 12

It was about Banyan merchants, though, that Magude's elderly women spoke in the most uniformly glowing terms. Interviewees not only stressed the "mercy" and "kindness" these men (and sometimes their wives, sisters, and daughters) showed by "helping" them, but also celebrated the ways in which a trip to the shop was like "visiting relatives," complete with warm greetings, offerings of food, and expressions of concern for the well-being of family members at home. Fully aware that merchants were trying to lure and cement loyalty with customers, women nonetheless recalled these commercial relationships in much the same manner as they narrated their visiting/traveling memories with true kin—except at occasional moments when, as in Albertina's description of traipsing from shop to shop for free sugar, women enjoyed a private laugh at the merchants' expense. The role of merchants (and sometimes colonial administrators) as sources of assistance in women's struggle to keep their communities fed was memorialized as well in the naming of famines (sing. ndlala) after the mulungu whose help made it possible for rural families to survive—for example, ndlala ya Luis (for the only shopkeeper selling foodstuffs near Phadjane during a famine in the 1920s), 13 ndlala ya mucholoza (for the white man who butchered his starving cattle to distribute meat to hungry farmers), 14 and ndlala ya rhale (after the administrator who, women claimed, drove to Gaza province to buy rhale [manioc flour] to distribute in Magude during a famine in the mid-1940s). 15

Every interviewee had a courtship story, and most of these narratives were quite different from the three presented in this chapter. Only Albertina's narrative resembles, in its bare outlines, what women across Magude described as the traditional method of procuring a husband. Although many of the women interviewed had had their marriages formalized at the colonial civil registry, while perhaps a dozen had been married in a Protestant or Catholic mission church, the vast majority remembered this episode in their lives through stories that contained very few references to authorities or formal institutions of any kind. Like Albertina, whether they grew up in or near town or deep in the countryside, most women remembered finding their husband at the dance ground. Sometimes the young man (often a visitor from another area, traveling "to look for girls") approached his wife-to-be directly; sometimes he asked one of her girlfriends to do the courting for him; sometimes both he and she had "assistants" (sing. ndhuna 16) who negotiated his proposal and the young woman's strategically coy response. Once she had formally "accepted" the young man, it was usually understood that a sexual relationship would ensue. Although some interviewees skirted this issue, others joked about a practice known as kuduva, which involved young lovers secretly spending the night together—again, often with the covert assistance of one or both tindhuna. Next, the young man presented the kuqoma offering to the young woman's parents, and then negotiation of lovolo between the two families ensued, a topic most women (like Albertina) seemed to enjoy discussing in detail.

Two other activities loomed even larger in women's courting stories. The first, the giving of kulaya (laws) to the prospective bride by masungukati, occurred just before she left her parents' home and involved elaborate instructions about sexual conduct and hygiene and warnings about how she should expect to be treated (and tested) by masungukati in her affinal community. The second was a practice known as kukorhoka, in which a group of girlfriends and sisters of the bride accompanied her on the day she moved, with great fanfare and greater sadness, from her parents' home to her vukatini. These girls then stayed on for several days or weeks to work for the girl's new mother-in-law and help the young bride get used to life and labor at her marital home.

The protracted process of traditional marriage, including the day of the lovolo-giving ceremony itself (which women described principally as a time of dancing, eating, and presenting gifts to the new couple), furnished such pleasurable memories to the women we interviewed that I was taken aback when Valentina—so proud of her "tall" evangelist husband—fought every step of the way when Aida and I asked her to describe her courtship and church wedding. Looking back, and against the narrative backdrop of other women's courting stories, Valentina's reticence makes perfect sense, for in its battle to eliminate the sin of kugangisa, the Swiss Mission church took most aspects of courtship out of a girl's hands and transformed it into a male affair to be decided between the prospective groom, the schoolteacher who served as go-between, church elders, and the girl's father or other male guardian. This story was the only time I heard Valentina portray herself so passively; and in this respect Rosalina's long narrative of covert courting among church youth, her own long list of suitors, and girls' struggle—often backed, as hers was, by non-Christian female kin—to accept only a man who "pleased" them reflects a typical pattern in narratives of church-orchestrated unions. European missionaries, Swiss or Portuguese, and their male African evangelists could redefine courtship and marriage to their hearts' content and usurp positions of authority once occupied by girls and women, but most interviewees remember this critical moment of their lives as one in which they still, collectively, called the most important shots.

