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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BORN THROUGH THE NOSE (article first published : 2005-07-16)

I first saw Bheki Mkhwane’s Stickman a couple of years back in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival and, while it was an interesting concept, it needed much polishing and reworking.

Now re-titled Born Through the Nose, Bheki presented it on the 2005 festival fringe and it has developed into a far tighter and more professional drama piece full of gentle humour and poignancy as well as providing an insight into traditional Zulu rites.

Enter Caiaphas, a smartly-suited and obviously successful advertising executive. He asks his superior for some time off to go “home” for a few days. He’s caught “between a rock and a hard place”. His wife is overdue with the birth of their child and threatening to have a Caesarean. Decrying the fact the modern women “don’t know how to push” during the birth process, his grandmother is totally opposed to the idea, fearing that terrible things will happen if the child is “born through the nose”.

A visit to a soothsayer reminds Caiaphas of his traditional name which is “Sticks of Dynamite”. He is advised to take a branch of the mphafa tree and visit the grave of his father in order to bring his spirit back to their new home. While this advice is scorned by his wife, it is welcomed by grandmother and so he sets off.

What follows is his journey as he “leaves today and moves into yesterday” as well as his attempt to balance traditional and contemporary lifestyles to appease both the women in his life. His travels take him to his father’s grave, situated on a farm owned by an uncouth farmer, Meneer van Wyk, who has no interest in his mission. Mercifully, the security guard is sympathetic and allows him to enter the gates late at night. Holding the branch of the mphafa tree, Caiaphas summons the spirit of his father to accompany him back home.

However, baby still makes no appearance into the world and so Caiaphas explores his history further. He learns the horrifying truth of the death of his mother and discovers there is one more spirit to bring home in the shape of his uncle.

Bheki Mkwane is a consummate storyteller and his characters are believable and clearly defined. As we follow his story, we meet Caiphas’s wife who is at the end of her tether with this prolonged pregnancy, the farmer Meneer van Wyk and his sidekick, the sympathetic Bobijaan as well as the soothsayer. The most memorable character is his grandmother. Stooped and all-wise, she moves in and out of the story with compelling intent and her delight when the baby is born of a natural birth is beautifully portrayed. – Caroline Smart




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