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The Promise

November 29, 2022

Haven for exiles

Centre of my heart and thoughts

Where rain clouds gather

These are actually, partly, stolen phrases and thoughts I snatched from a novel of the then exiled author Bessie Amelia Emery who died by suicide on 17 April 1986. The title of her book “When Rain Clouds Gather” came to mind after taking a picture of the cloudy sky. Earlier in the morning the weather looked promising, my heart was full, bubbling over – causing a quickness in my step, I gathered myself in anticipation of a perfect day. Alas, the Promise looked the other way.

The child of a white mother and a black father, Bessie Amelia Emery was born during a time in South Africa when interracial marriages were illegal. She was a media journalist and author; living in a racially segregated country made her naturally vulnerable to persecution due to her outspokeness, thoughts and opinions which were contrary to the prevailing government at the time. In “When Rain Clouds Gather” Bessie spends a lot of time examining the human condition, especially in the conflict that arises between traditionalism, colonialism and the need for progressive thought. At the time of writing this novel she is in exile already, living in Botswana – a land administered by the British and ruled by the tribal chiefs.

The countryside is in the grip of a severe drought. There are huge conflicts between the wealthy elite (including the chiefs) and the common people. The novel oscillates between issues of land, agriculture and tradition. She digs into the souls of rootlessness, residual anger, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, the dissatisfaction with traditional values and disdain for figures of authority- all of the common people.

Makhaya is a main character in the novel. He meets Gilbert, who is British. Living in Britain, Gilbert feels stifled. In his motherland he is forced to live according to social conventions so he decides to breakaway for a life of a pioneer and travels to Africa. Both men, Makhaya and Gilbert are attracted to each others ideals – to work for change for a better life in the village- recognizing in each other the drive to think outside the box, are prepared to take risks and try out new methods when the old ways and people in charge are rendered archaic. Cementing a friendship that would go challenge the status quo of the reactionary establishment.

Dealing with the strain of drought in Botswana

In this magnificent work of literature – a story of hardship, tragedy and hope – Bessie reveals herself as a wise storyteller interpreting a true tale at the fireside, and in her hands everything springs to glowing green life as if the rains have fallen.

β€œYou may see no rivers on the ground but we keep the rivers inside us. that is why all good things and all good people are called rain. Sometimes we see the rain clouds gather even though not a cloud appears in the sky. It is all in our heart.”

With this powerful metaphor in the thirstland – the period of anxious waiting for promised relief-  the Promise of rain clouds gathering took on a new meaning, the sun may return another day.

  1. I shall look for this book – it sounds well worth reading!!

    • Trust me, it is an African Classic, it is a classic. I read it many moons ago, in my young youth.😊
      I’m so happy the blog inspires you to read it.

      • No, thank you for highlighting it as it is one that I was not previously aware of! πŸ™‚

      • You are most welcome Bon.
        Bessie is lauded for her mind and creative processes by internationally acclaimed authors. Alice Walker particularly adored her work and if I remember correctly, then Alice Walker included a whole chapter honouring Bessie Head in her book “In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens.”

      • Understood, thank you! πŸ™‚

  2. A courageous journey to this beautiful talented heroine. I like your emphasis on her thirst for truth in a parched land, a place where no doubt she thirst for her birth home. Her book sounds powerful and inspiring. I will add her to my late winter reading list.
    Thank you so much.

    • The central theme is agriculture, land, rain and the threat of old ways of thinking and the powerful backwardness and pernicious leadership of the tribal chiefs.

      Yes, she laments and she grieves.
      Maybe I should do a blog which takes us on a journey into her personal life.

      I think you will enjoy, happy late winter reading.
      Thank you for popping in. I appreciate πŸ™‚

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