The book Mhudi, which was written by Sol Plaatje in 1920 and first published in 1930, is a novel that tells a story of indigenous African tribes, the complex relations between them, and the facts that impact these relations greatly. The sophisticated atmosphere is perfectly shown by the author, who uses his own experience to cover the topic and provide readers with the idea of how these people interact in terms of the disunited community. The tribes that the author speaks of are very different; whereas some of them are rather peaceful communities engaged in farming, husbandry, and hunting, others play the role of violent conquerors. However, it is argued that the given novel is considerably more than simply a story about the tribes and the violent interrelations between them; in accordance with a prominent South African novelist Phaswane Mpe, the book can be viewed as an allegory which demonstrates the possibility of unity between peoples of different races and ethnicities, as well as of the equality between different genders, even in spite of the complexities of the ties existing between the different peoples and the difficulties that they are forced to face in the process of interaction.
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The complex relationships between tribes and the cruelty of some of them are well-described in the book; however, it is also shown how concrete individuals were able to live on despite the harshness of the events which took place in their time. For instance, Mhudi, the main character of the story, is a traditional Barolong woman who turns out to be the strongest person in the book. She lives her life and has certain expectations and hopes. However, she also has to respond to new threats and protect everything she appreciates. Analyzing this character and her impact on the whole story, one could refer to the chapter Rays of Sunshine, which is devoted to the description of the attack on her tribe by the Matabele and the way that Mhudi behaves. When an enemy warrior strikes her from behind, he only kills her little brother. Mhudi says: “my little brother on my back only moaned a little and died shortly after” (Plaatje 19). Being sorrowful and having lost all her relatives, she still finds the strength to struggle and run. Her strength is also evident from many other passages, for instance, when, in spite of suffering from malarial fever, she urges her husband Ra-Thaga not to mind her and to carry out his “long nurtured revenge against Mzilikazi” (Plaatje 152).
However, the author introduces not only cruel scenes but also wants to show readers the possibility of other types of relations between representatives of various groups. Another character, De Villiers, who belongs to the Boers, manages to coexist with the Barolong and Ra-Thaga and struggle against the Matabele together. In Mhudi and Umnandi, the author provides a reader with information about the nature of these very relations and the impact they have on the promotion of racial and ethnic unity and cooperation. Belonging to the Boers, De Villiers contributes to the establishment of better relationships between different tribes. This example shows that unity is possible, though there should be some reasons to establish relations and work on their improvement.
Mzilikazi is another character that could help a reader to better comprehend the opposition between tribes and realize the possibility of a compromise. Being the King of the Matabele, he wants to create a powerful kingdom. However, reveling after the victory over the Barolong, he is not able to stop thinking about the failure of his expectations and ambitions. Moreover, he serves as a catalyst of other relations described in the book, as Mzilikazis words “you will pay with your own blood and the blood of your children” (Plaatje 5) initiated the military conflict that resulted in numerous deaths and, at the same time, establishment of specific relations between other characters of the story. This can be also seen, for instance, from the chapter Mhudi and I, in which Mhudi, after having escaped from the slaughter described in Rays of Sunshine, establishes relationships with representatives of other peoples. For example, she later interacts with Hannetjie, who is a representative of a culture that is very different from Mhudi’s.
In fact, Hannetjie could be considered another important character that contributes to the increased importance of the book in terms of the promotion of racial unity and gender equality. Belonging to the Boers and being in love with De Villiers, she also “too had fallen in love with Mhudi” (Plaatje 189). Altogether, this very passage demonstrates the nature of feelings that could be observed between this couple and Mhudi with her husband. Even though Ra-Thaga is an interesting interlocutor for Mhudi, one with whom she is able to find “fruitful subjects for animated discussion” (Plaatje 48), they obviously are not equal and have different perspectives on their future. However, the appearance of strong feelings and devotion between these people contributed to the blurring of the distinction between different ethnical groups and promoted the further evolution of the relations between these tribes.
Altogether, the given book could be considered a significant artwork that contributes to a better understanding of the peculiarities of relations between different tribes in Africa. The complexity of these relations contributed to the emergence of numerous conflicts between them. However, there are still characters that managed to overcome the barriers that existed at that period of time and contribute to the improvement of cross-cultural relations and mutual understanding. Mhudi shows readers that cooperation is still possible, though it is vital to find an appropriate perspective and engage in relations disregarding existing stereotypes and trying to understand the most important features of other people.
Plaatje, Sol T. Mhudi. Waveland Press Inc., 2014.
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