Inxeba is a story of uncovering layers and truths about traditions held dear

Nduta Waweru March 16, 2018

When Inxeba (the Wound) was banned in South Africa, it piqued my interest. What was so unpalatable about the film that caused such furore, I wondered? So when the Goethe Institut in Nairobi announced that they are showing it, I was quick to jump at the chance to watch it.

Inxeba follows the life of Xolani (Niza Jay Ncoyini), a closeted gay Xhosa man, who acts as a caregiver to initiates in the Mountains each initiation season. The initiate he is in charge of this season is Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), an openly gay boy from the city. The film then takes us through the intrigues of societal expectations of masculinity and of maintaining a status quo in a setting that limits alternative ways of expressions.

What stood out for me in the film (and the protests after its release) was the level at which some things are shrouded in secrecy and protected at all costs. People were not happy that the sacred rites of initiation were portrayed for all to see.

Interestingly, such secrecy is not limited to the Xhosa community. In Kenya for example, initiation rites are only known to those who have undergone it. For the Kalenjin community, the process was conducted in secrecy, with the initiates instructed not to reveal the details.

However, in the film, this setting is just a layer.

Underneath this complicated veil of secrecy is the queer love story between Xolani and Vija (Bongile Mantsai), another initiate caregiver. Theirs is a complex relationship with one party ready and pining for a future with a partner, who is unwilling to move out of the societal constraints because of the things he would lose.

The story is made even more complicated with the entry of Kwanda, who throws spanners in the works and forces Xolani to stand up for himself and consequently address his toxic relationship with Vija.

Of Toxic Masculinity

Popping out of the films are layers of toxic masculinity that needed addressing. The characters use language as a way to express this toxicity. Kwanda’s father and other initiates use the word ‘soft’ to describe the flashy young boy who scoffs at tradition.  His father even goes ahead to say Kwanda has been influenced by his mother, and thus sees the initiation ritual as a way to get rid of this ‘softness’.

In the mountains, the constant barrage of being a man, bragging about girls and sexual conquests and use of homophobic slurs is the order of the day. The boys even have a penis-measuring contest, in which Kwanda refuses to participate and the boys use homophobic slurs on him.

The elders keep insisting that the initiates become real men- bold, domineering and bordering on violent. They used this as the base to enhance patriarchy of the nation, by looking at homosexuality as a western ideology that needs to be trampled upon. There were enough references against women and femininity, to which these boys who have turned to men should not be linked.

And that’s a lot to say about a country that is more progressive when it comes to LGBTQ compared to the rest of the continent.

The contrast between Xolani and Kwanda is subtle but hard to miss. On one hand, Xolani upholds the rituals of the initiation process, on the other, Kwanda ignores, and even despises a culture that suppresses his existence.  Not only is he comfortable with himself, he fails to understand how Xolani cannot fight such an oppressive system that forces him to hide.

What’s more interesting is Xolani’s choice when the film comes to a close. He is a believer in the traditions and rituals of his people and makes a choice he believes is safer for him instead of freeing himself from the oppressing system.

It is important to note that the English translation of the title, The Wound, is quite revealing. That this film ended up being a wound to South Africa to make it face the patriarchal notions it holds dear.

In Swahili, there is a phrase called ‘Kidonda ndugu’, which means festering wound. This is what came to mind when I finished the film. That failure to address the toxic masculinity and patriarchy that prevents the people identifying as LGBTQ to live freely and humanely as possible is to sit on a time bomb that will turn the whole society into gangrene.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: March 16, 2018


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