Buhle Ngaba (25) is a natural storyteller. “I’ve always been interested in performing and telling stories,” says the Cape Town-based actress. “But I’ve always been disheartened by the fact that none of the stories I read growing up had characters that looked or spoke like me. They didn’t reflect my day-to-day reality.”
Buhle has recently been making waves after penning a children’s book called A Girl Without a Sound. The book follows a young, voiceless girl ‘in search of her own sound’. “For all her magic and imagination, the little girl could not make a sound. No tinkle, no hum, no whisper,” writes Buhle. One night, the girl meets a winged princess and what unfolds is a magical realist journey of self-discovery rendered in simple, descriptive prose.
The book was written specifically for young girls of colour and both of the characters in the book (the young girl and the fairy) are black. According to the preface, the book was written in defiance of “the fairytales we were told as little girls… stories about white princesses with blue eyes, flowing locks of hair and an overwhelming awareness of their beauty.”
The response to the book caught Buhle off guard. When she released the book for free download last month, it amassed 2000 downloads in the first week. Her website crashed, her Facebook traffic peaked. A Girl Without a Sound broke the internet (so to speak).
To think all of this happened as a bit of a mistake.
“I initially wrote the story just to share with my aunt,” she recalls. “I just happened to take a picture of the title and uploaded it on Facebook with the hashtag #BookForBlackGirls. People started commenting, saying things like ‘I want to order ten copies’ for my nieces. That’s when I realised this was probably bigger than me. I got a team together and we shot, illustrated and edited the book over three weeks.”
Buhle now hopes to make the book more accessible. The book is currently available for free download on her website, but she understands that not everyone has access to the internet. As such, Buhle is considering making a hardcover copy. “Online’s been the easiest way to make the book available, but I still want to make sure a girl in Tokai and Khayelitsha both have the same access to the book.”
Although Buhle wrote A Girl Without a Sound as a children’s book, it could be the story of women of colour around the world.
“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 concludes.
A Girl Without A Sound is available for free download here
This story was originally published on Red Bull Amaphiko