Anton Quintana (a writer with Dutch and Spanish roots) has written an intruiging story set in Kenya. He had never visited this country, but he did take time to study about this country and its people. It has resulted in a captivating book.
The protagonist of this book is a man called Morengáru. Just like the writer he has double roots. His father is a Maasai and his mother is a Kikuyu. He was raised among the Maasai, but he always was the odd man out. He gained the status of a moran. As a grown man he decides to move to the village from his mother, where his grandfather is the local chief. He notices the differences between the hunting Maasai and the sedentary and farming Kikuyu. Also at this community hew lives at the sidelines, for he keeps on hunting and living more like a Maasai. He has some Kikuyu friends.
One day when friends play a prank on him, he kills one of them. The village elders decide to ban him from the community. He leaves without saying farewell to his friends. He follows the trail of a deer with one horn, a deer he had seen before. Day after day he walks and walks, living on his own, determined to follow the deer, for he is convinced there is a message somewhere in this all.
One day he meets a group of baboons. A fight between Morengáru and the king of the baboons follows. The result is the death of the king and a heavily wounded Morengáru who barely survices. He hides in a trunk of a baobab. A few times a baboon has a quick look at this strange creature. Slowly Morengáru recovers, but he discovers that his right arm and his right leg are severely damaged and he can hardly use them. He is handicapped.
The group of baboons stay near the baobab and slowly but surely Morengáru discovers that the group accept him as their new king. He has to study the ways of the group and the language it uses and the interaction of these animals. One of the elder baboons takes the lead in keeping the others in check. Between this baboon and Morengáru develops a special relationship. In one way he is not able to assert his authority, but on the other hand the old baboon takes over part of his role.
Near the end a leopard nears the groups and kills one after the other of the family group. Finally Morengáru decides to take action. This action puts his relationship with the group at a different level, while at the same time he wonders how top communicate and how he misses the interaction with fellow human beings.
As I said before, this is an intruiging story. It is about the diversity in your background and the questions where one belongs. He does not belong to the Maasai, he does not belong to the Kikuyu and he does not belong to the baboons. Where is his home? Where are his roots?
Anton Quintana – De bavianenkoning – 1982
(The book has been translated into English with the title “The Baboon King”.)
Masha Hamilton takes us to the northeastern parts of the East African country Kenya. To many people the name Kenya evokes pictures of peaceful beaches at the Indian Ocean and the ‘hunt’ for the big five and jumping Masai and longdistance runners from the Kalenjin highlands and valleys. However, Kenya is many facetted and there are many more stories to be told about Kenya.
Masha tells us one of these stories. It happened in the hostile region near the border with Somalia. In this barren land people and animals live and survive and live under threat of the roaming shifta who cross the border from Somalia.
In this world where outsiders (including Kenyans from upcountry) fear to enter Fi Sweeney (from the United States of America) is working on establishing a mobile library. She is helped by Abasi, who is the head librarian in Garissa, the capital of the North Eastern Province. Abasi is not convinced about the necessity of this project, but he joins the project and keeps it going. The mobile library (using camels) visits villages and small temporary settlements, children and adults borrow books and when the mobile library visits the next time these books will be replaced.
We visit the the settlement named Mididima, where we meet the young girl Kanika and her granny Neema, who both see the importance of books. Kanika has befriended the young boy Taban, who has been disfigured by a wild animal, and who is a staunch reader. The local teacher (with minimal resources) wants to encourage people to read, eventhough his wife prefers to stay away formj these books.
When I read about the books and the topics covered in these books I thought that these were absolutely unfit for these elementary readers. But reading on I realized that these books with their unfamiliar topics open a new world for these people. There is more than the local trees and the sand and the shifta and the dreams about the big city. There is another world and this world has entered Mididima in the way of books.
When another world enters the present and known world is being tested. Some people try to keep the camels and the accompanying books from entering their lives. Fi Sweeney even decides to live with the people for a dew days in order to find a book that the reader (Taban) does not want to return. When books are not returned in time the mobile library will stop coming to the settlement. Now Fi enters a world formerly unknown to her. Two worlds meet in the hut of graceful granny Neema. Fi is determined to let the roving library be a success, for she has seen the impact of these books and the abilities of the people and their dreams.
This book has been a good read. The chapters carry the name or profession of one of the characters in the book, in this way Masha is able to view the developing story from different angles.
Masha Hamilton – The Camel Bookmobile – 2007
To some who know the past the name Soweto rings many bells. It is a name that signify the battle against apartheid. It brings to memory the days of segregation. But these days are different.
A bookfestival was held in Soweto, South Africa. One of those present wrote this story.
Last week I wrote about the debut novel of Naima el Bezaz. This book was about the journey on the road to the north by a young man who left his home country 0f Morocco and who travelled to Paris and Amsterdam, living finally the life of an illegal immigrant.
Seven years later Naima published her second book. This book is set in Morocco and enters the world of magic and djinns and the corrupting power that travels with it, unseen. Naima starts her book with the words from the gospel according to John: Blessed are those who do not see, but still believe.
