December Analysis - A Silent Song and Other Stories Easy Elimu Study Guide

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December by Filemon Liyambo

About the Author

Filemon Liyambo is a Namibian writer and former newspaper columnist for the Namibian Sun Newspaper.

He has also contributed social commentary articles for the New Era Newspaper.

A qualified geologist, he is now an educator. His work was included in Erotic Africa, an anthology of short stories published by Brittle Paper in December 2018.

He is currently working on a novel.

The Title

The title "December" is appropriate for this story for several reasons.

Firstly, it is the name of the main character, September's sister.

The story follows September's visit to her in the psychiatric ward and his reflections on her condition and the past.

The story is mainly focused on the character of December and the impact that her illness has on September and his family.

Secondly, December is also a reference to the naming convention of September's family, where the children are named after the month they were conceived.

December, in particular, is significant as she was born in September, which is unusual and creates an interesting dynamic in the story.

Thirdly, December also represents the idea of change and the passing of time.

The story takes place over an unspecified period of time and covers several years, and December's illness progresses over time.

December's name is also a reminder of the passage of time and how it can change things.

Lastly, December is also a symbol of the story's themes of loss, family, and tradition.

December's illness is a loss for the family, and September's reflections on the past and the secrets that his grandfather took to the grave are also a reminder of loss.

The story also touches on the importance of family and tradition in their culture, with December's grandfather believing that she was bewitched and the naming convention of the children being a reference to tradition.

In conclusion, the title "December" is an appropriate choice for this story as it not only represents the main character but also captures the themes and motifs of the story through the symbolism of the passing of time and the ideas of loss, family, and tradition.

The Plot Summary

The story, "December," centers around the relationship between September, the narrator and protagonist, and his sister December.

December is a patient in a psychiatric ward, and September visits her after a long absence, during which he has been studying abroad.

The story explores the past and present of their family, and the impact of December's illness on September and the rest of the family.

The story starts with September visiting December in the psychiatric ward, where he is greeted with hostility from the nurse because he is late.

He soon runs into a former acquaintance, Tshuuveni, who is now a security guard at the hospital.

Tshuuveni and September catch up for a bit before Tshuuveni has to go back to work.

September then visits December, and they spend their time together catching up and reminiscing about the past.

Throughout the story, September reflects on how December's illness has affected their family and how it has changed her.

He also reflects on the past, particularly on the naming convention of his family, where the children are named after the month they were conceived.

September is particularly affected by the fact that December was born in September, which creates an interesting dynamic in the story.

The story also touches on themes of loss, family, and tradition.

December's illness is a loss for the family, and September's reflections on the past and the secrets that his grandfather took to the grave are also a reminder of loss.

The story also touches on the importance of family and tradition in their culture, with December's grandfather believing that she was bewitched and the naming convention of the children being a reference to tradition.

In the conclusion of the story, September returns home to attend his grandfather's funeral and bury him next to his father in the village graveyard.

The story also implies that September has not been able to make it to visit December again and he is left with the guilt of not being able to fulfill his promise to her.

Ezekiel Shikongo, the grandfather, who had been taking care of December, has not been able to visit her in a while and it is suggested that he has passed away.

The story ends on a melancholic note as September is left to deal with the loss of both his sister and grandfather.

Key moments in the story

  1. September’s arrival from the U.K. (p84 — 86).
  2. December’s psychiatric condition (p86 – 88).
  3. Ezekiel Shikongo’s dreams and taboos. (p85 – 90).

Characters and characterization

Characters List

  • September: The narrator and protagonist of the story, September is the brother of December and a student studying abroad. He returns home to visit his sister in the psychiatric ward and reflect on their past and the impact of her illness on their family.
  • December: September's sister and a patient in a psychiatric ward. She has been struggling with mental health issues, which have caused her to be institutionalized. She is close to September and they share a strong bond.
  • Ezekiel Shikongo: September and December's grandfather. He believes that December's illness is caused by witchcraft and is a strong believer in traditional practices and customs. He is also the one taking care of December before he passes away.
  • The Nurse: A nurse working at the psychiatric ward. She is hostile towards September when he visits December and is skeptical of his claim to be her brother.
  • Tshuuveni: A former acquaintance of September and a security guard at the psychiatric ward. He and September catch up for a bit before he has to return to work.
  • Josef: September and December's uncle, who is described as having lost his mind in his teens, and is thought to have been bewitched by Ezekiel.
  • September's sister: She is not named in the story but she is the older sister of September and December and takes care of them when they were young.
  • Security guards: Two guards who work at the psychiatric ward, they are called by the nurse when September arrives and are dismissed by Tshuuveni.

