TheThe Purple Violet of Oshaantu

Not many books written in English have emerged from Namibia ‘ a former German colony until the end of the First World War. Through an arrangement of the post-war League of Nations, the southwest African nation was taken away from Germany and made a protectorate under South Africa rule. Neshani Andreas’ The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a recent work given that it was only published in 2001. This is the author’s first novel. Although it is her first novel, the Purple Violet of Oshaantu is an exciting book any serious reader of literature would not want to miss. Its simple language and the everyday kind of incidents make the story form the book’s strongest attributes.

Neshani Andreas was born and grew up in Walvis Bay but her family is originally from northern Namibia. She trained as a Teacher in Ongwendiva Teacher’s College and taught for 5 years. She went on to do a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. Neshani became Associate Peace Corps Director for the US Peace Corps for 4 years. She has worked with the Forum for Women Educationists in Namibia (FAWENA) as a project officer and was working on her second novel.

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu opens with a lot of promise as reflected by “the rich green carpet” that “provides a breathtaking sight especially from our homestead”. The “good rains” that the place has received seems to herald positive things to come. There is mention of the abundant food, which the people have produced for themselves from the land. In other words the relationship that is portrayed between the people and their environment is cordial since the land is giving them so much “omahangu, sorghum, spinach, beans, pumpkins, watermelons, nuts, corn and cabbage”. These are signs of plenty. The community of Oshaantu is one that abundant food at its disposal and this is food that they produce for themselves thus comes in as a sign of the intimate relationship between the people and their land which is the one that nourishes them.

The story revolves around the women of Oshaantu and their daily chores as women in a society, which is dominated by men. The men are expected to be the providers as we see in Shange who is rich by local standards. He has an extra-marital affair with a young girl whom he has built “a two-roomed blockhouse, painted white”. (p2) We also see the petty jealousies between women as well as their usual gossip. “Whores always get good men. I swear she has given my brother some mountain mutakati he is abnormally in love.” (p14) There is widespread belief in love potions in most societies even beyond the African continent, and here there is indication that Namibian society is shown to be susceptible to the same influences. The practice of having more than one woman to a man is not new in African communities given the prevalence of polygamous relationships, some of which can be made official while others can be kept secret. The women are not supposed to question this breach of trust and evident betrayal and assault on their love because

the environment in which they are operating is essentially patriarchal.

Issues of fertility are central in the book. We are not only looking at the fertility of the soil that has led to bountiful harvests referred to earlier on but we are also made to view the same aspect as it applies to human beings. Women from all over Africa are expected to bear children soon after marriage. Where there are problems in conceiving, the blame is placed on the woman. This is a cultural trait that pervades most of Africa and in the novel, even the women themselves blame their children for not having children early in their marriages. “The other problem was that I did not get pregnant”. (p14) The mother then blames her daughter as though it was her responsibility to make herself pregnant. “Mother asked me why I was not pregnant.” (p17) Therefore, having children is considered an achievement for any woman who gets married. Failure to have children is consequently a sign of failure on the part of the woman even if the shortcomings can be traced to the man. This is a cultural trend in most countries in Africa.

The institution of marriage itself is explored. Marriage is seen as an achievement for women and therefore those who do not get married would have failed not only themselves and their parents but also the clan as a whole. It is deemed to embarrass the “parents and the rest of the clan”. As such, the society seems to judge women over failed marriages. Advice on marriage can not be expected from someone who is divorced no matter whether that person has gone through important experiences in the marriage or not. “She is divorced herself. I hate to say this, but divorced people can give no other advice. Talk to married people, people who know how to handle marriage problems, not those who ran away from them.” (p55) In other words, women in stable marriages are considered as repositories of advice on issues that relate to the institution.

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a very interesting and an easy-to-understand novel. Neshani Andreas experiments, and successfully so, with certain Oshiwambo and Afrikaans words. The use of the vernacular makes the story an ordinary one about ordinary rural women who are struggling to find space in a society in which men are dominant. Oshiwambo is one of the many languages spoken in Namibia while Afrikaans is a result of the influence of the Boers from South African who ruled over the country when the German colonialists left after World War 1. The glossary gives English equivalents for these Oshiwambo and Afrikaans terms for easy reference. As a result, the book becomes easy to understand even for a foreign reader who has no knowledge of the two languages.

The novel then becomes a must-read for anyone wishing to have a feel of the kind of literature that has emerged from countries that were not part of Anglophone Africa but are written in English. Purple Violet of Oshaantu exciting bookT

October 2006
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