This view of marriage was carried to the furthest extreme in the more self-consciously traditional courtship stories, such as the one in which Cufassane Munisse recounted how the much older senior wife of her husband was the one to "find" and give lovolo for her—with this woman's own cattle, bought with corn from her fields—because she wanted a younger woman for extra help with child care and fieldwork. 17 Lili Xivuri described the elaborate maneuvering through which her girlhood friend from Tlhongana, married to a man from Moamba district who was planning to move his household to his new place of employment in Komatiport (South Africa), returned to Phadjane to court Lili for her husband's friend so that they could move as vakati kulorhi (fellow wives) across the border. 18 But the representation of feminine negotiating as central to women's marriage decisions was not restricted to traditional settings. Four Facazisse women in their sixties, all from the same Swiss Mission congregation near Manhiça (on the coast) and all somehow related to one another, separately explained how they managed to "marry together" after a long period of strategizing and clandestine romance—carried out during monthly visits between mission youth groups—with four "boys" from the Antioka church.

Women's life stories changed fairly dramatically once they left their youth behind. In narratives of girlhood experiences, storytellers were woven tightly into cohorts of "fellow girls" on the one hand and female-kinship hierarchies on the other, both kinds of association being rooted in a secure sense of belonging to a known physical and social landscape. Marriage wrenched girls from a familiar place and thrust them into a new and vulnerable status as young wife, under the watchful supervision of a mother-in-law and with much weightier expectations related to work, "respect," and motherhood. As a result, it also required them to build new affective networks from scratch among fellow wives (i.e., women they met in the area of their vukatini), female in-laws who lived in the area and to whom they were introduced by the other women in their husband's household, and consanguineal relatives they went to great effort to seek out themselves. In women's recollections, the early years of marriage were typically quite painful; indeed, we had considerable difficulty persuading many interviewees to say anything at all about their years as wives beyond "I farmed, I cooked, I hauled water, I gave birth. . . ." Perhaps the most poignant statement we heard on this subject was Lucia Ntumbo's comment, offered quite cheerfully, that "when I got to my vukatini there was no more dancing." 19 More than once an interviewee simply fell quiet when the topic of married life was introduced. In other cases, a woman would start out reminiscing enthusiastically about what a hard-working, obedient, well-appreciated wife she had been, only to wilt finally—or, as happened with Lucia, burst into tears—and admit that, in fact, her husband or in-laws had treated her badly and crushed her expectations that marriage would bring her happiness. Many admitted that, had it not been for sympathetic female affines, friends, or blood kin in the area—or, in Lucia's case, a kind xikoxana neighbor she went to regularly for advice—they would have had to leave their vukatini altogether.

Not all marriage stories were unhappy ones, however. As in women's memories of mothers and grandmothers, the decisive factor was usually the quality of a wife's relationship with other women in her husband's homestead—with her co-wives, wives of her husband's brothers and their sons, her husband's unmarried sisters, wives of her husband's father and his brothers, and above all her husband's birth mother, her principal n'wingi. Valentina's narrative is unusual in this respect and may reflect her status as the wife of a muvangeli, for most women in their stories emphasize how diligently they worked for their mother-in-law and not, as in Valentina's case, the other way around. Albertina explained that her furious flight from her first husband—a man she admits harboring affection for even now—was provoked by her abusive co-wife, and she portrays him as quite helpless to resolve or even understand their conflict. Lucia confessed that part of her strategy for surviving her rocky marriage to the Nhiuana chefe de terras, 20 who finally left her to live in South Africa, was a pact she made with the wives of her husband's brothers, father, and uncle: that each of them would prevent her own husband from marrying other women (to minimize the jealousy sure to arise if too many wives joined the powerful family) and that, if one of them had trouble becoming pregnant, the others would help her "arrange a man outside" to secretly father a child so as to avoid angering the husband and provoking accusations of witchcraft. 21

