Farida Karodia's A Shattering of Silence: Colonial Violence and the Politics of Female-Driven Sympathetic Pushback.

AuthorNgom, Mamadou Abdou Babou
PositionCritical essay


Farida Karodia is a South-African born novelist and short story writer, steeped in the ideals of humanity; she went through the gauntlet of apartheid strictures owing to the searing content of her apartheid-era opus against the immorality of institutionalized racism and its exponents. Indeed, she had her passport withdrawn at one time. More importantly, she had to bite the bullet of immigrating to Canada when she was faced with the daunting possibility of forced internment in South Africa, then under the rule of the National Party. Even so, the psychological cum physical toll of exile did not put a damper on her moral duty as a woman of conscience and writer to castigate the sanctimoniousness of apartheid.

Some of her novels were both written and published in Canada while she was exiled there. Not until 1994 did she return to her native South Africa. Since the inception of her literary career, she has written six novels: Daughters of Twilight (1986), Coming Home and Other Stories (1988), A Shattering of Silence (1991), Against an African Sky (1994), Other Secrets (2000) and Boundaries (2003). She has had literary awards conferred upon her thanks to Other Secrets (IMPAC Dublin Award) and her first novel, which was nominated for the Fawcett Literary Prize in Great Britain.

Colonialism reeks of oppression. As a result, violence whether it be physical or moral cannot be divorced by any stretch of the imagination from the workings of colonialism. For one thing, the politics of dehumanization and dispossession as well as economic exploitation attendant upon the practice of colonization is a glaring epitome of violence. When it comes to defining violence as such, the search for a clear-cut definition is a testament to its complexity.

In his introduction to Understanding Violence, Graeme Newman points out that '"violence is anything but a unitary phenomenon. Rather it is a catchall word that is used to refer to a wide range of often very different events and behaviors'" (5). Even so, given its paramountcy in our analytic project, and for ease of readability it is useful to go through some definitions of violence which, arguably, capture both its breath and intricacy. Hence, according to Newman violence is 'that which leads to physical injury or damage, since historically and statistically it is the only aspect of violence that we are able to observe or record"' (2). Still Marvin Eugene Wolfang does not march in lockstep with Newman as to the definition of violence. He conceives of the term as "the intentional use of physical force on another person or noxious stimuli invoked by one person to another" (Subculture of Violence 316). In a 1966 article, Wolfang is a little more precise: "It is probably safe to assert, however, that violence is generally perceived as the display of behavior which inflicts physical injury" (A Preface to Violence 2). As regards The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, it views violence as "violent behavior that is intended to hurt or kill somebody". These definitions, insightful though they are, have a weak commonality, i.e. they are scrappy in that they foreground the physical facet of violence to the detriment of the psychological one. Actually, violence as a crime can take on different guises: physical, psychological, moral, you name it. A more comprehensive definition is provided by the World Health Organization, hence:

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, or psychological, maldevelopment or deprivation (World report on violence and health 5). This definition of violence is encompassing as its takes account of the multifaceted fallout from acts of violence. The endgame of the intentional use of violence may be well and truly calculated to exact physical or psychological damage with the unconscionable intent to make the recipient toe the line. This nefarious function of violence is up and running in a colonial setting. In an endeavor to break down the indigenous will to pushback against an all-out drive to turn a person into a nonbeing, the colonizing person taps into unwarranted physical force, sleep deprivation, destruction of anything linking the colonized to history, culture, and the like.

The kind of violence that culminates in "the destruction of the indigenous social fabric", and demolishing "unchecked the systems of reference of the country's economy lifestyles, modes of dress" (Fanon 6-7) is cruelty writ large. The late Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born thinker whose seminal study of the colonial world is more topical than ever, posits that violence is the colonizer's recipe for holding in check the colonized subject. His following description of the colonial society captures the violent nature of the ideology of colonialism itself:

A world compartmentalized, Manichean and petrified, a world of statues: the statue of the general who the led the conquest, the statue of the engineer who built the bridge. A world cocksure of itself, crushing with its stoniness the backbones of those scarred by the whip (15). This 'Fanonian' sidelight on the make-up of the colonial world is, arguably, a measure of the solipsistic mindset of the colonist. To be sure, the resort to wanton physical violence paves the way for the success of the colonizer in unabashedly reducing the colonized to 'thingification' (1) (Cesaire 9). Colonialism comes about through violence and sustains itself through violence.

