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A spiritual journey through history and life.
Following in the footsteps of Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda, Mphuthumi Ntabeni's writing in The Broken River Tent brings to life what James Baldwin said when he wrote that the responsibility of the writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.
'I am gathering the wind from the four corners of the earth. Before my body became the property of maggots, I had no wisdom in me. But when I joined the ancestors, wisdom became my companion. I have come to you as a friend, and a guide for your thoughts ... My duty is to teach you the message I denied with my own life on earth. I have been a man of misfortunes. Yet my heart is not bitter. And that, I carry to Qamata as my prize.'
The story is told through the eyes of a young Xhosa man, Phila, who, after being under immense mental and emotional pressure in the pursuit of his history and the history of his people, enters a sacred space of intense spiritual recognition between the living and the dead. He is visited by the spirit of ancestor Maqoma, who, while he lived, was the Xhosa chief at the forefront of fighting British colonialism in the Eastern Cape. Phila and Maqoma engage in spiritual conversations about culture, history, literature, religion, the past and contemporary South African life.
Phila goes through what he describes as the triple 'N' condition – neurasthenia, narcolepsy and cultural ne plus ultra. This makes him feel far removed from events happening around him but gives him access to the analeptic memory of his people.