Chief Sekoto holds Court by Bessie Head
In Chief Sekoto holds Court by Bessie Head we have the theme of optimism, logic, tradition, control, kindness and justice. Taken from her Tales of Tenderness and Power collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Head may be exploring the theme of optimism. Chief Sekoto is an optimist. So much so that he tries to steer clear of others who he fears are pessimists. It is as though Sekoto’s life is centred on remaining optimistic. He avoids his brother when he arrives at court, possibly because his brother will be able to bring some pessimism into Sekoto’s life. It is also interesting that Sekoto uses a tool that seems alien to the village people of Bodibeng, logic. He asks to see a doctor who might properly inform him of why the children and young woman have died. If anything Sekoto dismisses the traditions (witchcraft) used by the villagers and prefers to take a more modern approach to Mma Baloi’s case. Much to the benefit of Mma Baloi. Who is found by Sekoto to be innocent.
Head also appears to be using the animals in Bodibeng as symbolism. Sekoto is prepared to punish them severally by taking one animal from each household. Head also appears to be using Sekoto’s brother as foreboding and just as Sekoto dismisses the villagers. He also dismisses his brother, forcing him to wait longer. At no stage in the story does Sekoto lose control of his court or himself. Despite the fact that he knows his brother will put him in a bad mood. In fact so calm is Sekoto that he offers his own residency to Mma Baloi. However it is noticeable that Sekoto has a motive or agenda for allowing Mma Baloi stay with him. He is tired of modern medicine and wishes to try something more traditional. Despite having previously dismissed traditional medicine and asked the advice of a doctor.
There may be further symbolism in the story which might be significant. Sekoto considers himself to be ‘the oil of reason’ when it comes to living his life. He does not have time (as mentioned) to deal with people who are pessimistic and he views those who live in Bodibeng as being pessimistic. If anything by considering himself to be the oil of reason, Sekoto makes himself available to compliments from others. With regard to how he treats those in his court. Again Sekoto is logical. He does not stray from the point of logic. Something which saves Mme Baloi’s life. Though some readers might highlight Sekoto’s use of traditional medicine as being a point that does in fact stray from logic and he does so to suit himself. Which may suggest that Sekoto may be in control by abusing his position as a judge. He has no critics apart from his brother. Who does not get to meet Sekoto.
The end of the story is also interesting as by not meeting his brother the reader can never get to judge exactly how reasonable or logical Sekoto actually is. He shows logic and control in the courtroom. However when it comes to his brother we know that he has the capability to change Sekoto’s mood. Which may not leave Sekoto as optimistic as he would like. Similarly Sekoto is about to share his own private environment, his home, with Mma Baloi. She may not necessarily be good company for Sekoto. A kind act may turn out to be a nightmare for Sekoto. How the people from Bodibeng feel about Sekoto is certain. We know that they leave the court confused and most likely angry as well, considering that they did not get what they wanted. Which may be the point that Head is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that a mob may not necessarily be able to control themselves while in the pursuit of a perceived injustice. Whereas Sekoto has remained in control of his court and remained calm too. Despite the rowdiness of the villagers. If anything Sekoto is able to control his professional life though his personal life may be a little bit different.