Given the normative gender division of labor, it is not surprising that, in the stories women told about married life, predominant topics were domestic work, farming, trading, motherhood, and relations with in-laws—or that "suffering" (emotional, physical, spiritual) was a recurring theme. Yet what such narratives also and perhaps more importantly highlight is the gendered relational context of these experiences, the identities of women whose presence and support enabled the storyteller to survive periods of hardship: to pass through suffering (kuvaviseka or kuhlupheka) and return to "living" (kuhanya) on the other side. Possibly for this reason, stories about child-fostering on the one hand and, on the other, illness or death were among the two most popular types of stories about adult life told across the group of interviewees. The former activity, by cementing ties of fictive motherhood (an especially important objective for childless women), enlarged the pool of "children" from whom a woman could later seek support; it also bound a woman permanently to domestic units other than her own. The latter—a source of endless, graphic narratives of disease, disability, and medical treatment—enabled a woman either to locate herself within a community of individuals who proved their devotion by helping the invalid or to express criticism for those who failed to come to her aid at a critical time. Albertina recounted an entire series of farm-accident stories like the one included in this chapter; Rosalina told (over and over) a story (astonishingly detailed, given that she is supposed to have been unconscious the whole time) of her bout with cholera in 1990; Valentina's daughter Talita Ubisse shared a similarly elaborate tale of her struggles and hospitalization for "nervous" problems in the 1970s. Laurinda Mawelele's run-in with an angry bull and the mobility impairment it has caused her were, like Juliana's story of the fall that broke her hip in 1993, staples of popular lore in Facazisse. Women told and retold these stories regularly.

Moreover, easily one-third of the interviewees described suffering from the symptoms of spirit possession at some point in their life, with only the fortunate ones able, through the help of a relative with sufficient resources, to undergo treatment and training (to become a spirit medium) with a nyamusoro. In every case, the point of these narratives seemed less to pass on evidence that a woman had fallen victim to a particular health problem than to recall her connections to the people who helped her through it: for Albertina, a series of swikoxana-healers, her sisters, and her sisters' daughters-in-law; for Rosalina, a ring of distant maternal kin and, especially, the one daughter of her brother who still "remembers" what Rosalina did for her; for Talita, her mother and husband, warring for her loyalty then as now. Narratives in which the storyteller assists other women who are similarly afflicted, or witnesses and deals with a loved one's death, were nearly as numerous. In addition to the ones included in this chapter, Rosalina told a long story, for example, about accompanying her mother from one n'anga to another in Lourenço Marques and Guijá when she began to suffer from spirit possession in the 1940s. She told another about her brother's illness and death from asthma in 1993. Caregiving, in other words, like child-fostering, both demonstrated a woman's fidelity to a history of kinship obligations and staked a claim to bonds in the future, when she might need such assistance herself.

Female suffering in adulthood takes other forms, as the narratives in this chapter reveal. Interpersonal conflicts surrounding marriage choices and marital and affinal relationships loom large in women's life stories, causing an affliction of the "heart" that could be just as painful and debilitating as any illness—and that women treated with similar reliance on female affective networks. Valentina, raised in the cradle of Swiss Mission influence from her early childhood, marries into a predominantly non-Christian family in a rural area where evangelization has barely begun, and then she is left vulnerable to her violent brother-in-law after her husband's death, resisting his advances with physical aggression when necessary and with the quiet moral backing of his wife, her husband's mother, and her few Christian friends in Mavavaze. Pressured, Valentina implies, to enter a second relationship to cleanse herself of tindzhaka, she tolerates intimacy with this man (whose name she refuses even to recall) until she conceives her second child, and shortly after chasing him from her home decides—breaking the custom that had until then kept her faithfully at her vukatini—to move out on her own with her young daughters and her n'wingi.

