Why is Karaba the Witch Evil?

In Commentary, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Bryan Valery

The year is 2002. The month is December. The air is very hot, 37°C in the shade. My classmates and I have just got back from a very satisfying lunch at the canteen. Our delight is further prolonged by the cancelation of our afternoon history lesson for a cartoon screening. Now, for most little Réunionese children, cartoons are hard to come by as one would have to watch them at French time – that is 4/5am in Réunion. What’s more, most of the population cannot afford cinema tickets, so school really is the place where we get a taste of what they call “culture.” This afternoon is even more exciting as the cartoon we are about to watch has protagonists of colour. Kirikou and the Sorceress. WOW, a brown kid just like us, just like me. And WHAT’S MORE, that kid has such a similar life to ours (I mean, figuratively). The more we watch it (in religious silence), the more my classmates and I realise that we are little Kirikous in the making.

Kirikou-et-la-Sorciere2‘Why is Karaba the witch evil?’

Such is the question recurrently asked by Kirikou in Kirikou and the Sorceress.

Our protagonist, Kirikou, is a child who is already able to speak from within his mother’s womb. He also gave birth to himself and chose his own name. Whilst taking his first bath, he asks his mother where all the men of the village are to be found. She answers that Karaba the witch, who keeps the whole village in fright, killed them all. His mother admits she does not know why, whilst the rest of the villagers tell him that he asks too many questions and that Karaba is evil because such is the way of things.

Far from being satisfied with this answer, Kirikou sets himself on a mission to know more. Kirikou’s grandfather is a very wise man, who lives far away from the village because Karaba consigned him to exile, for he ‘knows much and tells things the way they are.’ Kirikou leaves his compound in search of him. After being given the answers to many of his questions by his grandfather, Kirikou saves the village.

Watch it, and you will find out how.

For Kirikou, home is his village compound. For me home was and still is (to a certain extent) my beloved Réunion Island. Additionally, for the both of us, home was and perhaps still is a place of ignorance. Not the harmful kind that seeks to spread prejudice or hatred, but instead the kind that can be transformed into knowledge when offered the opportunity. Home in that sense is where Kirikou and I (and many other Creole children) want to escape; to ‘learn’ what is out there, to feel limitless and unconstrained.

As I’ve explained, Kirikou wants to know the roots of evil, for only then can he liberate his village of Karaba – or of ignorance; you watch and make up your mind. I wanted to know what made my island as economically poor and struggling as it was (and still is). The answer, I knew, was to be found elsewhere than in Réunion; whenever as a child I asked people ‘why,’ they often told me ‘the system,’ ‘history,’ etc. Every Creole I knew, including my family, longed for a better life, and they all worked hard for it. And yet most, if not all of them, couldn’t reach it. So the answer had to be far away from the island. I had to leave to find out.

On his quest, after facing many dangers, Kirikou reaches a sacred mountain. There he finds the answers he has been searching for with his grandfather, who claims he actually knows very little. After I made many efforts in schoolwork and in sport, I finally left Réunion and was sent to France. Only, unlike Kirikou, I did not find the wise man with all my answers. I found people who claimed to know a lot more than me but who really did not have many answers to my questions, which they deemed impertinent.

Though Kirikou knew he had to leave to find his answers, and though his home was a place of ignorance, he still longed to go back, for his home was the place of his rootedness. When he braved the witch and had to comply to the villagers’ refusal to let him ask questions, Kirikou found himself often tired and in need of rest. And he could do just that on the compound ground, whilst his mother would be cooking. Whilst in France, I had to fight against people discrediting my views, which were based on my experiences. I soon found that you can and never should argue against somebody’s experience, for there is no argument against experience. And like Kirikou, I found rest and peace in a home that did not necessarily provide me with constancy or acceptance. Home being far away from me, it was in the memories of the latter that I comforted myself, perhaps rendering my situation similar to that of Kirikou.

In order for one to go forward, one must know where one started. I suppose this is what this rootedness stems from. For Kirikou and myself home, a place of struggle, is also a place to revitalise and redirect oneself. Whether it be the physical home or one living in memory, one thing is for certain: rootedness does not mean steadiness or stillness when it comes to home. Kirikou and myself find our roots not in the idea of home, but in something very real and concrete. And yet, despite being rooted in this specific something, we were both inclined to make our roots our legs and walk away – but also make our legs walk back.

In this sense, home is not a place of unconditional love or acceptance. Home is somewhat like a battlefield, where you fight for acceptance everyday, if you choose so. Kirikou, whilst still a child, fought everyone’s ignorance and lost and won. He knew that no one meant him any harm in demeaning him as impertinent and thinking he thought himself better than everybody else. But then came the day ignorance had to be banished and the villagers had no choice but to face their condition. That day was when Kirikou delivered Karaba from her pain, the pain that made her evil (bad men had planted a poisoned thorn in her spine), by asking her for a kiss. That day he magically grew into the man he already was at birth. And yet the villagers did not want to believe that she was good, so they planned to kill her.

This thorn was, for me, the social expectations weighing on my shoulders in France. Everyday, I was encouraged to learn something new, but if I dared argue with my family about my new knowledge, I’d be reminded to stay in line and keep that knowledge for myself. Then came the day that I wanted to assert myself and claim my own life goals. That day was the biggest battle. I did not win or lose, but I hoped for home to see me as I was, just like Kirikou pleaded with his village to see him for who he was: someone who cared about them but who also wanted them to care about him.

To conclude, home is not where you necessarily find love. For someone like Kirikou or myself, it is not. It is a place, an environment, where you fight, you struggle, and most importantly through all of these, you shape your ever-changing identity. It is a place where you create love and give it meaning of your own accord.

Bryan Valery

A simple Enfant Sauvage with simple big ambitious dreams.

Find out more about Bryan’s work here: Enfant Sauvage.

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