AFRICAN CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED BESSIE HEAD’S
The Collector of Treasures
South African Women Writers
The Collector of Treasures Dikeledi Mokopi lived in the small village of Puleng. Everyone called her the woman-whosethatch-does-not-leak. She was a loving mother to her three sons, and a caring friend to her neighbours. But then, one night, something terrible happened. Now Dikeledi is in jail for life. What could have happened to make a woman like Dikeledi commit such a crime? The Collector of Treasures is a tragic story. Like many of Bessie Head’s stories it explores the suffering and emotional abuse experienced by many women in rural societies. But it is also a story about love, and friendship, and generosity. Before writing this story, and the other stories in the book of the same name, Bessie Head interviewed women in the rural village of Serowe, in Botswana, where she lived in exile. Many years later, during an interview
with students, she said, “I have known women to offer generosities ... to do things and not accept money. I have known magnificences in women here. The magnificences in women I drew on and I put them into Dikeledi Mokopi”. The Collector of Treasures is a story about the ‘magnificences’ of women, and about their pain. Bessie Head is one of South Africa’s best known writers - a national treasure in her own right. Permission to adapt this story was kindly granted by Heinemann International.
Early one morning in the village of Puleng in Northern Botswana.
The long-term central state prison in Gaborone is a whole dayâ€™s journey away from the village of Puleng.
As the van approached Gaborone, the orange glow of the city lights appeared suddenly out of the darkness. Inside the van Ma Banebothe was sleeping.
Wake up now! We have arrived.
So, who do we have here? The policeman writes the details in his book.
Come with me.
Here is your blanket.
You women in there, light the candle. The next morning at breakfast.
Take care! The tea has no sugar in it. We usually scoop sugar off the porridge and put it in the tea.
Where do you come from, mma?
I am from the village of Puleng.
My name is Kebonye. What is your name?
You have such a tragic name. Why did your parents call you ‘Tears’?
I am Dikeledi Mokopi. After breakfast the women prepare for an inspection.
You must be careful when the chief comes to inspect us.
My father passed away at the time I was born. It is my mother’s tears that I am named after. She passed away six years later and I was brought up by my uncle.
He is crazy about one thing - standing at attention. If it isn’t done you should see how he swears!
YOU THERE! Stand up straight! Hands at your sides!
The prison is a rehabilitation centre. Here the prisoners make clothes of cloth and wool to sell in the prison shop.
You are a gifted person.
Dikeledi has soft, caressing hands of strange power.
All my friends say so. I am the woman whose thatch does not leak. It was with these hands that I brought up my children.
How many children I have do you have? three sons, mma.
Are they in good care? Y...yes.
Dikeledi thinks back to her wedding day.
What was your crime, Dikeledi? There were really only two kinds of men in Batswana culture.
The first kind used to live by the traditions and taboos of the tribe in the old days. Then, after the Whites came, he became the ‘boy’ of the white man. When Independence freed him, this kind of man could not cope. He was a broken man with no inner strength at all.
One such man was Dikeledi’s husband, Garesego Mokopi.
Garesego, why aren’t you at home with your wife?
Now that Independence has come, these government clerks are earning far too much money for their own good.
I’ve left her. I’m tired of traditional women.
Independence produced many surprises indeed. 5
Soon after Garesego left home, a new family arrived in the village.
There was another kind of man in Batswana culture. He had the power to make himself grow. He put everything into his family life, and went on and on with a quiet rhythm, like a river. He was a poem of tenderness.
How peaceful our new neighbour looks.
One such man was Paul Thebolo.
I have come from Bobonong to take charge of the primary school.
Dumela, rra. My name is Dikeledi Mokopi.
Dumela, mma. I am Paul Thebolo. All my friends know that I am the woman whose thatch does not leak.
I would like to offer my help.
My wife and children will be joining me as soon as I have built two huts.
Thank you, mma. I will tell Kenalepe, my wife. I hope you and Kenalepe will be friends.
I hope so too. I have been lonely without true friends. 6
True to her word, Dikeledi helped her new neighbours.
Dikeledi and Kenalepe soon had one of those deep, affectionate, sharing kind of friendships that only women know how to have.
Dikeledi, you help us thatch our huts and you make me so many dresses. Why won’t you accept payment?
Because there are so many benefits in being your friend, Kenalepe.
Will you accept?
Well, then, can’t we provide you with all your household goods?
I will accept your offer. Thank you, my friend.
A completely new world opened up for Dikeledi.
Why did you marry a man like Garesego? It’s clear that he is a butterfly.
You are a lucky somebody, Kenalepe. Not everyone has a husband like Paul.
I wanted to get out of my uncle’s yard.
Oh yes. He is an honest man. Garesego was the only man who asked to marry me.
I never liked my uncle. He was a hard man and he treated me like a servant.
Garesego said he’d rather be married to a woman like me than the stubborn, educated kind.
Really, I didn’t even say anything when he started running around.
