Fiela's Child

Fiela's Child Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-32


Lukas continues to work for Kaliel, helping him to row John Benn and dreaming about getting access to Benn's ship. He also helps with catching fish and building a pigsty. Kaliel teaches Lukas many things but often gets annoyed with him for what he perceives as a woodcutter’s ignorance. Lukas thought Nina had left Miss Weatherbury’s to live again in the forest, but one day, Kaliel spots her by the cove. Lukas is concerned: with all the sailors roaming around, it is not a safe place for a young woman. He goes to search for Nina and finally finds her on the beach, wearing new clothes. He is confused for a moment when he notices Nina’s beauty, forgetting that she is his sister. As they talk, he can also feel Nina’s sadness, which was never acknowledged by anyone and which she often dealt with as a child by escaping to the forest. Lukas feels ashamed to have this strange awareness of the sibling to whom he feels closest. When Nina tells Lukas she is again working for Miss Weatherbury, he feels relieved. That night, he tosses and turns in his sleep, thinking that his attraction to Nina shows that it must not be possible that he is her brother.

The next day, Lukas strikes up a conversation with John Benn, with whom there has been an enmity with since the first day Lukas arrived at the cove. Lukas goes throughout his day continuing to consider the question of whether Nina is his real sister. Lukas gets the idea to ask an oarsman named Book Platsie to teach him to row and bring him one step closer to possibly getting aboard the pilot ship. He must hide this activity from Kaliel, however, as Kaliel would become angry at Lukas trying to take his place. Lukas runs into Nina again that evening; she has been trying to find him to bring him a message. She has heard from a man named Latjie who works for Master Petrus. Latjie told her to inform Benjamin Komoetie that his brother Dawid has died. Upon hearing this news, Lukas is brought back in time to reminisce about his former brother.

Lukas decides to go to the Long Kloof for a week. He doesn’t know why exactly but feels he must. He tells Nina he is going and she doesn’t seem to care; this disappoints Lukas, who continues to have feelings for Nina. When he tells Book Platsie where he is going, Book asks him to bring him back some ostrich feathers; Lukas agrees, thinking this will be an incentive to get Book to teach him how to row. Before leaving, he speaks with Nina again, who tells Lukas that she ran into Willem in the village. Willem told her that Elias has gone out to look for Lukas again. Nina asks Lukas if he thinks the people in the Long Kloof will remember him and seems to dread him leaving now. She believes he will not come back, but Lukas says he will; he feels a connection to the sea, just as she does to the forest. Lukas starts to make his way through the forest that night; when he begins to walk towards the Long Kloof, he feels a sense of familiarity.

Fiela Komoetie is encouraging Selling to walk, as he has not wanted to get up since the death of Dawid. She has given up hope, feeling that God has hit her family hard, whereas Selling continues to watch the road every day for Benjamin to return. In recent years, the Kloof has been overcome with alcoholism and prostitution, perhaps due to the influx of money there from the selling of ostrich feathers. Tollie has succumbed to drinking and Fiela feels she has no sons left. While Selling and Fiela are walking, they see a man heading towards the house; they realize it is Benjamin. The Komoeties are overjoyed and can’t believe what God has brought them. Benjamin ends up staying for months, contributing to the land and catching everyone up on his life in the forest. Fiela, Selling, Kittie, and even the ostriches are in higher spirits after Benjamin returns. Fiela starts to plan how Benjamin can take over the Laghaan property.

One day, however, Benjamin and Fiela have a more serious conversation where Benjamin again brings up whether or not she believes he could have truly walked from the forest as a three-year-old boy. She doesn’t understand why it can’t be kept in the past. Benjamin talks about his feelings for Nina, and Fiela then understands why she has often noticed a sad look in her son’s eye. She believes his feelings indicate that, as she always thought, he can’t possibly be related by blood to the van Rooyens. She tells Benjamin that he must get closure by going to speak with Barta van Rooyen directly. Benjamin decides to leave Wolwekraal soon after to first go to the forest and confront the van Rooyens and then to go back to Coney Glen and be with Nina. The Komoeties are sad to see him go but are comforted by the fact that he will write to them and stay in touch.

