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Five: Exploring the Gendered Nature of National Violence: The Intersection of Patriarchy and Civil Conflict in Tanella Boni's Matins De Couvre-Feu (Mornings under Curfew).

In her essay, "Ecrire dans l'urgence" [Writing Under Emergency Conditions] (2009a), the Ivoirian author, Tanella Boni, reminds us that in an Africa fraught with civil wars literary creativity must often take place in a climate of violence. Her third novel, Matins de couvre-feu (2005), is set in an imaginary African country called Zamba but draws its inspiration from the civil conflict in the Cote d'Ivoire that broke out in 2002. The work serves as a particularly apt illustration of the way that such conditions inform the texts that reflect them. Placed under house arrest for a period of nine months by the Director of Parallel Information, the fictional narrator and protagonist uses this time of enforced solitude to write. Her inner journey reviews her personal experience as a woman and member of her society in the context of her present concerns about the instability that is currently threatening the country. Her analysis leads her to meditate as well on the origins of conflict, the ultimate consequences of violence, and the necessary social changes that would produce national harmony and lasting peace. Repeatedly, she sees parallels between the dysfunctional relationships between men and women on one hand and the ideological and ethnic differences that divide the country on the other. The purpose of this essay is to explore the narrator's perspective on war specifically in the context of feminist theories on the gendered nature of violence in order to better situate the narrative within a more extensive transnational discourse on the role of gender in the waging of war and the preservation of peace.

Much of narrator's thought process demonstrates a profound consciousness of the patriarchal nature of her culture. In this respect, she seems to mirror the thoughts of Boni herself as expressed in her book Que vivent les femmes d'Afrique? [What Do the Women of Africa Face?] (2009b) where she writes:

Les femmes d'Afrique subissent encore ces maux lies au systeme patriarcal... meme si, ca et la, des lois proclament la fin de ces pratiques... encore faudrait-il combattre les ideologies sur lesquelles reposent l'inegalite des sexes et la hierarchie entre le masculin et le feminin. (pp.16-17)

[The women of Africa still endure those evils linked to the patriarchal system... even if, here and there, laws proclaim the end of those practices... they must still fight against the ideologies on which rest the inequality of the sexes and the hierarchy between masculine and feminine].

In Matins de couvre-feu, the word "patriarch" occurs variously throughout the narrator's reflections in reference both to her own grandfather and to the first president of the country; she draws on the concept explicitly in the choice she makes for the name of her restaurant, Le Repas du Patriarche [The Patriarch's Repast] and in the hierarchical relationships characteristic of patriarchy that are repeatedly evoked, explained, or dramatized in the course of the narrative. She further examines how patriarchy informs different kinds of relationships within the nation, not merely gender relationships, but relationships between generations within the same family or clan as well as relationships between the patriarch's family, the insiders, and those of other families, the outsiders. She illustrates the latter within the text through the presence of foreigners and the descendants of slaves, the children of those who had been defeated in battle in earlier times. By intertwining stories of her own family's past with the present conflict, she also shows how historical patriarchal traditions have played a role in preparing the soil for contemporary civil wars in West Africa.

The story begins with the narrator's present situation as a woman under house arrest in the fictional postcolonial capital city of Zambaville and an account of the violence and corruption leading to her detention. As the woman searches for ways to occupy her time during her months in isolation and for raw material for the journal she keeps, she draws on her memories and finds diversion in reconstructing the past....

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Spleth, Janice, Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies
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Author:Spleth, Janice
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 22, 2017
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