#Book Review: The First Woman

Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

I read this book as part of a book club we formed as part of the #WECAN project in our school. It was a recommendation of Dr Karen Vollum-Dix who is turning into one of the greatest benefits of ever dealing with that project, along with Dr Joy Ogbemudia because the two of them discovered for me the beauty of African authors and their compelling writing and opened a whole new world of reading. I reviewed some books before, which you can read about here.

This gem presents a story of growing up in Uganda in a colonial patriarchal society. But then in the darkness of patriarchy, you discover a small light of the family of the main character Kirabo. Her grandfather insists all children, including girls go to school and what is more, a reader discovers a beautiful story of feminism. One of the characters in the book, Nattetta, tells a story of the ‘original state’ when women were free to do as they wish and men tamed them by ascribing water to women and soil to men, thus creating a situation in which women are not free to have their own will on the soil they control and their character is linked to unpredictable character of water. But because one cannot live in water thus women had to subordinate themselves to the rules of men who control the soil. This is beautifully narrated in the book, which also offers a critique of Western feminism and tells a story of African feminism, which is beautiful and different but often untold. 

What particularly strikes me here is the role of religion, brought by British colonisers, which obliterated local practices of polygamy and introduced monogamy. Whilst we would consider polygamy wrong from our European/British/Western/White perspective, in this book it is shown through a different, native, interpretation thus showing the relevance of cultural relativism. I have been teaching this approach as part of one of my modules for many years and always argued we should never judge other cultures using our own cultural framework and this book clearly shows that. I particularly enjoyed this part of the book because it told a story of the friendship of two women, Nattetta and Alikisa, and their independent decision to share a man and always stay together, but the patriarchal society that embraced Western religion thought differently…

This is also a story of growing up in Uganda between colonisation and local wars, the story of education and also the story of women and their relationship with one another. The latter is told from both a feminist and anti-feminist point of view and it creates a beautiful narrative on how women turn on each other because patriarchal society teaches them to be subordinate and those who refuse to do so are labelled as witches…

Read this!

Thank you for reading.

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