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Book Review: The Kitchen Party


Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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Tanzanian author Swallehe Msuya takes you to a quaint village,
Ugweno on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro,  in the 1950’s where life was
simple and arranged marriages a glorious norm. The Kitchen Party, his first novel, is a simulation of many traditional East African communities.

The narrative revolves around the life of a religious girl named Mariam as she experiences her rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. During this rite of passage, known as the “kitchen party” Mariam and other Ugweno girls in puberty are taught lessons in motherhood and are groomed to be “good” wives. The ceremony climaxes with a selection of a suitable groom for each girl in the ceremony.

Mariam draws readers in as she is the pride of her community and one cannot help, but fall in love with her. She exhibits everything a parent would want in a daughter, and is heavily sought after by the village’s unmarried men to the envy of other young women. Her glamourous wedding to the village’s most eligible bachelor is highly celebrated, much more than that of the chief’s daughter.

Her character, however, is a hyperbole; she’s too good to be true. She’s likened to an angel and perfect princess; everybody likes her even the animals:
Mariam is a pet to these animals and a true friend. She is loved by villagers, animals and even birds in the sky  One time a hyena that strayed into the village scared off children until Mariam showed up, and behold the hyena took to its heels to the nearest bush when Mariam was in the vicinity of the animal.  The animal that had become so scary to children became docile before Mariam. 

One cannot help but admire the utopian Ugweno’s deep sense of community. The members of Ugweno are like one big extended jubilant family who work together, celebrating every milestone in their lives in extravagant village parties. To demonstrate their illustrious nature, the author refers to them as ‘the black Chinese’.

Through Mariam, Msuya finds a platform to discuss the interaction between Islam and culture, perhaps in an attempt to dismiss the negative images portrayed by Islamic fundamentalists. The narrative on Islam is an eye opener for readers unfamiliar with its practices. With illustrations from the Qur’an, Msuya articulates with confidence and pride different texts giving an image of perfectionism in the religion. He credits Islam with the high standards of benevolence, industry and communal effort of the people of Ugweno.

In an attempt to defend what he regards as unfair criticism of Islam on gender discrimination, Msuya stirs even more controversy when he says:
Muslim scholars however argue that women have other respectable roles in life such as breast feeding and raising babies and men have not complained of discrimination.

Overall, the book is an easy and interesting read especially for people wanting to learn the politics, religion, history and culture of others. The highlights of the book: the kitchen party and subsequent wedding are intriguing for people curious to learn traditional rites of passage of this community will certainly learn something.

Kitchen Party By Swallehe Msuya. 101pages. Self-published. [email protected] 612 203 3524

 

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About Gillian Onyango

Gillian Onyango is a Mshale staff writer based in Minneapolis.

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