Explain the themes highlighted in Blossoms of The Savannah by Ole Kulet.
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Characterisation In Blossoms of The Savannah
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Chapter One of Blossoms of The Savannah
Relevance of The Title Blossoms of The Savannah
POSITIVE NASILIAN CULTURE/TRADITIONS
Culture refers to the customs, habits and behaviors that characterize a society’s, community’s or nation’s way of life. On the other hand, traditions form part of the culture of a people and are handed down from one generation to the next.
Positive aspects of culture in Nasila are important in holding people together. There are many aspects of Nasilian culture which are positive. The songs the young people and children sing during Ole Kaelo’s homecoming ceremony attest to the rich Maa culture. The narrator says, “From the children’s performance, it was evident that the cherished Nasilian traditional dance would stand the test of time.” (p.44). The writer says that the party was full of pomp and gaiety. This is brought out by jewelry won by the guests such as ivory, beads, coloured lesos, kangas and shukas (p.47), all attesting to the rich cultural heritage of the Maa. Generosity as a virtue is seen in Simiren who invites all those present in the party to savor his brother’s lavish hospitality (p.46). Food and drinks are served in generous measures to all those present (p.47). Ole Musanka, an elder who blesses Ole Kaelo’s home, glorifies Maa’s culture saying that it was the blood and marrow that gave sustenance to the body” (p.51). According to him, home is Maa, Nasila, family and children (p.52). His only problem is that he supports FGM, a cultural practice that does not assist women in any way.
Negative aspects of culture in Nasila are strongly opposed by the young generation. To them, such practices should be shunned because they have outlived their usefulness in a society that is slowly but surely embracing modernity and civilization.
Female Genital Mutilation (F.G.M) is an outdated cultural practice that has no standing in the changing Nasila. To those that support it, it is meant to tame a wild gender just as cattle that require to be dehorned (p.22). When it was discovered several years back, it was to find a lasting solution to the exploitation of the Maa women by the Ilarinkon warriors. “…that gave birth to enkamuratani (the female circumciser). And her Olmurunya was shaped, sharpened and handed to her” (p.87). Mama Milanoi also affirms the origin of this cultural practice saying, “It was the shame and anger that was provoked by Ilarinkon taunts, lewd teasing and provocative posturing that made the women do what they did to curtail those desires the worthless predators exploited to prey upon them” (p.90).
Resian is very much opposed to this retrogressive practice. She says, “I would rather live in the noisiest place on earth, than live anywhere near a vagabond who would accost me…with the intention of mutilating my sexuality (p.33). At this early point, she makes her stand clear that she is opposed to the practice that disfigures and damages female sexuality. She is bitter and has pain in her heart due to threats of undergoing F.G.M. The olmurunya, the instrument used to conduct is scary. The writer reveals that it “…was a bladelike tool shaped like a smoothing plane blade” and the enkamuratani “showed the way she went about her profession of transforming young girls into young women through the cut of olmurunya” (p.58). She wonders what the use of F.G.M in today’s woman is (p.90). She observes that the practice is being fueled by men who use it to continue oppressing women. “…one of their ways of oppressing us is to demand that F.G.M be perpetuated against us forever” (p.91). The enkoiboni, mother to Olarinkoi tells Resian, “As soon as we clip that erogenous salacity from you that destroys homes, you will become a respected woman…” (p.229). This was not the original reason why F.G.M was invented but the practice has been maintained to purportedly keep women faithful.
Alienation is becoming a stranger to what one initially belonged to or being isolated from others. Alienation in the novel, Blossoms of the Savannah is as a result of embracing new culture.
Ole Kaelo and his family have lived for thirty years in Nakuru where he has brought up his daughters until his retrenchment. This has alienated him from many cultural practices which he comes across with once he returns to Nasila. During his absence from Nasila, it was his brother Simiren who represented him in the Ilmolelian clan in sacred rituals such as girls’ initiation (p.11). While his brother has married four wives for the culture permits polygamy, Ole Kaelo has one wife and is contemptuously likened to a mono-eyed giant who stood on legs of straw (p.13) showing that his position and stand in Nasila is precarious and unstable. He regards himself as civilized and calls the clan elders “megalomaniacs” who were still trapped in archaic traditions that were better buried and forgotten” (p.13). During Ole Kaelo’s homecoming party, his daughters jokingly observe that he does not know how to dance and that he should be coached (p.45). His inability to dance, perhaps, is a result of being away from Nasila for many years. After settling in Nasila, the writer says that a new Ole Kaelo was emerging and he was becoming a Nasilian very fast (p.62). Mama Milanoi reveals that her husband was not a strict follower of Nasila traditions only prescribing to those aspects that he considered decent (p.60). Perhaps, that is why he allows Oloisudori to marry his daughter Resian, a thing that goes against the cultural grain of Nasila. She asks, “How could a man who was the age of her husband be her son-in-law? Where was Nasila culture?” (p.114).
Several characters undergo cultural conflict or dilemma in the novel as a result of encountering and embracing the modern culture. Nasila culture, which is part of the larger Maa culture, is also in crisis as a result of clashing with modernity.
