The role of folk media in peacebuilding: folk storytelling tradition as a site for peaceful negotiation for gender harmony in African families

Egara Kabaji

Introduction

Folk media plays a significant role in the socialization process in African societies; it is inimitable in nature and is part of the day-to-day life pattern of the rural masses. This type of media is a source of prevalent entertainment for the audience of rural areas, in addition to providing education and information to the people of the society. It is also used to build bridges and bring people together. In this chapter, we focus on folk storytelling tradition and how it is used in expressing thoughts and views, some of which are unacceptable in patriarchal societies, in a manner that fosters peacebuilding within families and in bringing about gender harmony. It acknowledges the fact that African societies are patriarchal and therefore characterized by gender-based violence directed to women. The chapter, thus, attempts to identify gender-related themes that foster harmonious coexistence of the sexes. It perceives folktales as a cultural discourse that influences how gender is constructed in African society.

The chapter examines images, symbols, characters and formulaic patterns in African folk story at the time of performance. It specifically examines the folk story as a cultural discourse in a patriarchal society. Specific questions define the paradigm of this chapter: What is the underlying gender ideology in the folk stories, and how does it affect their execution? How are the tales rendered by women performers in a bid to deconstruct patriarchal notions? What primary female and male concerns are expressed in regard to gender harmony? How are women and men in the stories depicted by various performers? What is the role of this media in peacebuilding within the family and community?

Mridul Moran and Lokapriya Handique (2018) argue that the study of folklore from a gender perspective can encompass numerous areas including: the study of the expressions of gender voice in various areas of folklore, the study of issues, challenges, deprivations, social barriers faced by women in popular folklore, study of the development of female uprising against the social barriers in folklore and the study of the perception of women towards the established customs and traditions in society, as recorded in folklore.

In this sense, this chapter directs attention to what constitutes female and male in the social interaction of folk story performance. I interrogate the social interaction, which produces gender through the folk story narrative process and attempts to reveal the concepts and values they convey to the audience and which fosters co-existence. The chapter presupposes that the folk story performance, as a system of dialogue, is part of a gender system. But more importantly, I analyse how folk storytelling tradition fosters dialogue and gender harmony.

Discourse here refers to social meaning deliberately conveyed, not only through spoken utterances and language, but also through gestures and other body movements. Discourse involves both the active transmission of information and its approbation. This process implies a co-operative process of communication, co-ordination and negotiation between the performer and her audience.

Theoretical and conceptual postulations on construction of gender

To understand the dimensions of the folk story, the chapter utilizes an eclectic approach in which three theoretical concepts are employed: the feminist theory, the psychoanalytic theory and the discourse analysis theory. We have grounded this combination of approaches in modern folkloristic perspective, which include viewing oral texts as representations of collective thinking, paying attention to intertextuality and contextual information in the analysis of the texts.

The approach to gender within the feminist theory focuses on relations of dominance and subordination and all possible structures, dynamics and dialectics between male and female, men and women as gendered individuals in society. In this chapter, we examine the cultural meaning attached to sexual identity and the social and cultural processes that create categories of men and women through the folktale discourse.

The philosophies of Julia Kristeva, Helen Cixous and Luce Irigaray inform the arguments in this chapter in the sense that they delight in illuminating the internal contradictions in seemingly perfect and coherent systems of thought, which serves to attack ordinary notions of authorship, identity and selfhood. Like Jacques Lacan, these scholars are interested in reinterpreting traditional Freudian psychoanalytic theory and practice. Their thoughts are tied together by an external perception with roots in Simone de Beauvour’s Second Sex (1989), which questions why women are the second sex or in postmodern terms why the woman is the other. Rather than view this condition as something to be transcended, they proclaim its advantages. The condition of otherness enables them to stand back and criticize the norms, values and practices that the dominant culture (patriarchy) seeks to impose on everyone, including those who live on its periphery. This chapter takes cognizance of this position and information on women and men into a theoretical and conceptual framework, which interrogates the folk story texts under study as a site for contesting patriarchal social structures, relationships, identities and ideology.

