Paulina “Poulli” Chiziane is one of Mozambique’s foremost literates, and her work is amongst the very best writing to come out of the South-Eastern African nation.
Born on the 4th of June in Manjacaze – in Gaza – to a Protestant family in 1955, Chiziane and her family moved very early on in her childhood to Maputo (then Lourenço Marques). Her first language was Ronga, and she also spoke Chopi – though she would eventually master writing in Portuguese.
In her early life, right in the heart of Mozambique’s dark days under colonialist rule, she was strictly forbidden to engage with or share experiences with white colonialist families. This was going to be a major influence in the style and content of her later works, where she’d often describe life as an African woman under European colonial rule.
She grew up a quiet child in a poor family, and her taste for the illustration of life or ideas made her a budding young artist. She often had to sacrifice her school books – which were quite scarce for a girl of her standing – to draw and portray the views and images she wanted to show.
She would often stay up at night after all her friends were asleep and eke out a little time for rumination and pondering. At first she used to draw a lot, but when her paucity manifested itself and she saw that she could no longer afford to keep finishing schoolbooks so soon, she stopped. She also struggled to obtain crayons and sheets of blank paper and all the other things required for a young girl to practice that form of art, so she switched to another – literature.
As she grew, she was thrust into a very difficult time in Mozambique’s history – the struggle for independence (although the capital was largely unharmed) and the subsequent civil war. She was exposed to many traumatic experiences and she devoted her work to explaining the suffering that women were subjected to during this period of time.
She married early but got a divorce in her mid-20s in order to focus on her writing career.
She wanted the Mozambicans who were born into the blooming ages of growth and prosperity of the 2000s to understand what life was like for a black woman under the rod of colonialism. Her work has always been dedicated to sensitizing young men and women to the plight of a married woman in both a traditional and modern context.
Her works draw parallels between urban Mozambique and rural Mozambique, bridging the gap between the youth that was born with all the modern amenities of the globalized world and the one still living in a very culture-oriented realm.
She is the first woman to ever publish a book in Mozambique – although she regards herself as more of a storyteller, much more in tune with the elders who sit around fires and pass stories down generation to generation via word-of-mouth.
Chiziane has proven very philosophical about her history, proving reluctant to dwell on the sufferings of bygone times in her nation, and more focused on helping women in Mozambique and the rest of Africa grow out of disadvantageous positions in the traditional women. Hailing from the South of Mozambique, Chiziane made it her mission to travel across Mozambique and gain a greater insight into the scene in her entire homeland.
A woman of great experience, Chiziane was admitted into a psychiatric ward at one stage in her life, and she claims that this greatly influenced her writing as well; the belief that you are right contrary to everybody else’s opinion. This experience does resurface in her writing, as her protagonists are very often the only ones who’ve analysed their different situations correctly and who know how to fix them – however, nobody else believes them.
The protagonists are very often women who bow down to cultural pressures at first, but then throw away all their shackles and go on to live much better lives elsewhere.
Her writing is politically feminist but also very emotional, as she uses feelings and humanity to draw the reader’s attention to the problems that are typical of her protagonists. Cheating, polygamous men (and others that just try to take advantage of the protagonists) feature prominently in her stories, and she provides the reader with the opinions and dilemmas faced by a woman co-existing with such men.
Her greatest book by far is the hugely popular Niketche.
This novel (named after an erotic traditional dance) describes the trials and tribulations of a Mozambican woman born into a thoroughly traditional community. She has to deal with a polygamous husband her wisdom and difficult life shed a new light on the problems faced by women born in such communities. It is written in a very heart-felt manner, and it engages the reader to such an extent that I would personally recommend it to any woman who wishes to understand the suffering of other women in other societies.
She was awarded the Jose Craveirinha Prize in 2003 for her book, and it is now a household name in Mozambican literature.
Paulina Chiziane has published 5 books, and is currently participating in several literary projects in Macau and Brazil.