A tribute to Howard Head

Staff Writer
On 7 June, hundreds of Batswana and scholars gathered at Serowe home in Serowe to bid their last farewell to Howard Head, the only child of the famous writer.

He was only 48 years old when he passed on and like his mother, he died relatively young.  In 2007, multitudes of Bessie Head fans and scholars converged on the capital of the Bangwato to celebrate what would have been Head's 70th birthday and it is safe to assume that many had hoped to catch a glimpse of the son to the celebrated woman who has put Botswana on the map as far as the literary arts are concerned.

While Howard was neither a writer nor a well-known figure himself, he was the only link the rest of the world had to the long departed, Bessie.

In fact many knew him even before they met him because as many critics have concurred,  he was 'the boy 'in Bessie Head's powerfully written, A Question of Power. He was the boy who watched his mother battling her demons to the very bitter end.

He was the boy who had to stand by and look as her mother was busy doing her service to the world which never appreciates one's efforts until it has sucked the very life out of you. He was the boy who shared her mother with rest of the  world until she was cruelly taken away from him by death.

Unlike Bessie, Howard was totally morphed into the Ngwato way of life at the time of his death, there is no doubt that he qualified as a Mongwato.

At Howard's funeral, Mothusi van Rensburg's  remarks were received with laughter, relief, tears, and joy.

This son of the founder and former head master of Swaneng Hill School where Bessie Head once worked as a teacher told anecdotes about the eccentric and unique Howard Head, his humour, and paid tribute to Mosadinyana (his partner for 18 years), who finally stabilised his life and gave him some contentment. Howard's signature greeting -- instead of "How are you" or "O tsogile jang", he would ask, "How is the suffering?"

Perhaps some of the best tributes came from the people who personally knew both Howard and his mother.
"Howard Rex Head, a strong

young Motswana, lived and died in the whirlwind of his mum Bessie's love, passion, and literary flame for life, people, nature, and human rights..!" Hugh and Mmatsela Pearce of M0chudi wrote.

The Danish curator, Maria Rytter, wrote in part, Thank you for keeping us informed in Denmark about the sad and unexpected death of Howard Head. He warmly welcomed the idea of keeping his mother's archive at the Serowe Museum in 1986 and it was thanks to him that the Bessie Head Archive came to life".

And perhaps one of the most powerful messages of condolences was that of  Cecil Abrahams of South Africa (and Canada) who wrote -Howard, like his Mom, had to courageously battle many early and late challenges in his life and his returned to the ancestors at a relatively young age. It is quite sad and painful. May his spirit find peace".

Howard Head was buried at Botalaote cemetery, a few metres from his mother's grave.
Hundreds of mourners had to leave their cars and walk for some distance among 100-year-old graves to reach the fresh grave of dark red sand.

Perhaps the highest point was the last: Scobie Lekhutile, a boyhood friend of Howard's and the current curator of Khama III Memorial Museum, sang (mostly in English) his own celebration of Howard's life and lament for his passing, accompanied by Banjo Keipidile on guitar.

Today, son and mother lie buried in the village that welcomed them with open arms as they fled the heavy-handedness of the apartheid government. A village she fondly described thus:

A ring of low blue hills surrounds the village; at least they look blue, misty from a distance. But if sunlight and shadow strikes them at a certain angle, you can quite clearly see their flat and unmysterious surfaces. They look like the uncombed heads of old Batswana men, dotted here and there with the dark shapes of thorn trees..."

Head leaves behind a partner of many years Mosadinyana Mayombela of Topisi
Good night son of the woman who with thunder behind her ears!
Robala ka kagiso Phuti!




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