Kgosi Sechele (1812 – 1892) was the ruler of the Kwêna tribe of the Tswana people. He was converted to Christianity by David Livingstone, and using his role as ruler he became an influential missionary among his own people, and other tribes, but he could never forget his roots.
Tswana customs and Christianity are not fully compatible. In order to be baptised, Sechele was forced to divorce four of his five wives, and give up his role as local rainmaker. Sechele was still a ruler though, and he still had responsibilities. When his actions angered Livingstone, the missionary denounced Sechele for backsliding. Sechele responded as follows: “I shall never give up Jesus. You and I will stand before him together”.
Sechele always did what he felt was right. Someone once wrote a letter to the editor of a Setswana newspaper published by a mission criticizing Sechele for executing witches. As a Christian, he should have known better because Christinaity does not acknowledge the existence of witches. In response, Sechele wrote back to say that it was only a few witches, all known to be witches, and that the initial accusation came from the daughter of a domestic worker at the mission house. Who was this daughter? The letter never mentioned, but that last bit of information caught the attention of Laurie Kubuitsile, and knowing that historians weren’t going to care, decided to write an entire book telling this woman’s imagined story. The book is But Deliver Us From Evil, and it was really harsh, and really good, but mainly just really harsh.
Two Women Forced Into Hardship
“‘Your husband, your Rra Nthelobang, is a witch,’ he says with a sneer. ‘He has killed his brothers. He has bewitched them and now they are dead.”
This book begins with an accusation, but not the one that you’d expect. Diteko Nthelobang, husband and father, and is charged with the murder of his elder siblings by witchcraft. It is an accusation against which there is no defense, and his village quickly turns against him. Gossip becomes fact and the young man is thrown off a cliff, his home is burned, and his wife and daughter, Nbelothang, are forced into exile.
In Tribal Colonial Africa women have no protection. White-skinned Beatrice, the wild spirited daughter of a Koranna sorcerer learns this the hard way when British troops kidnap and deliver her to a mission. They falsely assume that she was a kidnapped Boer daughter, and want to “save” her from her savage parents (and also take over their territory).
It takes many years, but Nbelothang’s path eventually leads her to Ntsweng, the kingdom of Kgosi Sechele where no one cares about her past, and the rumors that follow her and her mother. The two women take on the job of maintaining the local mission, and slowly and painstakingly begin to rebuild their lives.
Beatrice isn’t so lucky. She eventually does escape the mission, and for a brief period gets to reexperience freedom, but then she is kidnapped again, and persuaded to marry. Her violent missionary husband impregnates her and then journeys with her to Ntsweng to help spread Christianity among Sechele’s people.
Nbelothang and Beatrice are two very different women with two very different stories. Their stories help shed light on a relatively unknown (at least to me) period of Botswanan history, and what life was like for women way back then. Beatrice being an actual witch is just an added bonus.
A Very Difficult Read
“They must be tamed and civilized, and if they refuse, they must rot in jail until they die”
This book was hard for me to read, but also important for me to read. It painted a very vivid image of Colonial Africa. A time and place in which natives were viewed as a lower class of human, and women got raped. A lot. If the white man wanted the woman he got the woman, and if the white man happened to be a missionary, then the woman probably secretly wanted him in the first place because all woman apparently have this secret desire to be raped (sarcasm font). There is very little room for disagreement. Women who protested too loudly would get beaten into submission, and this happens several times throughout the book.
To be fair, there was plenty of evil to go around (the book is aptly named). It wasn’t just white men who behaved horribly. There was plenty of cruelty that came from both genders, both light-skinned and dark-skinned, but it was the light-skinned evil that particularly stood out as being extra brutal to me – so it gets extra attention.
It was interesting for me to learn that both men and women can be witches (as opposed to witches and warlocks). Apparently, for the Tswana, witch is a gender-neutral profession, and in the book I did encounter a genuine male witch, but that wasn’t the most interesting new thing I learned. Apparently, missionaries did not believe in witchcraft in that period. It didn’t exist, and therefore those accused were by definition innocent. The natives disagreed, and they were correct.
Witchcraft is a thing in But Deliver us from evil. Beatrice is the daughter of a sorcerer, and she can see visions. Although, this works best for her when she is living in the wild. Being imprisoned by civilization is hard for her as both her mind and body are forcibly confined to a small space. There are also other witches. Someone did kill Nbelothang’s uncle after all. It just wasn’t her father.
Hardship Shapes the Characters Outlook
This book though is more than just the historical setting. It’s also the characters. The difference between them is tangible. Nbelothang was forced to witness her father’s execution, and then spend many years living in poverty and exile. She may be an independent thinker, but she has learned the hard way to be careful. Beatrice also experienced similar horrors, but she refuses to let them cow her. She knows exactly what she wants, and she’ll get it no matter how long she has to wait.
