“When Rain Clouds Gather,” the novel by Bessie Head, tells the story of a black South African refugee named Makhayo. He crosses the border into Botswana and becomes part of the village of Golema Mundi, whose members are experimenting with new agricultural methods under the tutelage of a white Englishman named Gilbert Balfour. Makhaya quickly becomes entwined in the political and social lives of Gilbert and the villagers. The protagonist, Makhaya Maseko is escaping from South Africa as he does not want to be part of the apartheid system, he just wants peace and equality. The aims of the author are to show the horrible living conditions due to the same problem of tribalism as chiefs only thought about themselves and prevented local people to develop. We can clearly see how severe the living conditions were as it is revealed ‘all those eighty cattle lay scattered about, quite still, quite dead’ this happened because of the dry season, not a single living thing could be seen as the passed by.
When they finally got to the cattle post ‘vultures began swooping down in a straight column on the already decomposing carcasses’ this made it even clearer as there were only dead bodies and vultures were ready to eat them. These quotes anticipate us about the death of the child. This was such an important moment because it shows us the love between these two characters, Paulina is hurt as her son has died but Makhaya is there to support her. Also, it shows us how the child lived away from the family and so he had no support from them and as a result, he dies ‘The boy is dead; why do you want to go in?’ After this question, Paulina says it’s a custom; Makhaya answers ‘All these rotten customs are killing us! Can’t you see I’m here to bear all your burdens?’ This phrase demonstrates how Makhaya is determined, decided to change things, he wants to progress, he wanted equality and for these things to be achieved, first of all customs had to be forgotten, he does not care if seeing the dead body is custom because that would hurt even more to Paulina, he tries to protect her.
When considering the novel When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head, the theme of tribalism is a very broad one. The plot is centred around the tribal society of Golema Mmidi and the trials and tribulations of the protagonist, Makhaya. Throughout the novel we are witness a society that is largely based around the roles of men and women, the plot is centred around the idea that each gender should stick to its designated roles, and no more Example: The men of the village are seen to be the ones to collect the food and provide for the family. The women however, stick to their traditional role of preparing food and watching over the children. Although to some extent this may seem sexist, it has been what has helped keep their small village functioning for many a generation, and therefore can be seen as a part of tribal life and society for people living in Golema Mmidi. Traditions in Agriculture.
Makhaya and Paulina in regards to Tribalism In the novel, Paulina and Makhaya are two important characters. Both of them have a tribalistic background, and we can understand some things about tribalism through them.
Makhaya is not a tribal person He is not completely isolated from tribalism, as shown here: “‘Tribalism is meat and drink to them.’ ‘Oh Papa,’ he said. ‘I just want to step on free ground. I don’t care about… anything.’” One ‘rule’ he does not follow is that African men are “grovelling sex organs”. When confronted by the little girl in the hut, he sends her out with money, and not taking anything for himself.Quotes“Look here, I’m no tribalist…”“It’s just a tribal name…”
Paulina was a tribal person Paulina has lived in Botswana all her life. She is a northerner, and they pride themselves in being inexplicable to the rest of the country. She married a foreigner at the age of 18 who was also a tribalist.Quotes“I must see the body… it is our custom”[Paulina] married, at the age of 18, a foreign man… whose tribal tradition…”
Makhaya’s tribal views are altered He went to the cattle post to find Isaac. When he saw the bare land, the dry ground, the arid head, and he compared it to his home country, he realised that Botswana was much worse off than he had thought He knew he would never look at any crop, grass, or portion of water the same, and that he would do his utmost to take care of it.Quotes“From this day Makhaya was to become peculiarly Motswana in his outlook.”“Makhaya still observed some African customs…”
Conclusion In the novel When Rain Clouds Gather, tribalism is a key element. All throughout the book, tribalism acts as a rulebook for men and woman, as it tells them what their role in a community is. It acts as a barrier for Gilbert, as he cannot convince others to use his ideas for agriculture, because people are bound to their customs. It acts as a hindrance for Paulina and Makhaya, as both came from a tribalistic background, and it stops Paulina from talking to Makhaya as a person (for a while), and forces Paulina to look at the body of her deceased son. Makhaya and Gilbert have their ideas of change that they know will help the village, but in everything tribalism is their main blockage.