We find in this book a collection of seven stories. Stories that are connected with one another through the old woman named Lalla Rebha. She has from the very start of her life a strong connection with the djinn Farzi. Rebha is an influential woman who lives near a cemetery. She has the power to influence situations, to break up the loving relationship of a couple, the life of a devout imam, to regain the love of one’s life. In these stories Naima shows the different love relations she has seen: a young girl married of to an older man; a young man who chases his dream (was it a dream of was it reality?); the relations within a family, with the potent force of money and influence. And the last and the most important relationship is that of Lalla Rebha, she is attached with strong strings to the dark world.
A well written book by this author.
Naima el Bezaz – Minnares van de duivel – 2002
This novel is “The road to the north”. The road stretches from Morocco to France (via Spain) and finally the protagonist reaches The Netherlands and its capital Amsterdam.
The writer Naima El Bezaz was born in the year 1974 in Meknes (Morocco), when she was four years old she moved with her family to a small town in The Netherlands. She did her A levels and studied Law at Leiden University. This is her debut as a novelist.
This a story about the search for a job and happiness. Ghali is unable to find both or even one of both in his hometown of Meknes (where Naima was born). His longing for the road to the north is growing. He is even willing to leave his wife Fatima to pursue his dreams he dreams in clear daylight. The story scuttles back and forth to sketch the background of Ghali.
One day me meets Sadi, whom he met when he was very young. Sadi now is a flashy young man, who divides his time between France and Morocco. The longing to travel north blinds Ghali who is unable to see in what kind of world he is entering when he broaches the subject of the road north with Sadi. Sadi is able to help him, he has his contacts, as long as Ghali will handover a substantial sum of money.
And Ghali is slipsliding away on this slippery slope. In the end he reaches Paris and finds lodgings with a on of a friend of his uncle who took care of Ghali for many years. But the past and the bleak future and Sadi (and his boss Yassine) are never far away.
He moves on to Amsterdam, and enters again the world of illegality. What to do? How to make money? How to fend of those who want to harm him? Ghali has to decide who call for help.
When Naima published this book she was still very young (21 years), she has done a good job, showing the difficulties not just on the road, but also the longings for a decent future, the firm relationships that are at the same time very fragile. The prospects are bleak, very bleak. Living down and out is not a happy option. Cut off from the past and the future. The story was and is still very relevant. The novel slowly and steadily moves towards the end, an open end.
Naima El Bezaz – De weg naar het noorden – 1995
Let me not straight away delve into this collection of ten short stories, but write about the author first. Mulikita was born in Zambia in 1928. Part of his formal education he obtained in Grahamstown (South Africa), later on he went to the United States of America to study at Stanford University.
In his working career he started out as an educator, a headmaster at a secondary school. Next he moved to the world of diplomacy when he became the Zambian ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 – 1966. Coming back to his motherland he worked at several ministries as a civil servant and as a minister. In 1988 he was elected as the Speaker Speaker of the Zambian National Assembly. He oversaw the heady days in which Zambia travelled from a one party state towards a multi party state. After that he moved back to the world of education and became chancellor of the Copperbelt University. In 1998 he passed away.
During all these busy days he managed to publish books. One of these is this collection of short stories.
One important theme in these stories is the world of his culture that is fading away. It seems that Mulikita tries to get hold of this soon to be past. He tells how people get together to listen to stories told by grandfather. We see glimpses of the way villagers lived their lives. The colonial masters hardly feature in his stories.
Another aspect, that is linked with the first one, is the prevalence of witchcraft. Even when people try to keep their distance it becomes clear there is more power than we can see with our eyes. An outside researcher, working on his PhD, eventually succumbs to this world of witchcraft and moves away before disaster will overtake him.
Love is another theme, sometimes even romantic love (how modern !), but more important arranged love, welding together two families.
In his stories Mulikita takes his time to set the scene and to elaborate on the developments with at times surprising developments in the story. In a way Mulikita describes a development that does not know a return to the past, the chance to return has been passed.
Fwanyanga M. Mulikita – A point of no return – 1968
This is a story about a money order. Yes, a money order. This story shows the journey of a money order in Senegal. The piece of paper has been sent by Abdou who lives in Paris and who has made some money. The fortunate recipient is his relative Abrahima Dieng. The local postman delivers the letter. Dieng is not at home at the time of the delivery, so his two wives take hold of the piece of paper. Due to the postman telling about his special delivery more and more people hear about it. When Dieng later on in the day reads the letter he finds out that a small sum of money is dedicated to him, part of it is destinated for the mother of Abdou, the largest part is meant for Abdou and his future plans in the village.
But how can Dieng collect the money? He is illiterate and needs the help of a fellow villager. There are no possibilities to collect the money at the place where he lives. The journey continues. Dieng travels and he needs to have a birthcertificate, an identity card. People from the village knock at his door in the hope to get part of Dieng’s share. They approach his wives. They want some extra rice, some extra food. He spends money before he collects the money order.
Dieng becomes becomes a victim of the modern world in which he does not know the right road to travel. Others have adopted the new ways in Senegal and are benefitting from it. Dieng is a blind man in a dark room who wants to honour the age old traditions, but these traditions are fading away. Others have become crooks and conmen. Dieng gropes around in the dark, with the best intentions and firmly rooted in the old traditions.
This is beautiful story about a money order, but most of all it is a story about a firm change in a society. The new ways (a local adoption of western ways ) bang headon with the old ways. And Dieng is right in the hard spot. This story that is in a way a hilarious story is deep down a sad story.
Sembène Ousmane – Le Mandat – 1966