Mama Milanoi, wife to Ole Kaelo, is at cultural crossroads. She is in dilemma as far as the question of FGM is concerned. She understands the danger she would expose her daughters in Nasila where there are both positive and negative cultural practices and wishes she could “…shield them and protect them” (p.30). She knows this would not be possible because “Nasila people were very intolerant of those who ignored their cherished cultural sensibilities” (p.30). She knows that she is in breach of Nasila traditions by not having circumcised her daughters by then (p.60). While back in Nakuru and before her husband’s retrenchment, Mama Milanoi admits that FGM was a non-issue in the family for “She had regarded the practice as an archaic rite that had been discarded and forgotten. But there it was now, rearing its ugly head and threatening to wreak havoc in the young innocent lives of her daughters” (p.63).
Mama Milanoi is torn between yielding her daughters to the barbaric culture and losing their faith, love and confidence and going against Nasila culture and becoming an alien in the clan. She fears doing anything that would wrong her husband and hence chooses to tread carefully around the matter. She comes out as a weak woman who shies from declaring her stand on Nasila culture when she meekly tells her husband, “Our culture is everything and its rules, our lives” (p.61). Her dutiful role of a faithful and obedient wife to Ole Kaelo comes before her duty to her daughters hence chooses to obey his edicts. She wishes to join forces with the likes of Minik or Emakererei, and fight against practices like FGM but then fears for her marriage, “If she aligned herself with a person who Nasila regarded as having such an obnoxious reputation, where would her marriage stand?” (p.62). She even wonders whether as a family, they are traditionalists or modernists especially by embracing retrogressive cultural values (p.62).
LOVE, MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Ole Kaelo has effectively played his role as a father by providing and putting up a house for his family in Nasila. The house he has built for his family in Nasila is so magnificent that Mama Milanoi exclaims, “Father of all creation! This is but a dream” (p.30). Taiyo says that the house is magnificent while Resian exclaims she had never seen anything like it before (p.31). At another level, both parents fail in their emotional obligations to one of their daughters, Resian. Ole Kaelo for instance has instilled fear in her such that there is no free interaction between father and daughter, has hated her from birth, keeps reprimanding her, abuses her and finally greatly betrays her by conspiring to marry her off to his friend Oloisudori (pp. 206-210) and when this aborts, he turns to his favorite daughter Taiyo but not before he has her forcefully circumcised (p.273). The hitherto good and peaceful family especially when he was in Nakuru has fallen apart at the end of the novel due to his greed for wealth.
In the traditional Nasilian culture, love is not entirely a prerequisite to marriage. Although Ole Kaelo was smitten with love for Mama Milanoi the first time he saw her in the church, her feelings for him are not required for them to marry. We are told that “From the moment he saw her, he had been obsessed and he was still obsessed twenty-two years later” (p.9). On his wife’s side, we are told, “She accepted him without any resistance. Tradition did not allow her to offer any and as expected of her, she did not resist (p.29). What she considers is his character. We are told she knew he was a good man, a great provider, a planner and a man with the will to succeed. She also knew he loved her genuinely (p.29). He continues loving his wife many years after their marriage showing his satisfaction with her. When he wakes up he says, “Oh, did he not have a wife there. He was elated” (p.59).
Simiren, brother to Ole Kaelo, is a polygamist but he treats all his wives equally. “It was only yeiyo-botorr, who occupied a special position in the home and who received favour from her husband without anyone frowning. Communal life, selflessness, and respect characterize this family and there are few disagreements and disputes. The family in general is a haven of peace, a thing that makes Resian and Taiyo admire traditional way of life in their uncle’s polygamous marriage (p.154).
Taiyo puts love first before cultural dictates on who one should marry. Their culture does not allow inter-culture marriage but nonetheless, she falls in love with Joseph Parmuat, who belongs to her own clan and hence they are not allowed to marry. Taiyo is assertive enough for she is the one who approaches Joseph saying, “I know you are in love with me the way I am in love with you” (p.133). Joseph reciprocates her love for him saying, “I loved you the moment I saw you during your father’s homecoming ceremony” (p.134). When Resian asks Joseph to be her Patureishi, he says that culture does not allow it for she is like his sister (p.127).Taiyo loves her sister so much that she has stepped in to fill the vacuum that has been left in Resian’s heart due to her parent’s cold attitude towards her. Resian has relied on her sister for protection since primary and Taiyo has made it her duty to mop her tears (p.34).
There are several characters who suffer in the hands of the blunt Nasilian culture. Resian is slapped by her father for refusing to marry Oloisudori. After this, she undergoes a series of mental and physical suffering. She suffers as she is transported to the assumed Minik’s Sheep ranch by Olarinkoi. At night during the journey, she fears attack of wild animals. She also had “…a layer of dust in her mouth, in her nostrils, in her ears and on her eyelashes” (p.215). She suffers in the hands of Olarinkoi and his mother. She is physically assaulted by Olarinkoi until she passes out after which he proceeds to rape her. After the sexual assault, she falls sick and has hallucinations. We are told that when “…she later came to, confused fleeting impressions registered on her awareness” (p.223).
