Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 22:28:53 -0500 (CDT)
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Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Echoes Of Her Voice
By Moyiga Nduru, IPS, 21 August 1999
HARARE, Aug 21 (IPS) - Rosemary Kyarimpa clearly remembers that as a child, the chores of cooking, washing the plates, sweeping and other domestic chores fell squarely on her shoulders.
Now in her early 30s, Kyarimpa says she also was admonished to be humble and submissive so that her future husband would not divorce her. "As a child, I developed a keen questioning interest in the way girls were being brought up, compared to the upbringing for boys," the Ugandan writer says.
Kyarimpa never forgot the plight of growing up as a girl and has made this the theme of her first work of fiction, 'Echoes of Her Voice'.
"I witnessed blatant discrimination and ostracizing of girls who became pregnant," she recalls. "To me this was a signal that something was grossly wrong with our social system."
"When I later mixed with the wider human and women's rights advocacy groups, I found the missing link to the jigsaw of discrimination based on gender -- ours was a patriarchal order, where women were supposed to be this and not that, to be seen and not heard," she says.
Using the pen as her sword, Kyarimpa decided to document her protests in 'Echoes of Her Voice', a collection of short stories. The book is set in western Uganda on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
'Secret Path', the first story in the collection, looks at the life of a 14-year-old girl, Kengeiga, who became pregnant after she was raped by a village brute. When he learns of her pregnancy, her father attempts to kill her with a spear. She is forced into a life of trying to make ends meet and caring for her baby alone with no education and no family support.
In 'Lost In Darkness', another young girl, Bafokuzaara, is forced to marry a rich leper living with the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDs).
Her defiance to marry the leper, however, evokes the rage of her father who breaks her scalp with a walking stick. She ends up in domestic slavery in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, denied of all her rights. She is chased out of her employers' home in the middle of the night, hence the title of the story, 'Lost In Darkness'.
In her first fictional work, Kyarimpa also criticises the concept of dowry, paid by the groom as part of marriage settlement, before a bride is given away to her husband.
But Kayrimpa does not just focus on women as victims. She portrays them as survivours too. 'Her Decision' and 'Welcome Home' are stories of inspiration to the woman and girl child.
In 'Her Decision', Keti, a young woman, defies the bounds set by her male-controlled society, first by going for higher education. Secondly, she defies the belief that women should not build their own house, by building hers.
To stop her, Keti's uncle plots to kill her, offering all his goats to witchdoctors to accomplish his treacherous design. The story reveals how men are losing control over the society because women are waking up, refusing to be oppressed.
"In this totally male-controlled and male-dominated society, women are not supposed to have any say in anything. They are only supposed to be 'beaten like barkcloth until they yield', to be sold off into marriage, to be tortured to death by brutish husbands, or to be raped and turned out of their home," says Austin Bukenya of Makerere University, Uganda, in her review of the book.
Despite the discrimination, Bukenya says, women are resisting male domination. "Every inch of the way, the women are fighting back," she says. "This impressive first collection of short stories is a scintillating record of the fight by the woman and the girl child to survive and thrive in the harsh patriarchal environment."
Kyarimpa, who is a leading feminist activist in Uganda, was among the group of established and upcoming African women writers who attended the Zimbabwe International Book Fair held in Harare, Zimbabwe in early August.
Origin: Montevideo//ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT/BOOKS-UGANDA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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