Albertina, who paints herself as a magnet for misfortune because of her de facto fatherlessness, takes surprisingly bold steps when, her "heart angry" and her patience gone, she leaves Vuma and heads for South Africa and then a few years later in Moamba strikes a bargain with a new suitor, enabling her to return home. There, once again, her heart instructs her to leave her second marriage and move in with her mother and then with her sisters, and then back out on her own. Rosalina, who throughout most of her life stories denies ever knowing this kind of suffering, expresses a similar sense of outrage in narratives of her uncle Dane's interference in her romantic life and of alleged efforts by Amorim's wife to hunt her down with a pistol. In both episodes, Rosalina takes decisive action to protect herself—not, however, without seeking the advice of (and temporary refuge with) friends and kinfolk along the way. Lucia, too, finally leaves her marital homestead in Nhiuana to live in Facazisse with a "daughter"—the birth daughter of Lucia's hahane (paternal aunt)—who looked after Lucia's two elder children during the most difficult years of her marriage. 22 Valentina's daughter Talita, tired of her husband's infidelity, one day "runs away" and, advised by a woman friend, boards a train to South Africa, where she spent three years supporting herself through wage work on various white-owned farms, while "cooling her heart" in a relationship with another man. 23

One of the most important features of such stories is the absence of even a trace of defensiveness or acknowledgment that the narrator's actions were extraordinary or remarkable in any way. In each case, the woman weighs what she knows various other people expected of her and then follows a path she represents as determined by the wishes of her heart. Many women used this formulation as a way to simultaneously assert, deny, and justify their agency in shaping the content of their life even under what outside observers might portray as the most oppressive personal circumstances. For Valentina, Albertina, and Rosalina, as for other interviewees, what the heart instructed them to do was generally consistent with priorities and "laws" taught to them by mothers and grandmothers. Valentina's contempt, as she narrates it, for her "heathen" brother-in-law is not a product of his religious beliefs but of his rude flouting of conventions of hospitality (he resents offering food to visitors and eats furtively in his doorway so that he can hide his food from passersby), his mistreatment of his wife, and his alleged perpetration of the most unforgivable crime of all—using witchcraft to kill his brother. Albertina moves from one "quarrelling" relationship to another because she has been raised with the "strength" to be able to support herself through farming ("Your hands," she often reminded us, "are led by your heart") and with the knowledge, acquired from her mother and grandmother, that a woman need not bind herself to a man who makes her "suffer." Rosalina, who evoked her mother's memory and example on a daily basis, explained her controversial romantic history as a deliberate strategy she learned from her mother, never for a moment hinting that there was anything improper, unusual, or even nontraditional in these relationship decisions.

The three women in this chapter, like their peers, stressed continuity with the mahanyelo of their foremothers in other ways as well. Perhaps the most striking example of the efforts of storytellers to foreground continuity was their insistence, despite what I understood as evidence to the contrary, that until only recently they had avoided involvement in the money economy. Both Valentina and Albertina did casual wage work on European commercial farms for several years in the 1940s and 1950s—Valentina (with her daughters) on the white-owned Delagoa Plantation in present-day Timanguene, and Albertina on land that she had once farmed along the Nkomati and that was appropriated by a Portuguese farmer in the 1940s. Yet both women seemed reluctant to talk about this part of their past, portraying it as a fleeting, meaningless experience necessitated by momentary poverty and "wanting to buy clothes." Indeed, in Valentina's case we only learned about it from Talita, who in one of our early interviews mentioned "working for money at Timanguene" as a girl. Rosalina, plainly dependent on cash earnings ever since her employment as a hospital midwife in the 1940s, and the object of much muttered criticism in Facazisse in 1995-96 because she occasionally walked to town to sell nkaka or manioc from her fields, would not let me for an instant suppose that her primary identity was anything but that of a farmer who fed herself with her own "arms" and "sweat."

