Edit: In my original piece I had referred to Binti as a “children’s book”. After publishing, I was informed that this series falls under the Young Adult/Adult category. I acknowledge this error and apologize for the incorrect classification. It was an oversight on my part and the error has been rectified.
Afropunk steered my readings to Nigeria again by introducing me to Binti. I don’t remember what their Facebook post said, but I do remember reading the book’s description before storming onto the Kindle Store to find it. When I read the synopsis to my father, he chuckled and said: “That is what you call an original story.” I agree with him. Binti is definitely one of the most unique books I have ever read and my only problem with it is that it was far too short!
Binti is one of the “afro-futuristic/afro-high-fantasy” books that have been making their way onto mainstream markets recently. This book is set in a futuristic Namibia (I think) and its main character is a young Himba woman who is at crossroads with her destiny. She is faced with a choice. She could abandon her tribe, be disowned and default on her marriageability to pursue the education of her dreams, or she could stay in the comfort of her home, settle down and inherit the family Harmonizer business. She makes her choice and endures the immediate consequences before her life takes another turn and becomes even more complicated than she had hoped.
I can’t help but admire just how many complex themes Nnedi Okorafor managed to explore in this book. She touched on how ignorance can lead to microaggressions against minorities, how tribalism can mentally and emotionally harm those who dare to look beyond its confines and how simple communication, or as Wanuri Kahiu put it: “…age-old African diplomacy”, can save an entire planet and several civilizations from a senseless war. I understood, even if just partially, where these themes came from and why Prof. Okorafor decided to explore them and this made the reading even more delightful.
My favourite theme, however, was how Prof. Okorafor dealt with the Himba’s tribal evolution. I love that they still maintain many of their original tribal traits e.g. wearing metal anklet rings to protect them from snake bites and covering their hair and body with otjize as Himba tradition and hygine dictates. While these traits have been maintained, they have taken on a different meaning and have changed to suit the mathematical climate of the future. For example, Binti’s plaits/dreadlocks are no longer left at the mercy of entropy but have an embedded code that spells out her family history. Himba spiritualism – of which I am ignorant, I confess – combined with their advanced mathematical abilities, have allowed them to maintain an amazing life for themselves in the desert by producing the Harmonizers the Khoush people need. The only negative thing about them seems to be their open hatred for migration, which is something Binti herself has to overcome.
I really enjoyed Binti and I am delighted to see this level of representation being perpetuated in the Science Fiction genre. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Science Fiction and/or wants to learn about unfamiliar cultures. Later this year, I plan to read the next book in the series. I know it will be an exciting read, but I will deny myself the privilege for now. I can’t wait to see what Prof. Okorafor comes up with next!