Gwen Namainga Jones
Namainga Zones grew up in Zambia, attended boarding schools in central Zambia and England, and moved to the United States, where she has lived since 1999. She makes her home in San Antonio, Texas. Before immigrating to the United States, she was the co-founder of the Zimbabwe Convention Bureau.
An Excerpt from “Chabota”
I grew up very aware of the Ila tradition of chisungu; I’d attended other girls’ ceremony in the village. I had always known that when the time came, I might be expected to go through this initiation, which showed a girl had reached maturity. Somehow, I never dealt with the reality—that I would go through the ancient series of rites.
In the Ila tradition, young girls were taught that when they spotted blood on their underwear, this signaled the beginning of the menstrual cycle, and they should run crying to their mothers. The girls were then immediately placed into seclusion. The mothers of the girls would summon the paternal aunts, who would stay with the girls and teach them how to look after themselves each time they had the menses.
Banda, our driver, drove me to Elisha. I carried a small bag of clothing and personal items. I would be there for seven days, the longest time I had ever spent at Mukale’s homestead.
On arrival at Elisha, Mukale led me to the kuvundika seclusion hut where Chabota had been ensconced since the previous day. Inside, the hut was dark and smelled of the past. In the shadows, I reached out for my friend and hugged her. I could feel her heart beat against mine as our chests pressed together. Dread filled my heart when she whispered the news of her impending arranged marriage to old man Mandevu. I was vaguely aware of him—he seemed ancient—coal-black skin but already a sun-withered face and grizzled gray hair.
As soon as the elders left our hut, I turned to my friend to look at her as my eyes adjusted in the shadow.
“Are you afraid?” I whispered.
An interview with the author of the eye-opening short story, “Chabota”, her first published story.
“Chabota” is the first published story by Gwen Namainga Jones, and it focuses on something much of her work does: The culture and challenges of her native Zambia. Namainga Jones grew up in Zambia, attended boarding schools in central Zambia and England, and moved to the United States, where she has lived since 1999. She makes her home in San Antonio, Texas. Before immigrating to the United States, she was the co-founder of the Zimbabwe Convention Bureau. She was interviewed by Mount Hope’s Amy Lenihan.
Mount Hope: What was your journey to becoming a writer?
Gwen Namainga Jones: I have a dual heritage. So my mother is indigenous, Ila,
from the village of Maala, and my father was British. And the latter part of my education I went to school in England at a private boarding school so I grew up privileged but immersed in a traditional cultural setting so that’s really something that conflicted me growing up and I never understood the reason for it. But the day that I felt—I’d always written stories and told stories in an informal way, I was always a writer.
MH: So Chabota—What prompted you to write this story?
GNJ: You may be aware that child marriage is still prevalent in the developing world today. This has disturbed me since I was a child. At its core, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality, and in order for women to be empowered we need to correct it at its root. Child marriage is very complex and requires several layers of intervention, such as poverty alleviation, education and behavioral change through cultural practices.
MH: I also know that you started a non-profit, Baobridge, could you say a little about the work they do?
GNJ: Baobridge is a subordinate of a larger organization, Partners in Action, of which I am a member of the board of directors. We help to assist small holder farmers with economic sustainability through agribusiness, and work mainly with women. One of the programs we are involved with is nutrition security. Zambia suffers from chronic malnutrition with 40 percent malnutrition in our birth-to-5-year-old population. To address this we assist farmers with intercropping with legumes which offer 26 percent protein in comparison to 3 percent nutrition in corn which is our staple crop.
MH: I think it’s really inspiring of you to not only do all of this advocacy work, but that you also share these stories through your writing.
GNJ: Lately we are seeing more African literature become mainstream and of course this helps to foster better understanding which reduces conflict. Stories like “Chabota” bring awareness to challenging issues like child marriage that we are working to get abolished. This is about one woman’s plight but it is really about all of us, because when one person suffers, we all do. I hope readers will be inspired through Chabota’s life to help others like her.