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Insight: Two teenage girls of destiny

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Over the ages, society assumed that there was a sphere of activity for men only, another for women only. Men fought battles, hunted animals and talked politics. Women performed domestic duties, suckle babies and kept way from life-threatening activities.

Despite this dichotomy in society, some eccentric females have from time to time crossed over to the male side. The most recent in Malawian history is that of a 20-year-old woman and mother of two children or so.

In early 1950s, Malawian men, through the Nyasaland African Congress, were united in the struggle against the proposed federation whose architect Roy Welensky, Godfrey Huggins and Malcom Barrow were saying “Nyasaland must never become another Gold Coast” by which they meant Nyasaland must not become an independent African country like Ghana, but like Southern Rhodesia it should be under white man’s domination indefinitely.

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It was a hectic time. Those men who became prominent in politics were dismissed from their jobs, some were jailed, and Chief Gomani II of Ntcheu was deposed and died exiled from home.

At a meeting where such matters were being discussed, you could not see a single woman and none was ever invited to attend. But Rose Lomathinda Chibambo gate-crashed into the meeting one day and declared she was ready to battle with the men against the abominable federation and for sweet self-government.

All this is an appetiser. Our focus here will be on a 13 year old French girl and a 15-year-old Xhosa (South Africa) girl.

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Joan of Arc (1412-310) or Jeannie d’ Arc as, she was called by her French compatriot, was born of peasant parentage in Damremy (now called Domeremy-la-pucelle). Some accounts say she was still illiterate when at the age of 13 years she told other people that she was hearing celestial voices belonging to Saint Michael and early Martyrs of the Christian faith Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret (255-75)

At that time England and France were locked in the hundred years’ war. English troops were already in France to seize a vacant throne for their own pretender. The eldest son of the king of France was called Dauphin, somewhat equivalent to the English Prince of Wales. The Dauphin coronation at that time was being delayed because there were other pretenders to the throne besides the English.

Early in the year 1429, when the English were about to capture Orleans, the mysterious voices exhorted Joan d’ Arc to help Dauphin get him coronated. She succeeded in convincing the Dauphin that she had a divine mission to save France. A board of theological men interviewed her and endorsed her claims. She was given troops to command.

Dressed in male armour Joan inflicted defeats on English troops and got the Dauphin crowned as King Charles VII in the Cathedral in Reims. During the ceremony she was given a seat near the Prince Royal. Alas that was a swansong.

Although Joan had succeeded in uniting the French behind the new Monarch Charles VII was against continuing the war against the English. Without the royal support Joan led her troops to try and expel the English from France. She was captured on the battle field by Burgundiana who were allies of the English Burgundiana sold her to the English who then handed her to a French ecclesiastical court made up of bishops. The court condemned her for allegedly claiming she was in direct contact with God thereby bypassing the Roman Catholic Church. She was also condemned for putting on male attire, sentenced to life imprisonment as a witch following her confessions.

While in prison she claimed she was still hearing the saintly voices and put on male dress, she was retried. When questioned about the dress she said she was disguising her identity because there were male prisoners in the jail who might rape her. The excuse was not accepted, she was condemned as a lapsed Catholic. On May 30, 1431, she was burnt on the stake as she tried Jesu.King Charles VII did nothing to save the life of the patriotic maid. Twenty five years after her death, the church retried Joan and declared she was innocent. In 1920 she was coronised by Pope Benedict XV.The French now regard her as a heroine.

The Xhosa girl’s name Nongqause pronounced almost as Nong-Tyales. It was in the 1850’s when the Xhosa had for a hundred years been fighting white settlers and intruders both Boers and the British.

Weary about what else they could do to expel foreigners one day Nongqause told grownups that she had met the spirits of dead heroes who said they were willing to come back to life, fight and drive the white people back to the sea. But to induce them to come back all men were required to kill their cattle and burn their food stuffs as sacrifices to the spirits.

It sounds strange and stupid that men complied. It is like the case of a drowning man who crutches at the tail of a crocodile to try and save himself only to find himself in the mouth of the ugly reptile.

The day when the heroes were expected to emerge out of the graves arrived. But nothing unusual happened. The dead soldiers were nowhere to be seen. Hunger and starvation reigned over the Xhosa people. Some migrated to white farmers and asked for work.

One of the people who were displaced because of Nangquases false prophesy was a young man called William Koyi.He went to Lovedale College and offered to accompany Scottish Missionaries who were going to Malawi and extend their mission there. He acted as interpreter from Zulu to English and vice versa among Ngoni of Mzimba.His grave can be seen at Njuyu near Hora Mountain.

What happened to Nangquase? It is said she disappeared, changed her name and joined white missionaries, got baptised. Details are lacking.

These days the name Nangqause is identified with falsehoods. But the girl was moved by sense of patriotism just like Joan of Arc.

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