Tubman Talks: “The Trouble with “Heroes”: Deconstructing Mozambican National Narratives in the Writing of Mia Couto and Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa”

Dr. Irene Marques will present a paper entitled, “The Trouble with “Heroes”: Deconstructing Mozambican National Narratives in the Writing of Mia Couto and Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa,” November 10, 2016 at the Harriet Tubman Institute from 2:30-4:30.


We want to be heroes. We want to have heroes. We want a great nation, better than the nation of the “other” who may live just two miles from us, separated through invisible lines that sometimes become visible when political leaders think of erecting real brick walls to prevent the “foreigner” to come in and be a part of ourselves, like it ought to perhaps be—for are we not made of the same flesh and bone and blood, inhabitants of the once existing great Pangea? What we possibly need then is to move away from narrow and power centered narratives of nationalism that create simplistic, dichotomous categories of winners and losers, us vs. them, and find a space that may belong more to all of us, a story/history that tells the totality of who we are, or at least our multiplicity, our imperfections, the violence of our own nation and greatness.

As the late and renowned Kenyan scholar Ali A. Mazrui has noted in “Cultural Amnesia, Cultural Nostalgia and False Memory: Africa’s Identity Crisis Revisited”, “the secret of nation-building is to get one’s history wrong” and “positive preservation of memory can become a form of nostalgia and how negative selection by memory can lead to elimination and amnesia” (13).

It could safely be argued that most nations in the world are guilty of this historical manipulation, selective memory, nostalgia and cultural amnesia. In the era of African nationalistic independence movements starting in the 50s and 60s (or well before) and in post-independence times, such tendencies are exacerbated by a call to affirm and re-awaken African cultural pride, bring to visibility the weight of pre-colonial African history (the “Africanness”), given that the continent had, for centuries, been put down by a racist and misguided Eurocentric ethos of civilizational superiority, which was enforced by the various narrative mechanisms of the colonial archive. This need to affirm national pride affects Mozambique and has led to the mythologizing of some African heroes (such as Ngungunyane, the great 19th century Emperor of the Gaza region) or Marxist nationalist leaders such as Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel and the put down of colonial heroes like Mouzinho de Albuquerque, whom the Portuguese empire had also exceedingly aggrandized in the name of its own deluded national (Lusitanian) glory.

In this presentation, I illustrate how contemporary Mozambican writers, Mia Couto and Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa, deconstruct, problematize, question and rewrite post-independence Mozambican nationalisms by revealing how conventional historical narratives of different time periods are manipulated to create a sense of unity, greatness and replace one power with another. To this end, my analysis will centre on Mia Couto’s short stories “As medalhas trocadas” (The Switched Medals) and “A derradeira morte da estátua de Mouzinho” (The Last Death of Mouzinho’s Statue) from the collection Cronicando (1991), and Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa’s historical fictional narrative Ualalapi (1987).



marques-images-1Irene Marques is a bilingual writer (English and Portuguese) and academic currently reaching in the African Studies Program and the Department of English at the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature, a Masters in French Literature, a Masters in Comparative Literature and a BA (Hon.) in French Language and Literature all from the University of Toronto, as well as a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University.

Marques academic training and research focus on colonial and postcolonial studies and the literatures of Africa with an emphasis on Lusophone literatures and is comparative, transdisciplinary and transcultural in scope. Her topics of investigation include: nationhood, identity, hybridism, essentialism and plurality ethics in African post-colonial contexts; Links between colonial nostalgias, personal “lack”, utopias and artistic representation; Intersections between African and Buddhist philosophies, the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas and Luce Irigaray, and Jungian psychology; and Race, class, gender and power dynamics as represented in literature.

Her academic publications include the manuscripts Transnational Discourses on Class, Gender and Cultural Identity (Purdue University Press, 2011) and Critical Approaches Vol.1: The Works of Chin Ce (Editor) (Handel Books, 2008), and numerous articles in international journals or scholarly collectives, including African Identities: Journal of Economics, Culture and Society, Research in African Literatures, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, Journal of the African Literature Association (JALA), African Studies, A Companion to Mia Couto and Letras & Letras.

Marques’ creative writing intersects with her academic interests and explores issues of personal and collective identity, mystical and mythical understandings of self, world and universe, gender, race, empire, class, cultural syncretism, the Portuguese colonial wars in Africa and the Portuguese fascist regime. Her narratives are marked by a universal ethos that crosses geographical and cultural boundaries, bringing to the page existential themes that affect us all, while being characterized by a profound philosophical inquiry that sees the individual as an entity constantly yearning to be “whole” in a markedly socio-political world that divides, dissects, fragments, annihilates, humiliates, and dismisses multidimensional (non-rational) intelligences and their enlightened ways.

She is the author of three poetry collections, Wearing Glasses of Water (2007, Mawenzi House), The Perfect Unravelling of the Spirit (2012, Mawenzi House) and The Circular Incantation: An Exercise in Loss and Findings (2013, Guernica Editions) as well as the Portuguese language short story collection Habitando na Metáfora do Tempo: Crónicas Desejadas (2009, Edium Editores) and the novel My House is a Mansion (2015, Leaping Lyon Books/York University). Her Portuguese language novel Uma casa no mundo (Verso da História) and the English language novel Daria, Tales of a Woman and Other Idealists (Inanna Publications) are due for publication in the near future.

Website: www.irenemarques.net


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