Binti is the first part novella in a trilogy published in 2015 by Tor books. “I am Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib” (pg.31) says a unique protagonist 16-year old Himba woman from the Namib Desert in the face of death at the hands of ETs… I was drawn in by this Afro-futurist/ Sci- Fi novella written by Nnedi Okorafor, a Nigerian-American writer of Fantasy and Science fiction for both adults and children.
Binti is an imaginative and complex Novella of our young female protagonist, a brilliant mathematician, “Harmonizer” and daughter of the proud Himba people of the Namib Desert.
She is the first of her people to be ever accepted at the prestigious intergalactic University called Oomza Uni. She runs away from home to board a ship to Oomza Uni defying her family and friends who strongly discouraged her from leaving home.
The Himba tribe in Namibia and Angola.
The Himba is a population of between 40 000 – 50 000 semi-nomads. It’s a matriarchal society, and in the Otjiherero language, the word Himba alludes to beggar whose condition is brought about by a tragic past as illuminated in the documentary further below.
The red ochre cream that the Himba are famous for is made by pounding the ochre stone (Hematite) into small pieces then mixed with butter, slightly heated by means of smoke and applied on the skin.
During a woman’s life from birth to death she is not allowed to use water for washing, according to the elderly this dates back to the great droughts where water was scarce and only men were allowed access to water for washing purposes.
Apart from applying red ochre on their skin, Himba women do take a daily smoke bath to maintain personal hygiene. The tribe’s men do not apply red ochre on their skin. Himbas are animists, their supreme being is called Mukuru. The way they communicate with their God is through the holy fire.
Back to Binti, along her travels she encounters cultural snobbery from the Khoush tribe but is soon accepted by her fellow students and thrives until tragedy ensues when their transport ship is attacked by a powerful and ruthless jelly looking like alien species called the Meduse. Binti’s friends and most inhabitants on the ship are killed and Binti must fight not only for her own survival but that of Oomza University.
In this brief space Nnedi Okarafor highlights the hardships of leaving home to pursue one’s dreams, war, cultural isolation, discrimination and self-sacrifice. I liked Binti’s authentic struggle to find belonging and identity as the only representative of her culture in a strange place, her resilience as well as realization that she has excluded herself from her own people first in her decision to go to Oomza against their wishes and later by consequence of her association with the Meduse is heart-breaking as a story that revolves around being an outsider, though the ending appears hopeful.
There are also some interesting perspectives on colonialism, cultural appropriation, intercultural communication and conflict resolution. Also, intriguing is the notion that Oomza Uni represents the ‘ideal’ society in which all species can accept one another and have open dialogue as well as sharing of knowledge.
Binti is both fun and fascinating but it did have a few plots holes, the story seemed a little hurried in places, a little too simplistic and easy considering the psychological complexity as well as several conflicting parts in need of reconciliation.
However, Binti won the Hugo and Nebula awards, this novella has two sequels Binti: Home released in January 2017 and the third and final Binti: The Night Masquerade released in January 2018.
Please check out this book if you’ve not yet done so either on Audible, Scribd, Tor.com, or your nearest book store and share your thoughts!
The wild west of Namibia Documentary,Himba people, their matriarchal society, their tragic past, the infamous German General Lother Von Trotha, who nearly decimated them in what is considered a precursor to the Nazi Genocide