I have a strong suspicion that Beatrice is lesbian. During the story she forms two strong connections with female companions, and the book seems to heavily indicate that she desired from them more than just companionship. In the second case, this resulted in her doing something pretty horrible to obtain it, which is basically how the book ends.
I am not going to spoil the story, and reveal exactly what it was she did. It was completely within character, I just found it to be extremely wrong even though I understood exactly why she did what she did, and what it was she was looking for so desperately. The ending may also have been historically accurate. I have no idea. Laurie Kubuitsile took a tiny piece of information in a letter to the editor, and wove it into an all-encompassing tale that (also) tells the story of what it was like to be a woman in Colonial Bostwana.
Violence Against Women is Not New
The Omer today is splendor in eternity. Unlike other books I’ve read, I really couldn’t find much beauty in this story. What innocent beauty that exists is very quickly ripped away in the opening chapters. Unfortunately though, I think eternity is still very relevant for today’s story. Violence against women was not new in the nineteenth century, and it is still very much with us in 2021.
I wrote this review on the same night my wife learned that a friend was murdered by her ex husband, and another friend was raped by her half-brother. This was in the United States, a first-world country, not Botswana. In Botswana things are way worse. And while women today, have more legal and social protections than they did back then, this doesn’t mean that violence against women has gone away. It’s still very much a part of our society, and something that we need to actively combat.
Be The Change
How? For starters, I plan on teaching my son to be a decent human being, but I can do more. Following tonight’s news, I asked my wife: “How can I, as a man, help? What can I do to help prevent these horrors from happening?” She consulted her friends, and came back to me with answers.
These are their suggestions:
“Unfortunately these horrors may never be 100% preventable, but having knowledge these things are real and happen and are not just a part of a novel or TV show. While his perspective may be appreciated I think linking testimonies of these women are crucial and hearing their voices and amplifying them vs. a man repeating it in his own words gives agency.”
“Addressing the stigma of rape, especially in middle eastern cultures for something closer to home.”
“Speak up and hold each other accountable. You see someone do something shady like put something in someone’s drink… speak the fuck up and make noise about it. Stop letting your friends do shit like that.”
“Men need to stop “letting it lie” with other men and be brave enough to step in. The worst is, you are wrong and temporarily embarrassed.”
“Don’t be afraid to hold each other accountable for casual sexism. When casual sexism is ignored, bad men feel emboldened to follow through on their bullshit.”
“Actively and vocally tell other men not to be assholes! Don’t laugh at the misogynistic jokes, call out your mates for making them. Call out the “women trapping men” comments that imply that women are devious, sneaky and deserve what’s coming to them. Fight against the patriarchy that says women are emotional, can’t be trusted in positions of leadership and are silly. Promote women’s strength, be a safe person and an ally. Fight against slut shaming.”
“Show your son’s that women are to be protected from evil. Acknowledge there is a power difference built in to our world. Help when that is unequal.”
“Use your privilege to hold others accountable.”
“Stop laughing at or shrugging off jokes that aren’t funny.”
“Accept that you probably aren’t the ally you think you are, and be better.”
“Quit saying ‘boys will be boys’ especially when they’re adults and know what they are doing/saying is wrong.”
“When it comes to treating women badly/speaking of them in a derogatory manner ask them how’d they would feel if that was their mother/sister/daughter.”
“The friend zone doesn’t exist – If you’re only friends with a woman to sleep with her, then you’re not her friend.”
“Respect women. We are people too.”
“Police your male friends.”
“When you hear them making jokes about women or saying things that are inappropriate (like some guys talking about taking advantage of an inebriated woman or some guys that will joke about rape), call them out. Tell them they’re inappropriate.”
“Normalize mental health care for men, raise boys to show emotions and not “be tough”, teach coping strategies when they break things when they are angry. Women can only do so much, men have to step up and change how they look at emotions pain”
About The Author
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, award-winning writer living in Botswana. She was born in Baltimore Maryland but moved to Botswana in 1989 where she met her husband. She is now a citizen of Botswana, a country she loves.
Lauri has won or been shortlisted for numerous awards. She twice won Africa’s premier prize for children’s writing, The Golden Baobab. She also won the creative writing prize sponsored by Botswana’s Department of Youth and Culture. In 2011, she was shortlisted for Africa’s most prestigious short story prize, The Caine Prize.
She writes for adults, teens and children. Her book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love was recognised by South African’s O Magazine as one of the best reads in December 2011. The first book in her Kate Gomolemo Mysteries series, The Fatal Payout, is a prescribed book in Botswana and read by all junior secondary school children.
Besides her love for writing and reading she also plays trumpet, quite badly, much to the chagrin of her neighbours. She and her husband live in the village of Mahalapye with their two university going children.