Monsters, witches or acts of witchcraft, what are these images depicting?
Is the first question that trifles into the mind at first glance on the artwork in children story writer Bontekanye Botumile’s latest book release titled ‘The Seed Children’.
Wrong!, according to her, these are Shorobe children, a village 30km north of Maun, who, once upon a time, disregarded their parents’ advice on dangers lying behind swallowing seeds after eating a fruit.
In this legendary story, Botumile tells how, after swallowing the seeds, germination takes place in the children’s stomachs, resulting in their transformation into trees. Branches start protruding from their ears and nostrils. Toes turned into roots, bodies into scaly burked trunks, hair into leaves and branches, depending on the type of seed swallowed.
One night, after finding it a shame to live amongst humans, the children each sneaked into the forest and lived there bearing fruits, providing food and shelter to most wild species. However, they did not change much of their human behaviour as hunters and wood gatherers often reported hearing laughing and singing ghostly voices.
Life in the bush is a misery to the seed children. Humans chop them down, mutilate, disfigure, write silly words on their trunks, urinate and do all sorts of things that hurt. The trees were perishing and no conservation strategies were put in place hence enmity for humans at last.
The secret life of these trees is later discovered by a little girl named Peo and a bond erupts. She starts making daily visits to the trees, giving them news and teaching them games played by the children in the village. In exchange, the trees load her basket with fruits. The new friendship and skill acquired by the girl from the seed children leads her into a jubilant mood and moral behavioural change that her mother finds weird and worrisome.
One day a cousin of the girl named Goleba is sent after her. She discovers the truth but honours the seed children’s wish of remaining anonymous. At last Peo’s mother trek the two girls down and oh! What a sight she sees. Back into the village she runs, falls in front of the chief, his warriors and the village traditional doctor and breathlessly tells her story.
She also leads them back to the bush where they find Peo and cousin busy at play with the seed children. On catching sight of the intruders, the seed children instantly stiffen into trees but suddenly disperse and run away as they see the chief and his armed warriors advancing towards them. They don’t have trust in humanity anymore.
Fear-struck Goleba blurts out the whole story without being questioned. Seed child Baobab also braves the situation, confronts the intruders and explains further about who they are, their transformation and the suffering that they endure from human cruelty.
The story has a happy ending as the community later joins in to see their lost children, reconcile their evil acts and begs the village witchdoctor to turn them back into humans. But the doctor refuses and explains how the seed children’s change of status may affect the balance of the ecosystem. But how will the ecosystem be affected? Find out more on your own.
This book is indeed every parent’s need into their children’s library. It will not only instill the love and respect for nature into their tender minds but will also teach them names of trees and shrubs in both Setswana to English languages. At the last pages of the book they will also discover the medicinal properties of trees and find games that will enhance their vocabulary capacity.
Born in the dusty village of Maun 38-years ago Bonty or Mma Tlou, as the community now refers to her in reference to her first book ‘Tlou the elephant’, Botumile is a self confessed nature lover. She attributes her indisputable love for Setswana culture and customs to an extended family environment that she was groomed in.
A freelance Hotel Management and Caterer by profession, her constant touch with the delta and its environs cultivates more of her thirst to sensitise the community, especially children about the value of nature conservation. She also wants to expose the untapped story telling culture of the northern Botswana inhabitants to the tourist hence her books are mostly found in lodges and curio shops within the delta.
“My books sell like hot potatoes in the delta because they are an answer to what most tourists seek to find when visiting Botswana. They come in search of cultural tourism. They want to find out who we are as a nation, our values, roots and norms. In most cases they return back to their countries without an answer because most of us are more into working in the delta than venturing into this untapped field,” she said.
But what is it that motivated Mma Tlou to write ‘The Seed Children’. She says that the inspiration came years back when she worked in Shorobe for a Non Governmental Organisation called People and Nature Trust. Their duty was to discourage and sensitise the community on the impact of cutting down trees.
It was sad because during those days the Shorobe community used to sap fluid from infant palm trees to make palm wine for their shebeens. That resulted in the death of the trees. There were also piles of cut wood for sell along the Moremi Game Reserve road and despite such heavy reaping no replacements were grown back.
Mma Tlou said that what was happening in Shorobe touched her. She sat down and asked herself how she could change their mindset in a way that they would understand and appreciate.
“That is when I recalled the days of our upbringing where parents used to deter us from swallowing wild fruit seeds and the superstitious belief behind it. I said oow! to myself. At once, I knew that I had found a way. Hence the birth of my book.”
Asked as to whether the book is already on the market she said, “Not at all; people should expect it mid next month because at present I am on my way to South Africa to print more copies.”
When she comes back from SA, Mma Tlou will prepare for the launch of the book, which is intended for the 31st of October at Westwood School in Gaborone. The launch will be in theater form.