Mia Couto – “Confession of the Lioness”

Despite the fact that I read quite a lot of poetry books in the past month, Confession of the Lioness might be the most poetic (and the most beautiful) text I have read recently.

Once I started reading more literature written in Portuguese, I realised that the most fascinating books are not those written by Portuguese authors, but those that come from the Portuguese (ex-)colonies, in which this language is not just a means of communication, but a continuous reminder of a violent history that has not necessarily stopped. This was very obvious when I read and reviewed A General Theory of Oblivion, and it is just as obvious in Mia Couto’s book.

Mia Couto is a Mozambican writer and Confession of the Lioness is set in Mozambique. We are told that the plot is inspired from real events that happened in 2008 in Cabo Delgado, where 28 people were killed by lions, but further investigations discovered the social and historical issues underlying the events. In particular, the lions came into the village for reasons that were the humans’ fault, after intruding their habitats and making them come closer to the village for food, but the solution decided upon was to kill the lions – are humans even able to take responsibility for their mistakes and give reparations?

The book alternates between Miamar’s perspective, a woman living with her parents in Kulumani, whose sister was a victim of the lions attacks, and Archangel Bullseye’s perspective, who is a hunter called from the city to kill the lions – the officials that make this call are not interested in the welfare of the people of Kulumani, but in the political damage brought by the situation. But the people living in the village are more than mere voters, other societal mechanisms are at play.

Both Miamar and Archangel have to fight their past, present, and are wondering about their future; complex familial patterns are being explored and they have to disobey what is expected of them: Miamar is a woman that does not act like a Kulumani woman should act, Archangel Bullseye is supposed to be the only real hunter left, but is hunting what he wants to do?

One of the characters says:

I don’t know what they’re looking for in the bush, the lion is right here in the village.

It is so easy to blame someone we do not understand or want to understand. Non-human animals end up being blamed and punished so often for effects that are obviously man-made. In this book, the lion becomes a symbol (which I do not particularly like), of disobedience, of freedom. The use of the lioness is linked to Couto’s analysis of the condition of women in the village of Kulumani. Multiple women are given a voice in this book, and all of them are victims of patriarchy, which is a criminal system in general, and Couto does not shy away from denouncing these crimes.