Rigoberta Menchu and Kaffir Boy

On I, Rigoberta Menchu and Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Young Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa: A Comparison Christyn M. Randon Submitted to Dr. Gene Yeager December 2, 2003 “Opinions founded on prejudice are always sustained with the greatest of violence.” -Francis Jeffrey (1773 - 1850) "It is a man\'s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways."-Buddha The shock and horror felt by the reader, after mentally absorbing the happenings described in the lives of Rigoberta Menchu and Mark Mathabane, in their autobiographies I, Rigoberta Menchu, and Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, respectively, is vivid, true, and unforgettable. The settings described in both accounts reek with hostility, fear, poverty, tragedy, and death, and only because another culture refused to be an equal people with them. Instead of living peacefully and sharing their part of the world with them, they herded them, categorized them, stripped them of their luxuries, and bled them dry so that their own lives might be more comfortable. One cannot imagine such a way of life and not be sick with revulsion upon this realization of the deep-seated evil of those who oppressed the cultures of Menchu and Mathabane. Their accounts are horrendous and eye-opening. Along with the extreme feelings of repugnance these accounts conjure up, they also bring about a more subdued sense of guilt that sustains itself long thereafter, a guilt which reveals the ignorance that every reader -- who is not from apartheid South Africa or Indian Guatemala -- has. We are kept from these realities, but by not taking the initiative to find the truth, we also keep ourselves from these realities. These autobiographies force a comparison between the life of the reader and the life of the writer, and allow the readers to see their own lives as comfortable and healthy as they truly are. The instigation of fear is always the most prominent tool by which a dominant and oppressive culture will overpower another. This is a major similarity found in the oppressors of Menchu’s community, as well as Mathabane’s. This usage of the establishment of fear is brought about by any means possible: violence, cruelty, dishonesty, manipulation, legal tender, exploitation, neglect, or abuse. The humanity of those involved is never considered, and even ignored or made out to be insignificant. Fear is inherently the most cowardly and disgusting source of power imaginable, and yet both of the cultures mentioned in this book were exploited by its usage. The minds and bodies of individuals were abused and made as an example for their peers, simply as a tactic made to incur submission. Mathabane recalls the sudden and violent “police raids” made in the middle of the night, in which truckloads of people were shipped away to prison for various and, mostly trivial, reasons. He recalls the unnecessary violence of such raids: when he was kicked in the side and hit with a truncheon by the policemen, simply because he would not reveal where his parents were. The fear expressed by Mathabane that he felt in these episodes is intense, almost unbelievable, but entirely too complex to deny. Mathabane also recounts many times in which he, himself is made to be the example by his oppressors. Among those instances, he recounts being made to strip naked and march in a bucket of human excrement by the “shit-men” (or, black men who worked for the government by picking up human waste) because his peers had been jeering them. Since fear is the foremost tactic, even for the innocent, those who protest their treatment, even the slightest, are promptly and fiercely punished. In I, Rigoberta Menchu, Rigoberta’s Indian community had already cleared and cultivated land that the Guatemalan “landowners” came to take away from them. Menchu explains that whenever land is cleared and cultivated, the landowners will show up with authorities. In this particular case, Menchu’s father had been fighting the impending seizure of their land by the landowners by organizing meetings and drawing up petitions, and the authorities promptly placed him in jail. The community treated the authorities well, gave them their best