Orina Felix Ayioka and Makarios Wakoko (2018) posit that some traditional communities were not only highly democratic but also quite just. Egalitarian communities were organized on the basis of equity and democracy which ensured that all members were treated fairly and impartially and enabled equally to meet their potential. The Yoruba, for instance, assigned their women important roles based on individual inclinations and temperament. However, Marianne Gullestad (1993) argues that the assumption that women everywhere are subordinated to men is not a useful guideline in investigations of gender. The axiom of global subordination assumes what should be examined and reduces the ability of the analyst to uncover the subtleties, complexities, contradictions and ambiguities of gender relations in different contexts (Gullestad 1993, 128). A genuine and thorough examination has to take into consideration the African socio-cultural context and the values that govern the sexes. Thus, although my quest to understand gender construction in the folk story cannot ignore Western feminist thoughts, I heed the caution given by Cecily Lockett (1990) and Spivak Guyatri (1987) to Western scholars that they should avoid impositions and refrain from speaking into the painfully stressed arena of Third World women experience. I do this by taking into consideration all possibilities of interpretation that recognize African female folk story performers as active agents in the struggle for space in a patriarchal society.

Subversion of patriarchy by women performers of the stories

This chapter takes into consideration the active personhood of both men and women and the intersection of gender and other differences, such as age. Although patriarchy often evokes an overly monolithic conception of male dominance, which is treated at a level of abstraction that obfuscates rather than reveals the intimate inner workings of culturally and historically distinct arrangements between the genders. I wish to consider how women strategize within a set of concrete constraints that reveal and define the blueprint of what Deniz Kandiyot (1988) defined as patriarchal bargain. Nozani Kawarazuka et al. (2019) have further demonstrated how patriarchal bargain works by exerting a powerful influence on the shaping of women-gendered subjectivity and how they creatively navigate the patriarchal terrain.

The folk storytelling tradition is thus a system of persuasive dialogue in which the audience embrace as their own, a set of socially constructed and validated gender roles and attitudes. In essence, therefore, by the time a person is old enough to make choices about anything, let alone something as fundamental as gender roles, he or she has already been engendered. As John et al. (2017) reminds us, gender socialization begins at birth, intensifies during adolescence and contributes to gender inequalities in education, employment, income, empowerment and other significant outcomes of well-being during adolescence and later in life. Through the folk story dialogue this perpetuation and re-creation of gender concepts, symbols, meanings, social structural divisions and individual gendered identity take place.

Each society has a gender system. African societies base it on patriarchy. The gender system obviously gives to women or promises to give to some women a certain power, status and influence; otherwise women would not participate in it. It is here that the concept of gender contract becomes important. This concept refers to those unspoken rules, reciprocal obligations and rights, which determine relations between men and women, older and younger generations and ultimately the arena of production and reproduction. It also highlights the interdependence and contractual nature of gender relations. Yet even within this system, elements of tension, contest, resistance and even rebellion abound. This resistance may not be public, but masked as in folk story discourse, which correctly transforms the mainstream male point of view into the female perspective. Although gender systems are clearly based on collaboration between the genders, men and women do not always cooperate; they also withhold their secrets from each other only to express them symbolically through sub-texts in folk storytelling.

I therefore directly inquire in this chapter about social actors, especially women, to explore their inventiveness in creating and manipulating hierarchies through gender as they transgress ideological boundaries. I pay attention to gender as experienced through the folk story and this means that I need to understand socio-economic relations of power and production and how the two sexes perceive those relations consciously or unconsciously. I, nonetheless, as an important point of departure, consider women performers, not as passive and submissive conformists to patriarchal authority, but active agents of subversion.

Psychoanalysis and satisfaction of human inner desires

I appreciate the subversive nature of the female performers by employing the psychoanalytic approach, because works of art, such as folk stories, were and are created from and about motives and Psychoanalysis is perhaps the most thorough-going theory of motives that humankind has devised. In this sense, folklore offers an outlet for the expression of taboo, anxiety-provoking behaviour and what would not be expressed in the usual direct way. One can do or say in folkloristic form things otherwise prohibited in everyday language. But even more significant, I consider folk stories as psychological sites for challenging and contesting patriarchy.

The moment a work of art is perceived as expressing emotional conflict or contains latent themes or its effect on us is largely subliminal, we then have entered the realm of interest that is uniquely occupied by Freudianism. To Freud, every work of art is a museum piece of the unconscious, an occasion to contemplate the unconscious frozen into one of its possible gestures, words or expressions. Thus, Freud was interested, not in the art, but in the latent meaning of art. Freud noted that dreams, myths and fairytales supplied useful evidence of the primordial and monotonous fantasies of humankind and of the processes of condensation, displacement and symbolism through which fantasies are both expressed and disguised. Freud challenge to the creator and the lover of art is not contained merely in his undermining of surface effects and stated intentions. In this chapter, I consider the folk stories as expressing collective feelings, thoughts, hopes and fantasies.

