Have you ever felt trapped in your own body? Did you feel you were just a celebration for a purpose that was futile? Have you ever stared into the abyss and felt your life was a never-ending labyrinth? Well, you are not alone. Most of us, in some way, have similar feelings. However, society has taught us to shake off those feelings and celebrate our lives. Unfortunately, we think there are no unconditional relationships. To put it simply, the relationship between man and nature is the first relationship and is not unconditional. We try very hard to put nature on a pedestal and think it unconditionally showers us with goodness. But we often don’t realize that if we fail to protect nature, it is equivalent to a ticking time bomb. Similarly, no human relationship is unconditional. Our parents brought us into the world with the primitive idea of starting a family. In turn, when parents are old, children need to look after them. So in a way, relationships are always a two-way street. Thus, feeling trapped is not unnatural.
Netflix’s new series in association with UNESCO, “African Folktales Reimagined,” has given us brilliant short films. The fifth installment of the episode “Kapote” is the shortest-duration film (13 minutes) in the series but left a huge impact on the audience. It is also, in a way, a story of liberation.
Loneliness, Draught, And Rainbird
The story opens with a woman singing a song in Cigogo. The song says that the mother’s heart is lonely, and only a child can fill the hole. She requests the ancestors to hear her prayer and bless her with a child, for she is alone. As the woman sings the song, she is also prepping the clay and shaping it into a human form. As she molded the clay figure of a child, there was an infant’s whimpering noise in the background. Before we heard the infant, it felt like the mother was singing to the ancestors on a rainy day, but as soon as the infant was born, the rain stopped.
Next, the story takes us ten years into the future, where we see the land and trees all dried up. It was the longest and driest summer in the desert. A child lies on the ground in the scorching heat and suddenly hears the flapping of wings. A big, dark blue, and black bird with a long beak stood in front of her. She looked at the bird as if they were about to have a conversation. Another kid, who was hiding behind the sand pit, hit the bird with a slingshot. Soon, a group of three boys rushed toward the bird to catch it. The girl asked them to wait. The boys returned and began angrily cursing her for not catching the bird. The girl told them that the bird was about to say something to her. The boys grew angrier and told them that the heat had burned a hole in her brain and that she was imagining things. The boys looked at her as if blaming her for stopping the rain before and now releasing the prey, keeping them hungry. Another boy handed her a little plastic bottle with water, but she refused. The boy told them that if she wanted others to like her, she should stop saying such things. The girl asked if he remembered when it last rained, and the boy answered that he didn’t remember.
Soon, we were taken to the sellers, who were providing water to the village people in exchange for goats and other livestock. Water, which is abandoned on the surface of the earth, was sold to people who were facing drought in exchange for their means of livelihood. It was not enough water they were giving away; it was just the bare minimum of water at a high cost. The girl stood between the large group and silently observed the behavior of the people. The girl returned to her mother and hugged her. The mother was standing in front of a fire. She must have burned a few belongings that were dear to her.
Mother’s Love And Duty
The mother took the child inside the house and rubbed coconut oil on her body to rub the dirt off her. The girl was silent, and the mother kept asking her what was wrong. Finally, the child said that they were hunting birds. Before the girl finished her tale, someone called the mother. The mother went up to answer the door. It was the village elder. He asked if the family was doing alright and then narrated that the other children said that Katope, the girl, saw a blackbird with a curved beak, which could have been the rainbird, and she let it fly. The mother said the bird could have been a vulture. The elder then said that the draught was born with her and would end with her. He addressed Katope, saying that she should be there for the ceremony because the village needs her. Initially, the mother shut the door in the elder’s face, but as he addressed Katope directly, she shut the door behind her back, asking Katope to stay in. She said that she would not let anyone take Katope from her. As Katope lay alone on the floor of her hut, she began thinking about the scorching heat of the burning sun, the cracked soil, and people performing rituals to bring rain clouds. Katope saw her feet washed by splashes of water coming from the cracked soil; she imagined the land filled with water, and she saw her reflection in the water with a man in traditional attire performing the rituals. Soon, all her imagination was put to a halt as she turned and saw the bird inside her room.
Episode 5: Ending
She left her home and began walking toward where the ritual would take place. On her way, she saw the deserted water cans and the truck. She walked alone in the desert with no one around. Upon reaching the ritual spot, she found her mother begging the others to stop the ritual. Her mother came to her, weeping and requesting that she go back. But Katope told her mother that everything was going to be alright and that she would always be with her.
The ritual began, and the song said that people knew their true identities. Katope left her mother and walked towards the people performing the ritual. Soon, it began raining. As Katope was made of clay, the rain began to melt her. The film ends by giving us the idea that Katope will no longer remain if it has to rain.
The story beautifully reflects sacrifice and liberation. Katope knew who she was and probably agreed to be a part of the ritual. It was through her sacrifice that she was finally liberated. Isn’t that what the greater meaning of life is? We suffer throughout our lives, only to be liberated as we embrace death. The story beautifully captures the essence of life.
We think there are two possible explanations for the film. The first one is rather simple. We are born for a purpose. Similarly, we die for a purpose. Katope’s mother made her from clay, which is a way of saying human beings use most of nature and expect nature to keep providing in abundance. However, as we discussed earlier, every relationship is a two-way thing. So, Katope’s joining the ritual was, in a way, giving back to nature.
The second one is a little more complex. Director Walt Mzengi Corey has addressed several social injustices. The primary social practice that has been addressed is the first song of the film. It was about a mother being lonely without a child. Although it is true that a child fills anyone with joy, a woman only feels fulfilled after a child is born, which is what society has made us believe. For ages, society has said that “motherhood completes a woman.” This very patriarchal and flawed idea is now deeply embedded in the minds of many women.
We might draw parallels between Katope and millions of other people who are trying to redefine the established gender and sexuality of society. The celebration of heterosexuality and male and female gender has, in a way, caged others in their own bodies. Many countries have criminalized same-sex relationships and marriages. More often than not, we see transgender people being mocked, harassed, and called names. Katope, in a way, stands for every individual who is different from societal norms.
Considering this idea, the ending suggests those people finally accept who they are and face society. The bold acceptance of their identity, shading how society accepts them, makes them liberated.