Tag Archives: family

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips



Tjieng, Tjang, Tjerries is a short story collection that lives up to its intriguing name. Yet all is not as it seems. The reader discovers in the title story from which language the phrase ‘tjieng, tjang, tjerries’, is derived; or do they? The stories have a large sprinkling of the colloquial variant of Afrikaans that is spoken by Cape ‘Coloured’ people.  If you know what this accent sounds like, it is difficult not to hear it in your head as you read.  Language is indeed akin to being a character in these interlinked stories.

The stories centre around colourful characters that live in Gansbaai, a small coastal town in between Hermanus and Agulhas, where the author grew up. Her intimate knowledge of the community is evident, as is her insight into what lies beneath the surface. Tough lives give people tough exteriors that belie the love they have for one another. Small triumphs seem to outweigh the hardship in families that experience violence and sorrow.

The sense of place is ever present; the fynbos, the ocean, the fishing boats, ‘kapstyl’  cottages and the weather. The writing appeals to the senses in the sound of “seagulls swearing and “the smell of fish guts”, the morning mist, ‘bak brood and moer koffie’. Most of all, the characters are real, flesh and blood people, depicted through their dialogue and relationships more than through their appearance.

There are thirteen stories, none of which are very long. The focus is mainly on different family relationships and how tragedy, secrets, alcohol and poverty affect their lives. Even though most of the stories are about different people, nevertheless, they seem interlinked through their proximity to each other. The matter-of-factness and humour inherent in the dialogue counters the sadness of the different events. The stories range from the death of a loved son to the ‘dronk verdriet’ of a runaway husband; from the girl that schoolteachers thought was stupid because she could not see, to the girl whose parents die and those who look after her, abuse her; to mention but a few. The one that pulls at my heartstrings the most is The Fisherman. It tells of Andrea, a young woman who did not want to be relegated to working in the fish factory because her calling was to be a fisherman like her Pappa, not a fish packer.

Quite a few of the stories are from the perspective of a child. The naivete of children who are exposed to much that they do not fully understand exposes the goings on of the adults. There is Mollie who is ‘n bietjie mal’ (a bit mad), Hennie who ‘murdered all his brain cells with the papsak’ (box wine) and Ouma, who loves funerals and gives funeral crashers ‘the stink eye’.

Trevor Noah said in an interview that Coloured in South Africa says more about a culture than it says about a race. I know this is a highly contested area as it speaks to identity; some reject the use of the word ‘Coloured’ while others use it with pride. These short stories celebrate the expressiveness of the language, a bearer of the culture, and are an absolute delight.

Loud and Yellow Laughter by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese



This slim treasure of poetry is a multi-textual collection consisting of photographs, documents, letters, poems and diary entries. I found myself mesmerised from the first page to the last. It is uniquely creative and meticulously crafted.

Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese wrote the original version as part of her Master’s thesis in Creative Writing.She has also published poems in different poetry journals and has recently been short-listed for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

The poet explores a personal family history; a family history that is peculiar to South Africa where we often choose our family without requiring a blood tie. It begins in 1931 in far away West Yorkshire, delving into a far away childhood and uneasy family relationships. The photos are creased and dog-eared which contributes to the sense of long gone times. It ends in Durban in the early 2000’s with a funeral.

In between West Yorkshire and Durban, the poet  documents key moments, sometimes from the perspective of the child then later from the perspective of the adult. It seems as if she is attempting to make sense of her life with its mysteries and unusualness by interrogating the lives of those who formed her. The result is one that illuminates how it is the simple things that form a life. It is intriguing to decipher the different texts to pick up a narrative thread of sorts but not one that is obvious. The links between different lives are tenuous and delicate yet deeply felt.

The Mother and the Father are the two critical important figures in this work. She deftly speaks in their voices and then switches to her own. This switch in perspective adds layers of emotion and shows remarkable insight. Another switch is that between matter-of-fact relating of events to lyrical verse that grips the heart.

A sample from Mother’s Lyric (i);

This is fevered ground

this is how the earth swells

this is the soil’s hot breath meeting the chill

Another taster;


Dad, after all these years, I still roll

an orange under my foot in order

to loosen the skin for easy peeling,

you taught me that as a child.

   – You never told me who taught you.

Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese writes of absence and of presence, of love and laughter and of the questions which do not always have answers. All with a delicate and tender touch.

(The collection is available in Cape Town at The Book Lounge, Clark’s Books and Chimurenga. It can also be ordered online from Botsotso via email on botsotso@artslink.co.za.)




The Fisherman by Chigozie Obiama


the fishermen

Four brothers, ranging in age from 15 down to 9, are drawn to the forbidden river which the community has deemed dangerous. They fish there every day; fishing consumes them; they talk about being fisherman; they compose songs about it and they do not care about anything else. This simple boyish adventure results in tragic consequences.

The story is narrated from Ben’s point of view and takes place in the mid-nineties. He looks back on his 9 year old self, two decades later and realises that it all went wrong for the family when their disciplinarian father was transferred from Akure in the west of Nigeria to Yola in the north, 1000 kms away. Much as their mother begged him to take the family along because she doubted her ability to manage without him, he refused. He was concerned because historically the area was known for violence against their tribe, the Igbo tribe.

A neighbour discovered that the boys had been fishing at the Omi-Ala river which is thought by the community to be dangerous and is even under a curfew. She reported this to their mother who was “deeply shaken by her ignorance despite living in the same house”. She castigates them in English as a sign of her ire and when their father returns she breaks the news to him. He is furious and they are severely whipped. It seems an over-reaction until you understand that his fury is due to the aspirations he has for his sons; he has designated a career to each of them and is giving them a Western education to this end.

This beating sets off a spiral of revenge because Ikenna, the eldest boy,  the one who they all look up to, the one who is their leading light insists that Iya Iyabo, the women who reported them is punished. The predictions of Abulu, the madman who roams around naked and performs bizarre actions in public,  are also plaguing Ikenna. This creates a rift between him and the other brothers. He becomes disobedient, suspicious and violent until they realise that the Ikenna “who was once their brother had been bottled in a tightly sealed jar and thrown into an ocean.” The inevitable happens but the nature of its unfolding both shocks and surprises the reader.

In telling the story of this family’s descent into horror, the writer interweaves aspects of Nigerian politics into the narrative such as the brothers having a chance meeting with MK Abiola. The tension between contemporary life and traditional beliefs is a strong theme as evidenced by Ikenna’s belief in the madman’s prophecy. Community life exaggerates the impact of such beliefs, characterised as it is by gossip, exaggeration and close living quarters.

The dialogue is colourful and reflects the idiom of their indigenous languages, in particular morals, fables and specific turns of phrase. This can also be amusing as the parents use idioms and then explain what they mean lest the boys take them literally. Another aspect of the novel that is very pleasing is the way it is structured. Each chapter introduces a specific theme and is named after creatures or objects from the natural world such as eagles, snakes, locusts or leeches. These creatures personify a particular quality in a character or provide a rack on which to hang the theme of the chapter. This gives the novel a rhythm and structure  which is comforting and gives the reader a sense of the familiar.

This has all the elements that make novels by African writers so appealing; lyrical, idiomatic language; a society still squirming under the influence of Westernisation; an experience of all the senses and a compelling plot.