Women as portrayed in the oral literature of Buhaya: the case of ‘Kilenzi’ an Epic.

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University of Dar es Salaam
In the particular performance on which this text is based this is how the performer introduced himself. Aho enshonga nimbanza kutela enanga Rya Kyakaohwaenyanga Ryomukazi kweholelaiba Kandi inyealikutela Ndi HabibuSelemani- Bugandika TRANSLATION Now I am beginning to play the ‘enanga’ -of the unusual graves -of the women who avenged her husband’s death. And I who is playing Am Habibu Selemani (of)-Bugandika. This kind of introduction is characteristic of all nanga performance in Buhaya. It is formal and it is peculiar to the nanga. It is not found or practiced in other genres of oral literature, one does not have to introduce a song, a tale or a story, an idiom or a proverb, in such a formal manner. Sundiata has a similar introduction. The first words of the GriotMamadouKouyate are “I am a griot. It is I, DjeliMamoudouKouyate, master in the art of eloquence.” Niane D.T. Sundiate: An Epic of Old Mali, Longmans, London, 1966 Kilenzi is an epic of exceptional qualities. While other epics have Kings (superhuman powers and other mythical) with characters for their heroes, the characters in Kilenzi are real people living in a real society in the real world. The artist has been careful enough to avoid a situation in which the supernatural would dominate the epic thus making the events sound humanity impossible. The heroic feats described in the epic narrative are of the extraordinary kind and thus they characterize the work as an epic. But, for example, in the of Nyakandalo, when she carries out her revenge and slits the throats of hundreds of people singlehandedly, the artist is careful enough to minimize the supernatural effect by mentioning that the process tok place when her victims were dead a sleep. This has a dramatic effect on the audience for it increases their admiration for Nyakandalo. She is characterized as a cunning genius who is endowed with extraordinary powers of calculation. She is tactful and cautious and she knows how to weigh her chances of success before she makes any move. This kind of approach helps to make the epic, Kilenzi, more realistic and convincing, even to a modern audience. The setting of the epic, too, is of literary significance. It has something of the Shakespearian and Miltonic qualities. In the actual performance the performer produced the drum effect by manipulating the nanga music right at the beginning of his performance. The audience was made to feel the tense atmosphere of the wardrums, just like the Shakespearian audience would be able to feel the effect of the storm in the tempest. The same war effect is produced, when Kilenzi is in the battlefield. There is similar tension when Nyakandalo slits the throats of Lulyabibwa and his relatives. On the whole, the nanga music complements the narration and enriches the performance. No wonder, then, that the nangaperformance cans last overnight without the audience feeling the slightest boredom. Of course, it is always accompanied by alcoholic drinks, so there is no question of the performer’s throat ever getting dry. The nangainstrument, from which the epic derives its names, is the best friend of the epic artist. Without it he would not be able to narrate the story for he values the music part of the narration. Members of the audience, however, can and often do narrate the story or parts of it, but such narrations fall into the story telling part of oral literature. They do not quality to be called nanga epics. “Okutelaenanga” or to play the ‘enanga’ is the term applied to the epic performance. But the music and the narration are the essential qualities of the nanga performance. And only the traditional nanga instrument, not any other instrument, is played. Kilenzi has been carefully selected from the whole collection of nanga epics because it is the only work of oral art that can best illustrate my point about women. While other works mention women just in passing or even deny them a place at all, Kilenzi is an epic dedicated to a women. It is the only works of art, out of all the genres examined in my research, which gives women such recognition and which gives a women character such a heroic role. I thought, therefore, that since my aim was to discuss the women of my society as they emergrd in the oral literature of the society, kilenzi would give me the foundation on which to base my discussion. Its quality as a work of art also offred me the chance to broaden my topic by discoussing not only women, but also other issues arising from the artistic nature of the epic and its relation to the realisties in society. Both versions of Kilenzi are included in this dissertation, the original text in Luhaya and my own translation, from Luhaya into English. These form the first part of the dissertation and it is on this part that the second part, the analysis, is based. I admit that my translation is lacking in and rhythm which characterize the original text, but I also admit that I missed the accompaniment of the nanga music and the feedback of the audience when I was translating. This may not sound convincing enough but it is true that the mood of the audience and the music accompanying the performance have a rhythmic effect on the narration since they affect speed and the choice of words in oral performance.there are a few words which I deliberately left untranslated. Such words are explained in the footnotes which follow immediately after the text and reasons are given for not translating them. My main reason, however, is that since English has, so far, tolerated French words and words from other European languages, I do not see why it shoukd not be able to accommodate a few Luhaya words, especially in the few cases where a translation would distort the literary context. The division of the text into different stanzas is mine and I welcome any suggestions for amendments in my versification. On the whole, I accept any criticisms, especially regarding my translation and my stanzation, for, since there is not much that has so far been done in the way of prompting the epics of Buhaya, this may be the beginning of a worthwhile literary exercise. As such it would benefit from any ideas that would help to give it a good foundation. With this welcome the reader to go through Kilenzi and judge for himself or herself the greatness of this epic.
Available in print form, East Africana Collection, Dr. Wilbert Chagula Library, Class mark (THS EAF PN56.W6K3)
Women in Literature, Buhaya, Kilenzi epic, Tanzania
Kaijage, T.J. (1974) Women as portrayed in the oral literature of Buhaya: the case of ‘Kilenzi’ an Epic., Master dissertation, University of Dar es Salaam