Feminists in the Forest: African Story by Fr Michael O’Shea, Mpima Seminary, Zambia

[The story so far: After Kolwe and Ko (the male monkeys in Mpima Forest, Zambia) had drunk their fill, solved the world’s problems, and one by one fallen asleep, the ladies of the troop took over led by Conniecubina, consort of Chief Kolwe.]

“Girls,” she called, “we’ve heard our menfolk lauding themselves and speaking of equality with the Hominits (humans).  “Now, I say, we don’t want ‘equality’ with them, we are ‘superior’!  Remember they descended from us, we’ve been around much longer, are more ecologically sensitive and far better behaved.  And, it’s not just equality with hominits we want but with our own he-species too.”   

At this, unease registered in the group, many recalled being severely scolded and even beaten by the monks for entertaining such mutinous ideas.  Connie raised her blonde hair paw (she had lovely skin colour) and continued, “Look at them, sleeping off their beer. And when they wake they’ll call on us to provide nuts and fruit and tell us to stop the kids annoying them, as if we’re not good mothers.”

“O we are, we are” piped up deaf Granny Kolwe, who’d heard only “… not good mothers”.  She was the eldest doyen of the troop and was herself mother of dozens.  “I remember watching over my first kids, gambolling and jumping over one another, without a cross word out of them, good as gold they were.  But then two nit-kids came along, chased off mine and began to play in our sand-patch – rather noisily and the noisier they got the higher their tempers rose.  Then to my horror one of them picked up a fistful of sand and threw it in his brother’s face!  Ours would never do that, now would they?”  “O no, no never, ever” chorused all the mothers genuinely shocked at such behaviour.

Ruby Rub took a break from looking at her cell phone, “Dearies we have another human friend, a Celeb, female of course, Ashley Judd by name, who recently broke her leg, ‘catastrophically’ she said, in the Congo where she was trying to help the survival of apes in the rain forest.”  Lively commendations rang out: “Good for her!”  “Ape-solutely!”  “Bravo-Bravess!”  “You see,” continued Ruby, “Some hominesses (female humans) are on our side.  Now wasn’t it a pity that Ms Judd didn’t have a long tail like us.  It would have improved her balance, helped her catch on to something and even break her fall instead of her leg.”  “By the way,” Ruby continued, “Ashley said those Congolese apes are matriarchal, peaceful, and live together in social stability.”  How about that! 

Phil O’ Sophy, arguably the deepest thinker of the troop, (of Irish background high up in the family tree), coughed for attention, and got it.  “We need a consensus on our greatest needs and grievances.  Let’s share on what each one wants.”  After a pregnant pause she said, “What I want is ‘That women be heard’”. 

“Next. Meda, what do you want?”  Meda, the troop’s overworked midwife, without a second’s hesitation declaimed passionately, ‘An end to schoolgirl pregnancies’. “Aye, aye” agreed many, especially the very young with bulging waist lines. 

For me it’s ‘wife beating’ sobbed Aba loudly who, poor thing, not for the first time was sporting double black eyes. 

“Empowerment for women” cried an entrepreneurial quartet of marketeers who were always chased from the best vending spots by males.   

Breaking in with strident outrage, Dolly O’Bese, a branch manager of MBB (Monkey Business Bank), yelled “Equal pay for equal work”.  The O’ in her name didn’t indicate Irish descent but a fun name she’d earned for her XXL figure.  “Equal pay!” screamed a score of outraged mother monks, “What about us, NO PAY for 24/7 care of kids, home and husbands.”

By now all were noisily vociferating grievances.  Climbing to the topmost branch Conniecubina, pushed her sleeping consort aside, and announced, “We’ll hear just one more, Sr Bess if you please.”  (Bess was the much-respected abbess of the local monastery, quite a mystic it was said).  She began in a soft dignified manner but, “Louder,” squealed Granny Kolwe, can’t hear you”.  “Bless me,” said Bess, “you’re so noisy.  “I said the hominits, and I think even some monks emphasise too much that ‘God became ‘MAN’.  I’d prefer to say, ‘He became one of US’.  Silence broke out while the import of her little speech was being taken in, then cheers erupted.  “One of US,” they clamoured, “Yes Yes” and the pithy line was repeated many times till the forest reverberated with it.  Finally, the ecstatic choirsters calmed down and concluded with “One of US, Alleluia, Amen.” “No, not A-men” shrieked some of the bolder ones, “Not A-men, but A-women!”  At this Chief Kolbe began to wake up.

Michael O’Shea sma, Zambia, February 2021