Mema by Daniel Mengara

Mema begins with the narrator remembering: “My mother was a strong woman. I remember her. I remember everything. I remember her words, her story, her life, her pains, her tribulations and joys. I remember everything as if it happened yesterday.” From the start this shows that a mother has a big influence on a child throughout his or her whole life.

He then considers that he should not be saying his mother ‘was’, but his mother ‘is’. “Because blood relationships never end and can never be broken, we were all told as children that we could only use ‘is’ when talking about blood ties. So, I should probably be using ‘is’ when telling strangers about my mother”. The role of the mother in the family is permanent. It is not in the past or present, but in the future too: “Mema cannot die. She will never die. She will live forever. She will always be with me, everywhere. She is with me.” Also “children often run to their mother’s relatives when things are not going well with their father’s people.” From the very start of the book Daniel Mengara shows how important the mother is to a child.

From the beginning of the book the narrator mentions how important stories are: “In my village, good speakers had a tale for every situation. You could not claim to be a good speaker if you knew no tale.” Also, stories are “a learning experience. They were the ideal place to be for a child who wanted to acquire the wisdom of the elders.” The story is a way of providing knowledge from the old to the young. The book Mema works in the same way because it is the story of the narrator’s mother. He says that “The story wants to remain untold. Unprofaned. Because it is not a tellable story. It is a story that wants to die and be forgotten. But I cannot forget. I cannot afford to forget.” However, he tells it even though Even though “my mother’s story is a sad one”. This is because it is respecting his mother and culture to tell it.

Mema is an unusually confident woman. She openly tries to control her husband. Sometimes she even tries to interrupt church services. Her husband is unwell so she takes him to many different doctors. Eventually she tries mimbiri medicine. Her parents-in-law try to stop her but she insists. Because of this her husband dies.

Her son gets taken away to live with his dead father’s nephew in the big city of Beyok. He is beaten and misses his mother. He says “At first, I almost did not recognize my mother. I had been away too long, obviously.” A child should not be separated from his mother. A child’s parents represent their culture, so staying away from them is losing who you are. In the end his mother lets him stay with his cousin in the city because he will get a better education.

The son tells the story of Mema because he knows that “When you learned the wisdoms of the white man, you forgot your own. The white man knew how to make you forget your own people and your own wisdoms. It was that world that I was entering now. Because I promised. I promised her I would. And I promised I would not forget.” He does not want to forget his past, and his mother is his link with his past. Telling and reading books is very important for the same reason. When African writers write about their life, they are preserving their culture. And when you read them, you are preserving it too.



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