Words by Lungile Mathupha 

If there was one prominent take-away from this year’s Jozi Film Festival, the sixth showcase since its inception, it was COMMUNITY. And the film that brought this to the fore in the most earnest and captivating way was the recipient of the Best International Documentary Award: TCHINDAS.

Few of us can pinpoint the location of the tiny tropical island of Cape Verde on a map. And that’s where co-director, Marc Serena’s TCHINDAS comes in. Unfolding slowly, as if to imitate the island’s languid daily life, you get a taste of the enchanting culture.

The film is named after one specific Cape Verdean who dared to live her truth openly at a time when no-one was openly part of the LBGTQ+ community. They call her Tchinda, a much-loved, openly transgender woman. And in capturing her humble grace and warm heart, the focus turns to her influence on the community. The setting: Tchinda and her friends (who are referred to as Tchindas because of their queer status) are hard at work preparing for the carnival. It’s her hope that this vibrant display of colour and personality will capture the imaginations of her people and bring them together in one mass celebration of their identity.

There aren’t just feathers and an elaborate float which mermaids and a queen will grace while parading through the streets. The most poignant part of their Carnival fan fair is the song they create and teach to all the children, “We are Pomba Gira”. And like wildfire, it catches on to the adults as well; reminiscent of the power of their most renowned export, international singer, Cesária Évora.

And while this is only one example, it’s a particularly special sign of how important music is to the Cape Verdean – breaking through whatever prejudices and ill-feelings are in the air so that all that remains is an intense feeling of togetherness and love for one’s heritage. Apt then to have this screening while we South Africans are celebrating a month of appreciating our heritage, no?

Sometimes within group/community settings, it’s all too easy to forget that these are made of individuals. And often times when they thrive, it’s because of the selflessness of certain individuals. Tchinda has many, literally, eating from the palm of her hand as she goes from house to house selling her best ‘coxinhas’, a Brazilian delicacy of fried chicken balls.

In my native language, IsiZulu, we say “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – a person is a person through/because of other people. It’s a compelling truth about what it means to be human, and this film captures the essence of this proverb beautifully.

“It’s impressive to see a whole island working together to make something beautiful out of nothing. We observe them while hearing several local words impossible to fully translate like sodade (nostalgia often considered positive), morabeza (hospitality) and obviously tchindas (queer). The island is a true exception for the way trans people are respected, it’s definitely an untold African story we all have to be proud of,” says co-director Pablo Garcia Perez de Lara.

 


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