Multiculturalism in Fiction and Fact in Angola Reading Pepetela's Mayombe After Twenty-Nine Years
par Avelino Chicoma Bundo CHICO
Arrupe College (University of Zimbabwe) - BA Honours and MA in Philosophy and Humanity 2009
Mayombe is a novel which was written by one of the major Angolan writers of fiction, Pepetela, between 1970 and 1971 but published only in 1980. Pepetela fought with the MPLA's guerrillas and so he was an eyewitness of the difficulties which these were facing. The publication of Mayombe was delayed for political reasons and Pepetela remembers asking questions like this - «será que é útil, a revolução era ainda muito recente [...] Poderia o livro servir os inimigos [is it useful? The revolution was still going on [...] Could the book be useful to the enemies]?» (qtd. in «Literatura»). In other words, Mayombe demystifies the MPLA and its militants by showing that the movement was not made up of ideal, heroic revolutionary supermen. Since Pepetela puts into fiction the reality that he himself lived, he also contributes to this demystification. Even Agostinho Neto, the president of the MPLA at the time, agreed that Mayombe should be published.
In Mayombe, Pepetela uses several episodes from the Angolan revolution to portray the relationships among a group of MPLA guerrillas in the Angolan Northern Province of Cabinda. Ethnic and ideological differences and tribalism tend to distract the guerrillas from their many shared ideals and perspectives. Prejudices, suspicion, racism, hatred and jealousy result from ethnicity, tribalism and ideological differences. These divisions are so acute that they hinder the
collective resistance against colonial domination and thus lead to divisions between the guerrillas and even among those in the High Command. Fearless, the Commander, is very much aware of this and on one of the occasions in which the guerrillas refuse to volunteer to rescue Muatianvua, he says, «No-one wanted to volunteer [...] Were [Muatianvua] Kikongo or Kimbundu four or five would soon have come forward [...] Is that how we are going to win the war?» (34). In other words, Fearless shows that because of the loyalties of ethnicity, the significance of national unity and collective action will be lost and the struggle to advance and force the Portuguese out of Angola will loose its momentum.
Even though the guerrillas fight together as a solid collective group against a common enemy - the Portuguese - this collectivity is being undermined by each one of the guerrillas' personal motives, which originally drove them to join the struggle. The Operations Chief (Ops) alludes to the different motives that have involved them in the struggle: «The reasons are different, but the actions are the same» (157). For instance, Theory, who comes from Gabela and is of mixed blood (from a black mother and a white father), joins the struggle so that «no-one [will] notice this about him» (4) and he will be regarded as an Angolan, despite the colour of his skin. Struggle comes from Cabinda and, since the Cabinda people have refused to ally themselves with the guerrillas and are therefore considered to be treacherous, he fights in the frontline so that the other guerrillas will not think of him as someone not to be relied on. As he says, «How to convince the guerrillas [...] that my people are not just made up of traitors? I shall have [...] to assert myself, by being braver than anyone» (175-6).
New World sees himself as not driven by any personal motives. He leaves Europe to join the struggle and because living in Europe would have provided him with a better life, New World sees himself as unselfish (52). He is a Marxist and applies a fundamentalist Marxism to the rationale of the struggle. That is, for him «man as an individual is nothing, only the masses can make History» (52). He enlarges on this: «The Revolution is made by the mass of the people, the sole entity with leadership capacity [...]» (72). Since popular support is needed for the revolution to advance, New World's allusion expresses in theoretical terms what Fearless tries to convey earlier when he says that, «A people' s war is not measured by the number of enemy dead. It is measured by the degree of popular support it has» (12). Unlike New World, Fearless gives up the study of economics to join the struggle with the intent of «making up stories in which [he] was the hero [and] the revolution gave [him] an opportunity to create them in action» (84). Thus, contradicting New World, he says, «what I am doing has a selfish purpose [...] No-one is permanently unselfish» (50). This suggests that the guerrillas are not driven by the motives of a liberated collectivity; ambition and personal interests dominate their motivations and they readily put aside national interests.
Mayombe attempts to transcend these forces of division among the guerrillas with a new multiculturalism based in the culture of resistance and which is shaped by the liberation struggle. João and Fearless are the architects of the culture of resistance for nation-building so that a person will no longer act as Kimbundu or Kikongo but as an Angolan. Fearless' saying that «I do not care if someone is Kikongo or Kimbundu [but Angolan]» (128) testifies to it. It is the exposure to the same political, economic and social forces that bind people together and motivate them even to forget their own tribes. In Amilcar Cabral's terms, «[people] rise above `tribalism'
[...] they realize their crucial role in the struggle [and] break the bonds of their village» (qtd. in Davidson 323). In addition, as Fearless says when they have to defend their base, «We mobilized more than thirty men in under an hour [...] they forgot their various tribes [...] the inconvenience and danger of the action [...] that's why I have confidence in the Angolans. They are meddlers, but they all forget their quarrels and spites to rescue a companion from danger [...] Another generation and the Angolan will be a new man. What is needed is action» (151).
The action that Pepetela conveys through Fearless makes necessary constant dialogue, internal cohesion and the acknowledgement of the rights of the other for these break down the barriers which prevent the promotion of collectivity. It also requires, as Fearless says, «to deny [oneself] in order to be reborn in a different form, or better still, to give rise to another so that instead of making one's ideas absolute truth, these should pass through a regenerative cycle of `death' and `rebirth' and allow one to see the ideas of others, [be they Cabinda or Umbundu] not as coming from `pagans' [but from the `significant others']» (79-80). In spite of washing away individual identification for nation-building, Mayombe is an inspirational work for what the future Angola should be like. The deaths of Fearless, who is a Kikongo and who dies to save a Kimbundu soldier and that of Struggle, who is Cabinda and considered as a traitor throughout the novel but who dies to save a Kimbundu soldier, should be exemplary models for the ideal citizens of the new nation.