When he arrives at the van Rooyens', he finds Barta looking more haggard than usual and Elias in bed, his body severely wounded and bruised. He was attacked by elephants four months ago and barely survived. When he sees Lukas, Elias becomes full of rage and can only shout insults at him. The house is in bad shape and Lukas knows he must stay around to help his parents, at least until Kristoffel comes back. As the days go by, he senses the uneasiness of Barta and knows he must question her before he leaves. He finally confronts her and asks if he is truly Lukas; she fearfully tells him that he is. He leaves later that day knowing he is Lukas van Rooyen. He heads towards the sea where he knows he can be with Nina, even if just as his sister, which is better than not at all.

Back at the sea, he is appointed by John Benn to the pilot boat because Kaliel has left. Benn orders Book to teach Lukas to properly row. Lukas puts distance between him and Nina because he has realized she is really his sister. She notices this and doesn’t understand, getting angry at Lukas for his coldness. John Benn also confronts Lukas at one point, asking him what is wrong, as his eyes “grow older every day.” Lukas says he feels nothing inside; John Benn says that means he is dead. Lukas doesn’t see Nina for four days and begins craving her, despite his efforts to resist these feelings. One day, Lukas goes out in the boat with the oarsmen to stop an intruding boat. The boat crashes into a rock and is completely wrecked. They try and fail to save all the seamen’s lives and get back to the shore where a crowd has gathered, including Nina. Nina embraces Lukas, and they stroke each other until she leaves. Later, he reflects on this moment, knowing now for certain he is not Lukas van Rooyen. He decides that he must return to the forest and confront Barta one more time.

Kaliel returns that night, sick and tired after being thrown off a ship at the Cape. Lukas tells John Benn about this and also asks for permission to go to the forest, telling him it is urgent. When he gets to Barnard’s Island, he finds Elias in seemingly better spirits. The family is having dinner and welcomes him in. Barta seems nervous and almost sickly, as if she senses what Lukas has come to ask her. Suddenly, she confesses that she took the wrong child: Benjamin Komoetie is not Lukas van Rooyen. Barta says that she thought she was sure at the magistrate’s, but upon getting home that day, she had had second thoughts but never wanted to admit it to anyone. As she is speaking, Benjamin walks out into the storm and starts to process his emotions. He feels hatred for the man in the horse cart who brought him away from the Long Kloof. As he walks through the forest, feeling chaotic and angry, he can only ask who he really is and what his name is. He goes to the census man’s house in the morning, but when he is face-to-face with him, he can’t manage to say anything and instead runs away, finding a place under a cliff to sleep.

Fiela, Selling, and Kittie gather together to write a letter to Benjamin. They are concerned because they have not received a letter from him for a while; in the last letter they received from him, Benjamin told them that Barta confirmed he was her child. In the letter, Fiela encourages him to reach out and stay hopeful even if he is down. They don’t include anything about Tollie, who was recently sentenced to prison for five years after stabbing someone. Meanwhile, Elias van Rooyen is in shock after Barta’s confession and can’t believe she kept the secret for so long. Barta decides to go tell the truth to the magistrate; Elias can only be relieved that the boy was taken from “coloured” people, or else he and his wife could have been in big trouble.

Lukas/Benjamin spends days living in a cave where there are many old bones from animals and cavemen of the past. He is dwelling on the idea of how one man changed the course of his life and how one man is capable of doing a lot. This is a power different than that of the sea or an elephant, one that can lead to either destruction or preservation. He returns to the sea; he tells John Benn that he is back to work and that he will now be known as Benjamin Komoetie. He will be helping out until Kaliel is well again; then he will be returning to the Long Kloof and “his people.” Before he gets to work, he asks to go to Miss Weatherbury’s house, implying that he is going to see Nina.