Taiyo also suffers the blunt of archaic retrogressive Nasilian culture. She is forced against her will to undergo FGM. During the painful rite, we are told “She screamed and screamed, but nobody came to her rescue. Then she fainted. When she came to, two days later, she was sore, bitter and angry” (p.273).
RELIGION AND SUPERSTITIONS
During the homecoming party of Ole Kaelo, an elder is expected to bless his home before Ole Kaelo can be received back in Nasila. We are told “The elders would also bless the wife, children and property that he brought back and which were all henceforth going to be the wealth of the Ilmolelian clan (p.38). The ceremony is conducted by Ole Musanka who is to conduct the sacred ceremony of officially receiving him into the Ilmolelian culture and offer blessings for his family’s well-being (p.50). Apart from blessing Ole Kaelo, the elder had special blessing for Taiyo. He even prophecies that she would be the mother of the next leader (p.52). This man also curses Emakererei, the wasp, whose real name is Minik for fighting F.G.M. He says “May she go down with the setting sun” (p.52).
Teiyo Bottor, Resian and Taiyo’s aunt tell their mother that their daughter Resian has Olkuenyi, a bad spirit and it is only circumcision that could get rid of it (p.78). Mama Milanoi remembers that when she was young, diseases were treated through “…a blood-letting ceremony known as angam. “Several nicks were made on the ailing sections of the body and the blood sucked out” (p.79). Curses are indications of the superstitious nature of this community. The Enkoiboni, is a diviner. It is said that she had prophesied that Ole Kaelo would move to Nasila with his two uncircumcised daughters and that his son would go to live in that home and finally bring with him one of Ole Kaelo’s daughter to be circumcised before marrying her. Going by that, it is evident that her prophecies and predictions are true (p.232). As Nabaru and Resian escape from Olarinkoi, Olarinkoi curses her saying, “My mother’s curse will find you there” (p.249). He also boasts that his mother’s predictions always come to pass” (p.250).
WOMEN AS THEIR OWN ENEMIES
Much as the modern woman opposes retrogressive cultural practice such as F.G.M, majority of women support these practices. Mama Milanoi is in support of F.G.M even as her daughters fight to resist the harmful practice. The writer puts: “Did she not support female genital mutilation that was prevalent among her people in Nasila?” (p.63). Despite being a woman, she betrays her daughter by giving her over to the enkamuratani to be circumcised (pp.272-273). She also keeps quiet and does not speak to oppose her husband’s plans to marry off her daughters to an old man. This is despite the fact that she is inwardly opposed to the whole idea. According to Maa oral tradition, it was women who came up with the idea of F.GM. They made a lasting resolution to sexual exploitation of women by the Olarinkoi and that gave rise to enkamuratani.“And her olmurunya was shaped, sharpened and handed to her” (p.87). The same practice that was useful then comes to haunt young girls such as Taiyo and Resian.
Nabaru also finds fault with the Maa women. She believes that they were the perpetrators of FGM and that no woman had taken up the olmurunya to circumcise a girl. (p.277). Resian says that if all women said no to the detestable culture, men would do nothing and the practice would stop (p.278). However, women are not speaking in one voice hence it has becomes very difficult to fight cultural practices that harms them. Olarinkoi’s mother also greatly serves in oppressing fellow women. She is planning to have Resian circumcised before she can be married by her son. The three women that Taiyo composes a song to ridicule also serve in oppressing women. We are told that they collaborated with men to oppress women (p.153).
The traditional Maa community in which the novel is set takes pride in engaging in external battles and wars to protect their territory or as an economic undertaking. There are many cases of violence reported in the clan.
One remarkable war is that between Olarinkoi and Maa warriors that led to the Maa people being ruled for many years. After many years under the Ilarinkon rule, we are told that “the Maa people eventually revolted and overthrew the Olarinkoi despotic rule” (p.87). Ole Kaelo attacks his daughter Resian for refusing to cooperate in his plan to have her married to Oloisudori. “After a moment of frozen immobility, her father suddenly pushed his chair, moved fast from behind the desk and slapped her face, sending her reeling back so that she almost fell” (p.209).
The fight between the girls at Minik’s ranch and Oloisudori’s men ends the protracted oppression of the man on Kaelo’s daughters. We are told that his convoy “…was reduced to smoldering shells and acrid smell of burning tyres” (p283). There is also a fight between Olarinkoi and the men that wanted to rape Resian and Taiyo. The bravery of Olarinkoi saves the girls from being raped. When the two young men are caught up by Olarinkoi and his men, they are beaten up before being spared. Women are also violent. The case in point is the old man they punish for being infatuated by a young girl. We are told “Then all the women proceeded to the homestead of the accused, armed with all kinds of weapons that included firewood…and their husbands’ knobkerries” (p.115). They go on to “…beating him thoroughly and stripping him naked” (p.116). Finally, this man dies and the women feel satisfied that they have avenged their anger.