This novel is about belief.
And the fact that in order to value the beliefs of others, we may need to let go the ones we hold.
This novel is both about it, and constructed around the way belief functions to create and maintain culture. For it is what we believe that comes to be what we tell stories about, and how we source, prepare and distribute our nourishment, and the music we make and draw from, the dances and signs that make meaning for those in the know and create befuddlement for those on the outter.
Belief is not culture. But there can be no culture without it.
It’s true to say that in order for the novel to be about belief, it must be centred on some form of belief.
It is this:
Kumakana is set on the belief that, regardless of how perfect it is that we see the world, there are those who believe there is always a better way.
A young girl believes in magic. A young boy of similar age, but from a different culture, does not mock her belief in magic, but mocks the magic in which she believes. A clan of foxes believe in the law of the jungle. Their leader believes the sweet meat of the young girl will bestow everlasting powers. The forest animals believe the Natural Order is the Way; they trust Gronups to guide them. In turn, Gronups believe the young girl’s spirit may open up a turning point in the path of destruction that has seen a contraction of habitat and extinction of animals. They believe the spirit of the young boy is ancient, and they have met it before. The young girl’s father believes her imagination is problematic; Gronups believe it may be the answer.
Kumakana is about belief, yes. But it challenges ownership of belief too.
We cannot write of one belief without attempting to explore others. Yet there are arguments that, if we are of a particular cultural heritage, we cannot write of beliefs held in another. We are told that by making use of cultural artefacts that can be clearly shown to belong to a culture other that the one we belong to, it is a form of appropriation.
In certain cases, these arguments make a lot of sense, but the problem is that culture, while it can be described, cannot be defined, which means it both belongs to no-one and belongs to everyone. At the same time, one can belong to more than one culture.
Human nature moves forward by sharing cultures. We share our nourishment, our knowledge, our beliefs our art and dance and music because it helps others understand who we are. It helps us understand who others are. When we are touched by the cultures of others, and we find a spiritual concert playing out in ourselves, we cannot help but be changed. When we actively deny others access to such change, we deny humanity the right to grow.
It is in this way that this story challenges belief.
I believe in story. In particular, I believe in its power to transform our understanding. I hope that when you read it thoroughly, this story will change the way you think about belief.