Peaceful rejection of gendered domains

Let us critically examine three tales. The first story presents a common motif in African folklore. It is the tale of two sisters entitled Anakaguku and her sister. Anak- aguku is a disabled girl while her sister is very beautiful. Anakaguku’s beautiful sister refuses all men but wants one without an anus. Her demand, in a world in which choice of a man to marry is the domain of other people other than the woman herself, is in itself a rebellious act against society. The first reading of the story reveals a patriarchal tale. The heroine is a condensation of the desirable femininity in women that has been suppressed. She is physically beautiful, independent, courageous and daring. If these were not desirable, many men would not have sought her hand in marriage. While subverting the canons of femininity she triggers the lust of men around her. To make it worse she demands a man without an anus. This means that she rejects the cultural way of doing things.

A set of circumstances allows her to get the man she desires, thereby subverting the accepted standards. She gets married to a man who turns out to be an ogre. The tale thus becomes a succession of abortive trials to escape from the femininity that the community wants to confine her to. Her desire to escape patriarchy is expressed in her choice of qualities for a husband. She has power to control, direct and make demands, yet as a woman she is expected to submit to society. Her journey to the ogre-husband’s home is first an attempt at breaking the zones of operation for women which is mainly confined to the home.

Her journey also signifies a subversion of the penetration principle. In the case of this tale, it is the woman who sojourns in foreign lands. This journey is a flight from patriarchy and all it entails. Her disabled sister desires to be like her, that is why she follows her and becomes her helper in her endeavour to escape from patriarchy. To escape from the ogres, the girls send ogres for water in quail baskets. Going for water from the well is a feminine duty as defined within patriarchal order. The girls subvert this rule by sending ogres (men) for water. This marks the beautiful girl’s triumph over patriarchal ideology.

There ensues a fight in which the ogres are outdone partly as a result of a frog’s help to the girls. Ernest Jones (1965) had long observed that the frog is a phallic symbol connoting disgust. The frog is the unconscious and constant symbol of the male organ when viewed with disgust. The story thus depicts the girl’s gradual overcoming of intimacy with this part of the body. The beautiful girl is thus above obsession with the male. There is an inversion of the primary symbolism, which presumes the girl embracing of traditional values in this secondary symbolism in which she rejects her status and desires a position of power. The girl, thus, rises above being an object of male desire. It may appear that, although women are the ones who tell these stories, they indulge in a semiotic discourse but only within the confines of the symbolic order.

The role of folk media in peacebuilding 75 Subverting polygamy without causing chaos

Another equally popular tale among the Maragoli is entitled Kalisanga andKalimonge. In this tale we are presented with a polygamous family of two wives, a husband and two daughters. The stepsisters are age mates and love each other so much. But between them Kalisanga is the most beautiful. Unfortunately, her mother dies and she is left in the custody of her stepmother, the mother to Kalimonge.

The love between the two sisters is extraordinary. The sisters even share a boyfriend! But their mother does not approve of their love for one another. So she separates them and gives each one of them different tasks. She also has a sinister motive of killing the stepdaughter. She sends her biological daughter to the river for water and forces Kalisanga into a drum and throws it into a lake. Kalimonge comes back to find her sister and friend missing. Her efforts to find her fail. She is so sad that she goes to the lakeshore in desperation and starts singing. She is surprised to hear her stepsister responding through song and explaining what happened. She reveals that her stepmother planned all that happened. She sings, revealing what happened to people who gather to listen to her song from the lake. The drum she was in floats to the lakeshore and Kalisanga is removed from it. We are told that one side of her body was rotten. The two girls decide not to go home but instead they accompany their boyfriend to his home from where they get married to him. And they live happily thereafter.

This is a fascinating tale indeed. It reveals a number of aspects about Maragoli culture and beliefs. The fact that polygamy is presented as a form of marriage acceptable to good women is rather obvious. Although marriage to sisters is no longer cherished, it appears that the Maragoli approve this type of marriage. But the sisterhood fostered by the two sisters is a strange type. There is a sense in which the love between the two sisters tends to hinge on the unnatural and the unacceptable among the Maragoli. One gets the feeling that the two girls are in a lesbian relationship. This is something that the stepmother is opposed to and by extension the dominant ideology. It is precisely because of this realization that she separates them.

