In The Shadow of the Dragon's Back
An American Girl in South Africa during the Early Years of Apartheid
by Rachel Odhner Longstaff
The book is the story of a young American girl living in South Africa during the early years of apartheid (1948-1960), the fifth of six children of a Swedenborgian minister who was sent to South Africa to establish a theological school for Africans. I hope to uncover for the reader the complex environment of my childhood and contrast it with the lives of those who were impacted by apartheid--the "shadow" in the title. It is a story of family life, experienced through the eyes of a child. There are examples of the Acts of apartheid at the end of each chapter, with news articles, interviews, and commentary that illustrate the effects of the institutionalized racism that was apartheid. I wrote my story as a series of verbal snapshots, supported by the photographs my brother Pehr took to send back to our grandparents in America.
The Dragon's Back is the name of one of the mountains in the Drakensberg region of South Africa. That mountain stands as a great barrier, but it can be conquered. Deep childhood fears of some unnamed threat are represented by home invasions, mountain wildfires, and the cry of a hyena.
After returning permanently to America as a teenager—through a confusing and sometimes painful process of discussion and observation—I was finally able to uncover those artifacts of the past that inform my place in the world today.
Banner photo by Margaret Mary Hulett