Kgotla by Bessie Head
In Kgotla by Bessie Head we have the theme of modernity, tradition, change, struggle, jealousy, insecurity and acceptance. Taken from her The Collector of Treasures 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 modernity and change. The Kgotla is not as popular among the young people that live in the village. They appear to be more concerned with modernity and following the new bureaucratic customs that are alien to those who meet at the Kgotla. If anything things appear to be changing in Kelapile and Thatayarona’s world. Which may be the point that Head is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that things are changing in Botswana as a whole and not only when it comes to the Kgotla. However it is interesting that when it comes to people’s affairs the Kgotla still has some jurisdiction. Which might suggest that tradition still has its place. What also makes the reader feel as though tradition is being followed is that fact that Rose’s family received some cattle from Gobosamang as part of her dowry. Though Rose’s marriage is no longer functional she is also afraid to return to her homeland as her relatives fear that should she return they will have to give the cattle back to Gobosamang.
The role that woman play in the story may also be significant. Not one woman appears to be a member of the Kgotla. If anything there is a sense of complete male dominance in the story. Also Rose has to work for Gobosamang. It is her responsibility to fetch water. Nobody else will perform this role. Women also appear to be undervalued something that is noticeable when it comes to the fact of Rose running away. Gobosamang waits only three days before he finds a replacement for Rose (Tsietso). It is as though Gobosamang only needs three days to get over the loss of Rose. Which may suggest that Gobosamang never really loves Rose. There is also no doubting that Rose is struggling when it comes to her relationship with Gobosamang and it doesn’t help that Tsietso is jealous of her and her relationship with Gobosamang. It is this jealousy and insecurity which eventually drives Tsietso to attack Gobosamang’s mother. An innocent bystander to her son’s fragilities who has to suffer having her ears pulled. There is also no doubting that the bandage on Gobosamang’s mother’s head is a result of having being attacked by Tsietso.
The fact that Tsietso doesn’t adhere to the customs of the village and remain in grief for a year is also interesting as the Kgotla never question Tsietso about this. It is as though they turn a blind eye to the fact that Tsietso doesn’t adhere to tradition. Though it may also be a case that the Kgotla understand just how lonely an individual can be after they incur the death of a loved one. If anything Tsietso’s relationship with Gobosamang appears to be not only based on pity as Tsietso suggests but she may also fear being alone just as much as Gobosamang does. It could also be possible that Head is suggesting that should an individual not follow the customs that their ancestors have followed nothing but unhappiness will follow them and it is clear that Tsietso is unhappy with her brief relationship with Gobosamang. Gobosamang’s mother is also an interesting character as she is the only one of the party at the Kgotla who continues to follow tradition. She knows that it is inappropriate for her son to have a relationship with Tsietso as Tsietso has not spent a year in mourning.
The end of the story is also interesting as Head appears to be exploring the theme of acceptance. All concerned accept the ruling of the Chief. Who has been helped in formulating his ruling by the words of Kelapile and Thatayarona. The fact that there is acceptance among all concerned is important as it suggests that despite the modernity that exits around all concerned the Kgotla is still respected and it’s ruling though not law is accepted as being appropriate. It is as though modernity and tradition are able to live by each other’s side. With both having positive aspects which can be of benefit to everybody. Though the fact that the Kgotla is male dominated suggests that it may not be as progressive as it could be. Men still dictate the course of action that should be taken. On this occasion the Kgotla may have been fair but should it continue to be male dominated it may find itself no longer of use to people. There is also a sense of irony at the end of the story when Kelapile tells Thatayarona that ‘the finest things often come from far-off places. Though the reader is aware that Kelapile is referring to Rose the reader suspects that Kelapile may also without knowing it be suggesting that the male dominated Kgotla may have served its time. With change triggered from the outside being inevitable.