Chapter One of Binwell Sinyangwe’s A Cowrie of Hope sheds light on the inner turmoil of a widowed mother of one. The woman, Nasula, is portrayed as a poor woman. She is troubled by her inability to raise funds for her daughter’s schooling.
Her name “Nasula” means the mother of Sula, and the meaning of “Sula” is let things be.”
Nasula is a human definition of poverty. Like the isolated hut she lives in, she is isolated from the rest of the community. The decrepit hut symbolises her financial lack.
In paragraph 2 of page 4 of A Cowrie of Hope, the author sums up Nasula’s source of worry and the conflict of the novel which triggers other events:
Sula her daughter’s schooling. That was her worry, the beginning and ending of her problem. The child had completed grade nine at Senga Hill Basic School and had passed. She could now go to grade ten at a distant, boarding, secondary school, St Theresa Girls in Kasama. She needed one hundred kwacha for the child’s fares, school fees and other requirements. But she, her mother and only living parent, did not have the money. She did not have any money, not even one coin, anywhere in the world.A Cowrie of Hope
Nasula needs one hundred kwacha to save her daughter, Sula, from suffering the way she had as an adult. She has an idea of what she wants her daughter to grow into — an independent woman who is not dependent on a man just like she was on her husband. To her, education is the only key that can open her daughter the door to such liberty.
She reminisces on how she got to her current state of penury. Her late husband, Winelo Chiswebe, had taken her from the village to the city. He provided for all her needs and yet taunted her about it and her seeming helplessness. She realised she was a financial liability and could not alter this fact.
Then, Winelo was shot by the police while trying to steal tins of paint from a paint manufacturing company. His family, particularly his father and brother, came to the city to accuse her of being responsible for her husband’s death.
At first, they tried to make her marry Isaki Chiswebe, the fourth-born and oldest son of Chiswebe after Winelo. Nasula refused to acquiesce to their demand on the ground that the Chiswebes love money more than people. They value money over human life.
Consequently, they levelled accusations against her; for example, that she is complicit in her husband’s death. They refused to acknowledge the dead man’s bequeathal of his properties to his wife and daughter. Instead, the family sent Nasula and her daughter packing, and sold Winelo’s Kalingalinga house.
Nasula managed to find her way back to the village where she has been taking care of her daughter all on her own in spite of her state of lack.
Now, she resolves to turn to her husband’s family for financial aid. In this chapter, she decides to go to Mangano to approach Isaki, the oldest son of the family, for money to send her daughter to the school in Kasama.
Her daughter wakes up and breaks into her thoughts. When the mother briefs her daughter on her decision to go to Mangano to see the Chiswebes, Sula advises her against doing so. She tells her mother that “if things have failed, they have failed.” (Page 12)
This is Sula’s way of telling her mother not to be too hard on herself for failing to raise funds for her education. It also distinguishes Sula as a very understanding child.
But Nasula, the mother of “let things be”, refuses to give up so easily. She pursues with vehemence her decision to go and seek help at the Mangano farm residence of the Chiswebes despite her daughter’s admission that “they don’t know us.”
Nasula is thus portrayed as a woman of uncompromising values who equates the success of her daughter as hers and would do anything to make her succeed.
Sinyangwe, B. (2000) A Cowrie of Hope. Heinemann.