In the final few chapters of Fiela’s Child, Dalene Matthee presents a surprising resolution to the issue of Benjamin’s true identity. After years spent in the forest, he has very much become Lukas van Rooyen to the best of his ability, even though there always has persisted a lingering doubt that he truly fits into the family. But with all the hard physical work and the constant threat of Elias’ rage, there is little room for genuine self-reflection and questioning—not until Lukas/Benjamin decides to defy his father spontaneously and visit the seaside rather than going directly to Knsyna to hound Nina. There, taking in an entirely new landscape, the young man is able to have a completely new perspective of life. Although at this point he still feels the obligation to the van Rooyens, a seed has been planted that will gradually guide Benjamin to distance himself from forest life and seek out the truth of who he is.

Lukas’ time by the sea is portrayed as the pivotal catalyst for him to undergo a transformation. The symbolism of the sea in its volatility and fluidity is meant to suggest the liminal stage of life which Benjamin occupies; he is beginning to realize that he is not actually a van Rooyen, yet he doesn’t know what he actually is. Because the sea is so different from both the dense Knysna Forest and the open plains of the Kloof, Lukas finally has a space away from the influence of both of his past identities. Here, he is free to choose who he wants to be rather than settling for the role he has been given through family. This is not the only instance where Matthee uses landscape or climate to convey a certain psychological or emotional state experienced by her characters: another example is when Lukas is with Kaliel September and decides to return to the forest to confront Barta, at which point a raging thunderstorm breaks out and mirrors his own internal turmoil as he grapples for some sort of personal stability.

That women are likened to “the moods of the sea” in these pages is no coincidence, for the feminine presence in Lukas’ life proves to be instrumental for him in finding the strength and inspiration to persist through confusion. Lukas’ affectionate feelings towards Nina, as disturbing as they are for him in the moment, prompt him to reconsider the idea that he could be genetically related; as Fiela tells him, “blood would have stopped blood.” This turns out to be true as Benjamin finally gets the real story out of Barta, who admits she knew Benjamin wasn’t Lukas all along. Although a certain amount of psychological tumult ensues from the possibility that he might be in love with his own sister, we see that these feelings were the push required for Benjamin to come into more clarity. Thus Nina, like the sea, doesn’t inspire Benjamin through logical instruction as much as through her intangible beauty that stirs a certain sentiment in his heart and draws to the surface long-suppressed questions.

The theme of fate versus freedom is emphasized in the last chapters as Benjamin, having discovered that he is not actually Lukas, ponders the absurdity of how one man— the white census-taker— could have so dramatically altered the course of his life. He even tracks down this man in Knysna, but when coming face-to-face with him, he realizes that he has nothing much to say. What is done has been done, and we see Benjamin transform from a state of chaotic confusion and anger to one of quiet acceptance, eventually to an ecstatic realization that he is now free—an absence of prior identity gives him the power to define himself as he desires. His choice to return to the Komoeties doesn’t mean that he believes he is literally one of them: rather, it signifies that this is the place where he feels most at home, amongst the people who have always treated him like real family, physical differences aside. Benjamin can now make a more informed decision to live with the Komoeties and can return with greater appreciation, for he has experienced the alternative that is a home with no love.

There are many moments of dialogue and interaction where Dalene Matthee fleshes out her characters, presenting people who are wholly human in their eccentricities and vulnerabilities. There is the instance when Nina nonchalantly asks Benjamin if he would prefer to be blind or deaf, sharing her view of the matter as if it were something she often and deeply considered. Her imagination and philosophical mind shown here further establishes how she, although van Rooyen by blood, has very little in common with her family. When Benjamin brings up to Fiela that he must go back to the forest and get the truth from Barta, she is described as digging her trowel into the ground “until she felt calmer.” This action says a lot about her nature, portraying her sense of anxiety at the thought of Benjamin leaving again yet her simultaneous effort to channel that nervous energy into something practical.