Allison's Book Bag

Drought, Dowsing, and Africa

Posted on: April 11, 2014

Tomorrow I’ll review Parched by Melanie Crowder. Although a location is never given, the general consensus from readers seems to be that it’s set in South Africa. All the characters struggle from drought. One of the main characters, Musa, has a gift which might help them, in that he is a dowser. To enrich my understanding of this novel, I researched some of its cultural background.


Africa Access Review describes Parched as a realistic story set loosely in Africa. Crowder shares in her interview with me that she researched animals (especially ridgeback puppies), plants, and geology as part of writing Parched. This is evident in her descriptions. Dog Breed Info describes the Ridgeback, which is breed of the dog featured in Parched, as a dog bred in South Africa. It is a large, muscular hound with coat color of light wheaten to shades of red. Moreover, while ferocious as a hunter, at home it’s a gentle, calm, and obedient dog. The Ridgeback is also considered brave, intelligent, and loyal to family. This matches the depiction that Crowder makes of pack leader, Nandie, and her pups. As for plants, aloe is native to Africa, while baobab and the thorn tree can also be found in Africa.


According to Climate Education for K-12, drought can have many devastating effects on communities. The amount of devastation depends on the strength of the drought and the length of time the drought has lasted. It also tends to have greater effect on poorer communities, who may not have the ability to being in resources from other areas. Perhaps, the notable impact of drought is on water supply. Many communities have faced water restrictions, where restrictions were imposed on how often residents could water their lawns or wash their cars. In extreme drought conditions, the option for watering of even farm crops may cease to exist. At this point, there are often other negative spiraling effects such as a shortage of food, pollution of water, and shutdown of power plants. All this can lead to poor health and a strained economy. In Crowder’s novel, Parched, it also led to warfare.


Then there is dowsing, a technique wherein one attempts to locate ground water by the use of a Y or L shaped rod, which is used by Musa. The Skeptic’s Dictionary notes various theories which have been given as to why the rod might move: geologic forces such as electromagnetism, suggestions from others or from geophysical observations, or paranormal explanations. Most skeptics accept the explanation of William Carpenter (1852) that the rod moves due to involuntary motor behavior. Although there is an American Society of Dowsers, there also seems to be a consensus that there is no scientific evidence to indicate dowsing is effective. As for the use of dowsing in Africa, I couldn’t find information to substantiate the practice one way or the other. Crowder also doesn’t provide any information in her book or on her website regarding this belief in Africa.


Finally, educators may want to check out the Teacher Resource Guide. It is free to download and use.

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