Saturday, August 10, 2013

Under the Frangipani - Mia Couto

Ermelindo Mucanga, is dead for last 200 years, and his physical body is cremated under the frangipani tree in old fort , where he died during the work of restoration of the old slave port. After many many years, with the independence of the country , he is now considered a national hero, and his mortal remains is now unearthed, to give a State Funeral. While he is happy that he is dead now and the current civil war post the independence will not affect him, he isn't happy with the new development of being the national hero,  "A spirit that reoccupies its former body risks mortal dangers". So he consult his pet ant-eater, the mammal lives with the dead.  "You, Ermelindo, you should relive your death"  came the suggestion, and it was the ant-eater who gave the way.

Thus, on advise from the ant-eater, the spirit entered the body of the Police Inspector, arriving at the fort island, to investigate the murder of the Director, of the Refugee Camp. He was also made aware that the detective will have a short life and will be killed in next six days.

Izidine Naita, the detective, Police inspector from the country capital, arrives at the fort island in a helicopter, to investigate the murder of Vastome Excellency, a mulato who was responsible for the old people's refuge at Sao Nicolau". The detective, the ghost, the writer and us follow the investigation in the next six days,  through the testimony of the inhabitants, where each of them claims to have killed the Director. An intersting piece of writing here, which covers many aspects of Mozambique's, rich oral tradition, its folklore and myths, the historical and political aspects with and without the European occupiers, and their own racial and regional issues.

While, the investigation per se, is not revealed the murder mystery, it opened up a lot more, probably the true intend of the investigation, by unearthing a huge treasure of arms, hidden by the Director, saved from the earlier war. Which opens up some of the crazy behaviour of the inhabitants towards him. It is the same danger, that fell upon the Director, awaits him.

This probably is not the best of Mia Couto. However, this gives the indication of the caliber of a writer he is. The fantastic ability to live the African way of story telling, the intermix of myths , history and fiction, the "magical realism" with an African touch, the brilliance in the formation of words and sentences. I am pretty sure that this book would have suffered from translation not suspecting the ability of the translator, but the very African usage of language and few idioms , probably would have lost the same impact on translation.

There is no great literary achievement and the plot, otherwise is pretty weak. The freshness is in the story telling, through rich poetic sentences, and building up the sequences of events. As a reader, I was never really interested in the outcome of the murder mystery, and could sense the deeper issues, which the inhabitants, all elderly people of varied ethnical background, trying to prevent.  There is also a deeper political essence, of both colonialism, and the post independent civil war ( in line with an ethnic conflict) , which emerged in almost all the African nations, who gained independence from their colonial rulers.

My first reading of Mia Couto, and I'm sure many more to come.

Under the Frangipani( 1996)

Mia Couto ( translated from Portuguese by David Brookshaw in 2001)

Serpant's Tail

150 Pages
Doe Eyed Critic, News Desk,

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