A dark, poetic mystery about the tribal women of Kulumani and the lionesses that hunt them
Told through two haunting interwoven diaries, Mia Couto's Confession of the Lioness reveals the enigmatic world of Kulumani, an isolated village in Mozambique whose traditions and beliefs are threatened when ghostlike lionesses begin hunting and killing the women who live there.
The young Mariamar, whose sister was recently killed in an attack, has been imprisoned by her father in his home. Meanwhile, a marksman, the outsider Archangel Bullseye, has arrived to track the deadly lionesses, but as he pursues them in the wilderness, the hunt proves deadlier than imagined. As the predators continue to close in, and the village confronts the forces of modernity, it becomes clear that the lionesses may not be animals at all, but the spirits conjured by the village women’s ancient witchcraft.
Both a riveting mystery and a poignant examination of women’s oppression, this darkly poetic novel combines reality, superstition, and magical realism to startling effect.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Mia Couto, born in Beira, Mozambique, in 1955, is one of the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. After studying medicine and biology in Maputo, he worked as a journalist and headed several Mozambican national newspapers and magazines. Couto has been awarded several important literary prizes, including the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Premio Camões (the most prestigious Portuguese-language award), the Prémio Vergílio Ferreira, the Prémio União Latina de Literaturas Românicas, and others. He lives in Maputo, where he works as a biologist.
Read an Excerpt
Confession of the Lioness
By Mia Couto, David Brookshaw
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Editorial Caminho
All rights reserved.
Blessed is the lion that the man will eat, for the lion will become human; and cursed is the man the lion will eat, for the lion will become human.
— GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS
God was once a woman. Before he exiled himself far from his creation, and while he had still not assumed the name of Nungu, the current Lord of the Universe looked like all the mothers in this world. In this other time, we spoke the same language as the oceans, the land, and the heavens. According to my grandfather, that kingdom perished long ago. But somewhere within us, there remains the memory of that far-off age. Illusions and certainties survive that have been passed on from one generation to another in our village of Kulumani. We all know, for example, that the sky is as yet unfinished. It's the women who, for millennia, have been weaving its infinite veil. When their bellies grow round, a piece of sky is added. Conversely, when they lose a child, this piece of firmament withers away.
Maybe this is why my mother, Hanifa Assulua, kept watching the clouds during the burial of her eldest daughter. My sister Silência was the most recent victim of the lions, which have been tormenting our village for some weeks now.
As she died disfigured, they laid what remained of her body on its left-hand side, with the head turned to the east and the feet turned to the south. During the ceremony, my mother seemed to be dancing: Time and again she would bend over a pitcher which she had made with her own hands. She sprinkled the surrounding earth with water and then stamped both her feet to the same rhythm as someone sowing seeds.
As she returned from the funeral, there was too much sky in my poor mother's eyes. It was only a short walk home: The family graveyard was on the outskirts of the village. Hanifa made a brief detour along the River Lideia to complete her ritual cleansing by bathing in its waters, while farther back, I erased the footprints leading to the grave.
Shake your feet, dust likes to travel.
In the hallowed ground of our graveyard stood yet another cross, showing that we were different from the Muslims and from the pagans. I know now: If we place a tombstone over the dead, it's not out of respect. It's out of fear. We're afraid they'll come back. Over time, this fear becomes greater than our yearning for them.
All the members of the family respected the order: The route back was altogether different from that taken to go. Nevertheless, my mind could not rid itself of the persistent image: Silência's body being carried on shoulders, wrapped in white sheets that swayed like broken wings.
