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To my 'Mminatlou' - Poet Natalia Molebatsi on 'Elephant Woman Song'

A book she wrote in honour of her late grandmother who was a 'Mminatlou' (one who's totem is the elephant).

The Write Associates' Ashley Santos (R) facilitate a discussion with poet and author Natalia Molebatsi on 20 July 2019 in Randpark Ridge, Johannesburg. Picture: Winnie Theletsane/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - "It is said that elephants doesn't forget." - Elephant Song Part Seven in Natalia Molebatsi's book Elephant Woman Song.

A book she wrote in honour of her late grandmother who was a 'Mminatlou' (one who's totem is the elephant).

"My grandmother was a herbalist. She would heal many children from birth until the age of about 10 before they reach puberty. She knew how to deal with a child's ailment and I never asked enough questions like 'what is this?' She would look into the child's eyes and would know what was wrong."

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Although her book was originally published in 2017, Molebatsi was the centre of the Mariam Tladi Reading and Book Club discussion in Rand Park Ridge, Johannesburg, on Saturday.

She is a poet, author and singer who has for years been on a journey to spread a message from her ancestors - some through dreams to the world.

"One of the things I inherited from her was her walking stick and for me this [has created] a space of communication because I knew she put her weight on that. There are energies that are attached to some of these things and we need to listen to these energies."

The book is a combination of her poems and elephant paintings by Italian visual artist and animal and human rights activist Tiziana Pers.

A partnership that Molebatsi said came out of nowhere, but worked out beautifully in the end.

"I was writing the book on my own somewhere and Tiziana was painting elephants as endangered species. It was difficult for me to think about elephants and other animals as endangered species because I'm an endangered species as a black woman and person. But I had a light bulb moment where I thought 'wait, I'm a Mminatlou and I've been with these animals long before the concept of saving them came along'."

But in a society that was still learning to embrace the grey areas of life, and yet remained so judgmental, could one be about the ancestors and God at the same time?

"What is different for me is when what I or you know becomes superior from what the next person knows or what the next person walks with. The concept of superiority comes with what the Western culture has packaged and said 'this is what is right'.

"Somebody calls this part Allah, another calls it God, the other calls it Qamatha (IsiXhosa word for God or higher power). Essentially, there is no difference, it comes down to the methodology. We are all looking for good but the minute yours becomes superior, that's where the good dissipates."

Molebatsi said although she believed in the ancestors and God, she often found something calming about being in a mosque.

"I find that I can connect with my own ancestors when I go into that kind of space. And sometimes, very rarely, I go to the Methodist church because I find the preachers there so woke. They speak with so much poetry and I find that to be enlightening."

This mixture of cultures and religion, she said, was about finding safe space to calm your inner storms so that your bond with your ancestors was clearer and strengthened as opposed to choosing one over the other or looking down on the other.

Molepatsi said if you embraced all that is good about different religions, you became a better person: "It's like you being a sangoma (traditional healer) but you have your own problems and you're heavy. How are you going to transport that word if you're not right within?"

This again was one of the many things she learnt from her grandmother who would kneel down and talk to her ancestors and still often attended her Anglican church service.

She said her grandmother was merely embracing all that was good about each religion and from there, she was able to do good.

The Miriam Tlali Reading and Book Club was founded by the wRite associates and named after veteran author and activist Miriam Masoli Tlali to promote and explore the literary jewels within South Africa.

Timeline

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