***Description is spoiler for Binti #1***
It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day. And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace. After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
“I was Himba, a master harmonizer. Then I was also Meduse, anger vibrating in my okuoko. Now I was also Enyi Zinariya, of the Desert People gifted with alien technology. I was worlds. What was home?”
The first Binti novella was excellent, and its sequel did not disappoint. I was hooked from the very beginning and remained at the edge of my proverbial seat the entire time. I fell more in love with Binti on every page, as she struggled to find herself and prove that she belongs with her people, all while she knows who she is deep down, and it’s someone who can be put into a box.
After a year at the galaxy’s top university, Binti feels compelled to return home to attempt to repair her family relationships and prove that she is a true woman of her people by making the traditional pilgrimage. She brings Okwu with her, her friend and classmate who belongs to a species long at war with Earth’s primary race of people. It’s dangerous, but she is a master harmonizer, and she is determined to bring him in peace.
“What will you be?” she asked. “Maybe it is not up to you.”
As you might expect, her homecoming does not go as smoothly as Binti expects. And her pilgrimage—the journey that will prove to her people and to herself that she is still Himba, still one of them—is not to be either. Instead, she is handed another layer of complexity to her identity, and she has to figure out whether she can live with that.
“In the stories of the Seven, life originated from the rich red clay that had soaked up rains. Microorganisms were called into active being when one of the Seven willed it and the others became interested in what would happen. That clay was Mother, otjize. I was clay now.”
Throughout this novella, I found myself especially intrigued by the symbolism of otijze, the clay mixture with which Himba women cover their skin and hair. They literally cover every inch of themselves in mud. But only the women. And it is considered extremely shameful for them to ever be seen without it—if that happens, their chances for marriage are shot. But the women are proud to wear it, and it’s a central part of their identity. To Binti, it is a constant tie to her people and heritage, and rather than seeking to wash it off, she clings to the tradition as though her entire sense of self-worth depends on it. But it is not just mud, not just dirt. It’s also soil, rich and fertile. It symbolizes women’s place as dirty, less than, but also their role as mothers, life-giving. It is shame and also pride. Dirt and life.
I loved following Binti’s journey in this part of her story, as she rebels against her own strength and unique identity before she learns to embrace it and become who she is meant to be. I don’t think she’s all the way there yet, but I hope the emergency she’s rushing off to circumvent at the end (darn you, cliffhanger!!) will take her the rest of the way. I can’t wait to read the last one when it comes out soon!