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Review: Marwe: Into the Land of the Dead

Myths and legends don’t have to just tells tales of heroic deeds or explain natural phenomena.  Sometimes a tale can be used to teach a life lesson that will help the younger members of a culture fit in and be more responsible adults.  This legend from East Africa does just that as Marwe learns some valuable lessons about responsibility and what it means to be truly happy.

Review: Marwe: Into the Land of the Dead
By Marie P. Croall, Ray Lago, Craig Hamilton
Age Rating: 9-12
Graphic Universe, 2009, 978-0-8225-8514-5
48 pgs, $8.95

Marwe is a legend from East Africa, coming from the Bantu-speaking people who live in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, in the land now known as Tanzania.  Marwe is a coming of age tale, that shows her transition from a girl to woman.  It also has some valuable lessons to pass on, and does so in a subtle but easy to understood way.

Marwe and her brother work in the bean fields of their village.  Their job is to keep the native monkeys from eating the beans before they can be harvested.  One day, they leave for a short while to get a drink of water from the nearby river, but when they return, they find the monkeys have decimated the fields.  Their irresponsibility was discovered by their father, and Marwe fears going home.  They return to the river, and while her brother goes to try and calm their father, Marwe sees a black hole in the water.  She goes to investigate and gets pulled into the land of the dead.  After explaining her situation, she is allowed to stay.  She does not eat or drink anything, and chooses to help the others as they work in the fields.  After several years, Marwe decides to return home.  She is rewarded for her hard work, and given the name of the man who she should wait for.  Marwe is welcomed home, and does as she is bid, and waits for her true love.  The story ends with a happily ever after.

Marwe’s tale is filled with some valuable life lessons.  Do not shirk your responsibilities.  If Marwe and her brother had waited, or taken turns to get water, they would not have lost the beans.  The more important lesson though is that hard work is rewarded.  Even though Marwe doesn’t have to, she chooses to work in the fields for the Old Woman.  Her selfless attitude pays off not just in the gold she is given, but also in the advice to wait for a certain man who will truly make her happy.  Smaller lessons of listening to your elders as well as a dose of good things come to those who wait is at work here as well. 

Marwe’s tale works on many different levels as a good legend should.  Once again, a lot of work was put into making sure the tale was accurately told as well as the art rendered authentically.  The detail in the ethnic costumes and landscape does a good job at drawing the reader into the new world they are exploring.  The contrast between the world of the living and the world of the dead is obvious, yet subtle.  Marwe’s aging his handled well, as she grows into womanhood.

Marwe is an excellent tale made all the more fascinating as it is about a part of the world that US students don’t know much about.  The book includes a further reading section on resources that can either be used in the classroom, or just to satisfy one’s own curiosity.  I think it’s great that Graphic Universe is making so many of these legends available from so many different parts of the world.  They do a good job of showing no matter how different our cultures might be, the human experience is essentially the same.

Lori Henderson About Lori Henderson

Lori Henderson is a mother of two teenage daughters and an avid reader. She blogs about manga at her personal blog Manga Xanadu as well as contributing and editing for Manga Village. She blogs about all things fandom (mainly Doctor Who) at her other personal blog Fangirl Xanadu. She's been at it so for over 5 years now and counting!


  1. Martha Cornog says:

    When I read the book, I noticed that although the Old Woman told Marwe to wait for her true love Sawoye, Marwe isn’t totally passive. She pays attention to the villagers and notices that one man whom she doesn’t know is playing peacemaker – breaking up an argument between two other men. She asks the unknown man his name, and he tells her Sawoye. Then she asks him to come to dinner. So it’s not like she waits for Sawoye to turn up on her doorstep. She finds him herself and invites him. Marwe has learned a good deal becoming mature, and she’s learned to take an active part in things that are important.

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