Binti

by

Nnedi Okorafor

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Otjize Symbol Analysis

Otjize Symbol Icon

The otjize symbolizes Binti’s Himba culture and her changing relationship to it. Otjize is a traditional mixture of reddish clay, oils, and perfumes that the Himba spread over their bodies and hair. It marks them as Himba, and especially for Binti, it’s a point of pride to wear it. Because of the significance of the otjize to Binti’s identity, it’s understandably anxiety-inducing to leave the planet and the galaxy—she might not be able to find the supplies she needs to make otjize at Oomza Uni, and things become even more complicated when she and the Meduse discover that otjize can heal the Meduse’s injuries. However, as Binti shares her Earth-made otjize with the Meduse and ultimately is able to make otjize at Oomza Uni, it suggests that culture might not be as tied to a single place as Binti originally thought. Rather, it’s possible to share one’s culture with others, and it’s possible to recreate important cultural practices in a new environment.

Otjize Quotes in Binti

The Binti quotes below all refer to the symbol of Otjize. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Tom Doherty edition of Binti published in 2015.
Binti Quotes

We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otjize is red land. Here in the launch port, most were Khoush and a few other non-Himba. Here, I was an outsider; I was outside. “What was I thinking?” I whispered.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

“It smells like jasmine flowers,” she said to the woman on her left, surprised.

“No shit?” one woman said. “I hear it smells like shit because it is shit.”

“No, definitely jasmine flowers. It is thick like shit, though.”

“Is her hair even real?” another woman asked the woman rubbing her fingers.

“I don’t know.”

“These ‘dirt bathers’ are a filthy people,” the first woman muttered.

I just turned back around, my shoulders hunched. My mother had counseled me to be quiet around Khoush.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Binti’s Mother
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

“I couldn’t help it,” he said, his fingertips reddish with my otjize.

“You can’t control yourself?” I snapped.

“You have exactly twenty-one,” he said. “And they’re braided in tessellating triangles. Is it some sort of code?”

I wanted to tell him that there was a code, that the pattern spoke my family’s bloodline, culture, and history. That my father had designed the code and my mother and aunties had shown me how to braid it into my hair.

Related Characters: Heru (speaker), Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

When I’d sit in the desert, alone, listening to the wind, I would see and feel the numbers the way I did when I was deep in my work in my father’s shop. And those numbers added up to the sum of my destiny.

So in secret, I filled out and uploaded the acceptance forms. The desert was the perfect place for privacy when they contacted my astrolabe for university interviews.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Binti’s Father
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

I couldn’t give all my otjize to this Meduse; this was my culture.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Okwu
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

But above all this, outside of the horror of what we’d done, we all felt an awesome glorious...shock. Our hair hung in thick clumps, black in the moonlight. Our skin glistened, dark brown. Glistened. And there had been a breeze that night and it felt amazing on our exposed skin.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Several of the human professors looked at each other and chuckled. One of the large insectile people clicked its mandibles. I frowned, flaring my nostrils. It was the first time I’d received treatment similar to the way my people were treated on Earth by the Khoush. In a way, this set me at ease. People were people, everywhere. These professors were just like anyone else.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), Haras, The Chief, Okwu
Related Symbols: Otjize
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

“That is true, but what about your home? Will you ever return?”

“Of course,” I said. “Eventually, I will visit and...”

“I have studied your people,” she said. “They don’t like outsiders.”

“I’m not an outsider,” I said, with a twinge of irritation. “I am...” And that’s when it caught my eye.

Related Characters: Okpala (speaker), Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize, Okuoko
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

I’ll never forget the way the chief’s body went from blue to clear the moment the stinger became a part of it again. Only a blue line remained at the point of demarcation where it had reattached—a scar that would always remind it of what human beings of Oomza Uni had done to it for the sake of research and academics.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker), The Chief
Related Symbols: Okuoko, Otjize
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

I pulled my hand away and took a deep breath. If I couldn’t make otjize here, then I’d have to...change. I touched one of my tentacle-like locks and felt a painful pressure in my chest as my mind tried to take me to a place I wasn’t ready to go. I plunged my two fingers into my new concoction...and scooped it up. I spread it on my flesh. Then I wept.

