It is quite ironic that Malidoma’s name so accurately depicts the life mission to which he so persistently tries to accomplish. Indeed, the magnificence behind Of Water and the Spirit lies in Malidoma’s approach in trying to "befriend a stranger" and educate rather than defame the Western world. The vividness and conviction to which he explains his grandfather’s life and the events in his initiation, which seem whimsical to any Westerner, definitely remind one that Malidoma’s tribe belongs to a world so remarkably different to the West. He also makes it apparent that the Westerner can only learn from his tribe, whose customs are equal in validity to that of the West.
Contrary to his own experiences with the French Jesuit missionaries’ educational methods, Malidoma invokes his audience in the first part of his story through an innocence in tone and a profoundness in concept. This statement also parallels the plight of African indigenous culture in the presence of the white man. To be more specific, Malidoma explained that the Western world seemed to attack the traditions of Africa or several countries, which the white man did not understand. Although they feared much of the white man’s culture, Africans tended to accept the non-threatening aspects of other cultures as different and even tried to incorporate ideas into their own lives. Malidoma himself went even further in this approach by being educated in both societies. In his life, he has tried to understand the motives and values of both cultures, point out the differences, and even draw out some parallels in the two. Malidoma recognizes the equality of importance of both cultures. Of Water and Spirit seems to be his way of trying to instill this same recognition to other people.
An interesting example he gave, which seems to be the epitome of his intentions in the book, are the marked differences he observed in the reactions of his village elders to the Star Trek story he showed them and the reactions of the security guards at the airport upon seeing the contents of his medicine bag. In one incident, he decided to try to carry on his medicine bag with him on the airplane, but did not want anyone to see it through the X-ray. However, the security guards dumped all his belongings on a tray and decided to cause a scene, asking him about his things and even claiming them to be "voodoo". They could not accept that something that they did not understand could not be harmful.
In contrast, he decided to bring a VCR and a television back to his tribe to show the Council Elders an episode of Star Trek. The elders accepted that what they saw must be just an episode of day to day life of another culture. The only questions that arose seemed to be insignificant, curious ones, relating to issues such as the height of Spock and the indiscretion at which light speed was used. When Malidoma tried to explain that the story was fiction, the leaders could not grasp the concept. Malidoma had to correlate the story into lies for them to understand.
Indeed, it was important for Malidoma to establish the importance of the African view of accepting the incomprehensible because much of the events he discusses in the latter part of the story concerning his grandfather and his initiation do seem farfetched. For example, one of the techniques his grandfather showed him as a young child was the upside down arrow trick, where he would shoot an arrow upside down through a miniscule hole and would fly up to eight miles to kill an animal for food. Upon his grandfather’s funeral, someone did the technique as well, and the arrow hit the ground, arose, and flew around the whole tribe. Obviously, this transcends the laws of physics. Still, the knowledge of his grandfather’s magic is important to him especially in his Western journeys, where his talismans, he believes, enables him to succeed in impossible circumstances, such as his acceptance to college.
The bulk of the second half of the story reveals some events which occurs during the initiation he had to accomplish to be welcomed back to the tribe. Much of these events also included some fanciful details, such as trees becoming women and doorways to other worlds. Indeed, one listening to the story has to incorporate much faith to believe the details as he explains them. However, Malidoma’s intent here seems not to make the audience believe what has happened to him, but to make one realize that there are many things unexplainable that can only be gained through one’s own experiences. He carefully notes that he also could not understand the purpose in the first event of tree gazing until he discovered the green female. Furthermore, he explained that not only could he not disclose much of the events in the initiation, a six week long process, but also most involved so much intensity that it would be impossible to manifest his feelings in words.
Indeed, much of Malidoma’s purpose is to allow the audience to enter temporarily the realm of his culture in order to educate any outsider, specifically the Westerner, of the importance in the preservation of his culture as well as all indigenous cultures. He accomplishes this task by trying to note the oppression he felt in a Jesuit missionary and reveal aspects of his tribal life by delving into his emotions during initiation, in a captivating story and a warm voice.