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Chapter 3: Revisioning Nature: an Ecofeminst Reading of  Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous ConditionsandThe Book of Not


This chapter explores Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (1988) (hereafter, NC) and The Book of Not(2006) (hereafter, TBN) from an ecofeminist perspective in order to show how she delineates the interconnections between Shona women and the environment. Through this connectivity, this chapter intimates that Dangarembga challenges the status quo and critiques the cultural and social systems that are used to marginalise black women and the environment. The ecofeminism lens will be used to explore nature writing in the two literary texts, thus revealing the human-nature relations and the meanings one can draw from them. Also, using the ecofeminism lens, the chapter will explore the nature of the web of relationships between women and their environment. As such, it examines what relationship women should have to the natural world to defend and conserve it against over-exploitation and degradation. The chapter upholds the realisation that misogyny and exploitation of the environment are parallel forms of social injustice and domination. In other words, women’s survival struggles are simultaneously struggles for the protection of nature (Shiva 1989).
In a world where environmental issues such as land degradation, deforestation and global warming have gained great concern, very little has been said about the ecological insights of the text and gender relationships. Hence, this chapter will show that women’s relationship to the environment is vital to their daily lives and existence. Women play a significant role in environmental management. In addition, the chapter will exemplify how women also bear the brunt of environmental degradation.Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not can be analysed from an ecocritical and ecofeminist perspective to reveal the interconnections between nature and women. The analysis will also reveal how the domination of human nature parallels the oppression of women in a Shona patriarchal environment.
In her thesis, Rine (2011) explores the presence of unhu in Nervous Conditions and the breakdown of unhu. She examines whether unhu exists in small amounts in the text and if so, what its significance might be. In addition, Rine examines the significance of Maiguru’s garden as a “utopian place for community building.” Although Rine makes no mention of the theory ecocriticism in her analysis, she uses the ecocriticism lens to show the affinity between humans and nature in her analysis. Though Rine’s analysis is not extensive, she leaves the reader in no doubt that the Zimbabwean female writer, Tsitsi Dangarembga, has explored nature writing and infused it with the country’s political issues in The Book of Not.
In addition, this chapter postulates that this exploration is burdened with discrimination in which the political space and eco-warfare are used to denigrate the black woman.
An analysis of Dangarembga’s The Book of Not will show that she uses the environment in her text but very few literary critics have undertaken the task to determine whether it exists or not. Such an undertaking is precisely the aim of this chapter. As such, the chapter advances the argument that Dangarembga explores the relationship between humans and the non-human world or natural environment in colonial Zimbabwe at a time when the war for liberation is raging on. An analysis of Dangarembga’s The Book of Not will again show that the relationship between nature and people’s livelihood is a clear indicator that African writers have always been concerned with environmental issues.
An ecocritical and ecofeminist analysis of The Book of Notenablesone to interrogate the narrative’s environmental voice. This is in line with Ramya’s (2012) argument that feminism is based on the theoretical foundations of feminism and environmentalism. While feminism, analyses why women are treated as inferior to men; environmentalism, in turn shows interest in detecting why nature is treated as inferior to culture (ibid). Premised on this argument, the landscape will be used metaphorically to understand and explore the connections of women and the nature and to deconstruct the nature/culture dichotomy.

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions

Nervous Conditions illuminates the eco-function of the environment. The novel also underscores the interdependence between humans and their environment. Both men and women realise that the environment is the source of their livelihood, hence they preserve it. Although the women are entrapped by both the patriarchal and colonial system, they are not portrayed as passive victims. They use various liberatory strategies to escape the dualisms that in which they are traditionaaly entrapped.

