The Bite of the Mango is a remarkable story of a 12 year old girl named Mariatu Kamara who was living peacefully in a rural village in Sierre Leone with her family and friends before the rebel soldiers invaded her life and destroyed everything she once knew. Her story deals with the most brutal 20th century civil war in Sierra Leone. A coming of age novel, it’s written in a simple first person perspective as her story deals with loss, sadness, letting go, acceptance and ultimately the path to recovery.
Mariatu’s narrative starts when she describes her day to day life before the rebels attacked her village; she describes some beautiful memories she has of her childhood. Her everyday life comes to a halt when there is a rumour that rebel soldiers are making their way to her village. Mariatu and her family decide to flee to another village to seek safe haven form the bloodthirsty rebel soldiers. But Mariatu and some of her family are captured by rebel soldiers as they make their way to the second village. The rebel soldiers kill members of her family in front of her and she knows that she must be next to die. But surprisingly, the rebels decide not to kill her but rather amputate her hands, it is here that Mariatu describes the horrifying and disrobing details as to how her hands were cut off. She pleads with the child soldiers who have been drugged and created into vicious monsters. The following is the dialogue she has with a rebel child soldier:
“If you are going to chop off my hands, please just kill me,” I begged them.
“We’re not going to kill you,” one boy replied. “We want you to go to the president and show him hat we did to you. You won’t be able to vote for him now. Ask the president to give you new hands” (Kamara 40).
“As my mind went dark, I remember asking myself: “What is a president?” ( Kamara 41).
The rebel soldiers were amputating people’s hands, legs, arms and ears to display their frustration at the government whom they accused of being corrupt and not helping its people. Thus, by cutting off people’s hands the logic they derived at was that these people would no longer be able to vote for the same president, thus he would be overthrown. This amputation was a sign of their protest against the government.
Mariatu’s horrifying encounter with the rebels is similar to the other 20,000 civilians who have had their body parts amputated. After the rebels amputated her hands she ran away in search of some form of safety and it was while she came to a village that she was offered a mango and she learned of her grim reality- she no longer had hands. She was taken to a hospital by a woman from a village and she spent a lot of time at this hospital. She was then taken to a refugee camp where she reunited with some of her family members. Through this time she constantly fought extreme cases of depression and many times contemplated and attempted to kill herself, but was watched closely by family members. In the refugee camp she joined a theatre troupe, who put on shows to display Sierra Leones problems. It was through this group that she began to deal with her depression. In the refugee group, she met a Canadian journalist who decided to sponsor her to Canada. Mariatu Kamara now lives in Toronto, with a Sierra Leonean family.
Mariatu doesn’t hold any grudges against the rebel soldiers because she has come to understand that like her they too are victims of the war, she says, “At first I felt only anger: I wanted those four boys dead. But the anger made me sick, and over time I saw that taking a life was not the solution. They were kids, like me who’d got caught up in something beyond their control” (Kamara 197). Her text starts with a child like innocent tone which later as her narrative progresses transforms into a mature tone- one of understanding and great insight. Her narrative screams hope, love, understanding, letting go and saying goodbye. Mariatu is a voice of courage and her raw compelling passion is vivid in her narrative. Mariatu is such a brave heroine because she has agreed to share her story with the world which is one of the most heroic things one can do as it is stories and words which make us understand, accept and ultimately it is stories which heal us. Mariatu comes to a realization which is that she that has been given a chance to change the condition of her people. Mariatu says at the end of her book, “Something in me had changed. I knew now that I could look forward and back-without any regrets at the same time” (Kamara 212). This is her road to recovery.
I met Mariatu Kamara two years ago when she came to my high school to promote her book. She is an amazing person, having gone through so many hardships she is able to tell her story and hold herself together with such great poise. Although she is at times shy and concerned with the way people perceive her, it is through telling people her story that she is bring about change. Mariatu says, “I will speak for all the people of Sierra Leone who are not being heard” (Kamara 212).
Mariatu Kamara is a very inspirational person. I believe she is a vessel of hope and optimism. Mariatu is a proof that even in the grimmest times one can change the world for the better with their actions and that is why Mariatu Kamara is a hero, because as Maya Angelou says, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” I encourage everyone to read this book!