Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi on The First Woman

Reading the novel and going about discovering the adventure life and escapades of Kirabo Nnamiiro is a thing to die for in THE FIRST WOMAN. Kirabo is a beloved grandchild of Miiro and Muka Miiro.  A daughter to Tom and Nnakku a woman she comes to learn hates her at heart. The story is told from the developing village of Natteta which is growing through the prestige of Christianity, education and class.

The travel through the different episodes of Kirabo’s life and her endless quest to learn about womanhood carries her through the series of events. Time is of the essence and you cannot miss its impact here. It is crucial to understand the interpretation of time as per the story. The time of day is told differently. Not the kind that is arrested and tied around the wrist. It is told according to the day.

Being a story of the past, one has to be cognisant of the fact that the story ends in 1983. When Tom dies, a number of things also die while others come to life. While some friendships end, others are rekindled.

Given that the story is based on the previous events in the lives of the entire Bulasio  Luutu lineage, we cannot do away with the effect of the colonial effect. It is very well prounced and articulated. The scramble for power among the colonial collaborators like Luutu himself and the subjects like Alikisa’s father is the reason ‘Natteta is on the map’.

Kirabo’s keen interest to becoming a woman is another quest that brings many questions to the table. Nsuuta, in her wisdom appreciates and recognises Kirabo’s curiosity and takes the liberty and the burden to arrest her when she is still young to teach and unteach her things that women do or don’t do for that matter. Nsuuta is that alternative go to person that Kirabo needs in her life to ask the questions she cannot bring herself to ask her grandmother at home.

Kirabo’s life thrives more on the women in her life. At home she has grandmother, the no nonsense one. Hers is the straight and narrow path for one to follow. Nsuuta, across the road is her shock absorber and teacher. In her blindness, she shows her the real world. Aunt Abi and Aunt YA are there to hold her hand lovingly and grudgingly at the same time. And then there is Giibwa, the childhood friend and nemesis at the same time. And then Atim, the educated friend.

With women come all the things of life. First, a woman is a body of water.  Nnamazzi is the mother of the first woman, Nnambi. She brought all the water. And we all know that water is life. But there is also power in being the first. The conflict between Alikisa and Nsuuta is based on who was Miiro’s first love. To be the first is to be the winner and a leader. The first son is the heir, the firstborn has power. Even the first wife wields power. There is power in being the first and the giver of life.

Yet where there is life, there is death. Nnambi the daughter of Gulu and Nnamazii happens to be the bringer of death. She brought her brother Walumbe on earth. It is because of Nnambi, Tom’s wife, that his life on earth becomes hell. It is because of her that Tom allegedly meets his death.

Where you have people with power, you cannot avoid having a scuffle. Education gives a woman power. An educated woman is feared. The conversation on omwenkanonkano is a conversation that occurs mainly among the educated women such as those in Miiro’s household. This is the reason Giibwa has sleepless nights. Although her and Kirabo are friends, their friendship is not as solid as that of Kirabo’s grandmothers; Alikisa and Nsuuta. Those two old friends were educated and came from influential families. Giibwa on the other hand is a daughter of a labourer, she will never be like Kirabo no matter what. Where there is education, there is the question of class. The very things which unite Kirabo and Sio are the very reasons Giibwa is alienated.

This novel is beautiful and inviting to read. It is written in simple Natteta English that can be understood. As you read, let your ribs be. The writing is very detailed and intentional. The spelling of names of the characters and their places of stay, the crafting of the dialogues and the narration of events all speak of the great wealth of the Ganda dialect from which the story is set.

As you turn the first page, be ready to have fun.

AUTHOR:       Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

TITLE:             The First Woman

GENRE:           Novel

PUBLISHER:  One World

PAGES:             437

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