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Site Last Update: 26 Jan, 2020

Book Review of Ostriches, Dung Beetles, and Other Spiritual Masters

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Orbis Books Edition (Maryknoll, NY USA):

Ostriches, Dung Beetles, and Other Spiritual Masters: A Book of Wisdom from the Wild
by Janice McLaughlin
Published by Orbis Books 2009, 148 pages
Price: $18.00 (USD)

Silveira House Edition (Harare, Zimbabwe):

Wisdom of the Wild
By Janice McLaughlin
Published by Silveira House 2008, 69 pages
Price: $5.00 (USD)
Order from:
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Reviewed by Oskar Wermter, S.J.


African fables present human characters in the form of animals: little Hare is physically weak, but clever and full of tricks. Elephant is huge and has enormous strength, but seems a little weak in the head.

Sister Janice McLaughlin, a well-known Maryknoll Sister associated with Africa for 40 years, loves the continent, its people and animals, trees and plants. In this little book she sums up the wisdom she has gained from and in Africa, which turned out to be her farewell gift, since she was elected to the leadership team of her religious congregation and had to leave for her native America.

Every chapter is devoted to an African animal or plant, symbol of a particular virtue (maybe life skill would be a more trendy expression). There is the humble dung beetle who stands for endurance. The dung beetle never gives up and failure never discourages it. “Zimbabweans are experts in persevering”(15). This was shown during sanctions and especially during the war of liberation to which Sister Janice refers often since she lived through it side by side with the fighters in the camps in Mozambique. Perseverance is needed once more in this present time as Zimbabweans are under pressure again, “this time from its own government”. She reminds us of the perseverance of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her “dark night of the soul” alongside Nelson Mandela’s perseverance in 27 years of imprisonment.

And she throws in some bits and pieces of her own wisdom, very apt at this very moment, “Change does not happen by accident. Improvements don’t come overnight. If we want to make a difference in the world, we must be prepared to work hard and long….like the dung beetle we must be prepared to try again and again until we succeed” (16/17).

This presentation, which contains also memories of her childhood, her years as a religious woman, missionary and development worker, is followed by short quotes from Scripture and some reflections and questions, concluding with calls for action. Her didactic approach shows her as a wonderful teacher who clearly loves her message as well as her pupils, patiently trying so many different ways to get just one simple message across.

Youth groups and Christian communities and associations of any kind should make use of this little book full of wisdom, animal and human. Though written in English, it often refers to Shona expressions and sayings, and its humour makes it very attractive. Why not read and discuss one chapter per week? You will end up as humble and self-accepting as the hippo and learn how to manage conflict just as the weaver bird does!

Sister Janice McLaughlin MM worked in Kenya in communication before she was asked in 1978 to work for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Rhodesia. After a short time she found herself in prison. After her deportation she went to work for Zimbabwean refugees in Mozambique. In recent years she was working in leadership training at Silveira House. She is the author of On the Frontline – Catholic Missions in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War, Baobab Books, 1996, 351 pages.

This review was originally published in Mukai Vukani, No. 48, May 2009.