Study Guide

The Ear, the Eye, the Arm Tradition and Customs

By Nancy Farmer

Tradition and Customs

Tendai had heard Praise Singing described many ways. It was an ancient custom meant to call forth the powers of the seen and unseen worlds. It was music. It was poetry. But most of all, it was medicine for the soul. (1.42)

Hey, we're not against someone telling us we're super smart and awesome. (Don't believe us? Send us an email singing our praises. You will make our day.) We can't help but notice that Tendai describes the praise as more of a tradition that involves spirits and the supernatural than a feel-good activity, though. Huh.

Tendai walked along the hall that led to the library. […] Shelves reaching to the ceiling were filled with old books that gave a leathery, dusty scent to the air. Persian carpets covered the floor. Lamps with stained-glass shades cast a warm glow quite unlike the light in the rest of the house. (2.20)

Is it just us, or does this library sound like something out of a Disney movie? It's beautiful and definitely full of old traditions. It's one of the first descriptions we get of something at Tendai's house that isn't all modernized (we're looking at you, robots). The contrast between the programmable chef (a.k.a. pantry) and the old-school library shows off just how treasured tradition is.

His ancestors waited in the shadows of the walled garden. One of them raised the hollowed horn of a kudu bull to his lips and blew, to give courage to the hunters. (3.71)

Ancestors giving courage to modern warriors sounds pretty traditional to us. It's not just that the warriors need to be brave; it's also that they get it from something in the past. The fact that the ancestors are the ones to help out shows just how important the past is to the characters in the novel.

Then Tendai understood that they wanted to know his totems, the mutupo of his father and chidao of his mother. This was a custom that had almost entirely died out in modern Harare. It was rather like the English custom of shaking hands: the original use was to find out whether your visitor was armed. (16.14)

We think we'll stick with just shaking hands next time. Totems are a link to someone's heritage and luck, and they also offer up a glimpse of how things were done in the olden days. Instead of merely greeting with a friendly "hey" and your name, you'd also have to share something about your family's heritage.

I'm a fool, he thought. This is a traditional village. These people can't go to a restaurant for lunch. They have to hunt. But he couldn't help feeling sorry. (19.17)

Tendai has a tough time adjusting to life in Resthaven—although not nearly as tough as Rita. He thought his life was chock-full of traditional ways before, but now he realizes just how old-timey these people are. This makes him miss home all the more. Who wouldn't when they own a robot?

"Much of Africa was being overlaid by European customs. It seemed—then—that our culture would be destroyed by the outside world. And so Resthaven was created." (21.9)

It's no coincidence that Resthaven caters to a more traditional lifestyle. After all, that's its purpose in the first place: It was created to preserve the culture and customs of the African people. Hey, we can get behind that. But we can't help but wonder whether all traditions are equally helpful.

"He's strong," Garikayi announced, as the baby squalled and kicked. The old man obviously wanted to hold it, but Tendai knew that would go against custom. No one but the mother and midwives could touch it for several days. (22.16)

We love tradition as much as the next guy, but we think a dad should be able to hold his baby when it's born. Poor Garikayi. All he wants to do is touch his new baby boy, but the rules say he can't. In Resthaven, it doesn't matter whether you want to do something or not; tradition is king.

She burst into sobs. He rocked her back and forth as she wept. He knew this wasn't how a traditional brother treated his sister, but he was thoroughly sick of village ways. (22.54)

Tendai's not the only one getting sick of life in Resthaven—Rita has been treated far worse the whole time. He finally realizes that not all traditions are helpful to them. Sure, he wants to be respectful of ancient traditions, but some things are just wrong. Like, say, killing a baby girl just because she's a twin.

They were greatly curious about English customs, and Rita pointed out that they could get Scout badges in anthropology if they took notes. (28.27)

The Mellower's mom might not use potion to weed out witches (thank goodness), but she practices a lot of similar customs to the ones in Resthaven. She has a tribe (a.k.a. friends) who come over and chat with her about the latest trends and pass judgment on people who don't follow them. Sounds a lot like Resthaven in some ways, right?

This was home. Ever since that time, all the men and women who had cared for the land added their voices to the mhondoro. Tendai saw, in a distant, shadowy way, the country of Zimbabwe with its millions of souls. (39.15)

When Tendai is possessed by the mhondoro, he figures out that Zimbabwe isn't about one specific tradition or another; it's the combination of all its customs and people that makes it special. That's more important than blindly following rules of the past.

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