Serowe: Village of Rain by Bessie Head

Bessie Head is a well-known author in Botswana. She was born in South Africa, but moved to Botswana with her son. She loved the culture when she arrived there. Village of Rain is about Serowe. This is the capital of the Bamangwato people in Botswana. She finds it interesting because although they “live by such an ancient pattern, no other village in Botswana is as dynamic as Serowe and no other has seen so much tangible change.” Serowe is both old and modern. In her book, Bessie Head explores these connections between the past and the present.

She says that “the themes of the book people of Serowe developed themselves during the year I moved in and out of their homes. A number of people would repeat the same story, for instance the pattern of tribal movement and migration, and I learned to hold on to these stories as they vividly evoke the ancient African way of life.” The direction of the book is guided by the people Bessie Head talks to in Serowe, because the story of the village is their story.

Serowe is one of thousands of villages throughout Botswana. But even a small village has its own special features. Serowe uses an unusual plant called Tlharesetala for hedging. The dogs of Serowe are sold for particularly high prices. Serowe has its own calendar based on observations of the seasons. These are small features. But together they make Serowe a special and unique village with its own identity. Bessie Head suggests that all villages in Africa are special because of the people and their customs. Serowe is just one village, but everyone should be proud of the identity of their village, tribe and country.

In Serowe: Village of Rain Bessie head interviews a historian called Mokgojwa Mathware from Serowe. She also interviews the retired school-teacher Rannau Ramojababo. Only a person who has lived in a place their whole life can understand it. The history and identity of a place is made by the people who live in it. It is recorded in the book. Therefore literacy is very important tor record history.

Bessie Head also speaks to people with skills in Serowe. Akanyang Malomo is a traditional pot-maker. Kebotogetse Maseke is a traditional tanner. Khunong Letsomo is a traditional farmer. Sekgabe Ntshwarisang is a traditional hut-builder. All of these people are very old. Mostly they are over the age of seventy and eighty. Bessie Head uses the wisdom of the elderly to find out what life has always been like in Serowe. This also shows how skilful and talented the people of Serowe are.

Bessie head says that she “was fortunate” to be “thrown into the company of the old village men for lengthy periods”. In Serowe these men are known as ‘traditional historians’. It is hard for her to write what they say because there is a “haunting magic that surrounds these ancient men”. She says this because they remember a past long ago before Botswana existed and the tribe was a Kingdom. Every man has his own story to tell. Bessie Head picks up every man’s “little piece of the gigantic puzzle” and weaves it into a big story. This is the great story of Serowe.

But it is also the story of every village throughout Africa. Every village has special traditions and wise and experiences people. No village is the same and this is what makes Serowe and everywhere else so special.



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