More dramatic claims not only of indifference to male (money) but of its life-threatening dangers came from women who had spent most of their years meeting their food needs entirely through farming in rural Mapulanguene or Phadjane. For these women, war-induced residence in town horrified them at every turn because "everything, everything wants money!" and because selling the crops from your fields "closes the skies, and kills the land." 24 As in Albertina's narrative, these women freely acknowledged a measure of dependence on xilungu shops for consumer goods (cloth, matches, soap) as well as on local craftspeople for basketry, wood utensils, and clay pottery; but such transactions were rarely called "buying" and "selling," for most women preferred to say (like Albertina) that they "gave" something (e.g., surplus corn) and then were "given" what they needed in return. Cufassane Munisse, a woman who had spent all but eight of her more than eighty years in the western borderlands of Magude, was fond of recounting how she learned to make xirhundzu baskets and xikhubu wigs 25 from her maternal grandmother and how "even valungu" used to come to her vukatini in Mapulanguene to "give her money" for them. And yet of all the interviewees she was perhaps the most outspoken critic of the money-immersed lifestyle she encountered while living as a deslocada in Magude town.

As a thread of continuity with women of generations past, however, what life stories of adulthood conveyed even more forcefully was a notion of spirituality that, whatever institutional or ideological shape it took, undergirded a system of gendered moral authority in the countryside. This spirituality provided women across lines of age, education, class, ethnicity, and civil status with a common ground and guiding compass, expressed in terms of the relationship between respect for laws of feminine behavior and the physical and psychological vutomi (health/life) of rural society. Rosalina's and Albertina's complex amalgam of belief in witchcraft and spirit possession, tinhlolo divination, ecstatic healing, "Napoleon Bonaparte," and the stern Swiss Mission God (Xikwembu) or more flexible versions of Christianity offered by independent churches was in fact more typical of the women we interviewed than was Valentina's conflicted narrow devotion to the Protestant church that had served as her extended-kinship network since her childhood. Women's commitment to and enormous personal investment in a range of spiritual communities was integrally connected to their belief that healthy living and strict adherence to a set of laws went together. Indeed, of the women whose participation in Christian congregations we asked about, most explained the risima (value) of their involvement principally in terms of the set of milawu (laws) that they learned there—laws that, as in Lili Xivuri's explanation of what she gained from attending MaZion meetings in Phadjane, focused on dietary regulations, sexual behavior, respectful conduct toward relatives and neighbors, treatment of medical problems, and strategies to ensure the regularity of rain. 26 Interviewees seemed to see little difference in purpose or character between these religious activities and the forms of spiritualism practiced by their mothers and grandmothers—except, as many of them remarked, that women's spiritual activities, whether in churches or among tin'anga, had increased exponentially in recent years.

If life-storytellers insisted on the continuity of their own and their foremothers' experiences, the narratives themselves attest to what might appear to outside observers as profound social change. Change over time in Magude and increasing differentiation among women there are clearly demonstrated in the stories presented in this chapter. Valentina's blend of moral values that are traditional and those that are sternly Christian, Albertina's "angry" overland journey and stint as a domestic worker for a mixed-race couple, Rosalina's commercial talents and medical training and hard-to-classify sexual partnerships with white men—none of these stories is imaginable in the pre-1920s rural southern Mozambique described in existing historical scholarship, and certainly these narrated lives stand in dramatic contrast to the stories these women told of their mothers and grandmothers. Yet when asked for their own views on "change," 27 or more specifically for their definition of the historical watershed, the break between khale (long ago) and swoswi (now), that recurs so plaintively in their interviews and conversations, women shrugged off such variations as insignificant and echoed a refrain that unites them quite clearly on gendered ground. All agree on the things of long ago whose loss troubled them most deeply: "respect," of children for elders, women for men, and (perhaps most important) young wives for their n'wingi; "helping each other," by offering food to strangers and exchanging unpaid labor and time on each other's fields; communal beer-drinks where byala was never made to sell but to "make people happy"; masungukati performing their proper role in matters of sexuality, marriage, rain, and death; "secrets" kept where secrets belong, within generational cohorts of women, each cohort with its own set of binding rituals, "laws," restrictions, and powerful knowledge. All agree, moreover, on the forces that are responsible for undermining these elements of the past and on how catastrophically the Renamo war accelerated this destructive process.

No one, though, articulated this historical vision more compellingly than Valentina, the oldest xikoxana of the group.

