Translated by Luisa Venturini, Revised by Lara Pawson
Angolans, in addition to loving makas1, partying till morning, arriving late for appointments, and using and abusing humour even against themselves, were post-modern before the concept was even invented. Iconoclasts, they don’t take anything too seriously to the point of behaving like jerks – this term may not be very literary, but what to do when the writer himself is Angolan? – when it comes to the lessons, the rules and the models that the world has been trying to impose on them forever.
Contemporary history is full of examples that confirm the profound and multiple irresponsibilities of Angolans. Firstly, when millions were taken to the Americas as slaves, not only did they resist being completely destroyed by brutal exploitation and unknown diseases such as influenza and syphilis, but they taught their very oppressors how to forge iron, extract diamonds and gold from the ground and how to plant (and harvest) sugar cane and coffee.
Likewise, they taught them how to play and dance to the ancestral rhythms they carried in their blood and which they spread from the cotton fields in the North of the American continent to the Pampas in the South. They reinvented the languages imposed upon them, introducing thousands of new words and expressions. They contributed to the Africanisation of the Indo-European religions they encountered across the new continent. They created heroes like Zumbi in Brazil and the nineteen Angolans who contributed to the fight for independence in Chile.
Meanwhile, those who stayed in their homeland welcomed the foreign aggressors in a way that will remain forever in the annals of human conviviality. They fought them fiercely, then did business with them; handing over their daughters for marriage, adopting their religions while teaching them ghostly rituals that would drive them crazy; tasting the aggressors’ wishy-washy wine while offering them their own unknown drinks to taste; and lastly, taking them into the depths of the most remote parts of their country, where they would get yellow fever and die. For those who are unaware, I should add that these different and multiple strategies were not used alternately but simultaneously, to the despair of the invaders who, to this day, have been utterly unable to get to know the Angolans fully, particularly their flexibility and instinct for survival.
One particularly incomprehensible detail for the aforementioned invaders was how, in the course of this extraordinary process, the Angolans were mixing not only among themselves but with the invaders too, both killing and desperately fornicating with them, thus swallowing each other up in an incredible history of blood and laughter, crime and redemption, all the time making them more and more Angolan. As proof that extreme ends really do meet, this is considered the height of irresponsibility, not only by past invaders but also by contemporary ultra-nationalist and neo-racist Cazumbis.2
More recently, Angolans were the authors of two of the most prodigious operations of social engineering in contemporary history: they transformed Marxist-Leninist socialism into a schematic socialism, and neo-liberal capitalism into mafia capitalism. Some authors call the former Afro-Stalinism and the latter savage capitalism, but these are ideological titles without any use whatsoever, and fine post-modern literature should not waste time on them.
If comrade Chung Park Lee knew a little bit of Angolan history – not the one taught in the guides and manuals, but the everyday one which, in truth, is yet to be written because that task would require overcoming several general prejudices and preconceptions — he would have been immediately wary of the question asked by the MPLA guerrilla, who arrived in North Korea only two weeks earlier for his military training:
– If a drake lays an egg on the border between North and South Korea, who owns the egg?
Comrade Lee felt, as we say, like scratching his head. He had just sat himself down, having just given a class about the historic treason of the South Korean regime, whose leaders were no more than a bunch of hawkers who had submitted themselves to the abominable and detestable imperialism of North America. During that class, he had told the students – a bunch of young revolutionaries who came from various areas of the then so-called Third World, from neighbouring Vietnam to far-away Nicaragua, and all of whom were understandably well-intentioned like all young people, whether revolutionaries or not – to feel free to ask any questions and express any doubts.
– Come again? he asked, while considering the best answer to such an unusual question.
– It’s very simple! said the young Angolan guerrilla. Just imagine, Comrade Professor, that a drake lays an egg very precisely on the border between North and South Korea. To which country does the egg belong?
The professor could not resist it and scratched himself discreetly before replying with as much certainty as he could:
– Well, surely the egg would be a little bit more on this side, so it could only belong to North Korea.
– No, no… The egg was laid exactly in the middle of the border, not even a millimetre nearer their side or our side…
– In that case, said the professor, the drake must have been fleeing from South Korea to join the glorious revolution of the Korean people led by our Great Leader, Comrade President Kim Il Sung. Therefore, the egg must have belonged to North Korea.
The inquisitive guerrilla must have been from Malanje or Catete because, according to the idiosyncratic map of Angolan people, the inhabitants of both towns always think they are smarter than everyone else. Speaking almost in a whisper and choosing his words carefully, with a slightly mocking if discreet look in his eyes, he insisted:
– Comrade professor, I’m so sorry, but the drake was not leaving South Korea since he was from North Korea… This was a revolutionary duck!
The professor responded instinctively, if not mechanically:
– He was a traitor! If he laid an egg on the border that means that he was attempting to flee…
– I don’t disagree, comrade professor! But you have still not answered the question. What about the egg?
Comrade Chung Park Lee thought, with some surprise, that the young MPLA guerrilla wanted to test his loyalty to the just cause of the Korean Revolution and to the teachings of the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung. Therefore, he decided to end this sorry joke once and for all. Almost shrieking, he said:
– The drake was a counter-revolutionary! But, no matter what, our brave fighters guarding the border would never have allowed the southern henchmen to take hold of that egg!