The two sisters, however, subvert social norms by happily getting married to one man. By so doing, they ensure that their relationship goes on under the cover of the acceptable practice of polygamy. Whereas only heterosexual relationship is the norm, it is possible to see that under the cover of polygamy subversion occurs where the two co-wives are involved in a lesbian relationship. Two propositions lead to this conclusion. First it has so far been established from the two tales examined here that many of the men in the tales are absentee husbands, which makes this union tenable. Men’s absence in homes makes it possible for lesbian relationships to prosper without their knowledge. Second, it is a known fact that co-wives make special bonds in a polygamous family to subvert the husbands’ power. In this case, the two sisters have found a way of conforming to the patriarchal norm overtly but they secretly subvert it.

On the overt level, this is a patriarchal tale that depicts the usual stereotypes about women as being jealous, evil, murderous and heartless. But it is interesting that the two girls who have suffered under polygamy get married to one man and become co-wives! It is at this juncture that the tale provides yet another possibility of interpretation, which seems to once again subvert the patriarchal ideology.

It would also be important to consider the role women played in traditional African community. The popular belief that African women were less important in the male-dominated communities is a gross misconception. Though the practice of polygamy and patrilocal domicile secured men’s power over women in general, women still wielded considerable influence both within marriages and within the community. For example, women were a major force in the society’s agrarian economy. This gave them a significant say in how the village was run and ensured that their needs would not be ignored.

The practice of polygamy worked in subtle ways to contribute to the outcome in which women were in control of certain resources or production. While polygamy was not a perfect marital arrangement, it was well suited to the agrarian lifestyle and contained several inbuilt mechanisms that allowed women to cope with the burdens of that type of lifestyle. In a sense polygamy allowed co-wives, for example to ‘form a power-bloc within the family’. This power-bloc was notoriously effective in coercing an otherwise stubborn husband to behave in ways congenial to his wives. By the two sisters getting married to one man, the tale is not just castigating their mother and approving of polygamy but it is also presenting a strategy of wrestling power from the dominating man through special bonding of co-wives and establishment of a power-bloc. Indeed the mere fact that the father to these girls is rarely mentioned shows how irrelevant men are rendered in the struggle for survival in this community.

Fighting evil and the struggle for a just society

This is the story of a married man who decides to become an ogre. He changes despite the protestations of his wife and becomes an ogre. From now on he does what wild animals and ogres do. His sense of smell is heightened and that is why he is able to smell the presence of his sister-in-law when she visits. His sister-in-law is, however, shielded by her sister and she escapes back to her home unharmed. When another sister-in-law visits, she unfortunately does not heed the advice of her sister. As a result she is killed and eaten by the ogre. This cruel act makes the ogre’s wife take revenge. She kills her ogre husband and escapes to her home.

The move to become an ogre basically means that this man decides to become inhuman. But why should the man opt to become an ogre? The act of becoming an ogre signifies that the man rejects what makes one human in Maragoli estimation. In the same vein, he rejects all that the Maragoli consider good conduct. The ogre is a symbol of anti-social and inhuman behaviour that is the anti-thesis of what society approves. This man, like other ogres and wild animals, joins other ogres in their hunt for animals for food. It may be assumed that he joins other anti-social people in engaging in activities that contravene what the Maragoli consider good conduct.

The fact that the woman kills the ogre (defeats evil) and escapes to the safety of her home makes her a heroine. She is thanked for revenging the murder of the sister. Since women are considered weak, this brave act, in what could be considered a patriarchal tale, is yet another sub-text that exalts the heroic deeds of women providing yet another voice of feminine consciousness and opposition to evil.

A number of issues emerge in this tale in so far as the conduct of girls and women and their domains of operation are concerned. The tale, apart from making salient comments about the proper conduct of girls in this community, defines their place and space. They should only venture out when they are ready to follow the instructions they are given. It is also clear that the tale owners believe that for a woman or a girl to escape from ogres or to fight ogres, external assistance is required. This signifies that women are perceived as being weak and incapable of decisive action. Yet paradoxically even within this patriarchal tale, we read subtle voices that uphold the fact that women are active agents of subversion. It is therefore easy to conclude that the women performers play tricksters in the narration of the patriarchal tales by constructing other sub-texts that give the opposite of the patriarchal ideology. While seeming to uphold the patriarchal standards they uphold the woman as fighter of evil and conscience of society.

