I have read quite a few books set in Botswana. Until now the books have not been written by Batswanas, although Bessie Head, the author of Maru, was born in South Africa, she is known as Botswana’s most famous author. Her mother was a rich white woman, and her father a black servant. Back in the days in South Africa it was of course illegal to have mixed-race relationships like this. Bessie’s life was filled with hardship, including her mother’s suicide, poverty, and Bessie herself dying of hepatitis. She escaped from South Africa to Botswana, and many years later finally gained a citizenship.
Maru is one of the chiefs of a Botswanan village. The main character in the book is however Margaret Cadmore, a Bushman. A Bushman is seen as the lowest of the low, “something” everyone else looks down at, barely a human. Her mother died giving birth to Margaret, and a white missionary gave her a home. Even though Bessie’s mother did not die while giving birth, Bessie was given away to non-relatives to be raised. Both Bessie and Margaret were unwanted children, not accepted by society, not belonging anywhere.
Margaret was lonely as a student because she was rejected by her classmates. She excelled at school, and became an excellent teacher. Margaret was hired as a teacher in Maru’s village, without the people in the village knowing she was not an ‘accepted’ human, but a Bushman. She even had the guts to say it out loud and proud, while staring people in their eyes, that she in fact was a Masarwa (a Bushman). By looking at her people believed her to be coloured, a mix of white and African, a combination basically accepted. The village chiefs, as well as everyone else, were shocked by the revelation of the new teacher being a Bushman. The village chiefs however had feelings towards Margaret, and as the books shows us, people can change.
The book deals with an unfortunate universal theme, racism. Racism seems to be a “disease” spreading like plague, but it is still an individual “disease”, and each and every one can change their own way of thinking, to make the world just a little bit better. Maru, the chief in the book, as well as Maru the book, show us that people can change. Believing in yourself is fundamental, if you want to make a change, or have an impact on other humans, like Margaret did.
Bessie felt rejected her whole life, and she felt like she did not belong, and I believe there is a lot of her in this book. It’s a multilayered story, and there is a lot of symbolism. Maru is definitely also a love story, but I won’t reveal who gets whom in the end. For a short book it holds a lot of important content. The book is rich in its meaning with a stripped down appearance. Bessie touches several important subjects in Maru, subjects which will linger on your mind for awhile. Knowing Bessie’s own story gives the book an interesting touch, since the subject is extremely personal and devastating. Believe in yourself, believe in people, we are all capable of changing our minds, but usually we need an incentive or something to shake us up, to be able to make the change and shift our way of thinking.