Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
A doyen of understatement and metaphor, Tafataona Mahoso’s strength remains his depth of expression and knowledge of the subject matter, as well as articulation of the audience’s standpoint.
He may have been at his best three decades ago as is evident in “Footprints About the Bantustan” (1989), but in “Rupise: Poetry of Love, Separation and Reunion, 1977-2017”, published in 2018, the philosopher-poet raises the bar a notch higher.
The anthology is divided into five sections: Unlit Lanterns, Separation, Rupise: Where, When Does Love Stay, Lifefolds and Gleanings.
The philosopher-poet compellingly captures the universal poetic catharsis of love through its highs and lows, as he retraces his footprints to the Rhodesian Bantustan of his youth depicted in “Footprints About the Bantustan”.
After years in the Diaspora, Mahoso juxtaposes the colonial trauma that he endured with the liberated Zimbabwe of his dreams. Through adept use of imagery and symbolism, he contrasts the landscapes of his experiences to give meaning to the nature of human expectation.
The opening poem “Before you appeared in my Life”, highlights the reciprocal nature of love, the fluidity of life and the essence of womanhood.
“Before you appeared in my life
I feared my own imagination
Like a child surprised by its own giant shadow
At sunrise and sunset.
Before you appeared I feared my own desire,
A naughty boy trying to hide from a run-away fire he started.”
The philosopher-poet is conscious that like man in his travails, love faces the same natural weaponry. However, as man learns to tame nature, lovers can also domesticate the viscous energies that burden love.
To that end, the politics of love vehemently refuses to be subdued by the politics of displacement, oppression and plunder.
Tapping into rich natural images and metaphors, Mahoso chronicles the tale of a complex young man, who suffers triple separation: from his mother, girlfriend/s and the motherland, as he embarks on a voyage across the seas in a quest to better himself.
As the young man stays abroad for close to 20 years in pursuit of knowledge, he awakens to the physical and metaphysical reality that shapes his existence.
Mahoso skilfully reflects on the persona’s physical, spiritual, political and psychological complexities through symbolic elements.
Bereft of motherly love, a homely home, and a sod of soil he could proudly call his own, the diasporan seeks new mothers, girlfriends and nature’s gift of land: and all that encompasses it, for him to be able to counteract forces of distraction. It is this that helps him to endure waiting for a change of landscape; literally and metaphorically.
Because land is pivotal to the African’s contestation with the erstwhile coloniser, Mahoso’s “Rupise” evokes “the idiom of the African land reclamation revolution”, a subject that Mashingaidze Gomo enunciates in “A Fine Madness” (2010).
The collection is Mahoso’s tribute to the love/romance embodied in the Hot Springs of Chimanimani, his home area, which lost lustre through colonisation, as personified in Mainini Rupise (his mother’s beautiful cousin), who enabled them as boys “to go swimming naked with the girls in river pools without anyone ever being sexually molested or raped.”
Mahoso debunks the notion that African tradition is responsible for the oppression of women across the continent. Mainini Rupise, like Tinyarei in Gomo’s “A Fine Madness” exudes love, beauty, tolerance and patience: a quality that is downplayed in colonial and neo-colonial literature designed to splatter the African as a quintessence of evil. In the philosopher poet’s gaze, violence, sexual abuse and misogyny are products of neo-colonial and postcolonial patriarchy, and, therefore, should not be blamed on culture.
Notwithstanding its dominance, the male voice in “Rupise” does not override women’s significance. This view is given articulation, not only through the male voice itself, but through a counteracting and complementary female voice.
Rupise, the woman, and Rupise the metaphor interact and merge into a national discourse that yearns for the restoration of the robbed, plundered, bastardised and destroyed African institutions that Aime Cesaire weeps for in “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” (1947).
The poet longs for the return to the native land, where Rupise, and not the colonially detached Hot Springs, is celebrated through concrete metaphors of heat and water.
To give impetus to Rupise, the extended metaphor’s potency, one has to read the title poem “Footprints About the Bantustan” in contrast with “Rupise Two” or “Rupise Three”; or juxtaposing “There was No Room” in “Footprints About the Bantustan” and “Rupise Two” and “Rupise Three”.
Of the relationship between the poet and women on the one hand, and the poet and water on the other hand, Mahoso has this to say:
“The poet’s relationship to women and water is clarified and made more intimate, with ‘Rupise Two’ equating water with the woman’s eyes, which eyes have absorbed the essential history of the African; while in ‘Rupise Three’ both man and woman have become ‘water bodies’ naturally attracted to geographical water bodies which Marina Warner correctly associated with the grace and powers of the sun and moon.”
Curiously, upon his return from the Diaspora, the persona seeks to reunite with his mother, lover and the land of his birth. He attempts to suppress the triple attachment to the foreign land that nurtured and fed him, his foreign girlfriends and foreign “mother”, and his biological mother, much to the chagrin of the spirit of his deceased father.
The young man’s late father visits him in a dream and implores him to integrate his birthplace experiences with the best of what he encountered overseas, thus the triad of love, separation and reunion is played out on two continents.
In the section “Gleanings”, which also appears in “Footprints About the Bantustan” (1989), the poet highlights the nature of love in the enclaves of deprivation. He explores what it means to love and be loved, when dreams are sutured, and hope wears so many shades that it becomes tasking to find one’s way out of the quicksand of existence.
There is much hope in love, so much more to expect, because love conquers all, as the poet is all too aware of; yet the neo-colonial world with its capitalist tendencies derived from the empire, does not allow such expressions of love “where leisure is what will fit between moonlighting shifts or what the “nice boss”/will give as a gift against your future . . . where paying attention to you is/what is left over from television commercials” (“Love in the Shadows of Power and Possession”).
The rationale of love as a double-edged sword: both therapeutic and heart-breaking, when read against oppressive intrigues, separating loved ones and expecting more than they could give, also obtains in the poems “To a Young Woman”, “Hunger Strands”, “Homage to an early Love” and “Love in the Shadows of Power and Possession”.
Indeed, Mahoso’s redolent, therapeutic and thought provoking “Rupise: Poetry of Love, Separation and Reunion: 1977-2017, published in 2018, and available at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, is a must read anthology.