Character Traits


  • Caring: September cares deeply for his sister December, he goes to visit her in the psychiatric ward and brings her gifts, such as a jersey, a book of puzzles, and a t-shirt. He also shows concern for her well-being, asking how she is and trying to comfort her.
  • Thoughtful: September is thoughtful of December's likes and dislikes, he brings her soft chips, as she prefers them, and a navy blue t-shirt with the Union Jack, which is the same as the one his sister ripped to stem his bleeding when he was four.
  • Reflective: September reflects on the past and the impact of December's illness on their family. He is also reflective on his grandfather's and uncle's death and how it affected the family.
  • Loyal: September is loyal to his sister, he keeps his promise to bring her gifts and is there for her when she needs him. He also seems to have a strong bond with his grandfather and uncle.
  • Determined: September is determined to visit his sister, even when he is told that he is too late, and he is also determined to find a solution for her illness, even though he is not sure what it is.
  • Respectful: September is respectful of the customs and traditions upheld by his grandfather and uncle, even when he does not fully understand them.
  • Empathetic: September is empathetic towards his sister's situation, he is able to understand her plight and relate to her feelings.
  • Generous: September shows generosity towards his sister by bringing her gifts and showing her attention and care.
  • Reliable: September keeps his promise to visit his sister and is reliable in his support for her.
  • Observant: September notices the changes in the hospital and how his sister's appearance has changed, indicating his ability to pay attention to detail.
  • Patient: September is patient with his sister, despite her illness and her pleas to take her home. He does not rush to make promises he cannot keep and instead shows a sense of understanding and compassion towards her.
  • Protective: September has a protective nature towards his sister, he has a dog named Kali that he got to protect her from a man who was pursuing her when she was younger, and he is always looking out for her well-being.


  • Strong-willed: December is determined to overcome her illness and maintain a positive attitude, despite the challenges she faces.
  • Independent: December is determined to be self-reliant and not rely on others to take care of her.
  • Responsible: December takes on the responsibility of caring for her brother when they were young and is always concerned about her brother's well-being.
  • Loyal: December is loyal to her family, particularly her brother and grandfather, and is always willing to support them.
  • Caring: December shows a lot of care and concern for her brother, she is always asking about his well-being and is grateful for the gifts he brings her.
  • Resilient: December is able to bounce back from difficult situations and maintain her positive attitude despite the challenges she faces with her illness.
  • Supportive: December is supportive of her brother's decision to study abroad and is always encouraging him to follow his dreams.
  • Creative: December is creative and enjoys solving puzzles, and is able to find enjoyment in the little things in life despite her condition.
  • Generous: December is generous with her time and affection towards her brother, despite her struggles and limited visiting hours.
  • Empathetic: December is able to understand and relate to her brother's struggles and concerns, showing empathy and compassion towards him.
  • Humble: December does not let her illness define her and is humble about her condition, always focusing on the positive aspects of her life.
  • Faithful: December is faithful to her family's traditions and customs, even if she does not fully understand the reasons for them.

Ezekiel Shikongo

  • Traditional: Ezekiel holds strong beliefs in traditional customs and practices, and is resistant to change.
  • Protective: Ezekiel is protective of his granddaughter, December, and believes that she is bewitched, taking her to healers in an attempt to cure her.
  • Opinionated: Ezekiel has strong opinions and beliefs, and is not afraid to express them, even if they are not popular or accepted by others.
  • Inflexible: Ezekiel is inflexible in his thinking, and is unwilling to consider alternative explanations or solutions for December's illness.
  • Judgmental: Ezekiel judges his son, Silas, and his grandson, September, for their unconventional choices and believes that they are influenced by "idiotism".
  • Secretive: Ezekiel keeps certain information and secrets to himself, such as the reason for December's dietary restrictions, and does not share them with others.
  • Determined: Ezekiel is determined to find a cure for December's illness and will stop at nothing to achieve this goal.
  • Strong-minded: Ezekiel is a very strong-minded person, he is not easily swayed by others and sticks to his traditional beliefs even when others disagree with him.

