Monday, February 27, 2012
Thoughts: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Needless to say, I was just being stupid.
I finished this book weeks ago, and I didn't write anything about it until today. There are so many things I want to say about its scope, its characters, its emotional depth, and, lastly, its complete magnificence. I wanted to set my thoughts straigh before unleashing them into the Internet, afraid that I might miss something.
Nathan Price is basically a mashochistic and chauvinist preacer hellbent on spreading God's word to the people on the Congo. He, his wife, and their four daughters head to Africa, and find themselves in the village of Kilanga. To quote Rachel Price, one if Nathan's daughters, they thought they would run the village, but it's clear they're not in charge of a thing. Not even themselves. The book follows the lives of the Prices over the course of 30 years.
In Kikongo, the language of the people of Kilanga, the world bangala can mean two things depending on how you pronounce it--the beloved Jesus or the poisonwood tree. I think we all know who Jesus is, but the poisonwood, on the other hand, is a tree you should stay far, far away from. If you get close to it, rashes will show up on your entire body.
While preaching, Nathan repeatedly says poisonwood instead of Jesus, and the entire congregation just listens on, openmouthed. Nathan might be an assole, but his intentions are good. He wants to save the Africans, but he ends up poisoning their minds against the one he wants them to love. God.
If there's one thing that metaphor taught me, it's tolerance. You don't have to agree with or like another person's political or religious beliefs, but you have to let them believe in it anyway. We all have the right to choose, and no one should ever take that away from us. Just because the Africans believe in the powers of witch doctors and their ancestors doesn't mean that Nathan has to stuff his beliefs down their throats.
The book also touched on something I've been wondering about for a while. One of the Price daughters (I forgot which) stated that religion is just a matter of chance. For example, a boy is born in a Catholic country, and was baptized a Catholic before he even knew what it meant. This other kid, however, was born in Kilanga and witnessed the rituals of his village while growing up. Which one of them is right? Personally, as long as you respect yourself and other people, I think you're going to turn out fine.
Also, I know The Poisonwood Bible is mostly about imperialism and the aftereffects of colionialism, but the plight of the people of the Congo made me think of my country. I live in the Philippines, and it's a third world country. There's no nice way to say it, so I'm just going to throw it out there.
When I was still in school, I never thought twice about taxes and where they went. Now that I'm an employed so-called adult who pays taxes, I've started watching the news, and, for the first time in my life, I've started to care. I know what I'm contributing isn't much, but it can be comforting at night to think that a portion of my salary is helping kids get new textbooks. Then, I turn on the TV, and hear all about these assholes/government officials who have dollar accounts/multi-billion condominiums/plantations/all of the above, and it just makes me so angry.
I can see myself in the people in The Poisonwood Bible with Mobutu and his crazy mansions, because I see the same thing in the news practically every night. It’s just so frustrating because you have no idea what you can do about it. You can sign petitions and go on rallies, but what’s that really going to do? The shanties made from bits of corrugated iron and wood will still be there.
But moving on.
I highly recommend The Poisonwood Bible, and, if you can get your hands on a copy, please read it. I’ve already said this much about it, but I don’t think I’m done yet.