O Desejo de Kianda - Pepetela

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Pepetela

Name: Artur Carlos Maurício Pestana dos Santos

Born: 1941

A major Angolan writer of fiction.

A white Angolan, Pepetela was born in Benguela, Portuguese Angola

Fought as a member of the MPLA in the long guerrilla war for Angola's independence

Much of his writing deals with Angola's political history in the 20th century.

Pepetela won the Camões Prize, the world's highest honour for Lusophone literature, in 1997.

"Pepetela" is a Kimbundu word that means "eyelash," which is a translation of his Portuguese surname, "Pestana".

The author received this nom de guerre during his time as an MPLA combatant.

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Angola

Position on the map and neighbours – key

Civil war from 1975 which lasted 27 years – to do with interference from neighbours and Cold War politics

Didn’t want to see functioning black governments around them (e.g. Namibia)

Angola: very divided by regions

Key power is held in Luanda – capital and where the Portuguese arrived in the end of the 15th century and founded their colony

 Benguela – region which Pepetela is from (today he’s based in Luanda)

Perspective of someone who isn’t from Luanda on Luanda

 Portuguese empire was the longest lasting European empire: 1415-1975

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Creole elites and the MPLA

·      Luanda-based

·      Portuguese proxies in 19th Century

·      Angolan literature and national consciousness emerges

·      Backbone of MPLA

·      Gives birth to the independence movement

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Independence

Portugal was neutral in WW2
After WW2 Salazar did not learn the lesson of the war: that colonial gain was over – USA was not going to tolerate a colonial system

Portugal refused to give up Angola – the jewel in the crown

1955: International community put a lot of pressure on Portugal to give up their colonies – instead renamed them of overseas colonies

Winds of Change – Harold McMillan – imperial powers have to give up their colonies, otherwise a bloodbath was due

Competing independence movements (FNLA; MPLA; UNITA)

  • MPLA was essentially the Creole Elite independence party

MPLA strong in Luanda – mixture of Kimbundu support and the Creole elite
Kimbundu: 25% of the population of Angola

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Colonial war and independence struggle

  • Portuguese dictatorship
  • Colonial War
  • Carnation Revolution (1974) brings an end to Portuguese colonialism
  • African liberation movements intervened and pushed for independence
  • Angolan Independence (11th November 1975)
  • Salazar is obsessed with sending Portuguese youth to Angola: “Para Angola com força” – to Angola with force
  • No single party to hand over Angola to
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Evolving concerns

1975: member of Agostinho Neto’s cabinet- understood the role that culture would have in forming Angolan national identity

27 de Maio 1977 – the factionalist purge of the MPLA ranks – 50,000 killed, Commission of Tears

Relation with dos Santos – becomes President unexpectedly in 1979, committee man, portrayed as someone who could be manipulated. Still in power today – iron clasp on power

Increasingly critical stance

Evolution of Marxist thinking – what is wrong is colonialism

1989 – the fall of the Berlin Wall – no longer a counterweight to capitalism

Angola goes for a free market – adoption of capitalism

Pepetela desires to evolve the premises of Marxist thinking into an alternate

Initial sociological view of the world as one in which markets should not be given free reign

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Theme: power

·      How is it exercised?

·      Relational

·      Is it gendered?

·      Ruptures and continuities – is it the same in 2013 as in 1950?

·      Agency

·      Mediocrity or hero – João isn’t outstanding

·      Constant allusions to the colonial paradigm

·      Can any character really exercise agency?

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Theme: ideology

Reality vs your way of interpreting it

Distorted by ideological framework

How does it change? How do you change?

  • Carmina - originally Marxist, becomes capitalist
  • Joao - no ideology to speak of, apathethic
  • Honório: nakedness at the end, remains strong in his ideals
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Theme: national identity

What does it mean to be Angolan? Is there a coherent national identity?

According to Honorio, the people are simply creating history and inventing their own ways through their naked protest.

The triumph of Kianda is a statement of optimism that the people and their revolution will triumph if they dare to be as resolute and original as the water spirit to achieve their goal of true liberation from the post independence exploiters and turncoat revolutionaries.

A truly Angolan identity can only come, in the final analysis, from the soil of the Angolans.

