Symbolic Objects in The Slave Girl and Bones

Margaret Hander '00, English 27, 1997


In Chenjerai Hove's Bones and Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl two prevalent and parallel symbolic objects emerge: bones in the first novel and Ojebeta's cowry bells in the second. There is no immediately apparent correlation between the two. The bells, charms meant to ward off Ojebeta's playmates from the spiritual world that her father procured at great peril, demonstrate her status as a loved and valued daughter. Bones most readily symbolize the Shonas' connection to dead ancestors, as well as a collective remembrance of those who have died fighting for visions of a stronger Zimbabwe. The book's dedication says as much:

For the women whose children did not return sons and daughters those who gave their bones to the making of a new conscience, a conscience of bones, blood and footsteps dreaming of coming home some day in vain.

Viewed in the context of the Yoruba and Shona religions, however, these symbols appear parallel, linked to the common beliefs of the Shona and the Yoruba that (1) "the dead do not really die but continue to live forever as ancestors" (Ephirim-Donkor, preface), (2) that with proper ancestor worship "the nature and purpose of the soul can be deciphered," and (3) that "restoration to the holistic life" (Ephirim-Donkor, 41) is attainable. Understanding the parity of these symbols facilitates comparison of their different roles in each novel, along with the techniques the two authors use to link them to specific themes.


Bascom, William. Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba divination from Africa to the New World. Bloomington, Indiana U. P.: 1993.

Ephirim-Donkor, Anthony. African Spirituality: on Becoming Ancestors. Trenton, N.J., Africa World P.: 1997.

Fishburn, Katherine. Reading Buchi Emecheta: Cross-Cultural Conversations. Westport, C.T., Greenwood P.: 1995.

Gelfand, Michael. Shona Religion. Wynberg, South Africa, Juta& Co. Ltd.: 1962.

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