Mella and the N'anga: An African Tale


160 pages
ISBN 1-894549-49-X
DDC jC813'.54






Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson

Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.


According to tradition, a direct relationship exists between the
fruitfulness of the Land of the People and the quality of its
guardianship by the ruler. King Chinembira is apparently dying, and, in
addition to his kingdom’s experiencing a worsening drought, rumours of
a rival clan chief’s impending coup attempt persist. The Great
N’anga, the land’s wisest medicine woman, seer, and conjurer,
declares that, in order to restore the king’s health, someone must
undertake the dangerous quest of fetching the Python Healer from her
cave. Mella, the king’s daughter, volunteers, but her older brother,
Dikita, coveting the title of king, insists that this is a warrior’s
task. During Dikita’s absence, the Great N’anga reveals that the
land’s ills actually stem from the people’s having abandoned their
old ways of worship and that, to save the kingdom, a disbanded group of
warrior priestesses, the Daughters of the Hunt, must be re-established.
The Great N’anga selects Mella and two others to be the first
novitiates and begins their training. When Dikita and his sycophant
friend Chiboro return, they claim to have bested the huge snake and
assert that the python commanded that Dikita should be the new king. Not
believing Dikita’s claim, a fearful Mella undertakes to replicate the
warriors’ perilous journey, but, possessing a worthy heart, she, as
expected in traditional literature, succeeds.

Told in folklore style and set in present-day Zimbabwe’s distant
past, this engaging tale of a people’s reclaiming their moral and
spiritual heritage through the actions of an unlikely heroine is highly


Nyoka, Gail., “Mella and the N'anga: An African Tale,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,