European culture dominates Angolan country - Kianda cannot be a mermaid because it is a European idea

Apartment blocks create conflict because they live on top of each other like Europeans - not suitable for the African way of life

Rejection of Umbundu people shows that Angola is a divided nation

"It's important to defend national unity: one People, one Nation"

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Critics

Peptela's vision fails to "combine the historical and revolutionary with the dialetical and the analytical" - Ikiddeh, 1986

"For Pepetela, the organisation of power determines the way in which people think and act - not for the reason that people must find a way to live with or within particular arrangements of power, but because every arrangement of power takes its shape from desire" - Grant Hamilton

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Theme: racism

Not many black national writers – creole elites
Group that represented colonial power is now in power

Carmina is racist and mimics the slave owners in her renaming of her maid Fatita/Joana

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Theme: postcolonialism

How does colonialism inform the way countries are now

 E.g. Fatita/Joana

Pepetela argues that the common people who fought for independence have been marginalised in post-independence Angola as the ruling class, once socialist, now worship on the altar of greedy capitalism

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Plot

Buildings are coming down in Kinaxixi Square in Luanda. People and property are thrown out and the building just dissolves, the cement turning into powder. And this is happening to buildings within a certain path - the phenomenon has been christened 'Luanda Syndrome' and no one seems to know the cause. Tourists, scientists and criminal investigators are always around to collect samples for testing. Yet, the results yield nothing. However, a small girl named Cassandra alone hears the songs of the Water Spirit. As more of the buildings come down, throwing people and property into safety, the Water Spirit's songs become no more mournful but victorious. Is the Water Spirit the cause of the falling houses, granted that the lagoon in the city had been blocked and built over? So Carmina's husband, Joao Evangelista, thinks. But Carmina, a member of the Youth wing of the communist Party in power, attributes the falling buildings to sabotage and even to the Americans testing a new technology.

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Plot 2

The story is told on the backdrop of a country that was gradually changing over from communism to a market economy in the midst of war. As a result everybody is trying to take advantage of this change to better themselves leading to massive class struggle and the creation of dual economies. Some succeeded others did not. "Thousands of homeless children loitered in the streets, thousands of youth sold and resold things to those that drove past in their cars, countless numbers of war amputees begged for alms at the market. At the same time, important people had luxury cars with smoked glass. No one ever saw their faces." Party members are stealing state property to enrich themselves, civil and public servants are stealing from their workplace with the poorly corrupt getting arrested, others are forming political parties only to receive subsidies from the government. Corruption has become the order of the day and those who are poor in it found trouble "The poor are so poor that even when they steal they are poor at it"

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Plot 3

For those whose buildings have fallen in a country with housing shortages and a war that has amplified all domestic problems, the only way to make the government listen is to walk nude. Soon the nudeness infected all the struggling masses so that a movement ensued which vowed to denude any clothed person - sharing their poverty with the rich. 

'...In no time we'll be millions and no one fights against millions. Then, yes, that will be the moment to impose social equality by force, that is, to tear off the clothes of the rich.' (Page 96)

Carmina is also faced with a choice: follow the direction of change or lose out. She is a hard-working, strong and opinionated woman married to a man brought up in a missionary school and home with a long-line of church ministers in his family. The relationship between the two is dull with Joao Evangelista heading nowhere with his life except with the games he plays daily on the computer Carmina gave him as a wedding present. He is excessively obsequious, full of thought but empty of action. And it is from his perspective, or point of view, that the story is told.

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Plot 4

Both the locals and foreign nationals turn the misfortune of the falling houses into a money-making venture and a spectacle to behold, respectively.

A charter plane full of German tourists then arrived, immediately followed by one with South Africans, then one with Japanese, and then, surprising as it sounds, with Finns. (Page 67)

In this novel, Pepetela has brought together two separate stories: the Water Spirit and Economic Struggle. We learn of how corruption begins, how it's fed and how it grows into proportions that make it almost impossible to control. We also read of how war turns the minutest of problems into a huge one difficult to solve. My only problem is that the merging of the Water Spirit and the struggling going on did not seem to gel well. I wanted to know if people would realise that it was the Water Spirit that was causing all the buildings to fall and suppurating water from the ground where no pipes have burst or no source of water was. However, overall, this is a novel one could read and love.

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Historical context of novel

·      Published in 1995

·      Backdrop in MPLA ideological switch

·      Multiparty elections – technically the Marxist/Leninist vanguard party – an enlightened elite in an unenlightened nation – leading the nation towards a more equal society where capital and means of production are owned by the people who do the production

·      The state was in charge of companies – concessions with American oil companies

·      Declare themselves a social democrat party in the 1992 elections

·      Really a neoliberal party – market ceases to be regulated

·      Multiparty elections - 1992

·      Return to Civil War

·      Critique of Creole elites

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Theme: class consciousness

Marxist sociological analysis

  • What can you take from the model to understand and critique what’s happening now
  • CCC’s positions are not reconcilable

·      Power switches

·      Same personalities different policies

·      Betrayal of Revolution/Independence

o   Import/export – kind of business that you don’t do any labour for – against socialist policy

o   CCC buys into nostalgia, ultimate betrayal of everything that the Revolution embodies

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Style

·      Gentle irony

·      Perspective – see characters through the eyes of other characters – distorting reality

·      Political and topical allusions: “The Party”

