A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe

A Cowrie of Hope is about a mother and her daughter in rural Zambia. At one point a character asks “Is everyone in the city not talking about wanting to leave the towns and come back to the village, thinking life is more endurable here in the rural areas?” There are good and bad features about both city and country. Binwell Sinyangwe is aware of this and writes about the faults with both. Although it is hard, A Cowrie of hope is mostly optimistic about rural living. It believes rural areas are good because they have strong close communities.

Binwell Sinyangwe writes that “Nasula was poverty, she was loneliness and aloneness. Suffering was her life.” Her marriage to her husband was arranged and “made her look like a non-human, a doll without thoughts or feelings of her own”. She is reliant on her husband Winello. Even when Winello dies and leaves her his belongings, “they frowned upon everything and tore the paper on which the words were written to pieces. How they took away everything from her except what was on her body.” This is unfair as Winello had decreed that Nasukla should be left his property. Binwell Sinyangwe suggests that people like Nasula should be treated kindlier. The book is written from the view of Nasula. This means the reader feels what she feels and learns to feel for her.

Nasula, the mother’s name, means mother of Sula. The fact that she is known by her child’s name shows being a mother is the most important thing to her. Even though her life is hard she finds purpose in being a mother. But it is her suffering that “fanned her desire to fight for the welfare of her daughter”. Suffering should not lead to anger or frustration, but to kindness like it does with Nasula.

For Nasula, “Sula, her daughter, was a blessing.” She later thinks that “the child was a cowrie of hope. A great gift from the gods to one who was so poor and lowly, to wear round one’s neck for inspiration, and, above all, hope.” A cowrie is a pretty sea shell which is used as money in parts of Africa. When Nasula sees her daughter as a cowrie see sees her in terms of money. Having a child and looking after it is portrayed as being as important as having money. Both make families happy and lives better.

Nasula goes to her parents-in-law to ask for money for Sula’s education. Her father-in-law Chiswebe is sympathetic but he too has lost all his money. She gets grain and other provisions from a friend called Nalukwi and is given a bag of beans to sell at market. The beans are valuable. Nasula sees them as “money she needed to send her daughter to school and allow a balance of twenty thousand kwacha for her travel back home.” She focuses on her daughter’s education rather than the money itself. This is the wisest thing to do, because it looks to the future.

But when Nasula arrives at the market a man takes her beans without paying her. She does not return empty-handed. Instead she tries to track the man down. First, the man claims that Nasula is mad. Then when she takes him to the police, the man bribes an officer. But Nasula does not give up and takes her case to the “big boss” of the police station. She does this because her heart is moved by “tears of hope and love for her daughter.”

Because of her love for her daughter Nasula gets the money for her beans. She returns home and Sula can go to school. Binwell Sinyangwe therefore shows how strong women can be and suggests they should be respected. He also shows the importance of education and caring for children.

FERGUS MCLANAGHAN

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