The overt instructions being given to the girls among the audience is that they should not venture out of their domains of operation. They are also told to adhere to instructions given by those in authority. However, another sublime voice in the tale gives women a window through which they see their role as that of fighting evil.

These Maragoli folk stories show that characters are not just men and women, boys and girls but a wide corpus of natural features, non-human characters, animals and birds, all of which represent relationships between men and women and signify a well-defined gender perspective. It is therefore possible to see that the folk story is governed by a binary principle where objects, natural features, animals and birds stand for male or female and therefore strong/weak, superior/ inferior or good/evil. It is through the study of these features, which could be designated as signs, that the general status and role of both men and women is evaluated. The fundamental principle in this analysis is that since the text is a signifier, there must be a knowable underlying system giving rise to meaning. On the overt level, the folk stories generally present the status and role of feminine creatures and all those elements that stand for the gender as inferior.

This is expressed in the work and roles the feminine are assigned. Whereas women are left to take charge of the domestic front with their lives revolving around the hearth, men deal with external matters. The African community, being patriarchal, stipulates a clear division of labour between the sexes. Indeed, survival in this peasant culture of scarcity requires gender partnership based on shared toil. Although the assigned roles fit within a defined gender framework, which give the male a distinct elevated role, voices of contest and disapproval can be heard. These voices are expressed in the sub-texts and legitimately gain entry into socially accepted norms in the art of the folktale telling tradition. These images of power and powerlessness are sometimes visible through examination of the precarious and simultaneous paradoxical moments in the woman’s experience and in the manner in which her story is constructed in various texts.

Interestingly, however, women are the main performers yet they bring up their children presenting these images to them supposedly oblivious of the effect of the underlying ideological underpinnings. But a critical look reveals that elements of subversion are foregrounded and they persist, undermining the dominant ideology.

It may be argued that having listened and told these stories to children themselves they end up internalizing this ideology, which they now perceive as the true progressive ideology. But as active agents, women challenge some aspects of patriarchy in silent trickery through voices of transgression. Although to a large extent the folktales describe the lives of women and uphold the values of the dominant patriarchal culture which is biased against women, in a rhetorical self-flagellation some of the tales seem to appropriate the prevailing misogynist images of women. They tell about obedient good girls, evil stepmothers, jealous co-wives and daring bad girls using this powerful socializing engine to condition female children for their role as procreators. To ensure space of expression for themselves within this culture, they speak in the dominant ideological voice. However, below the overt embracing of traditional structures, dreams and images of transgressing the boundaries imposed on women persist in undermining the impeccable logic.

The concept of ‘sleeping on a word’

In a situation where a serious decision is to be made among the Maragoli, there was need for debate. These debates do not take a single day. Men discuss and go home to “sleep on the word”. In the tale about the man who decided to become an ogre, this did not happen. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects about the African form of settling disputes, which is the focus of this chapter, is the idea of‘sleeping on the word’ before delivering a verdict. In most cases, it is the elders (men) who listen to cases and deliver judgment. However, women are only called in to give evidence. After listening to a case, the men adjourn the session in order to ‘sleep on the word’ before a verdict is offered. In other words, they spend the night thinking about the case before delivering the ruling.

Closer examination of this concept reveals that the men give themselves time to consult with their wives. In essence, therefore, although women are not directly involved in settling disputes, they are an integral part of the verdict for it is not given before they have been consulted. It appears that the exclusion of women from the actual hearing of cases is a deliberate attempt by society to massage men’s egos when in a real sense both men and women agree upon the verdict. The strength of women lies in their supposed marginalization.

This aspect of the African way of life mirrors the formal structure of the compatibility of genders. There seems to be some degree of shared authority. Neither sex is totally complete in itself. Each has and needs to be complemented, for it possesses unique features of its own. Within the metaphysical realm, both male and female values encompass life and operate jointly to maintain cosmological balance. Women seem to exist as silent but significant partners. It may, however, seem that women were relatively powerful in pre-colonial African society. This situation was eroded by the introduction of new power paradigms and opportunities, for instance, boys were given the opportunity to attend school while girls remained at home.

