“Fiela’s Child” – Dalene Matthee
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“Fiela’s child” written by Dalene Matthees is a fictional book about a young white boy who is raised in a family of blacks for over nine years of his life. One day he is taken away to a family of whites which is supposed to be his real family. At first he tries to fight the law’s decision of him moving to his real family but in the end he decides that there isn’t much to help him about it and stays with the new family.
Lukas, the son of Barta and Elias van Rooyen, goes missing. For weeks everyone living in the African forest searches for the three-year-old boy but there is no sign of him.
In the meantime a white boy of three is found and cared for by a coloured woman in the Kloof. The boy and the woman start to love each other like mother and son and grow up as one big family with the woman’s husband and four other children. The boy, Benjamin Komoetie, learns to lead a happy life among black people.
One day two men are sent from the village to count all people living in the country. Having reached the Kloof they come and visit the Komoeties. The two men ask for all the names of the family members and others living on the land of the Komoeties, and of course Fiela has no other choice than to report her hand-child Benjamin. When the gentlemen are about to leave to the next house, none other than Benjamin comes rushing around the corner to his mother, Fiela. At once the men realise that something is wrong and Fiela is forced to tell the story of how she found the boy crying on her doorstep nine years ago. One of the men suddenly remembers about a child going missing around nine years ago and straight away decides to take Benjamin to the village to see the magistrate.
Once Barta van Rooyen recognises Benjamin as her son, the case is cleared and the boy is sent to live with his supposedly real family. At first Benjamin is not quite used to living with his two new brothers, his new sister or his new parents. He also refuses to call his parents ma and pa and is therefore beaten a few times by his new father. Even though the start of his life in the house of the van Rooyens is quite difficult, it starts to develop into a more positive one; his father teaches him how to cut wood and make beams and he even builds up a very close relationship with his new sister Nina. Although his life with the van Rooyens does gradually improve he never entirely feels part of the family.
I think that this is the climax of the story seeing as Benjamin is very young and already at such an early age has to learn to live with strangers and has to learn to accept them as his family.
Years go by and once Benjamin, now known as Lukas van Rooyen, reaches the age of twenty he decides to set off to the coast to commence with his own life and earn his own income. At this point Nina is living and working close to the coastal house that Lukas moved to. They build up an even stronger relationship to one another and Lukas even slowly starts to fall in love with her. This seems strange to him because he knows that people of the same blood are incapable of having such feelings towards each other and he starts to question who he really is. Soon after, he gets a letter from his old family informing him about his brother’s, Dawid Komoetie’s, death. Straight away he rushes off to the Kloof and once arriving there he is welcomed in a most friendly way. He decides to tell Fiela about his feelings towards Nina and asks her if he really is a van Rooyen. Fiela advises him to go and ask Barta van Rooyen to swear to him that he is her son.
With this advice the now young man sets off back to the forest and to his other family. Having arrived there he asks Barta if she swears that he is her son and she answers by telling him that he could only be her son and that she swore before the magistrate upon it. But one evening while the men of the van Rooyen family are talking, Barta lets out a little cry. At first no one pays attention to her but after a while Elias asks her what the matter is and then she decides to confess. She confesses that Lukas is actually not her son but that one of the two men that took Lukas away told her which boy he was, so actually she did not recognise him.
At last Benjamin Komoetie, the name he now decides upon, understands why he was having such strange feelings towards his sister – it was not his sister after all. He leaves the van Rooyens and sets off to find Nina.
Benjamin Komoetie, also known as Lukas van Rooyen is, at the age of 20, a white very tall man with deep blue eyes. He is probably well built and quite muscular seeing as he had to chop wood for his families income at a very young age. He is a very gentle nice boy loved by all people he comes across in his life. Benjamin is taught how to read and write at a very young age and once having moved from one family to the other he is able to pass on his intelligence by reading to his aunt Gertie.
I think that Benjamin Komoetie’s dominant trait is his mental strength especially when he is taken away from his family and is forced to adapt to a new surrounding and background. Even at such an early age and with nobody there to help him through his sudden change of life, he still manages to see through it in a positive way. This is shown, in how after a while of trying to fight against the government’s decision of him being sent to the van Rooyens, he decides to accept the fact that he will be spending most of his life without his old family and moves on. Most children at his age would have kept on trying to get back to their old families and would only have managed to adapt to their new family surrounding after years where as the boy managed it after a few months.
On the other hand I think that his weakness is that he lets people play around with him. Like when he is being beaten by his new father, Elias, he fights back a couple of times but almost immediately gives in and does what his father is asking for. Apart from that I don’t think that he is a very weak boy, actually he is very tough for being so young.
The first major conflict that Benjamin faces is that of having to leave all that he knows of life behind. When the two men come to take him away he has to fight the urge of getting off the cart and running away, back to his family. He then also has to fight the challenge of moving to a new home, living in a way that is the total opposite of what he is used to.
The second major conflict he has to face is finding out his true identity. At first he is known as Benjamin Komoetie, Fiela’s child, then as Lukas van Rooyen and then finally he is left with no idea of who he is seeing as it is not possible for him to be the son of a black woman and it is not possible for him to be falling in love with his sister. His whole life he is trying to find out who he is, but in the end he is left with no identity and decides to name himself Fiela’s chila, Benjamin Komoetie.
The theme of the novel is love conquers all seeing as throughout the novel everyone’s decisions are made upon love. At first Benjamin is taken into the Komoetie family because Fiela has a love for children and it would break her heart to just leave a little child crying on her door step. I also think that Fiela in the end decides to let Benjamin go onto the cart with the two men knowing that if she doesn’t her son will just get into trouble and because of her love towards him she decides to let him go thinking that the boy will be brought back home safely. When the boy is taken away from her in the end, she decides to go to the magistrate and she tries anything possible to get her son back home – she even considers being put into jail for the love of her son. Also when Barta confesses I think it is because she finally realises that she really does love Benjamin and doesn’t want to keep lying to him or keep the freedom of being with the family he truly loves, away from him.
“She had the courage of a tigress defending her young. She had long been prepared for this day…”
I think that this quote is very important because it describes the exact way Fiela acts throughout the rest of the book. It is foreshadowing her future acts. She has the courage of a tigress defending her young when trying to get Benjamin back home. She has the courage to fight everything and everyone that is in her way of saving her son. She even considers being put into jail for her son, but then sees that it would not bring him back. Also, when the two government officials come to take away Benjamin she does not want to let them and fights against them in a very courageous way.
“Nina was to him the sister than not even Emma or Kittie had been when he was a child. That was why he could not understand what had come over him, why he was so intensely aware of her. It filled him with guilt and shame. She was his sister….”
I feel this quote is also very important in the novel but in terms of the plot development. It is the first time Benjamin is hinting towards questioning his identity. He realises that he has awkward feelings towards his sister, and it was a sister he had such a great friendship with. He feels like there is something wrong with those feeling and that they are wrong. They later on lead to Benjamin wondering why he has such feelings towards his sister and what this means.
I think that Fiela’s child is a very profound novel because Dalene Matthee manages to show the reader how strong a child can be even at a very young age. I straight away got carried into the novel and I felt like the child is a hero for being able to manage things not even an adult would be able to manage – suddenly switching from one type of life and family to another. I also really like the way Dalene Matthee put the imagery into the story. One could picture the forest in such clear detail and it felt as though I was with Benjamin or sometimes even as if I was Benjamin. While reading I could also straight away feel as if I were in the hot dusty Kloof or in the moist Forest because of the use of descriptive words, and of the African native words used for the nature. I think this book is a very good read and I really enjoyed it and feeling part of it.