Cry the Beloved Country

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Cry the Beloved Country
When the earth’s humans were endowed with that spark of life, that intelligence that enabled them to plan ahead for the future generations of all of the creatures inhabiting the earth, and indeed even the very earth itself, only a few took up the challenge—they have since the “beginning” been the “People of the Earth”. Cry the Beloved Country is the story of some of those people who found themselves born to Africa. Alan Paton became their spokesperson the minute he wrote these words: Cry the beloved country, for the unborn child who is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, not stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much. Cry the Beloved Country , page 8

This book touched me deeply for two reasons: Paton’s mastery of the beauty of the written word and because my grandmother was a “Person of the Earth”. She was born on a different continent to a different piece of earth, but no less a part of the earth. She often quoted her own grandmother who first settled the little farm my grandparents bought when my grandfather came home from WWII, “This 62 acres is too much to starve on and not enough to make a living.” Yet five generations have persisted, careful stewards of this little piece of earth—our little piece of earth—and its many inhabitants: the little brown earthworms in the soil, the ancient pear tree, the owl nesting in the pine tree…. They say that my grandmother was afraid to die, but I knew her to be incredibly emotionally and physically brave. Now I think I know the origin of her fear. She loved the earth too deeply to leave it to the stewardship of others. She said to me as I was pushing her wheelchair on a particularly lovely spring afternoon outside the Alzheimer’s unit to which she had been forcibly assigned, “I am too sad I will never be a farmer again.” She simply did not want to leave her earth.

Paton’s story takes place in South Africa in the 1940s against a backdrop of racial tension stemming from economic and political inequality that has a history dating back to the mid-1600s when the first Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa. Before this time southern Africa was populated only by various African tribal groups. The story of South Africa’s colonization is not so different from the colonization of the Americas. At first the Dutch only wanted to set up bases for trade, not to colonize the country, and they met with little resistance from the original inhabitants. But as more and more Dutch people were born “to the African earth”, they renamed themselves the Boers, developed the Afrikaans language, and by the mid-1700s were settling deeper and deeper into the native Africans’ country taking over their land. Just like the Native Americans, the African tribes were forced off of their traditional lands, decimated by disease and starvation, and defeated in battle by the much better armed Boers. Arriving in 1795, the British aimed to make South Africa a full-fledged colony. For the next hundred years there followed a series of bloody battles involving the British and the Boers and the Zulus, the Zulus led by the famous warrior-leader Shaka. The next two hundred years were not kind to “The People of the Earth” on either continent. In the end the British were victorious in South Africa and in 1910 they established the Union of South Africa. Just as in Ireland, India, and throughout the British Empire, colonial rule was brutal and oppressive. In 1913 the Native Lands Act limited the amount of land that black South Africans were permitted to own. As Arthur Jarvis stated in the novel, “…just one-tenth of the land was set aside for four-fifths of the country’s people.”...
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