The gendered roles in household economy

The Maragoli folktale also works covertly to undermine patriarchy. However, it strives to avoid to be seen as doing so. It is therefore, in a sense, fugitive art. It is fugitive art in the sense that the performance occupies only a few hours or even minutes and then is gone forever. From the point of view of the performer, its effects must be achieved within the narrow limits of time, which circumscribe a single performance. The impression it makes on the mind and emotions of the audience is complete at the end of the particular performance. And once concluded there can never be a repeat of exactly the same performance. It is within this limited time that the performer works with this fugitive art subversively. Its aims are not obvious but subtle, clandestine and even abstruse. It is precisely this distinctive element that conceals the sub-texts that carry the subversive messages. Each and every tale has a sub-text that presents a critique of the patriarchal system.

The audience, mostly children, surrounds the performer expectantly and gives her their undivided attention. The direct communication that ensues between performer and audience creates an enviable ambiance for absorption of the ideological position and a life-long bond. All the conventions of this theatrical space contribute to produce the closest possible performer-audience relationship. The lighting system is equally significant. The dim light within the kitchen as the food cooks, while the smoke finds its way through the grass-thatched roof, contributes to image formation and the impact of the tale. The darkness that engulfs the world outside the hut and the dangers it entails is invoked in the tale as it unfolds. This stage gives the female performer the power and authority to subvert patriarchy, shape and influence behaviour of the young from her pivotal domain. It is precisely this understanding that John Ruganda employs in his play The Burdens (1972) in which Tinka, the main character, subverts a well-known tale in influencing her children to hate their father and side with her in what appears as a failed marriage. She does so through the means of editing out details and intensifying the negative masculine images in this famous folktale as she performs it to her children.

It has been established in this chapter that the African communities, are patriarchal, and therefore the folk stories perpetuate the dominant ideology in terms of what is perceived as the correct gender values, which enables them preserve their sense of social order. Yet underlying this supposition is also the revelation that the folktale narrative process is also a site from which this dominant ideology is contested and subverted. The folktale performance, apart from being for recreation, it has been revealed, is part of Maragoli formal education. However, the tales also express hidden female desires and wishes especially expressed through creation of sub-texts that contest and subvert patriarchy. Through the folktale performances, the audience experiences the pleasure of a symbolic nature. This is possible partly through the patterning of images in the tales, which are configured to discuss gender roles and perspectives.

Conclusion

This chapter has examined how folk storytelling among the Maragoli community in Kenya can be regarded as sites of gendered peaceful subversion of patriarchal norms. The folk stories could also be considered an art form whose performance provides a means of preserving and transmitting images, ideas, motivations and emotions to the young about societal values for harmonious co-existence. Folk story performance is therefore a sophisticated practice aimed at imparting the ideological proclivity of the society in the audience. It is an exercise in publicizing, remembering and confirming the culture, history and cosmic consciousness. In a sense, a performer is a mediator between a people and their culture. Just as tales have a structure, the narrations conform to rules governing the shape of the tales, which in turn depend on the cultural truths defined by society.

The narrative process of the folk stories is therefore an attempt at asserting African culture, but for the majority of the women tellers it is also an occasion to celebrate their femininity. In terms of marriage, the folk story presents cultural archetypes for emulation by the young. It is obvious that all men in the tales are utterly dependent with the central authority figure and nurturing persons being female. So hidden in the folk story narrative process are men’s dependency needs. Every woman knows that men rely on them and that the idea that men are independent and women dependent is essentially a false one. A girl, as observed, in the analysis above, grows up knowing that she is expected to marry a man whom she will nurture, care and emotionally support. She also knows that she will bring into the world children who will depend on her. She may initially appear dependent, incompetent and somewhat fragile. But behind this facade is someone who, whatever her inner state, will have to deal with the emotional problems of male members of her family. The woman knows that others will expect to rely and lean on her and that she will never really be able to depend on others or never feel content about her dependency.

The Maragoli thus endeavour to socialize their young ones through folk media so that they take up their future responsibilities as responsible husbands and wives. The narrator, while presenting patriarchal tales, transmits signals through archetypal characters that reveal the overwhelming responsibility of the female members of the society. A common saying among the Maragoli people states that: walegella umukariyaregella enzogu (he who has managed to keep a wife in control has managed to tame an elephant). This proverb points to the obvious recognition of the power of women in a home. It not only underscores the subversive tendencies of women as they contest patriarchy, but also stresses the fact that it is impossible for men to control and subjugate women, because women wield immense power, though not overtly. This kind of balance is what creates harmony. The folk stories thus establish a subtle alternative feminine perspective and centre of power.

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