When we reached our front door, my mother looked at the house as if she were blaming it: so alive, so ancient, so timeless. Our house was different from the other huts. It was made of cement, had a tin roof, and was equipped with bedrooms, a living room, and an inside kitchen. There were rugs strewn on the floor and dusty curtains hung in the windows. We were also different from the other inhabitants of Kulumani. In particular my mother, Hanifa Assulua, was different, for she had some education, and was the daughter of educated parents. On our way back from the funeral, I noticed how beautiful she was: Even with her head shaved in compliance with her mourning, her countenance belied her grief. For some time, she eyed me as if weighing up how precious I was to her. I thought there was a maternal tenderness in her look. But her words were shaped by other feelings:
You'll never have to experience a mother's grief.
Please, Mother, I've just lost my sister, I said.
You'll never lose a daughter. It was God who wished it thus.
And she turned her back. Having taken off her shoes, she crossed the threshold and took to her bed. One can bury a daughter, that's true. She had already done so before. But one never stops saying farewell. No one needs a mother's attention more than a dead child.
At this point, my father asked the mourning women to leave our yard. He entered the darkened house and, leaning over his wife, asked:
Why did you shave your head? Are we not Christians?
Hanifa shrugged. At that particular moment, she was nothing at all. The wailing of the women mourners had ceased and she couldn't stand the vast silence.
So what shall we do now, ntwangu?
Like all women in Kulumani, she called her husband ntwangu. The man's name was Genito Serafim Mpepe. But out of respect, she never addressed him by his name. Yes, we were educated, but we were too much a part of Kulumani. All our present was made up of our past. At that moment, her husband nestled up to her and spoke with a gentleness that she wasn't used to, each word a cloud patching up the skies.
What shall we do now? Well, now ... now we shall live, woman.
I don't know how to live anymore, ntwangu.
No one knows how to. But that is what our daughter is asking us to do: to live.
Don't talk to me about what our daughter asked. You never listened to her.
Not now! Don't talk about that now, woman.
You didn't understand my question: What shall we do with that bit of our daughter we didn't bury?
I don't want to talk about that. Let's sleep.
She raised herself, leaning on her elbow. Her eyes were dilated, like those of someone who had drowned.
But our Silência ...
Quiet, woman! Have you forgotten that we can never again utter our daughter's name?
I need to know: Which bits of her body couldn't we bury?
I've already told you to be quiet, woman.
His voice trembled, leaflike: My father was struggling with inner demons. The blood-soaked sack containing his daughter's remains still dripped in his memory. And once again he was assailed by a recollection that could never be laid to rest: the sudden confusion of voices and panic that had woken him in the early hours of the previous day. Genito Mpepe had crossed the yard expecting tragedy. Moments before, he had heard the lions prowling around the house. Suddenly there were roars, cries, wails dispersing in the air, the world sank out of sight in shattered pieces: Nothing remained within him. To forget such an event, it would be necessary never to have lived.
The heart? Hanifa persisted.
Again? Didn't I tell you to keep quiet?
Did we bury her heart? You know very well what they do with the heart ...
My father took a deep breath, and contemplated the old clothes hanging from the rafters. He didn't feel any different from those garments, drooping shapelessly and without soul in the emptiness. His voice returned to him, and he spoke softly once again:
Think of it this way, woman: A child doesn't have a grave.
I don't want to listen to this, I'm going out.
I'm going to get what's left of our daughter out there in the bush.
You're not going. You're not leaving the house.
No one's going to stop me.
She would leave home, she would go beyond the paths created by people, her feet would bleed, her eyes would burn from their encounter with the sun, but she would go and get what remained of Silência, forever her little girl-child. Blocking her way, her husband threatened:
I'm going to tie you with a rope, like an animal.
Tie me up, then. I've been no more than an animal for a long time. You've been sleeping with an animal in your bed for a long time now ...
That put an end to the discussion. Hanifa silently curled up, her arms snuggled between her legs, as if she wanted to give in to sleep.
Are you going to sleep on the floor? Genito asked.
