________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005


Mella and the N’anga: An African Tale.

Gail Nyoka.
Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2005.
160 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 1-894549-49-X.

Subject Heading:
Zimbabwe-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


Mella found that her legs would not move. At the cave of the Python, all thought except the awful power of the Python was blotted out. She would surely be entrapped within those massive coils, squeezed lifeless and devoured......Mella struggled to remember the lessons of Ganyambadzi and the N'anga. She knew that she must reach the still place within where all was clear and calm, and she remembered the amulet form the N'anga, her symbol of Bomu Rambi.

Mella's fingers closed around the crescent moon, a silent prayer for protection forming in her mind. The Daughters of the Hunt had faced danger before. The N'anga believed in her, or she would never have sent Mella on this journey. Revai and Shamiso believed in her, as did Ganyambadzi and Rangarirai. She felt their belief flow into her blood, giving her courage. Mella took a deep breath and stepped forward into the impenetrable blackness of the cave.


Mella lives in the walled town of Mopopoto in the land of the People, a part of Africa we now call Zimbabwe. The only thing which will save her father, the king, who lingers close to death, is for Mella to visit the cave of the Python Healer deep in the jungle and ask that he come to heal her father. Can Mella withstand the arduous journey and succeed where others have failed? Will she be forced to marry against her will? What ultimate fate does the Python have in store for her?

     Mella and the N'anga is an adventure story, a myth and a folktale all woven into this excellent young adult novel. Gail Nyoka presents an ancient tribal time of superstition when gods and goddesses are an accepted part of everyday life. We meet the Great Ancestor, the Daughters of the Hunt, the Python Healer and the Great N'anga. The story seems timeless, as relevant for today's readers as it might have been if passed on orally by an ancient storyteller. Included as well are many archetypes such as the brave warrior and the wise elder. And, as in all folk tales, there are also villains who, of course, don't triumph in the end.

     Nyoka presents a strong sense of Africa and enables her readers to share it through her vivid descriptions of many sounds, colours and smells. She possesses an excellent feeling for the setting she has chosen and for the ancient culture of her protagonist.

     Symbols abound in the book. We can almost hear the communication and heartbeat of the sacred drum. Mella, one of many strong female characters in the story, sets out on a journey which is physical but which represents a life journey through which she learns many lessons of both wisdom and courage. Her ultimate goal is to provide a cure for her ill father, thereby curing the land itself and bringing it once again to peace and prosperity.

     Gail Nyoka was born in Trinidad, grew up in England and Wales, and now lives in Toronto. Although short-listed for the 2005 Governor-General's Literary Award, this novel was not successful. However, on every level it is indeed a success and truly a winner!

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, who now lives in Ottawa, ON, is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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