Stories of a misunderstood, familiar tribe

By Maya Borom
The Tribe cover

The TribeGiramondo Publishing

Much has been made in the past couple of weeks of Muslim cultures in Australia, pointing towards their difference rather than similarities. Rhetoric that encourages an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and breeds religious and cultural intolerance and misunderstandings.

But what happens to Arab-Australian children who are born in Australia but whose parents and family have strong ties to their homeland? Are they any less Australian than those born to Anglo parents? Are they conflicted as to where they belong and do they seem themselves as part of a wider ‘Australian’ community?

In the fictional book The Tribe by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, we are offered a glimpse into the world of a young Arab-Australian who is growing up with the traditions of his family whispered in his ear and the culture of contemporary Australia at his immediate doorstep. Written from the perspective of Bani at age seven and ending at eleven, the narrative is honest in his observations of family and school life, and it’s this honesty that allows the reader to relate instantly to the themes in the book. Universal themes such as love, death and everything in between that shapes and makes families what they are.

The Tribe is divided into three chapters, each covering an important part of Bani’s family life, from his strong relationship with his grandmother, to a family wedding, and finally to something every family goes through, grief at losing a loved one. Ahmad has captured the essence of a boy on the cusp of young adulthood and opens up a world seen infrequently in Australian fiction – and in doing so invites the reader to recognise the same issues and emotions that befall families regardless of their socio-cultural or religious background.

Ahmad’s book is an interesting read, due in equal measure to the personalities of his characters as well as to the exploration of Arab-Australian culture in a fictional setting.