In his early years, growing up on a Dutch farm in the deep interior of the southern African Cape, Cupido Cockroach became the greatest drinker, liar, fornicator and fighter of his region. Coming under the spell of a woman, the soap-boiler Anna, and the great Dr Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp of the London Missionary Society, Cupido is then made the first Khoi or " Hottentot " missionary ordained at the Cape of Good Hope.
Received into the fold of the Church, Cupido passionately turns against all his early beliefs and is appointed as missionary in a remote and arid region in the North-western Cape. But this also marks the beginning of his decline, as the Society abandons him to his fate. One by one, the members of his congregation disappear into the desert, so that in the end, abandoned even by his wife and children, he is left to preach to the stones and thorn trees and tortoises, returning to the dream-world of his people.