On hearing such a definite and forceful statement, it was now the Angolan guerrilla who was shocked. He could imagine the egg full of holes in the middle of the border, in the security zone between the two Koreas, while the poor duck was destroyed, its feathers everywhere, making small and clumsy movements followed by howls and painful screams coming from its throat. A sticky white and yellow halo spreading across the ground, further and further, changing colour as it grew in circles. The egg-white and the yolk, now completely broken up, rapidly mixing with the blood of the duck, forever sacrificed by the prompt revolutionary alertness of the Korean guards. “So, in the end, is that what Revolution means?” he asked himself before responding to Comrade Lee.
Without wishing to delay his response too much more, the narrator is nevertheless obliged to make a short interruption at this point in the story in order to give — in two or three short lines, a brief profile of the young guerrilla because this may be useful for understanding his, let’s say, existential doubt about the fate of the egg. Pedro Muanza Agostinho, this is what he was called, was an eighteen-year-old former student who aligned himself with the MPLA in order to help realise a dream that, in those times, was devoutly shared by most Angolans: to expel the Portuguese colonisers and so turn Angola into an independent country. As a result, he only had a vague idea about why and for what he joined, and he only knew the sound of the words with which he had started to become acquainted when he joined the movement, such as “socialism” and “Revolution”. A few months after arriving in Congo, where the guerrilla bases were, he was sent to North Korea – a revolutionary, anti-imperialistic country, he was told – to complete a six-month military training course.
Pedro arrived in North Korea full of questions. However, the absurd discussion with comrade Chung Park Lee made him wonder if his questions would ever be answered. He was only eighteen so he could not fully understand the long-term implications and because of this, he decided to checkmate comrade Lee. Being the good Angolan he was, he made his move with all the serenity in the world, enjoying each word as if it were a physical orgasm:
– I am sorry to inform you, professor, but drakes do not lay eggs. Only hens!
What happened next can be told in three paragraphs. Comrade Chung Park Lee, mortified by the Angolan, prepared a report for the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Party, thereby submitting the subject for discussion at the meeting of the Secretariat, which, having analysed it, forwarded it to the next session of the Central Committee to be held two weeks later, accompanied by a full dossier in which, among many diverse, precious and absolutely rigorous and objective pieces of information, Comrade Pedro Muanza Agostinho, the Angola guerrilla sent by MPLA to complete a six-month military training in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was charged with attempting to facilitate the escape of a North Korean duck to the territory illegally controlled by the henchmen of North American imperialism. In addition to that, and confirmed in the dossier, this same comrade had the habit of asking his teachers very provocative questions, and they didn’t know what to do because his questions had not been discussed in any of the teaching guides prepared by the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung.
To these gravest of charges were added the otherwise unknown fact that, just two weeks after his arrival, comrade Agostinho had organized a party in his dormitory, to which he had invited trainees from Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Congo, Cape Verde and other irresponsible Third World countries. At these parties, weird rhythms were played and the young trainees danced lustfully, ate and drank like the bourgeoisie, and fornicated with the most outrageous pleasure and joy. When the orgies were over – commented the shocked author of the dossier – comrade Agostinho could be heard laughing extremely loudly as he passed through the hallways of the academy.
The verdict was harsh. The young Angolan guerrilla was found innocent of the charge of attempting to facilitate the duck’s escape “due to the absence of proof of evidence”. He was, however, found guilty of all the other charges, meaning all those mentioned in the dossier and a few others which, with improvised creativity, had been specially formulated for his case: specifically, that he had not mastered the basics of revolutionary zoology and had ignored the fact that in the Korean workers’ homeland drakes can lay eggs thanks to theories developed by the Great Leader, Comrade Kim Il Sung. He would therefore have to be expelled and sent back to Angola. Thus, less than a month after his departure, Pedro Muanza Agostinho returned to his traditional MPLA base in Dolisie, Congo.
This story took place in the 1960s, the highpoint of the two main metanarratives that had been fighting each other for the past two hundred years. Back then, nobody knew what a metanarrative was because, in the name of the two great ideologies of the day – liberalism and Marxism – men confronted each other physically, on the battlefield, and the deadly weapons they were using to eliminate each other were obviously not simply for linguistic games. Meanwhile, an unknown Angolan guerrilla, who only today makes his entrance into world literature, anticipated Lyotard, managing to demonstrate through an apparently naive riddle, how grandiloquent speeches can be distorted and perverted in practice to become imitations of reality. Isn’t that amazing?
As far as I’m concerned, I firmly believe that this story will be included as part of a collection of exemplary post-modern short stories. But if it does not satisfy you, readers, you at least need to know what happened to the young MPLA guerrilla and to the Korean professor whom he so valiantly confronted during the pure and difficult times of that epoch, by calling a spade a spade and ruthlessly deconstructing the rigidity of the professor’s monolithic revolutionary speech.
During the early 1990s, comrade Chung Park Lee defected to South Korea where he became a senior executive in a large agriculture and poultry farming company. By the end of the decade, his company signed a contract with the Angolan government and, having sent the former professor of history of the Korean revolution to Angola as the local head of the company, set up an office there. Despite the fact that he reached the rank of commander during the Angolan guerrilla war, Pedro Muanza Agostinho had not managed in the meantime to become one of the country’s neo-capitalists. The courage he had shown during the struggle for independence, when he engaged resolutely in the fight against the colonisers, was no longer there. And I will tell you candidly that he was unable to take from the pocket of the state and turn himself into a private landlord, unlike some other former revolutionaries. Since he had joined the technical staff of the company that was now granted to the Koreans to develop, he ironically found himself an employee of Mister Lee. This is even more amazing than the supposedly post-modern nature of this story.
Ah! I almost forgot to mention: the core business of this new company was raising ducks.
1. Maka is a Kimbundu word meaning a delicate and usually rather serious problem.
2. Cazumbis refers to ghosts.