Study Guide

Kilanga Villagers in The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver

Kilanga Villagers

The Mamas and the Tatas (Not Those Kinds of Tatas)

The Price family makes its home in the village of Kilanga for over a year. While the previous mission man, Brother Fowles, was a total BFF to Kilanga's residents, Nathan's forceful attitude keeps his family from getting too close to anybody in Kilanga. Still, they manage to make a few friends during their stay in the village:

  • Even though Rachel loves to point out any deformities the villagers might have, like Mama Nguza's goiter, the no-legged Mama Mwanza is the biggest source of unconditional help to the Price family. Even after losing two of her children, she provides the Prices with oranges and any other extra food she has, walking to their hut on her hands to do it.
  • One of the Mama Boandas also aides the Prices when they flee Kilanga, letting them stay with her family in a neighboring village. We say "one of" because the men of Kilanga often have multiple wives—yet another reason Nathan Price thinks these good people are vile heathens.
  • And then there's Mama Bekwa Tataba, the Price's hired help. Mama Tataba was hired by Brother Fowles and stays on to help the Price family, hating every minute of it. Orleanna says, "She cursed our mortal souls as evenhandedly as she nourished our bodies. She pampered my ungrateful children, and resented us utterly" (2.Prologue.20). She eventually quits when she can't take Nathan's stubbornness anymore. (To which we say, what took her so long?)

With Friends Like These

Of course, the Prices also make a few enemies while they're in town. Tata Ndu, the chief, while not exactly an enemy, wouldn't be heartbroken to see the Price family leave sooner rather than later. Nathan encroaches on his territory, and Nathan's version of Christianity causes more harm to the village than good. Plus, they refuse his offer to buy Rachel and insult his family at the hunt. He sees them as liabilities, not assets to the village.

But then there's Tata Kuvudundu, whom Nathan calls a "witch doctor" even though the Congolese word for "witch doctor" and "preacher" are one in the same. Now, he really is an enemy to the Prices: he's the one who puts the snake that killed Ruth May in the chicken coop.

Leah later hears that the people of Kilanga ran Kuvudundu out of town. The villagers may have found the Price family irritating and baffling, but they sure didn't want them dead.

Children of the Central Africa Wild

And then there are the kiddies. Leah makes friends with Pascal; although we don't see too much of their relationship, it must have been pretty important: Leah names her first son after him.

The most important influence on their life is Nelson. An orphan like Pascal, Nelson is sent by Anatole to replace Mama Tataba. He's super patient when dealing with the Price family. That, plus his intelligence ("In the Congo [...] even somebody as smart as Nelson isn't allowed to go to college, any more than us Price girls are" (2.5.3)) makes him an invaluable addition to the house.

He teaches the family about supernatural Congolese customs (owls eat souls, and don't say "snake" at night); non-supernatural Congolese customs (like when Tata Ndu won't stop giving them stuff and he's the only one who realized that Tata Ndu has his eye on Rachel); and he gives Ruth May the nkisi.

When Brother Fowles says, "You do not support the root, the root supports you" (3.8.52), he means the people of Kilanga. Despite what Nathan thinks when he's stomping around hacking off branches, the people of Kilanga are supporting his family—and not the other way around.