A Shattering of Silence: A Synopsis

A Shattering of Silence is a swinging critique of colonialism in any shape or form that recounts the story of Faith, whose parents are Protestant missionaries who have relinquished a cozy life in Manitoba (Canada) to settle in a Mozambican village with a viewing to minister to the needy; their arrival in Mozambique happens prior to Faith's birth and against a background of colonial occupation. Life for ordinary denizens borders on hell due to the strictures of the colonial society and the backwash effect of a war of liberation pitting Portuguese-backed government forces against indigenous rebels.

Faith's life takes a horrendous twist when, against all expectations, her parents, Rebecca and Alex Merrick, "those indefatigable sources of love and security" (17) as Faith calls them, get slain as a result of a collective punishment meted out on the inhabitants by the colonial administration. Their gruesome fate is all the more undeserved and senseless since both of them have pulled their weight in terms of assuaging the destitution and squalor of the village, as well as giving medical attention to war casualties. The traumatic experience of witnessing her parents slaughtered at close quarters becomes a game changer as it marks the ground zero for an appallingly uphill life for Faith, hence she says: "The enormous sense of loss and confusion about the events of the past few days had paralyzed me emotionally. I had lost everything: my parents, my home, my memory and my ability to speak" (17).

Orphaned in her prime, Faith is sent from Catholic missionary to Catholic missionary as she tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and move on. At last! She encounters her road to Damascus: Dona Maria del Gado Cadoso, "a generous benefactress" (63). Indeed, thanks to the latter, Faith eventually leaves the notorious hellhole of Sao Thomas for the Convent of Santa Teresa "located about fifteen miles out of the city" (59), and where she receives "formal tutoring in sign language in the morning, after prayers and morning chores." (65). After an unspecified spell at the convent, Dona Maria uses her pull to secure Faith a position at the Clinic for the Deaf where she "was to teach sign language to the children who were being treated at the clinic." (78). Even though Faith has had a raw deal out of life, she has the likes of Dona Maria to thank for her eventual success in making something of herself.

Descent is anathema to colonial authority. Any move meant to redress the wrongs inflicted on the indigenous people is stamped out cold-bloodedly. The "compartmentalized, Manichean, and petrified" (2) nature of the colonial world that implies the sustenance of a dead hand of subjugation feeds on wanton violence and intimidatory tactics of any ilk. And in their unwholesome drive to win full observance of the established order, colonists stop at nothing to coerce the natives into compliance. The gruesome plight of colonized people in A Shattering of Silence glaringly highlights the preposterous edge to the use of violence in a colonial environment. At the outset of the novel, the reader discovers a glum atmosphere in a northern Mozambican village where the stultifying effects of living in squalor, coupled with a sickening war take a heavy human and psychological toll amongst the indigenous population. Thus, many of the woes of the people stem from a bunch of estate owners who ride roughshod over the peasantry, immune from prosecution by the colonial government:

They [The estate owners] had always controlled every aspect of village life, determining everything from what the villagers ate to what they could grow and where they could sell their cash crops. Many of these estate owners were a law unto themselves, their dictatorial actions either condoned or ignored by the colonial government (7). In the world of A Shattering of Silence, landownership is heavily weighted in favour of Portuguese-backed property developers who are allowed full rein to unabashedly exploit the "chibalos". The latter are "men without rights, used as forced labour" (7). Working conditions are appallingly abysmal and village men have nothing to show for their hard work. Nonetheless, when it dawns on them that the likelihood of seeing an end to their suffering is very slim, they get their act together with the help...

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