V: And now. When we see these valungu [white people], . . . we say, "It's they who are bothering the blacks." Valungu, hah! We're telling lies about them, we say, "Valungu, they kill." It's not valungu.
H: So you're saying that it's Mozambicans who started the war?
V: Blacks? Haven't they become bad? 28 When they say, "Aida, go and kill someone, one of your own"? You go and kill someone, you go and kill because of money? Everything they're killing us for, they know it, they're killing us for—they say, they want money. They want money, all of these things, that they're killing us for.
H: So those things you were telling us about, when you were a girl, how people helped each other, gave each other food—people aren't like that anymore?
V: Hee! Hee! You can be my daughter, you rarely take something, you say, "Here vovo, here it is." Oh! These things change because of money. It's money, they want money—those blacks, they take it for themselves by killing people.
H: In the past people didn't want money?
V: Don't you know that one mpondo wrapped up a mountain of clothes for you? When you go to the shop with your mpondo, and they wrap up [your purchases] in a headscarf, and you didn't buy it, it's a gift for you—they give us a gift, those valungu. I say, "The valungu, they're not to blame"; when the blacks hear that, "There's a war, there's a war"—it's not a war of the valungu. It's a war of the blacks, because of wanting money. . . . We put the fault on them, we say, "Hee, valungu, valungu!" We put the blame on them. Ah! It's our sin. Mmm. 29

. . . Today! You don't see these things of long ago, there's nothing. [V shakes her head] No one fights [over mitsingi]. They've abandoned everything.

H: Why is that?
V: It's because of xilungu, they were bothered by xilungu. These things, they stopped in that time when xilungu entered [our lives] in full force. 30 Our children, they don't have respect. The respect back then, it was that we had secrets. Things that weren't known by anyone.
H: People don't keep secrets today?
V: Hah! They guard lies! Their mothers, the mothers of these children, they lie. She doesn't show them . . . that to speak of these things, she doesn't want it. All these children, they're speaking nonsense! They have no respect. It's because of the mothers, they don't teach proper behavior. . . . Long ago, we knew that, when you want to be married by a man—do you do this? [V tugs at A's arm, whispers in her ear, mimicking girls who flirt openly with boys]. Respect, it was ruined by prostitutes.
H: How is that, vovo?
V: It's because of their hearts, they show them that, when they see young men, they do things that have no path [i.e., are not the right way]. . . . We showed respect to our husbands. [Not like] now, they go "Aaa-aaa-aaa!" Girls? The ones who marry [today]? Ah, their husband, they don't even think of him. Maybe he's hungry, this husband, hah! They don't think about him. Ah, it was done by xilungu, truly. Because of studying. . . . 31

Xilungu and money, the customs and language of the "whites": Women's life stories unanimously posed these two phenomena as the greatest enemies not only of the "ways," "laws," and "life" of "long ago," but of women's collective power to shape what those ways, laws, and life should be. It is significant, I think, that Valentina distinguishes between "white ways" and "white people" in this historical diatribe, locating the wheels of change not in the imposition of European rulers and institutions but in intergenerational female relationships that have been corrupted by women's progressive abandonment of the respect and secrecy that structured these vertical affective bonds among women in the past. Remembered and passed on through women's life-storytelling, the great benchmarks in women's histories of Magude are the events that caused xilungu and money to take hold "with force" (hi ntamu) across the countryside. Xilungu, as elderly women understand it, initially spread along with mission and colonial state schools and hospitals; money started to percolate into their lives, according to some, through the arrival of the railroad. For others it became problematic during the "war of Samora" and at the inception of Frelimo rule. But it was with the escalation of the civil war, and with the forced uprooting of networks of female kinship and community from the agrarian landscape, that the women we interviewed saw their ability to keep these dangers at bay suddenly vanish. As the following chapters show, women's histories identify the last twenty to thirty years as the cataclysmic period during which the way of life their binding memories had sustained and defended was most critically endangered. If, for these women, talk is kinship, then kinship is "life" (vutomi), and, with few other people listening to them in postwar Magude, it is little wonder that these "old women" had so much to say to me.


Note 1: Interview with Cufassane Munisse, 7 February 1996, Matendeni (Magude). See chapter 4.  Back.