The Nurse

  • Indifferent: The nurse is indifferent to September and his visit, she does not show any interest in him or his sister.
  • Unsympathetic: The nurse is unsympathetic towards December's condition, she does not show any compassion or concern for her well-being.
  • Rigid: The nurse is rigid in her approach, she strictly enforces the rules and regulations of the hospital, and does not make any exceptions.
  • Short-tempered: The nurse is short-tempered and easily angered, as seen when she shouted at September when he first arrived.
  • Skeptical: The nurse is skeptical of September's claim to be December's brother, she does not believe him until he provides evidence.
  • Unapproachable: The nurse is unapproachable, she does not engage in friendly conversations or show any interest in getting to know people.
  • Professional: The nurse is professional in her approach, she does her job efficiently and with a sense of duty.
  • Inflexible: The nurse is inflexible in her approach, she does not allow any deviation from the set rules and regulations of the hospital.


  • Friendly: Tshuuveni is friendly, as seen when he greets September warmly and embraces him.
  • Ambitious: Tshuuveni is ambitious, as seen in his decision to pursue a career in private security as it pays more.
  • Respectful: Tshuuveni is respectful, as seen in his interactions with September and the way he speaks about September's family.
  • Loyal: Tshuuveni is loyal, as seen in his continued friendship with September despite their past differences.
  • Amiable: Tshuuveni is amiable, as seen in the way he talks with September and fills him in on local gossip.
  • Professional: Tshuuveni is professional, as seen in the way he carries out his duties as a security officer.
  • Charismatic: Tshuuveni is charismatic, as seen in the way he commands the attention of the security guards and the nurse.
  • Understanding: Tshuuveni is understanding, as seen in the way he accepts September's reason for the late visit.


Mental health

  • The story highlights the theme of mental health and the negative impact it can have on individuals and their families.
  • December's descent into mental illness is portrayed in the story and how it affected her family and her future.
  • Consequences of superstition on mental illness
    • December, the story’s title, is also the central character’s name. The name is given to her by her father against his own father’s wishes, who calls it idiotism. Conventional or not, this naming creates confusion and distortion of facts simultaneously. (p85- 86).
    • The story itself is mixed with a patched-up plot which renders the storyline The plot is not linear. Like in most Namibian, there was indifference towards those who didn’t reside there. Sticking out was a serious crime: (p84– 90).
    • When Ezekiel Shikongo faces death and illness, anxiety, fear, and despair creep in, engendering adherence to delusions that have no logical or scientific explanation and lead to superstitious behaviours caused by a false notion of the (p84 – 90).
    • It is rooted in human ignorance and significantly affects people’s culture and health, prevents them from beginning restoration, and harms individuals and society. The mundane illogical beliefs derived from ignorance cannot be proven objectively and scientifically. Ezekiel forbids December to eat chicken due to the mishap. (p85-89).
    • The extended family of Ezekiel grapples with hereditary ill patients (Josef and December), and the old man blames their mental illness on superstitious thoughts such as “evil eye” or “dark “
    • This pandemonium is created by Silas, December’s father, to show his divergent opinion and disbelief in his father’s taboos. (p85).
    • Their disagreement, therefore, gets complicated when December is born in September and September in Then when September returns from abroad, his grandfather dies in October. (p86).
    • Ezekiel refers to the naming as ‘idiotism’, and indeed his younger brother Josef exhibits traces of the problem when he starts to lose track of time in his teens; days of the week are a blur to The fact that September is absent-minded at times complicates the matter more. (p84 – 86).
    • Ezekiel’s superstitious belief could be premised on an archaic generational and cultural illusion that other forces cause problems. (p86).
    • Josef eventually loses He is lost for a month. In his dreams, Ezekiel tells where exactly to find him but does not say what he is eating until he exits the life stage. Ezekiel’s death signifies the end of the old traditions and the beginning of civilization. (p89).
    • When September breaks the news to his grandfather that he will study abroad two and a half years earlier, Ezekiel is September had cried. “My sister…” (p88).
    • The old man reassured “I will take care of her.” “She’s been at them hospital for six months. (p88).
    • Superstition makes him believe that mental illness is caused by other forces not normal or conventional in nature. He takes her to a traditional healer, and she comes back looking skeletal as if the healer had tried starving out the voices in her (p88).
    • Ezekiel represents intensely superstitious African people who turn to indigenous treatments such as charms and witchdoctors to treat their Modern technologies have not been able to reduce their superstitious tendencies. (p88)
    • “There is no brother listed in her file,” the nurse “Only a grandfather.”
    • This is child neglect. (p88).
    • Superstitious thinking becomes harmful when it enters the health domain, affects people’s well-being, and becomes part of the family’s health The values that society believes affect the quality of life and treatment choice during illness. Ezekiel’s beliefs affect all family members. (p84 – 90).

