Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Exile and Return in Kavevangua Kahengua's Dreams

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Exile and Return in Kavevangua Kahengua's Dreams

Article excerpt

THE THEME OF EXILE AND RETURN IS A RECURRENT ONE in Kavevangua Kahengua's anthology Dreams (2002). He is a descendant of the Ovaherero who fled Namibia during the Herero-German war in 1907. 1 Some Ovaherero managed to escape to Botswana, including Kahengua's grandmother, Taureondja Kamutenja, who is presented as a heroic figure in the poem "For Grandma, Who Crossed the Thirstland (1907)." In this poem, the funereal imagery vividly captures the anguish of the Ovaherero during this tragic phase in the history of South West Africa, as Namibia was known during the German and the Afrikaner colonial eras:

Yellow on-shore winds raged

And ravaged

In agony of death

Eighty thousand voices howled

Forever they faded like a burial dirge

With luck of an elusive prey

Grandma escaped the massacre

Like a desert lizard

She took cover behind the scorching

Namib desert

On the way, from the same thirsty nipple

Father, son, and daughter suckled

A belief in immortality of human life

Its invaluable being

Waded through the Kgalagadi sand dunes

As winds start to change colours

From yellow to ebony

Grandma whose hair refuses to grey with age

Perceives the freedom flame.2

The poem pays eloquent tribute to the resilience of the Ovaherero who, "Like a desert lizard," survived the twin scourges of the ruthless German colonial forces and "the scorching / Namib desert." The strength of the poet's grandmother is captured powerfully in the image of suckling the "Father, son and daughter" from "the same thirsty nipple." Significantly, despite the horrors of war, dispossession, and suffering, the poem ends on an optimistic, prophetic note, which suggests that the poet has come to terms with the painful past. The poem is visually striking, as a photograph of the matriarch, in traditional dress, sitting cross-legged, features prominently in the right-hand corner of the page, superimposed on a photograph of sand dunes. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that identity is another major theme in Dreams, as Kahengua pays tribute to his Namibian and Tswana heritage.

"Ongua Jandje," sub-titled "My Birthplace," reflects the poet's pride in his roots in "Mosu, Botswana" and his sensitivity to his environment, a characteristic feature of his verse:

Mba kwaterwa komiti

Omire otjomborora

Mbi kuha kutwa ondu no ndana

Mosu, ko Tjauana t ovikori

Every birthplace has a song

For in birth we are anchored in nature

I was born in a place oftall breasted trees

Around which no sheep

Nor calf is tethered

Mosu, Botswana. (43)

In an explanatory note, the poet states that "The verse in English is not a direct translation of the Otjiherero verse but expresses similar emotions associated with the importance of a birthplace" (43).

Like other exiles, his community has to ponder which land is 'home'. In the poem "Lost Companion,"

Ground wet from rain

Inspired we went hunting

The hunting climax all in vain

Sun at zenith, shadows under feet,

Thirsty, restless and changed

Into the power of ignorance.

He pointed westwards

I advised west is darkness and death

A hungry lion, Kgalagadi awaits its prey

We engaged in a tug of war

Each savouring the power of being in the light.

I countered. Let us not follow

The conventional patterns of the lost ones,

When the Herero perished

In the Kgalagadi [sic] sands,

The callous German guns in pursuit

Let's retrack and retrace

Our footprints eastwards

Where refuge is. (65)

Kahengua states that Botswana is the land "Where refuge is"; the land of his birth offers comfort and security. One notes the imagistic parallels with "For Grandma, Who Crossed the Thirstland." The Kgalagadi symbolizes "darkness and death," the memory of the community's flight to freedom has been passed down from generation to generation. …

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