Note 2: Interview with Marta Mabunda, 10 January 1996, Ngungwe/Muqakaze (Moamba district). According to Marta, Maqiviso eventually learned that her brother had been murdered by his in-laws, who were envious of his prowess in battle.  Back.

Note 3: Interview with Lili Xivuri, 24 September 1995, Tlhongana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 4: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 5 January 1996, Nhiuana (Phadjane). Palu is blue cotton cloth, usually criss-crossed with fine white (and some red) lines and associated with the Ndau. Cloth matching this description is included in European travelers' lists of trade goods from the mid-nineteenth century in southern Mozambique.  Back.

Note 5: Interview with Misse Xivuri, 4 October 1995, Matendeni (Magude town).  Back.

Note 6: Interview with Lise Nsumbane, 29 June 1995, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 7: Interview with Jane Mundlovu, 14 December 1995, Matendeni (Magude town); interview with Teasse Xivuri, 5 March 1996, Matendeni (Magude town).  Back.

Note 8: Mundzuruka is a type of coin from the early twentieth century. This song portrays the war as a campaign by valungu to rob Africans of their money and take it home to their "banks." Interview with Valentina Chauke, 2 February 1996, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 9: The specific meaning of kuxanga is to abandon conventional behavior, be led astray, become immoral.  Back.

Note 10: Interview with Elena Khosa, 29 December 1995, Matendeni (Magude town).  Back.

Note 11: Men, who had more direct experience through employment for or with such men, were more likely to paint valungu neighbors in unsympathetic terms. The most extreme case I heard was from Muchangana (Phadjane), where local men uniformly insisted that a former Portuguese land-owner, Manuel Miranda, used to kill his workers (the local men who tended his cattle) and "pound them into holes in the ground." Interview with Frenge Mundlovu, 3 November 1996, Muchangana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 12: Lucia Ntumbo tells a story of her own intervention to win the acceptance of a young woman who had caught a mulungu's eye in Phadjane. According to Lucia, this Portuguese man, who worked on a large commercial cattle farm in the area, appealed to Lucia for assistance because he knew she was a kokwana of the young woman and so an appropriate messenger for his request. The young woman accepted him, he gave lovolo to her family, according to Lucia they were still living together, along with several children and grandchildren. Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 25 February 1996, Nhiuana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 13: Interview with Lili Xivuri, 4 November 1995, Tlhongana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 14: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 2 November 1995, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 15: Interview with Albertina Tiwana, 24 June 1995, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 16: Ndhuna: The term for a chief's counselor, here used quite seriously to refer to young go-betweens in courtship.  Back.

Note 17: Interview with Cufassane Munisse, 7 February 1996, Matendeni (Magude town).  Back.

Note 18: Interview with Lili Xivuri, 2 December 1995, Tlhongana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 19: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 5 January 1996, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 20: Subchief to the Xikwembu régulo (cf. chapter 2 for mention of the rulership of the subchieftancy Tlhongana by Lili's father).  Back.

Note 21: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 2 December 1995, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 22: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 5 January 1996, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 23: Interview with Lucia Ntumbo, 6 January 1996, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 24: Interview with Jane Mundlovu, 31 August 1995, Matendeni (Magude town); interview with Lídia Chavango, 9 October 1995, Matendeni (Magude town).  Back.

Note 25: These wigs are made from milala palm fiber and are an important part of the costume a nyamusoro wears when practising in the name of her Ndau spirits.  Back.

Note 26: Interview with Lili Xivuri, 13 October 1996, Tlhongana (Phadjane).  Back.

Note 27: Kuhundzuka: to turn around, change, become different (from kuhundza, to pass).  Back.

Note 28: Kuhunguka: to go bad, become perverted, vicious, immoral; Aida translated this term as "crazy."  Back.

Note 29: Interview with Valentina Chauke, 27 June 1995, Facazisse.  Back.

Note 30: Hi ntamu: literally, "with strength, power"—i.e., intensified, became a force they could no longer ignore or overcome.  Back.

Note 31: Interview with Valentina Chauke, 4 October 1995, Facazisse.  Back.


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