Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
This chapter is a delightful version of a classic plot-country boy goes to the big, bad city. The length of the trip, both physically and emotionally, is conveyed partly by the catalog of names. From Carisbrooke it's seven miles to Ixopo, and then it's up and down through hills, valleys, and towns with Zulu, English, and Afrikaans names-Lufafa and Umkomaas, Eastwolds and Donnybrook, Elandskop and Pietermaritzburg. At Pietermaritzburg, Kumalo changes to a cable-drawn train mechanically hoisted up the Drakensberg mountains. He sleeps, waking again at dawn to find his train connected to a regular engine and moving across the veld, a vast highland plain leading toward Johannesburg.
NOTE: PIETERMARITZBURG Pietermaritzburg is the capital of the province of Natal. The city was founded in 1839 by Boers of the Great Trek led by Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz. Iron ore is mined nearby and the city is an industrial center. It also has a university campus. Tourists often visit the Church of the Vow, built to commemorate the 1838 Boer victory over Zulu forces led by Dingaan.
Since Kumalo's earlier companions are no longer on board, he drops his sophisticated pose and eagerly asks questions. He learns how the white men use dynamite (fire-sticks) to blast out the gold mines, and how the black men send up the rubble in a cage powered by a great iron wheel. The spokes move so fast they trick the eye (the phenomenon where a speeding wheel appears to turn slowly in reverse). The mining camp looks so vast that he asks if it's Johannesburg. The others laugh. Johannesburg is incomparably larger. Later, passing many buildings and "streets without number," Kumalo asks again whether this is Johannesburg. Again they laugh. "This is nothing." Kumalo, however, is overwhelmed by trains roaring past his own, and the sight of more stations, people, and streets than he has ever imagined.
Still traveling at dusk, Kumalo sees great buildings lit up in a way new to him. One set of lights shows a bottle endlessly pouring water, but he can't understand why the words read "black and white" when the lights are red and green. You'll probably smile, recognizing a neon liquor ad. Does the brand name strike you as ironic? Why do you think Paton included this detail?
Finally the train stops in a great underground station-Johannesburg at last. Although he is buffeted by the crowds and overwhelmed by the noise, Kumalo successfully navigates to street level, only to be baffled anew by traffic. He tries to cross a street on green as he was told, but a bus swings into his path. He scurries back in terror, shrinking against a wall and praying to God for protection.
A young black man who speaks understandable Zulu seems to be the answer to his prayer, but Kumalo is smart enough not to give his trust immediately. Instead, his suitcase growing heavier by the second, he follows, lost in wonder as the young man boldly crosses street after street and makes endless twists and turns to reach the proper bus stop. By then Kumalo is so impressed, he willingly hands over a pound (about $4) so the young man can buy him a bus ticket. But the street-wise youth does not return, because there is no ticket office. Kumalo has been cheated.
All he can do is to approach a kindly looking older man. This man abandons his own errand and not only escorts Kumalo onto the correct bus, but right to the door of the Mission House in Sophiatown. On the way, Kumalo is awed by the swaying ride. He gawks out the windows and marvels at the casual skill of the driver and the tremendous courage it must take to drive through such confusion. By the time they reach the Mission House, Kumalo has lost all vanity. Humbly, he tells Msimangu how much he owes his guide. Msimangu introduces the guide as Mr. Mafolo, "one of our big business men, and a good son of the Church." Safe at last, Kumalo, who doesn't usually smoke, accepts a cigarette and sinks into a big chair. The Mission House is to him a place of safety, securely shutting out the bewildering wonders of Johannesburg.
NOTE: RELIGION AND LANGUAGE IN SOUTH AFRICA Several clues suggested that Kumalo's religion was Anglican even before Mr. Mafolo says, "I too am an Anglican." The Anglican Church, or Church of England, has bishops and married priests, and English is used in services. St. Mark's and St. Chad's are also typical Anglican names for institutions. There are some differences between the training of black and white Anglican priests, however. Kumalo has obviously never been to Johannesburg before, and must therefore have been educated in schools in Natal. Later in the novel, a white priest translates a Latin phrase for Kumalo, suggesting that white priests receive a broader education. In 1946 black and white congregations of the same religion were sometimes allowed to use the same church buildings for services at different times, but even this practice was outlawed after 1948 when apartheid became public policy. Black and white people do attend the same funeral later in the novel, but it is clearly considered unusual. It's little wonder, then, that Kumalo is surprised in Chapter 5 to find black and white priests mixing at the Mission House.
Whether black or white, Anglicans do not constitute the largest Christian church in South Africa. In 1980 there were about 1.3 million Anglicans compared with 12 million Methodists, 5 million members of independent black churches, and 2.8 million members of the Dutch Reformed Church, among other denominations. The independent black churches combine elements of Christianity and traditional African belief systems.
As for different languages among blacks, it's not surprising that the young black who fooled Kumalo was not Zulu. Although the government has used the word Bantu to mean all blacks in the Republic of South Africa, the word is usually used to refer to a family of African languages. In east, central, and southern Africa there are hundreds of Bantu languages spoken by more than 80 million blacks-Swahili is a well-known Bantu language. In South Africa the largest language groups include Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, and Tswana. Many blacks speak Afrikaans or English as well. Among whites, about 60 percent speak Afrikaans as their first language, and some 40 percent speak English. Most Coloureds speak Afrikaans.