Poets and Prostitutes: Sexual Morality in Malawian Poetry
The social phenomenon of prostitution is to be found throughout the world. Malawi is no exception. Rather than reading it from a sociological perspective, however, this article examines the representation of the prostitute in Malawian poetry. This position is informed by the contention that literature has an illocutionary force that offers a novel view of social phenomena, in some instances permitting a closer, more intimate engagement with the human subjects at the centre of the text, with the aim of enabling fresh conceptions of that subject. In the past few decades, the figure of the female prostitute has arisen occasionally in the verse of several male Malawian poets. It is the opinion of this article that, in their representation of this individual, the poets seek to expose the prostitute’s humanity, in opposition to the overriding denigration of her as a harbinger of disease and immorality. The exercise proceeds by examining eight poems written by well-known Malawian poets: Jack Mapanje, Steve Chimombo, David Rubadiri, Felix Mnthali, John Lwanda and Stanley Onjezani Kenani. In several of the poems, the writers address the women by specific names—Fiona, Tamara, Antonina—as an attempt to humanise them, to cleanse them of the appellation of monstrosity that has often been directed at the prostitute. It is an attempt to re-centre a figure that has existed on the margins of Malawian society, by according them agency and sympathy.