An Africa-centred analysis of Walking Still


THE short story ‘The Slave Trade’ is notable for the manner in which it reminds the reader to beware the lures and wiles of post-colonial overtures of white liberals.
At the very heart of the story is puncturing of liberal hypocrisy.
And the main character, Marara, is Mungoshi’s excuse to denounce the modern slave trade now masquerading as international business where the black person is still held hostage by invisible chains of ideology and capitalist enterprise.
You need to read Marara very closely.
He is not as useless as his name suggests, even in his drunkenness.
He plays the role of jester and fool yet emerges as the more intellectually superior character.
At the beginning, Marara comes across as someone who is being lured by his new employers to confess himself to them, in the process exposing the African psyche in a manner that empowers them to manipulate it to their advantage.
You deal more effectively with a slave you know better.
That is why they invite Marara and his wife Ravi to a dinner where they treat Marara to excessive bouts of whisky against Ravi’s remonstrations.
Their idea is to loosen his tongue as much as possible.
They are aware of the old Latin adage “in vino veritas” which means “in wine there is truth.”
The phrase is often continued as, “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas”, that is, “In wine there is truth, in water there is health.”
The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar adage which is translated to mean: “(when) wine enters, secrets exit.”
It continues: “In three things is a man revealed: in his wine goblet, in his purse, and in his wrath.”
Marara turns out to be the wiser for he turns the tables upside-down by not confessing himself, but by ceasing the opportunity to expose the hypocrisies and iniquities of his teasers.
The occasion for the invitation is unambiguously stated: it is “a let’s get-to know-each-other-dinner.”
It is further punctuated by the euphemistic admission: “We are not your employers,” they had said.
“We are colleagues working together.”
Notice the power of diplomatic discourse in hiding the truth.
Notice too that the hosts make no effort to talk about themselves save claiming that they were different whites from our erstwhile British colonisers.
These are English-whites from Canada, they say.
As far as they are concerned this is enough to know about themselves, but they want to know every little detail about their African guests.
For instance Joan asks Ravi, “He doesn’t beat you up when he is drunk, does he?”
The implication is that Marara resembles brutish violence and that if her judgement is correct Ravi can seek solace in confiding in Joan; exactly the way our African women are invited to confess their domestic sensitivities by Western champions of liberal feminism.
Marara however ceases the occasion to play the joker by ‘writing back to the empire’.
He turns the whip on the master by transforming the occasion into ‘the rukweza threshing feast’ where there are no-holds barred.
His first port of scandalisation is the colonial education curriculum which he treats as ‘marara’.
This is an African ceremony, just like mukwerere (rain-making ceremony) where even holy cows are not spared abuse or direct attack with justified impunity.
Reference is made to lessons in geography where African children were taught about Bering Straits, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Magellan, the cold North Atlantic current and a thousand and one other facts which Marara summarily describes as ‘useless’.
Marara is brutal and merciless in his dismissal of the whiteman’s education of the African: “They made us write exams on all this – most us came out with ‘As’ but not a single one of us had ever seen a mass of water bigger than his bath.
“Can you imagine it?
“Sakala, a friend of mine, committed suicide on the day he got his results.
“He couldn’t have known that all that garbage wouldn’t have rescued him if he had fallen into a disused well the following year.
“There was no way he could have known that for the real game of living, nothing of what we were taught would help us.
“And this is what no teacher would tell us.
“And here, here I am.”
Marara is clearly outlining how helpless colonial education is to the African, presenting himself as the living example of its victim.
Yes, colonial education was never meant to empower Africans; rather it was meant to make them trash (marara).
Our hero is realising painfully that it has made him a piece of shit.
He is ‘marara’ in that he has nothing to call his.
In this moment of epiphany, Marara throws caution to the wind and indicts the whiteman for perpetuating modern slavery in the name of capitalism and international trade.
These white liberals are actually worse than outright white racists like Tim’s neighbour who admittedly ‘loves his horses more than his workers’.
These liberals such as Tim and Joan are worse.
They treat Africans as simpletons or pets.
That is why they think Marara’s complaint can be solved by taking them to an ocean as tourists.
They also think that the African businessmen they have hosted earlier have no capacity to separate tastes of foreign beers.
But Marara will not let them off the hook before their sensibilities have been bruised enough.
He reminds the hosts of the iniquities of their ancestors: Francis Drake, Rhodes and Jameson whom he depicts as axis of the evil which Tim and Joan perpetuate.
In the process he is not just exposing the double standards of the British and their ilk, but is also teaching you the young Africans correct history about the false heroes of Europe.
Marara debunks such duplicity and celebration of evil when he says: “one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how throughout your history your kings and queens would knight you for some of the most atrocious crimes ever committed.
“Take Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was a pirate of the first order.”
Francis Drake (1540 – 1596) was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era.
Drake carried out the second circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577 to 1580.
Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 ironically for being involved in piracy and illicit slave trading.
He died of dysentery in January 1596 after unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico.
His exploits were ‘legendary’, making him a hero to the English, but a pirate to the Spaniards to whom he was known as El Draque.
This is the person they call ‘Sir’ and want you to join in the worship of notoriety.
Marara also pulls strings against Rhodes and Jameson whom he dismisses as ‘bloody dogs and bitches’.
Rhodes was gay, notable in an era that did not encourage homosexuality.
Leander Star Jameson was his life homosexual partner.
In addition, Rhodes employed a number of strong young male companions, ostensibly as bodyguards and secretaries.
These are the people whose legacy of colonialism and homosexuality is never taught to our children.
Should we not salute Marara, the authorial spokes-character for laying the double standards of white liberalism bare?
We are touched by his last observation that, “in the slave trade the African chiefs who sold their own people for a bottle of whisky were even more to blame than those who bought the slaves.
“The customs and circumstances may have changed, but the relationship remains the same.”


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