Original Research

‘If the desert could speak’: The karretjiemense of the Karoo in My Children Have Faces

Isabel B. Rawlins, Myrtle J. Hooper
Literator | Vol 44, No 1 | a1976 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v44i1.1976 | © 2023 Isabel Bethan Rawlins, Myrtle Jane Hooper | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 November 2022 | Published: 15 May 2023

About the author(s)

Isabel B. Rawlins, Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zululand, Kwadlangezwa, South Africa
Myrtle J. Hooper, Department of English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zululand, Kwadlangezwa, South Africa

Abstract

Both film-maker Timothy Gabb and anthropologist Michael de Jongh have noticed the disappearance of the karretjiemense, a marginalised people who travel the Karoo desert using donkey carts or karretjies. Having run a petrol station in Prince Albert in the Eastern Cape, author Carol Campbell’s debut novel My Children Have Faces features a family of karretjiemense who wander the Karoo desert and in real ways ‘belong to’ it. This belonging is reflected in the novel through the ‘interchanges and interconnections between [their] human corporeality and the more-than-human’, which ecocritic Stacey Alaimo calls ‘transcorporeality’. It is an engagement that enables the resilience of the tight-knit family to the vulnerabilities of living in the desert in order to escape the pursuit of the murderous Miskiet. Campbell reflects this transcorporeality, fictionally, through naming, through animal imagery and through the motifs of smell and of movement. She also registers how transcorporeality dwindles and family unity breaks down once they leave the desert. Having sold their donkeys and killed Miskiet, they apply for the formal identities they have lacked and head towards a settled life in the village very different to the nomadic life that has defined them up to now.

Contribution: This article adds to the emerging field of ecocriticism in South Africa by using the concept of ‘transcorporeality’ to explore the connections between the karretjiemense and the desert Karoo environment in Carol Campbell’s My Children Have Faces (2013).


Keywords

animal imagery; deserts; ecocriticism; karretjiemense; Karoo; resilience; transcorporeality; vulnerability

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