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River and the source.

Margaret Ogola is a consultant paediatrician and the medical director of an AIDS hospice for children in Nairobi, Kenya. She is also married to another doctor, and they have five children. For the upcoming Family Life Conference in Toronto at the end of May 1996, she prepared a talk on one of her favourite concerns--"Adolescent Sexuality." At both the Cairo and Beijing Conferences, she was an outspoken advocate of the Vatican's position, and in Empowering Women, a collection of essays published in Australia containing critical views of the Beijing agenda, she denounced contraceptive imperialism in a chapter entitled "`Safe motherhood': a promise becomes a bitter joke."

The promise or hope was of "health for all by the year 2000"--for all Africans, and African women in particular, especially the hope of safe motherhood. But by the late Eighties the concept of safe motherhood had insidiously changed, so that it no longer meant healthy mothers with healthy babies but ways of preventing pregnancy. All people who have been colonised, Dr. Ogola says, will accept Western propaganda almost without question, no matter how ridiculous it is. Safe motherhood was reduced to two things--sex education and the aggressive promotion of contraception, sterilization, and abortion. These programs brought about the collapse of medical care in Kenya. One could easily die of malaria or puerperal infection for lack of cheap, effective medicines, but condoms of every description were available free and came attached to aid packages. The result was foreseeable: not a decline in AIDS but its spreading like wildfire.

Kenya is not a heavily populated country, Dr. Ogola points out. There are only 24 million people in a country ten times the size of Britain. "You still hear talk of the need to curb the population," she writes, "but I predict that we will be lucky to break even by the year 2000. AIDS is after all making a clean sweep in Africa south of the Sahara. All the population controllers have to do is give us condoms, sit back and watch us die off like flies." Yet "The African woman is peculiar in her love for children and her deep and tender attachment to them, even in the most appalling conditions."

Margaret Ogola's charming novel The River and the Source is a tribute to the African woman. In a list of acknowledgements, she says it is partly based on the life and times of her own great grandmother, and she also names a living person, Grace Hagoma Okumu, as most closely portraying the spirit of the book--"that of the undefeatable womanhood of Africa." The novel opens with the birth of a girl baby who screams all night and soon acquires the name of Akoko--the noisy one. Her birth occurs early in the 20th century, "about thirty seasons before that great snaking metal road of Jorochere, the white people, reached the bartering market of Kisuma."

The book immerses us completely in Kenyan tribal life. These people worship Were, "god of the eye of the rising sun." And they are steeped in their tradition, which they call Chik: "Chik governed every aspect of the life of the people.. . . Without Chik to tell each person where he fitted in the exact order of things, where he came from and where he could expect to go, there would be confusion and apprehension." When Akoko reaches marriageable age, formal proceedings begin for her betrothal, and after many a long polite speech she becomes Owuor Kembo's wife in exchange for thirty head of cattle--an unprecedented amount. Owuor is so devoted to this wife that he takes no other, even though in this society a monogamous man is an unknown animal. When he dies, she mourns him with solemn dignity: she dons his monkey skin headdress that he came courting in almost thirty years before, takes his spear in one hand and his shield in the other, and sings dirges in his honour.

The narrative tells of changes to a way of life which had existed for centuries. Many of these concern religious belief, the transition from paganism to Christianity.

In this chronicle of a family and really of a nation, over the course of the 20th century, Akoko becomes a legend, and so in a way does Wandia, the girl from the hill country who becomes a physician (like Margaret Ogola herself) and is given the highest academic award the School of Medicine at the University of Nairobi can bestow. Vast changes take place in that century, but members of the family whose destiny we follow illustrate clearly that, no matter what the changes, self--discipline and strength of character are always virtues to be prized.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Catholic Insight
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.
Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Daisy Nandeche Okoti (Member): The River and the Source 12/24/2010 8:32 AM
I never tackled the River and the Source as a set book in high school and I wish I did.The book is so believable,I have read it over 20 times at different sittings and each time I come to the same conclusion;it's a simply written story but in to the construction of the novel,all the skills of a master writer can be felt.Margaret could you please pen down another book?My favorite character in the novel is Vera;something tells me that she lives somewhere on this earth and the author of the book knows,so could you please tell me?I love her desperately!Otherwise Margaret you wrote a superb book and it is the spice of my life.
megg
megg (Member): maggy 10/7/2013 3:17 AM
did it in high school and now ten years later im lecturing it.its timeless.i remember each episode just as if i read it yesterday.its a master piece

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Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1996
Words:778
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