Conservation and Sustainability in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is set in colonial Rhodesia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Tambudzai Sigauke (Tambu), the protagonist narrates a story of five women, entrapped by both the colonial system in a white-dominated Rhodesia, and the patriarchal system in a Shona community. All the women in the novel are subjected to some kind of suffering under patriarchy and the constraining environment. Tambu, the protagonist, is denied access to education because both Jeremiah and Nhamo insist “she is a girl” (NC, 21). Jeremiah tells Tambu that she cannot go to school because she cannot cook books and feed them to her husband. Instead, she has to stay at home and learn to cook, clean and grow vegetables. Both Tambu’s mother and Maiguru are restricted to chores that confine them exclusively to domesticity. Babamkuru also entraps all the women around him; an entrapment that results in Nyasha’s and Lucia’s rebellion. However, given the harsh realities and challenges that face them in this patriarchal society, the women are not portrayed as victims, but as survivors. They protect the natural environment and in turn, it enables them to survive. The women realise that the natural environment serves a central purpose in their lives and hence preserve the trees for different purposes. Tambu derives strength, a voice and empowerment through connection with the environment and preserving and conserving it. She plants maize crops to raise school fees. Tambu’s mother (Mai Tambu or Mai) sustains the family through her garden proceeds. The River Nyamarira, a meeting place for the girls and women, revitalises them and gives them the peace they yearn for. The environment is in fact a nonhuman character that shapes and influences human characters. It is therefore pertinent to note that in the African cosmology the environment is an integral part of the woman’s way of life. The significance of the environment is interpreted not according to its beauty, but according to its function to fulfil women’s daily needs.
It is not accidental that Dangarembga exposes us to the flora at the beginning of her narrative, Nervous Condition. The opening image of the narrative announces her environmental concerns. The narrative demonstrates that women in rural Zimbabwe have used their livelihood to establish a symbiotic relationship with the environment, what Slaymaker (2001) refers to as the “humanistic survival philosophy.”According to Slaymaker(2001), this “instrumentalisation” of the other, “the non-human sentient and nonsentient being” concerns itself with human benefit through proper conservation of nature. For instance, the trees are used to provide shade to protect women from the September to April’s harsh and scorching sun; there was always “shade by the fields where clumps of trees were deliberately left standing to shelter [women and children] when [they] ate [their] meals or rested when cultivating strips of land” (NC, 2). The women are protected from the sun by the msasa trees as they sell hard-boiled eggs, seasonal fruit, boiled chicken and vegetables. Conversely, this is a plea by the author “for preservation of nature”.
Eco-friendly elements like trees and the river are the core of their livelihoods (lived experiences). The narrator also points out that from the bus terminus:
The road wound down by the fields where there were always some people with whom to pass ten minutes of the day – enquiring about their health and the health of their family, admiring the broad-leafed abundance of the maize crop when it was good, predicting how many bags the field would yield or wondering whether the plants had tasselled too early or too late (NC, 2).
Human existence cannot be divorced from the environment. Women sell maize cobs and vegetables to survive and to sustain their families. The health and sustainability of the environment involves the community’s health as well. In the forest people could get wild fruit like “matamba” and “matunduru”. Rodda (1993:49) also notes that for many people, fruit is “sometimes part of the regular diet, but trees provide many other forms of nutrition”. Thus the “forest is also valued as a source of food supply” (Rodda 1993:49), since trees could provide food in a number of indirect ways. The environment represented in Nervous Conditions is “replete with flora, fauna, and landscapes with symbolic meaning” (Ernest-Samuel 2013: 76).
On the way from the bus stop, there were fields with clumps of trees, and maize crops in abundance. In Tambu’s words, “The river, the trees, the fruit and the fields. This was how it was in the beginning” (NC, 3). This was before the Government built the District Council Houses close to the river, where the women washed. This is a clear demonstration of how conceptions of nature writing, which are at the centre of ecofeminism and environmentalism, are constructed by the historical and political processes obtained in the women’s lived environment.
In addition, rural people in Zimbabwe use nearby forests as an important source of both firewood and collecting it, both of which are a woman’s responsibility. Wood is the main source of fuel used in the village. Interestingly, Rodda (1993) also notes that the smoke from the trees also helps keep insects away. Grandmother’s historical knowledge on land reflects how she values “the wisdom intrinsic to nature” (Howell 1997:234). As such, the women in Nervous Conditions value and respect nature in itself, not as a “commodity and object,” (ibid.) but as an integral part of their community. This interconnectedness or symbiotic relationship between nature and people’s livelihoods is a clear indicator that African writers have always been concerned with the environment. For this relationship to be maintained, both men and women should play a major role in tree management and conservation. The community should be involved in protecting existing trees if the specific roles and needs of both men and women are met.

