Bessie Head’s Maru: A Literary Glimpse into Botswana’s Early Tribalism.

By Neo Sithole

“There was something Dikeledi called a sham. It made people believe they were more important than the normal image of humankind. She had grown up surrounded by sham.”-Bessie Head, Maru

Bessie Head’s Maru (1971) is without question one of Head’s best works with giving what feels like a personal account into life in Botswana. Taking place in the relatively small village of Dilepe the book is centred around Margaret who belongs to the Masarwa tribe, a tribe of looked down upon by the rest of society. At birth Margaret was orphaned when her mother passed away while giving birth, no other tribe bothered to bury the corpse because no one dared touch a bushman.

She was then adopted by a White missionary, Margaret Cadmore, who also buries the orphan’s mother and provides her with an education. Despite having a White mother Margaret was tormented during her early years at school due to her tribe. Due to her strong academics, she then is awarded a post as a teacher in Dilepe where her arrival 

The prominent themes in the book are Love, Education and Tribalism. Dealing with all three in a short, yet elegantly woven tapestry Maru displays how the fragility of relationships between people is exposed when desire is introduced, how easily tribal and ethnic divides are transcended by genuine, non-prejudiced interaction and how educations behave as a haven and enabler. 

In Head’s showcasing of Botswana society in Maru not only is the reader given a glimpse into the all too common issues of tribalism, education and racism but is handed a stark view of how the nature of these issues has not changed. 


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