Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Witch In My Heart - by Hilda Kuper

Written by an anthropologist in 1970 who lived with, researched and wrote about the Swazi People, "A Witch In My Heart" tells the story of a woman, the third wife of a son in his father's house who is barren, but loved most by her husband. He goes to the city (Johannesburg) to earn money to pay the medicine man to help her bring a child, and while he is away his other wives spread the seed of the idea that she may be a witch. When the second wife's child, a son, is still born, she is blamed and is expelled from the home. Her husband is jailed by the Afrikaaners, finally having his freedom bought by a friend. He returns home to find his love gone, his baby dead, and no life there for himself. He exiles himself from his people, going to live among strangers instead of the family that failed to care for his beloved in his absence.

Hilda Kuper was born in Rhodesia, later moving to South Africa and pursuing her work as an anthropologist. This is her only play. According to the preface it is required reading for students in South Africa. It feels accurate and throughly presenting its subject. Each character represents a side of the story in their traditional role and how their feelings guide their touting or flouting of tradition.

I picked it up at the used book store because I hadn't come across any african plays written by a woman. This, clearly an outsider looking in, and making a good faith effort to record what she's seen - in complexity and without judgement. I feel the steady hand of an academic here with a protocol for speaking of another culture. It creates for some stilted dialogue and clearly exemplary situations, however I close the book feeling like I've been privy to a world far from my own...and sometimes that's enough.

If you have an interest in this one, it's out of print, but I'm happy to send my copy to the first request.

1 comment:

  1. I think what you mean to say is that; it is required reading for students in Swaziland and not South Africa. I am told that it is still prescribed in many schools in Swaziland today. I am postgraduate History student at the University of the Western Cape and I am currently reading the Zulu version of the play for a project. I will be comparing it with the English version. From my growing knowledge about her and some of her work, she was more experimental in her with different ethnographic genres and went beyond the scientific monograph- that many social anthropologists were using.

    I must admit, finding this review, all the way from New York City, is refreshing and our kindness in your last sentence is beyond words.