Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto
As The Confession of the Lioness opens, Mariama tells us that her sister Silência has become the most recent victim of a marauding lion. Her family is conflicted with traditional versus Christian beliefs. In the next chapter we hear from Archangel Bullseye who has the perfect name for a hunter. He makes it clear that he does not kill, that he hunts, and his allegiance is to those who pay him. Sixteen years earlier, their paths crossed when Archangel saved Mariama from the unwonted attentions of a local policeman.
Archangel has been hired to come to Kulumani to hunt the lioness which has killed so many. Once again he will cross paths with Mariama and her family. This personal connection is wrapped up with the dangers posed by hungry lions and the internecine wars that continue to rage throughout the region. These real dangers are complicated by the local beliefs, as espoused by a blind man, a seer. He says that lions cannot be killed by bullets. This superstition extends to the belief that men become animals and animals, men.
African proverbs head most sections. The key one states, “Blessed is the lion that the man will eat, for the lion will become human; and cursed is the man the lion will eat, for the lion will become human.” This reflects the underpinnings of the story. Magical realism, the acceptance of magic in the rational world, permeates the belief system of each character. Here, a natural, realistic setting is inhabited by something abnormal so that legends and folk values are an integral part of this remarkable story.
The Confession of the Lioness is based on a real experience in Couto’s life. In 2008 he spent more than two months in northern Mozambique with other environmental officers in an area where lions had killed more than twenty-six people. Hunters were hired and so many difficulties arose that the locals began to believe that it was the “inhabitants of the invisible world, where rifles and bullets were no use at all” that made it impossible to kill the lions. Ultimately, it was a legion of social conflicts that caused the difficulties, and the lions were finally eliminated.
Mia Couto is one of the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. A prolific and popular author, he has written more than twenty books in Portuguese and seven in English. With a background in medicine and biology, he has worked as a journalist at a number of newspapers and magazines. He lives in Maputo and works as a biologist.