Contextualisation of A varanda do frangipani

Published four years after the end of a long and devastating civil war, A uaranda do frangipani offers valuable insights into traumatised Mozambican society. Like many other postcolonial writers, Couto sought to create a national identity free from colonial ties, and one way of doing this was by writing his novels in Mozambican Portuguese. Couto succeeds by destabilising the Portuguese language using neologisms, word play, borrowed Bantu words and syntactic distortions.

The novel tells the story of a postcolonial Mozambican society trying to forge a new identity. The events of the novel take place twenty years after Mozambique’s independence and are narrated by the character Ermelindo Mucanga, who died just days before independence. Because he was not given a traditional burial, he is a ghost who cannot rest in peace and soon finds himself in the body of Izidine Naita, the educated detective investigating the death of the director of the old people’s asylum next to where Mucanga is buried. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the asylum represents the place where tradition, myths and memories prevail—a space where cultural values are preserved. On the other hand, Naita represents the modern educated generation who speak European Portuguese and do not understand the hybrid vernacular. He is oblivious to his own culture and traditions, because “separation had curtailed his knowledge of the culture, of the languages, of the little things that shape a people’s soul” (Couto 1996:38). It is through this contrast between the two generations that Couto gives his audience a glimpse of the complexities of postcolonial Mozambican society.

Couto’s criticism of Mozambican reality is an important element of his literary works where he often reinvents relationships between coloniser and colonised that transcend the most diverse cultural borders, e.g. through the use of language (Rothwell 2004). Rothwell (2004) considers Couto the most well-known contemporary Mozambican writer. His work has been translated into various European languages, helping to promote Mozambican literature both within Mozambique and internationally. In the preface to Under the frangipani, Henning Mankel (2001 :vii) describes Couto as a “white man with an African soul”. Couto, who is involved in the transformation and development of his country in many ways, asserts: “I am white and African. I like to unite contradictory worlds” (interview with Maya Jaggi 2015). According to Brookshaw (2015:57), “Couto has an understanding of those groups who inhabit the in-between world of exile and un-belonging.” Therefore, Couto’s ability to relate to both coloniser and colonised gives him a dual postcolonial perspective which he tries to pass on to Lusophone readers, and through translation to a much wider audience. Hence, the intentional use of a hybrid Portuguese in his novels aims to foster resistance to standard Portuguese and cement a Mozambican identity.


Using a DTS approach, the strategies used to translate the hybrid language and indigenous words in A varanda do frangipani were examined. The corpus consisted of extracts from the ST and their corresponding TT extracts, transferred to an Excel worksheet. ST extracts were categorised according to hybridisation strategy and in the case of indigenous words, their indigenous origin. The corresponding TT strategies were then identified and categorised as either domesticating or foreignising.

Translation of Hybrid Language

Hybrid language mirroring both the Mozambican vernacular and Couto’s penchant for creating neologisms occurs throughout the novel in dialogues between characters and in Mucanga’s narration. Only the educated Naira uses standard Portuguese. Five categories of linguistic hybridisation were identified in the ST extracts, namely phonetic merging, merging of expressions, changing nouns into verbs, merging Portuguese and English idioms, and dialectal synthesis. However, the translator consistently domesticated the translation, disregarding the hybrid aspect of the language and “effacing the vernacular” (Berman 1985/2012:249). Therefore the consistent translation strategy is to normalise using standard English equivalents.

In Example 1, Couto forms the hybrid expression tal igual by phonetically merging the standard tal e qual (just as). This is normalised in the TT:

(1) ST: A pessoa deve sair do mundo tal igual como nasceu. (11) TT: People are supposed to leave the world just as they entered


In Example 2, Couto amalgamates two standard Portuguese phrases caso contrario (or else) and senào (otherwise) into a new hybrid expression caso senào. The translator again ignores the hybrid.

(2) ST: Caso senào eu nunca mais teria sossego (14) TT: Otherwise I’d never get any peace (4)

In Example 3, a verb ter sido cerimoniado (having received ceremony) is constructed from the standard Portuguese noun cerimònia, (ceremony) to convey the act of receiving a proper burial ceremony. The translator compensates (Baker 2018) by using a colloquial expression “send-off” with the addition of the adjective “formal” to give the idea of a formal farewell ceremony as a dynamic equivalent, but the hybrid aspect is lost.

(3) ST: Sem ter sido cerimoniado acabei um morto. (12)

TT: Seeing as I hadn’t been given a formal send-off, I ended up as a dead man. (2)

Couto modifies nouns even when the appropriate Portuguese verb exists. In Example 4, he creates the verb se desroupasse from the noun roupa (clothes) and the prefix des which indicates the action of undoing. (The standard Portuguese verb is se despise). The translator chose to retain the nominal form instead of the option ‘to undress’.

(4) ST: ordenaram ao policia que se desroupasse (99)

TT the policeman was ordered to take all his clothes off (96)

In Example 5, Couto hybridises the Portuguese idiom custar os olhos da cara (if it costs the eyes of the face) to custasse os olhos e a cara (even if it would cost the eyes and the face) by replacing the genitive da with the conjunction e (and), to parallel the English equivalent expression ‘it costs an arm and a leg’. Although the English equivalent exists, the translator opts to render the sense.

(5) ST: A condecoragao devia ser evitada, custasse os olhos e a cara. (15) TT: That award was to be avoided, whatever the cost. (5)

In Example 6, the expression no embaixo is derived from Brazilian Portuguese embaixo (from standard Portuguese em baixo meaning ‘down there’), to which Couto adds no (in). The grammatically correct Portuguese for ‘under/below’ is debaixo. It is translated into standard English, again showing the pattern of normalisation in the TT.

(6) ST: no embaixo da arvore (20)

TT under the tree (11)

The examples above portray a tendency to normalise the TT with standard English equivalents, resulting in a domesticated, fluent text that hides the Other. Even when it was possible to use an idiomatic equivalent, as in Example 5, the translator preferred sense translation. However, as Example 3 illustrates, the translator occasionally chose colloquial expressions.

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