Well, I think you must find another man.
I am satisfied to have children.
No. I have my eldest son at school and I can manage to pay his school fees. That is all I really care about.
We are also here on earth to make love and enjoy it.
Ooh, if you knew what it was like you would long for it, I can tell you.
Oh, I never cared for that!
Iâ€™ll lend you Paul if you like.
I sometimes think I enjoy that side of life too much.
Paul always surprises me with some new trick.
He has a certain way of smiling when he has thought up something new.
And I shiver a little and say to myself: What is Paul going to do tonight?
Kenalepe! Stop that! Also, we used to make love long before we were married and I never got pregnant.
I would lend you Paul because Iâ€™ve never had a friend that I trust as much as you.
Paul takes care of that side too. 9
I cannot accept Paul as a gift from you. But if you are ill, I will wash and cook for you and your family.
Besides, I am expecting a child and don’t feel very well these days.
Why are you laughing so much?
Dikeledi has never experienced the joys of a loving partner.
I don’t want to tell you all my secrets.
Today I offered to lend you to her. Soon after this Kenalepe had a miscarriage and had to be admitted to hospital. Dikeledi kept her promise to wash and cook for her friend’s family. One night Paul arrived home late from the hospital.
What are you doing now, Mma Banebothe?
I know very well what I am doing...
You are a very good woman.
It was the truth and the gift was offered like a nugget of gold. She took it and stored another treasure in her heart.
Eight years passed in a quiet rhythm of work and friendship.
Later that year.
It is late now, my child. You have studied long enough.
Iâ€™m so proud of you, Banebothe. I know you will do well in your primary school-leaving exam.
Ma, I passed with a Grade A!
Banebothe A1! I am worried about Banebotheâ€™s school fees. I am short of twenty pula.
I am going to have to remind Garesego...
...that he is the father of his children.
Dikeledi had not spoken to Garesego in eight years.
What do you want? Women like you have no place here.
Come. We’ll go to the back of the office.
He has passed with a Grade A.
HURRY UP! My lunch hour is short.
Garesego, I want you to help me pay for Banebothe’s school fees.
I need twenty pula.
He must pay the fees on the first day of the term.
Why don’t you ask Paul Thebolo for the money? Why can’t Paul pay the school fees as well? Everyone knows he is keeping two houses, and that you are his sugarbaby.
Dikeledi repeated Garesego’s words to Kenalepe.
The filthy pig! He thinks that every man is like himself.
I shall report the matter to Paul. Then he’ll see...
The next day Paul went to where Garasego lived with his girlfriend.
Your wife isn’t my girlfriend, you hear!
Garesego. Come out! You defile life, Garesego!
Then why are you buying her food? Men don’t do that for nothing.
Mma Banebothe makes clothes for my wife and children.
She will never accept money from me. How else can I repay her?
As I say women don’t do that for nothing. Garesego, it is your fault if your wife takes another man. You have left her alone all these years.
What does he want?
Ma, father told me to bring this to you.
Garesego’s dirty thoughts were his downfall. He really believed that Dikeledi was Paul’s mistress. He decided to put a stop to it.
Banebothe, will you play nearby? I am going to my hut for a while.
He is an evil man. He just wants sex.
Where can we hide from him?
It is useless to confront him. He’ll just ignore me.
My life has become holy to me. He will defile it. Banebothe!
Take this to your father.
All afternoon Dikeledi busied herself.
What are you doing? I am making some preparations.
Garesego is coming home tonight. Garesego came home at sunset and found everything ready as he had asked.
Come and eat, children. Then go to bed. Garesego kept glancing at Paul Thebolo’s yard.
He was satisfied when Paul did not appear.
Garesego, will you help pay Banebothe’s school fees?
He decided to visit every day.
Mmm, I’ll think about it.
He believed that this would make Paul very angry.
Meanwhile, Paul and Kanelepe sat uneasily in their hut.
Your bath is ready. I am going to say goodnight to the children. Later on Dikeledi returned to her own hut.
Mother, was that fatherâ€™s cry?
Donâ€™t worry, I will look after your children, Mma Banebothe.
I will look after your children...
Dikelediâ€™s thoughts return to the present.
And what was your crime, Dikeledi?
I killed my husband.
We are all here for the same crime.
Do you feel any sorrow for what you have done? How did you kill him?
Not really, Kebonye. I used a razor. We have had troubled lives.
I cut off his special parts with a knife. We must help each other. This is a terrible world.
And so Dikeledi begins part three of a life that has been ashen in its loneliness and unhappiness. And yet she has always found gold in the middle of the ash: deep loves that have joined her heart to the hearts of others. In Kebonye she has found another such love. She is the collector of such treasures. 17
AFRICAN CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED A Storyteller Group Project The African Classics Illustrated project adapts works of great African literature into the graphic - or comic story format. Our aim is to bring the treasures of African literature alive and within the reach of as many people as possible.
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