Family dynamics

  • The story explores the dynamics of the Shikongo family, particularly the relationship between September and December, and how their father's naming convention affected them. The story also explores the relationship between September and Ezekiel, and how his grandfather's beliefs about December's illness affected her.

Tradition vs. Modernity

  • The story explores the theme of tradition vs. modernity, particularly in the context of mental health and the treatment of it.
  • Ezekiel's belief that December was bewitched reflects traditional beliefs about mental illness, while September's desire to seek help from Western medicine represents a more modern approach.

Hope / Optimism

Their life of hope begins when September arrives at the hospital from the K. December, who is at the hospital probably being discharged to start her life free of her grandfather’s superstitious interference. (p87).

Remember when September comes from Europe, he brings December a T-shirt with an imprint of the Union Jack, representing modernity or a form of enlightenment.

But still, this is confusion on ideologies: between colonialism and civilization.

The T-shirt is precisely the same as the one December had ripped up all those years before to stem September’s This implies that her ordinary life is restored by her brother’s hope and concern for her well-being. (p89).

The two reminisce their puberty days when September got himself a puppy named Kali to keep off boys who pursued December when she was Tshuuveni enquires whether September is bringing home an oshitenya from overseas, but he says he still hasn’t found the right girl. (p87).

Professional medical practice should be relied on to guarantee the quality of life, control and treatment of diseases, and complications is not a secret to anyone.

The medical fraternity should fight these superstitious thoughts to lower their adverse consequences. will bring hope. Hope is also symbolized when it rains after Ezekiel Shikongo’s burial. Then Josef is also found. (p89, 90).


  • The story touches on the theme of identity, particularly in relation to December's illness and how it affects her sense of self. It also explores how September's identity as December's brother is questioned by the nurse.


  • The story explores the theme of loss, particularly in relation to the loss of December's mental health and how it affects her family.
  • It also touches on the loss of Ezekiel and the impact it has on the family.


  • The story touches on the theme of healing and the different forms it can take. Ezekiel's belief in traditional healing methods, while September's desire to seek help from Western medicine.


  • The story explores the theme of time and how it affects the characters. December's condition which changed her life abruptly, Ezekiel's naming convention and the impact it had on his children.

Stylistic Devices


Symbolism is the use of words or images to symbolize specific concepts, people, objects, or events.

The use of the Union Jack t-shirt as a symbol of September and December's bond and shared history.


Irony is a rhetorical device and literary technique that is incredibly useful when used correctly. Simply put, irony is when something that is said or done is in contrast to reality or to what is expected.

The use of the hospital's new glass doors and reinforced window bars as a representation of the modern changes in the hospital, while at the same time the sign in front of the casualty ward is missing letters, representing the continuity of certain problems.


Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story.

Foreshadowing is useful for creating suspense, a feeling of unease, a sense of curiosity, or a mark that things may not be as they seem.

The mention of Ezekiel's belief that December's affliction was caused by witchcraft, foreshadows the revelation that December was bewitched in the end.


Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head.

Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

The use of imagery of the patchy Kaokoveld grass to describe December's hair, evokes a sense of neglect and dishevelment.


Repeating words or phrases.

(There are actually many different types of repetition like anaphora and epiphora.)

The use of the phrase "Fine" by December when September asks her how she is, is repeated several times throughout the story, highlighting her emotional distance from her current reality.


When an idea or animal is given human characteristics. “The sky weeps.”

The use of personification when describing the clock and chart for times, as having a voice and attitude, adds a sense of authority and power to the time constraints placed on September's visit.

Revision questions for December

  1. Do you think Ezekiel's beliefs had anything to do with the illness?
  2. How relevant is the title of the story, December?
  3. Does the Naming convention of Silas Shikongo affect his children?
  4. Why do you think Ezekiel refuses to tell why he forbids his granddaughter to eat chicken?
  5. Do you think Josef gets lost?
  6. What does the Union jack symbolize in the story, December?
  7. Explore and analyze the following themes in December
    • Mental illness and child neglect
    • Superstitious beliefs and taboos
    • Healthy living and eating
    • Hope / optimism
  8. What does the coming of September from Europe and the dying of Ezekiel inOctober symbolize?
  9. How is sarcasm employed in Filemon Liyambo’s December?
  10. Examine the use of irony and paradox

Essay Questions

  1. What are the consequences of superstition on mental illness. Base your answer on the short story December by  Filemon Liyambo
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