Related Characters: Binti (speaker)
Related Symbols: Otjize, Okuoko
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
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Otjize Symbol Timeline in Binti

The timeline below shows where the symbol Otjize appears in Binti. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Binti
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...could keep it from working. It shivers, buzzes, and lifts Binti’s baggage. Smiling, Binti wipes otjize off her forehead, touches her finger to the sand, and whispers “thank you.” Now, she... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...family has thick hair, Binti’s is especially thick. Before leaving, she rolled her braids with otjize, a special scented clay. Now, she wonders how she looks to these people who don’t... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...the Himba don’t leave their ancestral land. This is why they cover their bodies in otjize, which is made from the clay of their land. Moving away from the homeland makes... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...moves fast through the crowd. She considers finding a restroom so she can apply more otjize, but instead she keeps moving. Most people in the crowd are dressed like the Khoush,... (full context)
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...she notices that everyone else behind the woman is staring. The woman frowns at her otjize-covered fingers and remarks to the woman next to her, surprised, that it smells like jasmine... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...clay” and wearing heavy anklets. He forces her to explain that the Himba use the otjize as skincare and wear the anklets to protect from snakebites. He pauses for a moment... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Binti sits at the window and rolls otjize into her braids. The otjize smells like home and Binti thinks she never should’ve left.... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...of the door. Trying to focus on the leaves and the comforting weight of her otjize-covered hair instead of the danger on the other side of the door, Binti stands her... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...desert. Then, the Meduse stops, inches from Binti, and a withered pink tentacle brushes Binti’s otjize-covered arm. It feels soft and smooth. Binti stares, fixated on the Meduse’s stinger, which is... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...to know what’s on Binti’s skin. Binti snaps that she’s the only human who wears otjize because she’s the only non-Khoush on the ship. Eventually, Binti explains that her people live... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...later, Okwu returns. Binti checks to see that she was right—the tentacle that touched her otjize isn’t as damaged now—and Okwu demands more otjize. Panicking, Binti insists she doesn’t have any.... (full context)
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
Okwu doesn’t move. Binti asks if the otjize helped its tentacle, but Okwu blows an irritated breath and leaves. It returns a few... (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
...out that the chief hates humans, but Binti offers to hand over her jar of otjize. She suggests it might help the Meduse sting harder, but Okwu says that they don’t... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Binti smells home—specifically, she smells the place where she digs up clay to make otjize. She opens her eyes and finds herself in her room, naked except for her skirt... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
...and notices that Okwu’s damaged okuoko is now healed. Okwu explains that they used more otjize to heal their sick and that they’ll always remember the Himba. Okwu sounds less and... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...she’s going to say. Binti wears her best shirt and wrapper, and she refreshed her otjize before leaving the ship. As she rolled otjize into her thick braids, she noticed her... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
...to the lake with some other girls at night and they all scrubbed off their otjize. Then, they stared at one another, horrified. If anyone were to see them, they’d be... (full context)
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...they save it for drinking. Instead of bathing with water, they cover their bodies with otjize. Several human professors chuckle, as does an insect professor, and Binti frowns. In a way,... (full context)
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...cry. She shares every detail of her time on the ship and insists that her otjize saved her. She talks about how honorable, focused, and willing to listen the Meduse are.... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
...the name of research. Then, Binti took the chief’s stinger in her lap and smeared otjize on the blue scar. When she wiped it away a minute later, the scar was... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Weeks later, once Binti starts classes and people stop pestering her, Binti runs out of otjize. She tracks down a similar oil in the market, but she struggles to find clay.... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
When it’s dark, Binti grabs her container of fresh otjize. As she prepares to dig her fingers in, she wonders if her fingers will glide... (full context)
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
Fear and Prejudice vs. Curiosity Theme Icon
...suffered a burn during an experiment. Binti and Okwu pause. Binti thinks that while the otjize felt normal earlier, this is the real test of its purity. She takes otjize from... (full context)
Identity, Home, and Travel Theme Icon
Science, Humanity, and the Ethics of Research Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Belonging Theme Icon
...hurt, but Okwu laughs. It says that they’re friends whether or not Binti has healing otjize. It makes an okuoko vibrate and Binti feels the vibration in one of hers. Binti... (full context)