She lay on the ground, her head resting on the stony floor. She wanted to listen to the world's insides. The women of Kulumani know secrets. They know, for example, that within their mother's womb, babies, at a given moment, change position. Throughout the world, they turn on themselves, obeying a single voice from deep within the earth. The same happens with the dead: On the same night — and it can only happen on that particular night — they are all ordered to turn over in the earth's belly. This is when lights glow over their graves, a swirling of silvery dust. Whoever sleeps with his (or her) ear to the ground hears this gyration of the dead. It was for this reason, unknown to Genito, that Hanifa refused a bed and a pillow. Flat out on the floor, she was listening to the earth. It wouldn't be long before her daughter made herself felt. Who knows, maybe the twins, Uminha and Igualita, the ones who had died before, would deliver her messages from the other side of the world.
Her husband didn't go to bed: He knew that he was in for a long night. The memory of his daughter's mangled body would keep sleep at bay. The lion's roar would echo within him, lacerating his sleepless hours. He remained for a while on the veranda, peering into the darkness. Maybe the stillness would bring him respite. But silence is an egg in reverse: The shell is someone else's, but it's we who get broken.
One doubt consumed him: How had the tragedy occurred? Had his daughter left the house in the middle of the night? And if that had been the case, was it her intention to end her life? Or, conversely, had the lion broken into the house, more burglar than beast?
Suddenly the whole world was shattered: The peace of the bush was interrupted by the sound of furtive steps. Genito's heart thumped hard against his chest. What was happening was what always happened: The lions were coming back to eat what they'd left behind the previous day.
Then, unexpectedly, like a man possessed, he started yelling, while running this way and that:
I know you're there, creatures of the devil! Show yourselves, I want to see you come out of the bush, you're vantumi va vanu!
I watched him in this frenzied state from the window, as he challenged the lion-people, the vantumi va vanu. All of a sudden he flopped to the ground as if his knees had been smashed. He raised his head slowly and saw that he was in the embrace of a bat's dark wings. He couldn't hear a sound, not even the rustling of a wing or a leaf above his head. Genito Mpepe was a tracker — he knew all the invisible signs of the savanna. He had often told me: Only humans recognize silence. For all the other creatures, the world is never silent and even the grass growing and the petals opening make a huge noise. In the bush, the animals live by listening. That's what my father envied at that moment: He wished he were an animal. And far from human beings, to be able to return to his lair and fall asleep without pity or guilt.
I know you're there!
This time his words were no longer laden with rage. Hoarseness caused his voice to weaken. Repeating his curses, he returned to the house to seek refuge in his bedroom. His wife was still lying curled up on the floor, just as he had left her. As he was covering her with a blanket, Hanifa Assulua woke with a start, and, clinging furiously to her husband's body, she exclaimed:
Let's make love!
You're out of your mind, Hanifa. You don't know what you're saying.
Are you refusing me, husband? Don't you want a quick one?
You know that we can't. We're in mourning — the whole village will be sullied.
That's what I want: the village, the whole world, to be sullied.
Hanifa, listen to me: Time will pass, folk will forget. People even forget they're alive.
I haven't been alive for a long time. Now I've stopped being a person.
My father looked at her as if she were a stranger. His wife had never spoken like that before. In fact, she almost never spoke. She had always been contained, kept in the shadows. After the twins had died, she never again uttered a word. So much so that her husband would occasionally ask:
Are you alive, Hanifa Assulua?
But it wasn't that she spoke so little. For her, life had become a foreign language. Once again, his wife was preparing herself for this absence, Genito thought, without noticing that Hanifa, in the darkness, was taking off her clothes. Once naked, she hugged him from behind and Genito Mpepe succumbed to her serpent's embrace. He seemed to have surrendered, when he suddenly shook his wife and beat a hurried retreat to the yard. Then he disappeared into the darkness.
In the hidden recess of her room, my mother gave herself over to brazen caresses, as if her man were really with her. And so, in this way, she was in command, galloping on her own croup, dancing over her own fire. She sweated and groaned:
Don't stop, Genito! Don't stop!
