Article Index

Connection to the Land

 

As African people saw themselves as integral part to the land on which they lived, just as all God’s creatures and natural objects are, their beliefs and culture arose out of their connection to the land.

African languages are rich in figures of speech – similes, metaphors, personification – derived from their natural surroundings, e.g.

  • ‘Your papa will come back, as sure as that sun always returns.’ (4)
  • ‘The strike spread eastwards like a veld fire.’ (24)
  • ‘His knowledge and understanding crosses rivers and mountains and valleys.’ (23)
  • ‘He folded up his trousers, as they say, and entered an unfriendly river as if he were going to cross a ford.’ (30) (Making light of a big challenge)

 

African people did not believe in ownership of land because they were of the land like trees and animals. Consequently they did not need documents to prove ownership. Ownership was a foreign concept and when colonizers laid claim to the land and declared ownership that was something that was not comprehensible to them. That is why it was so easy for colonizers to deprive them of land,   “… and people now wandered not as in the past to venture into new pastures, but because there was no more land and because they were told to move ....” (23)

 

Because African people did not just live on the land, but belonged to it, were part of it and moved freely over it, when colonizers enclosed it, African people lost far more than places to live.

    • They lost the vital source of their spiritual and cultural being.
    • They were cut off from ancestral spirits and sacred environments.
  • They lost the freedom and independence of existence.
  • They lost economic independence.

“ Mother, aunt, uncle – why did they not seem to have full control of their lives? Why did it seem that their lives were in someone else’s hands? Not only his people: all the villagers around. They all seemed to be waiting for someone to come from the cities, the mines, to feed them or increase their supplies … One just heard that orders had come from the Native Commissioner, and something had to be done or undone or prevented from being done.” (58)

    • Their families broke up. Men migrated to the towns and cities and left women to eke out a living on small plots. The title of the novel, Father Come Home, indicates the loss of husbands, fathers and sons from the villages.
    • Subjected to an alien culture, they lost their connection with the land and consequently their belief in themselves. They were made to feel inferior and developed a sense of shame.
    • They converted to Christianity, adopted European ways and became divided in their understanding of who they were. Were they Black or White?

In Chapter 4 of the novel, “Into Forbidden Forests,” Mphahlele illustrates the divided consciousness in the division between the people of Mashite and the people of Sedibeng.

The Mashite retain traditional culture but the people of Sedibeng have adopted Christianity and a mixed culture.

In Sedibeng, community spirit has been weakened; people are forgetting about kinship and becoming selfishly individualistic. Hunadi’s husband and son have abandoned her. Maredi is restless, sees himself as a misfit and does what he wants without consideration for his mother’s feelings.

 

When African people lost the land, they lost their African Consciousness.

 

 

African Consciousness

 

In Chapter Four of Father Come Home, Mphahlele describes the way of life of the Mashite, the traditional way of life that exemplifies deep appreciation of the interdependence of individual and community and reverence for the land. The Mashite are a joyful, independent, moral people who care for and share with one another and are sustained by their belief in the Supreme Being and the ancestors.

The Mashite children “did not attend modern school. The elders taught them, from one stage of growth to another. Their school was out there in life itself, surrounded by Nature, where everyone learned to survive. They had abundant knowledge of how things grow, of the rains, of how to take care of livestock which was a gift from the ancestors. They knew the responsibilities of man and woman when they were married.” (36)

The Mashite children, educated in the traditional way, are prepared for a meaningful life. They do not write examinations but what they learn enables them to live and work in the community. And they are willing to learn because they understand the purpose of their education and can see its value in concrete terms.

Being true to African spiritual and cultural values, the Mashite have retained an African Consciousness, unlike the people of Sedibeng who have become Christians, have adopted white customs and live with a divided consciousness. The Mashite, secure and confident in their identity as Africans, are amused at the Christians who look down on them and discriminate against them.  

Though the Christians believe they are superior because they have adopted the white man’s religion, Christianity does not have the kind of pull on them that traditional religion had. Christianity, being an externally imposed set of beliefs, does not arise out of the life experience of the Sedibeng community so its members cannot commit to it fully. “Maredi’s people belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. They were indifferent church-goers, and neither his mother nor his aunt desired to push or drag Maredi to church on Sundays” (37).

And the people of Sedibeng, in their heart of hearts, still yearn for traditional ways. This becomes apparent in a conversation between Hunadi and Maredi after his visit to the forbidden forest in Mashite territory. (41– 44).

 

It is only when people are able to look back at their origins, all their customs and traditions, without a sense of shame that they can stand as equals with their oppressors and withstand attempts to denigrate them. Belief in oneself is the means to overcome the debilitating effects of racism. Without a confident recognition of one’s own worth, one will always be a divided self, and therefore weak and vulnerable, always hankering after a false identity and prone to crass individualism, i.e., thinking only of oneself and forgetting that one owes one’s personal