Rwandan author Gabriella Emilie Afrika moved back to Rwanda in 2015 after studying in the US for an extended period. This year she published her first novel, a children’s book Necklaces for the Headless.
The story is about Rosine Uwase, a girl born without a head who lives in Rwanda with her disapproving mother and a father who is unbothered about her handicap. There were complications during her birth and instead of coming out head first like most babies, her feet were the first to come out which was then proceeded by her chest and an abnormally long neck that surprisingly did not have a head.
Rosine was never popular at school and the other students were almost always terrified or disgusted by her. She only had one friend in school, an imaginary friend, Enrique, who was a pink giraffe who always encouraged her to do her best on assignments.
She always topped her class despite her handicap. Rosine realised she could not be loved by everyone and decided to focus on school so that someday she would be successful and show the ‘headful’ people in the world that even people with a handicap could become great too.
She could not be accepted to the prestigious boarding high schools, despite scoring the highest marks in the country. She was finally accepted into one secondary school after all the others sent her rejection letters.
Rosine began writing a book to distract her from classmates who called her names and treated her like an animal. She also started making gorgeous necklaces out of stones and dyed grass, which she sold to tourists on weekends.
These necklaces earned her a small fortune, which she used to publish Necklaces for the Headless. This book would start a “headless movement” and encouraged people who were handicapped to have confidence and focus on what they could do rather and not what they could not do.
Necklaces for the Headless is a fantasy fiction that children and adults alike in the world can relate to.
Necklaces for the Headless reviews themes of courage, love, perseverance and resilience. It addresses resilience, bullying and problems of inclusion.
It opens up discussions of how we address people with disabilities in our homes, schools and offices.
Treacher Collins Syndrome
While introducing the critical impact of bullying on individuals and families, the book succeeds in highlighting the importance of expanding the representation of disability in literature. Rosine and other characters in the story together with her immediate surroundings are illustrated in the book.
Afrika says has received a warm response from young people and adults who have experienced bullying at some point in their lives and relate to the character in the book.
She has been a hobby writer of short stories and poems to amuse herself. She had some formal training in creative writing at university and also taught creative writing at the University of Kigali.
This book took three years to finish.
Necklaces for the Headless was inspired by the writer’s love for children, recent tragic history of her country and the remarkable resilience of the people.
“Writing creates a safe space between the reality and the imaginary. I wanted to provide a story for children, families and communities with special needs in Africa where they could be able to relate with. But most importantly, introduce the discussion around mental disability, bullying, disability and stigmatisation in Africa with a great focus on Treacher Collins Syndrome. Do you know what TCS is? Exactly! No one has heard or hears about this in Africa and yet there is a large number of children born with such condition. What happens to them? Well, they are either killed, sent to an orphanage or put in isolation,” she says of her objective of writing the book.
Juggling a full-time job as Director of Marketing at University of Kigali and family commitments, Mrs Afrika is already working on a sequel.
and hopes to have more fun with the second.
as she says she has gained more understanding of the writing process in the context of publishing Necklaces for the Headless.
Gabriella Emilie Afrika is also a humanitarian and launched the first digital platform in Rwanda, BlueDragon Fly Centre, to provide a continuum of healthcare services to support those in need.