Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenstrom

A baobab tree is an enormous species of tree native to, among other places, South Africa. In Expedition to the Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenstrom, an unnamed slave woman in an unspecified time (the Dutch began importing slaves into South Africa in 1658) is forced to take shelter in the hollow trunk of a baobab tree after she finds herself alone in the African bush. When her master and his wealthy friend had set out on an expedition to find a mysterious inland city, she accompanied them. The unknown territory they ventured into proved to be more dangerous than thought. One by one the members of the party die or disappear, eventually leaving the woman alone. Unfamiliar with the veldt, she does not venture far from the baobab tree. Knowing little about living off the land, she uses her time to scrounge for food and water. While sheltering within the tree, she recalls her past life in a series of non-chronological flashbacks, ending with her childhood abduction by slave traders. A beautiful woman, she was used as a sex slave, purchased by one wealthy man after another. Her life was not as physically difficult as some slaves’, but nevertheless, it was slavery.  Her time and her body were not her own and her children were sold. A South African poet, Wilma Stockenstrom is able to describe the dehumanizing horrors of slavery in a measured tone. Expedition to the Boabab Tree tells a harsh story with gentle language.