Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Blogging the Caine Prize: In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata

This is the fourth story in the series of Blogging the Caine Prize. Past posts can be found here. Indeed, the stories keep getting better with each passing week and unlike the others, Lauri Kubuitsile’s story (PDF) is a wonderful, funny tale that doesn’t perpetuate negative stereotypes, the writing is light and unrepetitive - yes, there is good and bad repetition in literature as I’ve noted before.

“In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” is set in Nonkanyana village in Botswana about a deceased casanova, McPhineas Lata who, “though despised by most husbands ... was adored by most wives” and his funeral is “full of dramatic fainting and howls of grief echoing” from his many married female friends some doing their best to out mourn the other, by lying on his grave, as if it were a competition to show which of them loved McPhineas the most.

This story foregrounds the importance of memory when someone has passed on. The husbands fear that the wives’ desires to cling onto the memory of McPhineas will construct into a legend, an untouchable super-sex hero. As these memories are fused with the imagination, they become retold as altered representations of actual events that neither the teller or the subject - McPhineas - can ever recall so the memories become more spicy with the telling and re-telling of the women’s sexual escapades. Substitute the situation for any other and this is how ordinary people and nationalists create myth. The past then becomes a romanticized alteration of the past - with both good and bad effects, of course. 

Zunguzungu finds an interesting relation between sex, work and masculinity and suggests that because the men work long hours they are lousy in bed whereas McPhineas doesn’t work and is a great lover. I suppose his sex is his work - unpaid work - as he spends his days attending to the sexual needs of women. In presenting McPhineas as a ladies man and his encounters with them as an open secret within the community, it says something about the gender relations in this society. 

The men may be upset with McPhineas for being a better lover and what that means for their masculinity, but they don’t seem to object to their wives sleeping with him in the way a spouse might do. Why? I get that the story is meant to be that way, just a light-hearted story about the people of a funny little place but I want to think of this in a deeper way: whether this signifies any sort of empowerment for the women as it’s okay for them have extra-marital relationships and whether McPhineas helps maintain a balance between the genders. 

Historically speaking, is there a comparable McPhineas figure / practice in Tswana culture? And in a country where HIV is so prevalent (24.9% of 15-49 year olds are pregnant), what does it mean to have a McPhineas character who sleeps with all the women. Sure it’s great that there’s no sense of enforced monogamy in this community, but this kind of sexual freedom also has terminal limits in Botswana. And on that party pooper, note: The End.

This story is worth the read and if you’re interested in read the opinions of others here are a few thoughts from other co-bloggers:

Method to the Madness
The Oncoming Hope
Backlash Scott


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