·      Symbolic importance of Kinaxixi – architecture model imported from the US

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Character: Carmina

  • Agency, diputada, ambitious Jota political ambition
  • Feminist symbol?
  • Member of the MPLA Youth division
  • A fanatical and vocal member of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola
  • A strident Marxist and socialist until she realises that everyone in her party is "moving towards the so-called market economy"
  • Turns from communist to capitalist
  • She embraces the ethics of capitalism and becomes a businesswoman
  • Makes her fortune by first selling luxury goods, and then arms to the MPLA government in the fight against the rebels
  • "Turncoat revolutionary"
  • "The very embodiment of the ethical and moral failing of the government is the strong-willed atheist Carmina" - Ogbeide
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Character: João

João's blindness is enforced throughout the novel

Weak willed, apathetic, addicted to video games

Raised religiously, parents don't approve of his marriage to Carmina

Views Carmina through the male gaze, but is submissive to her

"His entire perspective of the reality around him is impaired and refracted by the entertaining weight of his computer screen"- Philip Rothwell

Too busy playing computer war games to care about his wife's unethical actions

João dreams of domination whilst Carmina dominates reality

Narrative filtered through J a lot of the time: characterisation of woman through the male gaze

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Secondary characters

·      Honório – ends up as the ringleader of the naked protest, responsible for petty corruption – petit bourgeoisie mimics what the people higher up are doing except that they don’t get away with it

      Matéus Evangelista (married to Dona Mingota) – constantly critiquing Angolan society from a dogmatic religious position – a society that has lost its values and moral compass – uses one rhetoric to mean something else

·      Cassandra – the voice that cannot be believed – European mythology comes together with Kianda (Angolan mythology) – why is the voice there and what does it do? Provides a foil to what is going on in the novel – mythology vs high

     Kalumbo – fusion of a very old Angolan man/very young Angolan girl – believes Cassandra

·      Sô Ribeiro – Portuguese architect brought into demonstrate the ways in which colonial paradigms have been inverted

·      Joana (Fatita) – replication of a colonial paradigm – a lusotropical mythology – Portuguesifying the name of colonial servants – Fatita is a Portuguese name – presents a colonial paradigm which goes beyond the original statement – act of power and dominance

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Why do the buildings fall?

  • Role of city as a protagonist
  • Emerging bourgeoisie: class concerned with value of property and accumulation of capital
  • Role of Kinaxixi in Angolan imaginary (what the spiritual past of Luanda is)
  • Role of spectacle – interests the world, brings attention to Angola in a way that people give their own ideological slant on what the spectacle is
  • See intimate detail of hidden lives (politician and artists in bed, fights over furniture), naked protests – making public a private space – operating power dynamic which has made people privileged and other people unprivileged
  • “Nature” vs “civilisation” – what is the price has Angola has paid for civilisation?
  • “High Modernist Narrative” – vision of Angola is one of massive development, v European idea – resistant to a different kind of worldview based on indigenous cultures. vs Mythologies – always existed as a tension within the MPLA
  • Look to Europe in terms of architecture: buildings are based on European and American models
  • By knocking down these buildings we see a challenge to this narrative
  • You have to acknowledge and respect mythologies which are already there
  • The key to their success is owning property which is going to increase in value without any effort on their part
  • P critiques people using their Marxist connections to benefit economically
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Property and change

·      “Ela traficou as chaves”
·      State would designate who could live where
·      People would sell their keys onto other people, bypassing the state mandate
·      Running as a parallel economy to the state economy
·      Real estate market run illegally
·      Can collapse of buildings stop the corruption?
·      Property buying permitted after 1989
·      Matéus: marriage not legal because records have gone
·      Dona Mingota: “Eles legalizam de novo. Para ela tudo é fácil” – only time she speaks in the whole novel: discrepancy between downtrodden wife and ambiguous statement – admiration for CCC
·      Anarchy is the only way to move forward
·      Old order represented by Mateus

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What does the building collapse mean?

·      Sabotage (anti-American) – CCC

·      A miracle: religious sects

·      An opportunity – international community/CCC

·      A desire: Kianda

·      An unrelieved mystery: Cassandra

·      A social leveller: Honório – conscience raising

·      A rupture/transition

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Transition

·      CCC: Marxist to “empresário” rather than “agente económico” or “capitalista”

·      Becomes an arms trader

·      Creation of “empresariado nacional”

·      “Para se criar os empresários, alguém tem de perder capital a favour deles”: better the state than the individual

·      American enemies to new friends

·      Americans don’t understand the absurdity of their contradictions

·      Perception of the MPLA that the Americans were deceiving them

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Residues

Residues: things that symbolise that new orders of power are the same as old orders of power:

  • Import-export: “Ultramar”
  • “Colonial” treatment of Fátima/Fatita
  • Intact creole elites
  • With increased poverty (faceless Creole elite)
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Essay titles

Discuss the influence of the foreign in O desejo de Kianda

Discuss the theme of change in O desejo de Kianda

Discuss the theme of truth O desejo de Kianda

Discuss the depiction of women's agency in O desejo de Kianda

Narrative voice in O desejo de Kianda

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