Your Madness, Not Mine:
Stories of Cameroon
Dialogues

Your Madness, Not Mine is a book of short stories written by Juliana Makuchi (1999). The stories explore the lives of women in modern Cameroon and the trials they face as they struggle for survival and empowerment in postcolonial Cameroon. The struggles come both from without and from within as the traditional patriarchal society continues to oppress them physically, and their minority status in their nation state oppresses them socially. The stories are often heartbreaking and intense. Makuchi writes with a rebellious force determined to bring the inequities faced by the women of Cameroon to the surface. In an interview with USM News Makuchi states "I am interested in looking at the people who were forgotten -- especially the women and children, and how they empower themselves."

About the Author

Juliana Makuchi is an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has also written Gender In African Women's Writing (1997).

Reviews of the Book

Mark L. Lilleleht, Department of African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

University of Southern Mississippi

 

Top
  Dialogues

The Importance of Motherhood: Makuchi's Azembe Meets Emecheta's Nnu Ego

Nnu Ego, the protagonist of Buchi Emecheta's Joys of Motherhood could easily understand the extreme measures that the women in Makuchi's "The Healer" were willing to take in order to conceive. In many African cultures the importance of motherhood overshadows every waking moment of an African woman's life. Failure to conceive and to produce male children can result in divorce, ostracism from the tribe or worse. After her first husband divorces her because of her barrenness, Nnu Ego finds herself wed to Nnaife, an overweight, pompous man, far from the remote village she grew up in. Nnu Ego does get pregnant, however, and miraculously her feelings for her husband change--she owes her allegiance to her husband for by making her pregnant, Nnaife has made her a complete woman. She will be respected once again by her family, her village and her new community. When the child born is a male, Nnu Ego finally feels the long-awaited self-respect. When the child is only a few months old, however, he dies. His death sends Nnu Ego on an immediate quest for self-destruction. Her entire worth depends on her motherhood and without her son, she is no one.

Readers of Makuchi's "The Healer" may not understand the Aunt's desperation to conceive that results in her desire to go visit Azembe who is known for miles around as the healer who can cure barrenness. When we understand the pervasiveness of the importance of motherhood in African society, however, we are better able to understand the Aunt's willingness to do anything and everything possible to conceive. When she finds out that Azembe is drugging her in order to rape her in her sleep, the Aunt attacks him. When her niece and husband find her, she is leaning against a tree, almost trancelike:

There was nothing. It [her face] was empty, totally empty--nothing.... There was an unexplainable sadness and emptiness in the deep waters that swirled around at the bottom of those eyes that I could not comprehend...something snapped in her head, invading her arteries, spreading through her entire body.

The Aunt's condition is the effect of two things: the realization that without the healer she will now probably never conceive, and the dissolution of her belief in the healer. Makuchi, unlike Emecheta, shows the beginnings of a sense of self-value in the Aunt. Although at the end of the story the Aunt seems beyond redemption, there is a spark of promise for African women when she fights Azembe. At the moment she is fighting him, the Aunt is fighting against years of oppression by a male dominated society. She is fighting for the right to be her own person--not dependent on men or children. She is fighting to dispel the myths of several lifetimes. At the end, the Aunt finds herself unable to continue her fight. The ingrained philosophies of thousands of years take over in her mind and she is once again forced to face the inevitable--she is nothing without a fruitful womb.

Nnu Ego finally has eight healthy children and predicts that she will be rewarded in her old age since she has children to care for her. But, in fact, she ends up dying along a path, alone and under-appreciated. The motherhood that Nnu Ego took such pride in and that the Aunt so desired was simply a facet of the African patriarchal system designed to ensure continuation of the race. By giving mothers a revered status, and by treating barrenness almost as a sin, the ancestors found a way to make sure that women were willing to go to extreme measures to continue propagating their society.

  Notes

The Look of Despair

One of the most compelling aspects of Makuchi's short stories is the way she expresses the utter helplessness and hopelessness of the women in her stories. For instance, in "The Healer" (a story about a sterile woman who goes to a healer to become pregnant and finds out that the healer is nothing more than a man who sedates women and then rapes them) Makuchi describes her character like this:

There was nothing. It [her face] was empty, totally empty--nothing.... There was an unexplainable sadness and emptiness in the deep waters that swirled around at the bottom of those ayes that I could not comprehend...something snapped in her head, invading her arteries, spreading through her entire body (10).

Her description of Jikwu's mother (who has been abused by her husband) in "Your Madness, Not Mine" is very similar:

She had a terrible look in her eyes. Not the hollow, lifeless stare I had seen earlier when I listened to my mother's self-talk.... Last night your grandmother came to me in a dream. That woman demanded to know whose daughter I thought I was. She chastised me for wasting my life sitting and sleeping in my own vomit.... It's time to wake up from this slumber and clean myself up (23).

These scenes and many others like them are vivid portrayals of the abyss many African women find themselves in as they try to assert their independence in a male dominated, postcolonial society.

  Links

 

 

About.com: Geography and Maps of Cameroon, History of Cameroon, and Facts about Cameroon.

Profile of Cameroon from New Africa.com.

Exploring Africa: OK, so it's a travel organization but they have some spectacular pictures of Cameroon.

Reports on Human Rights violations in Cameroon from The World Organization Against Torture.

 

  Teaching

Teaching Links

Cameroon: The World Factbook 2000: Provides an encyclopedic look at Cameroon, her people, geography, government, economy, communications, transportation, military and transnational issues.

Relevant Information

Cameroon News: Part of the World News Network, this site provides up to the minute news and happenings in Cameroon.

The home page for the Republic of Cameroon. Hear their national anthem, see their flag, and read about the people and culture of the real Cameroon.

Map of Cameroon

Postcards from Cameroon: This is a very rich site for information and pictures of Cameroon past and present.

Lesson Plans

1. Use the book as a jigsaw reading. Divide the class into groups of four or five and have each group read a different short story. Then reconfigure the groups so there is one team member from each of the original teams in the new group. Have students take turns sharing the story they read, then have each group come answer a series of questions about the similarities and/or differences in the stories.

2. Many of these stories lend themselves well to dramatic representation. Divide the class into groups. Each group will read a different story and create a short play based on their story. Finally, have a Cameroon appreciation day in which each group presents their play, eat food from Cameroon, listen to music from Cameroon, etc.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the themes that occur in Makuchi's writing. Does each story have its own theme or do we see several themes that occur over and over?

2. Do you consider Makuchi's women to be strong or weak? Why? Give examples.

3. Do you feel that this collection of short stories gives an accurate representation of life in Cameroon? Why or why not.

  Citations
Makuchi, Juliana. Your Madness, Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon. Ohio Univ. Press, 1999.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Last Updated: 6/2001