The Purple Violet of the Oshaantu

By By Jemima Beukes
April 2011
Book Review
THE ‘Purple Violet of the Oshaantu’ is a novel authored by Neshani Andreas, one of the first Namibian writers to be recognized under the African Writers series.

Published by the Heinemann Educational Publishers in 2001, it is one of the first fictitious novels by this Namibian writer.

It plays a personal account of two dynamic women in the village of Oshaantu in the northern part of Namibia. The book plays itself off in a post-apartheid Namibia with HIV/AIDS still a myth and domestic violence justified by elders as a part of any normal marriage setting.

It serves as a nostalgic journey for any native Namibian or perhaps African. This is where witchcraft is blamed for every cough and bruise a villager endures.

It is not far-fetched, however, as this is perhaps still the situation in some villages throughout Africa.

The plot spirals into many encounters with Mee Kauna related from the point of view of her best friend Mee Ali, recalling memories from their own villages. Many are of joyful occasions, but others are of times of sadness and hopelessness.

Mee Kauna is baptized as the ‘Purple Violet of the Oshaantu’ soon after she arrives as the young wife of the village womaniser Shange, while the purple violets are in bloom.

She endures suffering and pain at the hands of the brutal Shange, who often follows her into the homesteads of their neighbour’s as she tries to flee from his physical abuse. She left him on two occasions but he promises her family he will be kind to her, idle promises that drop dead on their way home.

This compelling novel draws on several interconnected stories to offer a picture of the plight of African women.

For Kauna, marriage becomes nothing more than loveless entrapment, and she defies convention by making no secret of her suffering.

Mukwankala a stout elderly lady is the only person that dares to stand up to Shange, and she lashes him out one day while he was drinking with his friend, a teacher Mr Jackson in front of the latter’s cuca shop.

She became Kauna’s goddess as the scolding appeared to have worked on Shangewho stopped beating his wife.

“Okwayikuyakwenimbohayavala” (he went to those with fertile wombs) is what Kauna hears when she complains to her in-laws that her husband has not returned home in the evening on many occasions.

When her abusive husband is found dead, the villagers are quick to suspect her. Shange drops dead in the homestead soon after returning from the ‘white house’ which he had built for his mistress.

Seen as the rebels of the community and seemingly a bad influence for other married women, Kauna and Mee Ali, who has a rather ‘faultless marriage”, are not much loved by their in-laws and some elders of the village.

Because of their strong characters and for not making excuses for her abusive husband, Kauna is regarded as “undisciplined” and a shame for her husband.

Mee Ali on the other hand whose husband loves her and treats her like a princess, has a mother in-law who accuses her of bewitching her son which is the reason why Mee Ali’s husband loves her ‘more than he loves’ his mother.

Twelve year old Kandiwapa shocks Mee Ali when she confesses that she nurses her mother when she has been beaten severely by her father.

The Purple violet is a manifestation of strong female characters, like Sustera, the local nurse who helps Ali to nurse Kauna’s bruises, Mee Martha, a church elder who is not well loved by many in the village, Mee Fenny, Kauna’s aunt who dared to go against tradition and customary believes by divorcing her abusive husband, Mee Mukwankala, the only person who dared to confront Shange who often acts as many women’s spokesperson.

There are also the women who also gave in to marital tyranny, Mee Namutenya, who has been a ‘decent wife’ but became the village vagabond, the day she decided to change, Mee Ali’s husband’s friend Tate Jacopo’s wife, Mee Nangula, who has been driven to despair by the greed of her in-laws and forced to leave her husband and start a new life for herself.

The ordeal of these women mentioned leaves the reader excited with hope that marriages need not be an abyss with no escape.

The book is educative, outspoken and inspiring with a soft touch of reminiscence. It takes the reader back to their own communities perhaps where they grew up or where they still are. It highlights the evil of domestic violence and how it can literally shatter families. It underlines the misperception of HIV and AIDS, and the rural society’s immaturity to deal with this issue as a mere illness in the absence of witchcraft.

The “Purple Violet of the Oshaantu” reminds the reader of the innocence of village people and their simple lifestyles.

The author introduces her reader to a society where a woman raises her children 80 per cent on her own and tends to their animals, building the wealth of the family but is still regarded as a minor player in the household.

This is also a society that puts the blame on the wife, for every misfortune that befalls the homestead.

Shange’s family is adamant that Kauna has indeed bewitched their son; “why else will she not cry?”

The villagers are anxious and curious about what has left her so cold and without emotion at his death.

Even her best friend Mee Ali pleads that she must do it for her children that she must show remorse but Kauna refuses. “Why should I cry? For what? For my broken ribs? For my baby, the one he has killed inside me while beating me? For cheating on me so publicly?” she shoots back.

To the society, Kauna’s refusal to show emotion at the death of her husband is seen as a confession that she killed him. But for Kauna this is water on a duck’s back she is not troubled in the least.

The behaviour which the Shange’s family exposes to his widow during the burial and thereafter is an obvious indication that they have never accepted her as a relative. The subsequent wealth grabbing is a manifestation of their disregard of her. It is here that she is reminded that her children are her sole responsibility when they pay for Shange’s homestead without consulting her and later chased her from it.

Neshani Andreas’ “Purple Violet of the Oshaantu” is a must read for those who seek a thrilling book that stays on your mind days after reading it. It is well written and thoroughly researched with a beautiful narration that leaves the reader perplexed when the story ends so sudden. One would recommend it as the deal material for high school literature students across Namibia.

The fact that Andreas does not romanticise rural life but depicts village life in its complexity brings many lessons such as the conflict between men and women but also the competition between women in the village, as well as cooperation and friendship. There are women who try to impose old values that oppress other women, and who gossip and accuse each other of witchcraft, which is never proven. There is the reality of hard physical work n the fields and the juggling which women face all over the world, trying to fit in all their daily tasks, on the land, in the home, looking after children and elderly relatives, maintaining a relationship with their husbands.

This is Namibia’s own version of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ and best recommendation for any Namibian literature student. PF