The Rejected Wife

Once upon a time there was a Venda man who had two wives. The first wife had five little boys and the second wife had five little girls.

“This first wife will bring me to poverty, when these five boys want to get married one day I’ll have to pay the bride price and I’ll lose my cattle. My second wife will make me rich and happy, one day when all those little girls get married I’ll demand a big bride price for each one of them.. The husband and his second wife wanted to get rid of his first wife and they did not treat her well anymore. At last when she couldn’t bear it any longer the first wife and her sons left. When she left the husband did not even give her a hoe to help her on her way.

“Now what shall I do? I’ll have to make a plan to feed my children.”  She found a neglected piece of land and borrowed an axe and chopped off a branch from a leadwood tree. Day after day she carved a hoe out of the branch of the leadwood tree. Eventually she returned the axe; she had made a hoe for herself. Long before the rains were due to fall the wife and her sons had cleared the land and they started tilling the soil and planting seeds.

The husband and his favourite wife saw her using a hand made wooden hoe and they could not help laughing. They mockingly called her “the one with the wooden hoe”. The rejected wife heard them and sang to herself softly:

“Did you see me, the one with the wooden hoe?
I am the one with the wooden hoe,
Did you see me, the one with the wooden hoe?
I am the one with the wooden hoe.”

As soon as the seed was in the soil the rejected wife and her sons started building a hut for them all to sleep in and a kitchen hut where they could make a fire and do the cooking.

Harvest time came. The rejected wife had an enormous harvest: mealies,  pumpkins, chilies, sugar beans, tomatoes.
One morning, while the rejected wife and her sons were busy in their garden there appeared the husband with his favourite wife.
“You have such an abundant harvest; don’t you want to share with us?”

The rejected wife gave them one look. “Don’t ever put your feet on my land again! Get lost!”

Every day the rejected wife and her sons carried the harvest home. They had enough to eat.
That is the end of the story.

Narrator: Tambani Mamavhulo
Place: Muswodi
Date:9 March 1991

Copyright © Dr Ina le Roux

Interpretation

This story shows that individuals may develop strategies of resistance from their own positions of relative power. Once the “divorced” woman had been chased away she had to fend for herself, she had no recourse to institutions that support single mothers. Her predicament became an opportunity to victory and an example to many women in the same position. The woman was able to redefine herself and to overcome adversity. She used the word “Pfutseke,” in Afrikaans, Voertsetk (Dutch derivative: voort seg ik) an expletive to chase a dog away. With this last word to chase her husband and new wife away she finally takes verbal revenge, she cuts him down to the level of a dog.
Traditionally women and children are powerless, and they find relief from their frustrations in the sharing of their common problems in the telling of these stories.


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