IN this book, Stephen Alumenda (1966-2004), seeks to address the paradoxes of the life of a segregated young boy who is ostracised because of his albinism.
By Beniah Munengwa
Title: Anani the Albino Boy
Author: Stephen Alumenda
Publisher: College Press Publishers
What is quite striking is the author’s ability to question models of adaption to difference and society’s problems.
The novel is set at a rural Charumbira Primary School, where a Grade 3 pupil living with albinism, Anani, is on the brink of giving up on life, as his skin pigmentation has become a source of fun and scorn to those around him.
Various myths are associated with his existence. Tambu asks Anani: “Is it true that Albinos do not die?”
Although she is not mocking, it shows that society is embedded with stereotypes that hinder its understanding and, consequently, acceptance of albinism.
In his response, he says: “Tambu, I really don’t know about that. But what I know very well is that I’m just an ordinary person like you and other pupils.”
In Anani’s case, he opts to go out of school, and school here becomes a representation of public institutions from which those with albinism may be forced to hide as a means of self-protection.
When Anani’s mother realises that the school is not a safe space for her son, she moves him to another school, but through the character of a teacher at the new school, the reader can understand that a change of environment is not the solution.
Alumenda also exposes that there is an assumption that schools are not doing enough.
However, when the headmaster suggests that anyone seen poking fun of Anani’s condition will “regret the day that they were born”, it does not improve his situation.
In the end, no one wants to talk to him and, hence, he becomes isolated, demonstrating that punishment alone does not help.
A re-alignment of society’s thought patterns through education and collective action is suggested as the way to go.
The author also suggests that when a child is born with albinism, it is not their choice and they should not be punished for it.
When the story ends, Anani will have redeemed himself by saving a train from falling into a broken bridge.
He becomes a hero, both at school and in the community. This suggests that the cruel society’s viewpoint can be forgiving if one proves to offer something helpful to it.
This explains why society has managed to look beyond one’s skin colour when allotting status to a person.
These cases include those of celebrated Malian musician Selif Keita, the late Zimbabwean academic John Makumbe and paediatric cardiologist, Isidore Pazvakavambwa, also late.
Currently, the United Nations Children’s Fund is running a massive media campaign to help society understand that people living with albinism are no different from every other person.
Sometime between 2015 and 2016, there were killing sprees of albinos in Tanzania fuelled by ritual practices.
In Alumenda’s book, the family set-up is highlighted as the backbone for the survival and welfare of children with albinism.
The support that he gets from his fellow siblings and his mother propels him forward.
The book’s plot demonstrates that even a parent, as is in the case of Anani’s father, can also be subjected to mockery because of the child’s condition.
But the father does well in adapting in the face of such offence, as he accepts his son’s condition.
However, his flaw comes in thinking that acceptance in some people comes after orientation and so he must orient his son towards accepting his condition.
Although Alumenda died 12 years ago, his vision still holds sway today, and with the ongoing campaign around issues of albinism, his dream of a society that embraces albinos may come true soon.
The text was originally penned for youngsters in primary school and it features a vocabulary of words used in the novel and some multiple choice questions for the young ones to practice with.
It is a good read for all ages and for some almost similar reasons.
At the time of his death, Alumenda had published several children’s books including Kuda’s Rainbow Ball, Toko and the Dog with One Ear, Toko and the Lost Kittens, Marita Goes to School and Why Frogs Jump About.