“For the ones with moonlight in their skins.”
These are the words inscribed on the dedication page of storyteller Buhle Ngaba’s first book, The Girl Without A Sound. From the first words it is clear that this is not the story about the blonde, blue-eyed, helpless beauties that most little girls are routinely fed as children. The heroine of this tale has curly hair and chocolate-brown pools for eyes. Her creator was immediately aware of the rarity she had borne: a character in literature that looked just like her.
Partially based on Ngaba’s relationship with her aunt, the story follows the journey of a young girl whose fantastical stories live in her eyes. She has no voice – just a “golden cocoon” humming inside of her throat. Visited by a “red-winged woman” sent from the moon, the two begin the process of finding her voice only to learn that it’s always lived inside of her. It’s a classic tale of learning to love, trust and accept oneself.
Speaking to Red Bull Amaphiko Magazine, Ngaba explained how the story was a way of returning agency to young black girls who have been silenced by the racist, patriarchal society in which they were raised.
“Black women understand what it means to be silenced. They know the story is meant for them. I think the most important thing right now is for women to be present and announce that ‘presence’ as loud as they can. I understand that I’m just one woman but this is one way I’ve chosen to be visible; present,” she was quoted as saying.
The actress, writer and activist began the project with no particular aim until fervour drummed up by a post she made about it on Facebook led to the decision to publish. A hugely collaborative effort, Ngaba enlisted the help of photographer Neo Baepi, illustrator Thozama Mputa, and graphic designer Ryan Haynes. In the space of about 3 weeks, the mixed-media project was complete, and within a week of its release, it had amassed over 2000 downloads.
Though it was conceptualised and written with young black girls front of mind, Ngaba describes it as a children’s book for adults. Available for free download online, as well as in print in select stores across South Africa, her intention is to make the book as accessible to a child in an informal settlement in Khayelitsha as it is for one living in in the suburbs of Constantia, South Africa.
Published in conjunction with Ngaba’s NPO, KaMatla Productions, The Girl Without A Sound is just another way this young creative is working to improve the lives of young South Africans. She founded KaMatla in 2015 as a means of contributing to the development of the arts in marginalised communities and has even launched a campaign to raise funds for the distribution of girls’ sanitary products within communities in the North West.
Ngaba is currently enrolled at the Royal Shakespeare Academy in the UK. She continues to write, having recently released the graphic short, Blood Labyrinth, also available as a free download.