Reflecting in order to heal

  • Posted on October 19, 2012

Tariq Mellet’s blog site “The Camissa People” and Charlene Maslomoney’s book, “I’m Not Done Yet: Allowing Possibilities” share a common vision. Both authors encourage their readers to call attention to self as individuals in relation to our common national South African identity construct.

Charlene Maslomoney is a writer, artist, alternative thinker, photographer and cancer survivor.  I’m Not Done Yet, Allowing Possibilities is her debut publication. Charlene’s book is a visionary work that tells her own personal story of survival, yet not only of survival, but of flourishing whilst at it. Some of my favourite passages in the book include, ‘Survival of the fittest varies in enormous worldly ways. For some it’s pumping oil or muscle with an external glance. For another it may be identity consciousnesses.’ I personally agree with the latter.

Mellet’s blog site “The Camissa People” is a watershed site that ‘... focus[es] more specifically on the multiple roots of people… The blog site helps us return… to seek out our roots or foundations as a people and encourages us to move away from the (narrow) race-terminology…’ that still plagues our country today.

What is the link between Mellet’s blog site and Maslomoney’s book?  For a while the answers was not clear to me. However, what I discovered over time is that both encourage us to move away from narrow, prejudiced race classification that is still defining the hostile cultural environments of South Africa, Africa and the world. We are undeniably a part of an integral system of inter-connectedness, in relation to our ecosystems, for it is the fragile thread that binds us together.

Both writers’ stories are personal narratives. In this way they succeed in transcending the conventional mode of how we see and feel about ourselves and how others see us now. The truth is that both are essentially looking back in an attempt to heal the deep wounds we face today. Mellet confidently abandons the obviously dominant, one-sided, skewed race-based conversations that inhabit our collective thinking. Instead he encourages the readers through his informed and well-researched knowledge of the Cape’s history and heritage to reflect on individual pasts.

Maslomoney shares experiences, insights, amazing images and facts about living with cancer ‘yet it is not about cancer. It is about a person and life,’ she says in the book. She gives the reader hope and trust in her effortless healing remedies she so humbly shares with us. She provides us with a list of blood types, nutritious traditional foods and detailed information on alternative living and loving ourselves. With careful devotion she gathered a library of information now at the disposal of many cancer survivors and their supporters as well as pioneers who so desperately seek a cure. Yet, a nagging question remains for me, will this personal account or record reach the mass audience or will it stay on someone’s coffee table, just for show?

Mellet’s many sources and stories convey real experiences of people who lived and loved and were shaped by many factors, most significantly decisions and the choices they made, limited as they may have been.  On his blog he introduces us to Anna Rugarli and her paper ‘Enslaved at the Cape’, an account of seven women who were ‘illegally detained as slaves’ after their arrival at the Cape and who made legal representation to the Guardian of Slaves at the Slave Office, seeking redress. They were: Fredrica whose Mother was from Madagascar and came here as a free person. Janna was promised her freedom. There was Lucy who was brought here from Madras. Marie from Ceylon represented her grandchildren, Betje and Grietje. Mina came from Batavia (Jakarta) and Marietjie was from Benga. These accounts give insight into the lives of slaves and the law that broke their spirits.

Maslomoney’s book gives Mellet’s stories a present-day context and vice versa.  Maslomoney writes, She mirrors Mellet’s historical fact, making it relevant today. Words and stories told ring through his ancestral stories, so mirroring the sentiments in Maslomoney’s book. Here are just a few words that Mellet’s blog and Maslomoney’s book share: ’self, poverty, diverse, divide, label, etc.,’ and there are many more examples. 

Cape Town was once called Camissa. In Khoe tongue it means ‘the place of sweet waters’, but as the City grew our indigenous selves were removed. The rivers that run from ‘Table Mountain’ to the sea have been lost under urban colonial infrastructure.  Following the establishment of Camissa Trust in 2010, the programme was initiated, its aim to reclaim Cape Town’s central city connection to the water, ensuring that the general public is able to enjoy the right to this water, and that the water remains in a good ecological state.

By establishing Camissa as his entry point Mellet gives us more clarity on the origins of our individual selves in relation to Cape Town specifically. His insistence on inclusivity flows through the stories he narrates as he defies the one-sided notions of who we are and where we come from.

He speaks of indigenous mariners and the Royal Navy, ‘Africans, Indians, Chinese, Arab, Moslem Gujarati and Malabar pilots, Indonesia, the Dejima Island, Japan, Portuguese and Dutch, Indo-Portuguese Christian community of Calcutta and Madras, etc.’ He continues to remind us of Sidis, Zanzibaris and Somalis – Freedmen of the Indian Ocean.

He relays stories that I would never have known had I not opened myself to the possibility that I could be whoever I need to be. This I could only comprehend once I searched through my archive (the memory of my past) and South Africa’s history (the memory of our nation). This realisation gave me the vision to see the gaps, largely based on the legacies of the past.

We have much work to do.  For Maslomoney, Mellet and us to heal we need to know and understand what the cause of our pain is and to ease it. Maslomoney writes, ‘I began to take heed of all variables involved in living with a cancerous virus and hopefully containing it, shrinking it or more so diffusing it… given the awareness of how little I know in this exciting and promising speciality of medicine, I seek help for conditions that conventional western medicines have not been able to treat fairly and successfully… ‘ 

In much the same way, we need to find ways to equip our archives with relevant records and stories that have the capacity to teach us life’s lessons today and to heal the memory of our all-to-stigmatised past. Maslomoney’s book and Mellet’s blog succeed in their unique story telling approaches.

1. The Camissa People, http://camissapeople.blog.com/.
2. Maslomoney, Charlene I’m Not Done Yet Allowing Possibilities, 2012.
3. http://www.creativecapetown.net/design-in-the-central-city/public-space-for-public-life/

Lucy Campbell is an Archival Platform correspondent based in Cape Town


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