Women as Producers in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions

The planting, collection and selling of vegetables are also the responsibility of women. As producers, Tambu and her mother, are involved in the sustainable management of the environment. Tambu shows how her mother worked hard in her garden to produce food for her family and to raise money for fees for her and Nhamo, “She also took vegetables − rape, onions, and tomatoes – extending her garden so that there was more to sell… In this way she scraped together enough money to keep my brother in school” (NC, 15). Mai Tambu is portrayed as industrious seen through the “ferocious swings of her arms as she grabbed and stripped a maize stalk.” Tambu and Netsai worked alongside her and they would “follow in the tracks of their uncle’s car when the sun began to set, herding the cattle back to their kraal… since there was no other young man in their family besides Nhamo to attend to this chore” (NC, 8). Thus, we see the two girls Tambu, Netsai and their mother working to produce basic food while Babamkuru drives [my own emphasis] home with Jeremiah and Nhamo leaving the women to toil on their own and then walk home, following in the tracks of Babamkuru’s car. In this regard, one may argue that Dangarembga engages with the land to portray “the intricate webs that that are woven” (NC, 71) between men, women and the land. On one hand, one might argue that through such cultural land practices both the girl-child and the women are subordinated by patriarchy. The women are the tillers of the land and the men control both the land and women. As such, the land and the women are treated historically as objects to be exploited and tamed; both nature and women suffer under patriarchal domination.

Key Terms 
Table of Contents 
1.1 Introduction and Background to the Study
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Assumptions of the Study
1.4 Research Questions
1.5 Aim of the Study
1.6 Research Objectives
1.7 Justification of the Study
1.8 Limitation of the study
1.9 Theoretical Framework: Ecocroticism and ecofeminism
1.10 Defining Feminism
1.11 Research Methods and Methodology
1.12 Chapter Organisation
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Understanding Western Ecocriticism and Ecofeminism thought
2.3 The Parameters of Ecofeminism
2.4 Ecocriticism in African Male Literature
2. 5 Nature Writing by Black Female Writers
2.6 Conclusion
Chapter 3: Revisioning Nature: an Ecofeminst Reading of Tsitsi Dangaremba’s Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not 
3.1 Introduction
3.2.1 Conservation and Sustainability in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions
3.3 Tsitsi Dangarembga − The Book of Not
3.11 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The Purple Violet of Oshaantu: Plot Summary
4.3 Woman-Nature Nonnections
4.4 Historical Connections: Women Communion with Nature
4.5 Epistemological Ecofeminist Connections
4.6 Dismantling Oppression: Women-Nature Connections
4.7 Symbolic Connections: Feminising Nature and Naturalising Women
4.8 Symbolic Connections: the Patriarchal Self-Other Dualism
4.9 The Logic of Domination in the Mines
4.11 Fostering Emancipatory Alternatives
4.10 The Logic of Colonisation and the Body Politic
4.11 Conclusion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Plot Summary: We Need New Names
5.3 Oppressive Conceptual Frameworks
5.4 Redefining the Environment
5.5 Ecofeminism and Operation Murambatsvina
5.6 Ecofeminism and the Body Politic
5.7 Un-naming the Nameables: An Ecofeminist Perspective
5.8 The Forest and Mountain Spaces
5.9 The Tree Symbol
5.10 Ecofeminism in Relation to Gender and Development
5.11 The Logic of Domination: the Budapest and Paradise Environments
5.12 The Environment and the Immigrant Experience
5.13 Conclusion
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Research Questions
6.3 Research Questions: Findings of the Study
Theorising the environment in fiction: Exploring ecocriticism and ecofeminism in selected black female writers’ works

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