That's when she became aware of the smell of sweat. A sour, intense smell like that of wild animals. Afterward, she heard the grunt. Then it occurred to my mother that it wasn't her man who was on top of her, but a creature from the bush, thirsty for her blood. During the act of love, Genito Mpepe had turned into a wild beast that was devouring her. Weakened by his fervor, she was helpless, at the mercy of his feline appetite.
I'm mad, she thought, while she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. But when she felt the claw tear her neck, Hanifa screamed so loudly that, for a moment, she didn't know whether it was out of pain or pleasure. My father came to help her, unaware of what was happening. His wife crossed the threshold in the opposite direction and Genito was unable to stop her, in her frenzied haste, from bursting out into the yard.
If she had been mistress of her will, our mother would have escaped in endless flight. But Kulumani was a closed place, surrounded by geography and atrophied by fear. Hanifa Assulua came to a halt at the entrance to the yard, next to the hedge of thorns that protected us from the bush. Raising her hands to her head, she brought them down over her face as if she were wiping away a cobweb:
I've destroyed this place! I've destroyed Kulumani!
This is what the village would say: that Genito Serafim Mpepe's wife hadn't waited for the ground to grow cold. Sex on a day of mourning, when the village was still fired up: There was no worse contamination. By making love on that day — and even worse by making love to herself — Hanifa Assulua had offended all our ancestors.
Returning to her resting place, my poor mother bore the burden of night, floating between slumber and wakefulness. When early morning came, she heard Genito Mpepe's sleepy steps.
Are you getting up early, husband?
Every morning, our mother would be up before sunrise: She'd collect firewood, light the stove, prepare food, work the allotment, dig over the earth — all this she did by herself. Now, for no apparent reason, was her husband sharing the burden of her reality?
I have some news, Genito Mpepe announced solemnly.
News? You know, ntwangu: In Kulumani, the only news we get is when an owl hoots.
People are coming. People from outside.
People? Real people?
They're coming from the capital.
My mother remained silent, coming to terms with her astonishment. Her husband was making it up. No news or strangers had turned up there for centuries ...
How long have you known this piece of news?
You know it's a sin.
It's dangerous to know what's going on, it's a sin to spread news. Do you think God will forgive us?
Without waiting for an answer, Hanifa waved her arms about, as if she were warding off ghosts, entangling herself in the foliage that framed her. She raised her hand to her shoulder, and felt the flow of blood.
What's this, ntwangu? Who scratched me?
No one. The thorns, it was the acacia thorns. I've got to cut that tree back.
It wasn't the tree. Someone scratched me. Look at my shoulder: There are fingernail marks, someone clawed me.
And they argued. But both were right. In the village, even the plants have claws. In Kulumani, all living things are trained to bite. Birds devour the sky, branches rip the clouds, rain bites the earth, the dead use their teeth to reap revenge on their fate. Hanifa gazed at the forest aghast. Her face wore the expression of an alarmed gazelle.
Excerpted from Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto, David Brookshaw. Copyright © 2012 Editorial Caminho. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Mariamar's Version: One The News,
The Hunter's Diary: One The Advertisement,
Mariamar's Version: Two Return from the River,
The Hunter's Diary: Two The Journey,
Mariamar's Version: Three An Unreadable Memory,
The Hunter's Diary: Three A Long, Unfinished Letter,
Mariamar's Version: Four The Blind Road,
The Hunter's Diary: Four Rituals and Ambushes,
Mariamar's Version: Five Some Honey Eyes,
The Hunter's Diary: Five The Living Bone of a Dead Hyena,
Mariamar's Version: Six A River Without Sea,
The Hunter's Diary: Six The Reencounter,
Mariamar's Version: Seven The Ambush,
The Hunter's Diary: Seven The Demon Saint,
Mariamar's Version: Eight Blood of a Beast, a Woman's Tear,
The Hunter's Diary: Eight Flowers for the Living,
A Note About the Author,
Also by Mia Couto,