I beg you to bear with my attempts at creating the atmosphere in this chapter by using a joyous mixture of African dialects, mostly Swahili words. If the customs, food etc. have roots in the real world, the characters, on the other hand, are purely fictitious, as are their ideas and thoughts, and they are in no way representative of my own thoughts.
Hami Madi of the Uchawi tribe is on his way home after spending a few days on the savannah at the Husuni tribe. His monthly journey to the market place has been unusually successful and the merchant Kamili Balala’s sturdy horse is heavily loaded with diverse merchandises difficult or impossible to find deep in the jungle where his village is located far from Western civilization. Hami wonders what his wife will think of the unexpected gift he’s bringing home. He’s congratulating himself on his fruitful trade, smiling to himself, when a sudden explosion from above makes the otherwise steady horse startle and dance to the side.
A huge shadow chases the sun and automatically he looks up, shading his eyes. Filled with terror he sees a huge plane come crashing down. Automatically he throws himself to the ground, letting go of the lead. He covers his head but there is no way to shut out the noise of the roaring engine and the hard, cracking sound of trees breaking when the huge engine goes down, cutting the tress like they were mere toothpicks.
The heavily loaded horse neighs in fright and rears, making Hami let go of the lead. It sets off, scattering the precious goods along the way. Hami hesitates. He looks after the vanishing horse, then back again to where he can see dark smoke billow up from behind the hill. He quickly makes up his mind. He knows the horse will find its way back to the village – if it isn’t attacked by hyenas or eaten by the crocodiles lurking at the shallow ford, of course.
He will have to find a way to pay Kamili Balala the price of the horse if it dies. But right now it is more important to save human lives. With a last glance after the disappearing animal he starts sprinting the other way, back towards the crash site.
The ground looks like it has been labored by a giant plough finishing with the plane broken in two. When he gets closer he can’t see any survivors. Body parts are scattered among metal debris and destroyed luggage and he has to stop and throw up. It hurts him to leave them where they are. They deserve a funeral. But there’s no time to drag the bits and pieces away from the vicinity of the burning plane. Feeling bad about giving up looking, he realizes he has to get away if he wants to save his own life. The wings are leaking fuel and it’s only a matter of minutes or even seconds before the plane explodes.
A relatively unscathed suitcase a few yards away catches his eye and he thinks it might do no harm to keep it. The owner is probably dead anyway and won’t miss it. He’s picking it up when he suddenly hears a faint moaning. An arm is sticking out from under a heavy seat, and the bloodied fingers are curling and uncurling spasmodically.
He hesitates. He should better get away from the danger of the imminently exploding plane, but he can’t leave a person to die. Leaving the suitcase, he desperately starts pulling and pushing at the jumble covering the body, uncovering a young man. He quickly assesses the damage. A head injury and probably some broken ribs. And the mzungu’s* leg doesn’t look good.
He pulls the unconscious passenger into a sitting position and hoists him onto his shoulder. With a last, worried glance at the leaking wing, he carefully maneuvers towards the hill. The uneven ground and the debris make the progress slow. He’s already out of breath when he stops at a, what he thinks, secure distance from the plane. Should he leave the young man here and get help? There is a hospice not far from the Husuni tribe, he has seen it. But, no. It would take him several hours to reach it and, meanwhile, the mzungu would probably bleed out or get attacked by wild animals.
He is strong and well trained from hard work, but he realizes that he won’t be able to carry this heavy load very far, and certainly not all the way back to the hospice.
His own village is closer. But he knows it will be frowned upon to bring a stranger to their secluded homes. But the villagers will surely understand…
He’d better get a move on and find Kamili Balala’s lazy horse, hoping it hasn’t run very far.
He hoists his burden higher on his shoulders and staggers on, uphill. He is Ubuntu**. He hasn’t saved this young man only to let him die.
The sudden burst of the plane exploding behind him makes him lose his balance and fall headfirst onto the ground. With his ears ringing, he struggles onto his feet again, never letting go of his precious burden.
**Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to “human kindness”
He finds the horse calmly grazing on the other side of the hill, seemingly unperturbed by the explosion. Hami has never been so happy to see the stupid animal.
‘Thank the earth mother that gluttonous faraasi* only thinks about eating,’ he grumbles, not leaving the horse with his eyes. It mustn’t be spooked, the mzungu’s life depends on it.
The horse stops eating and raises its head. Chewing slowly it looks curiously at Hami’s huffing and puffing approach. When it realizes it will have to carry something again, it takes a step back and tries to turn, but the rope attached to its halter gets stuck in a thorny Acacia bush that effectively keeps it from leaving.
Heaving the sagging body over the horse’s back, Hami tugs on the rope and clicks his tongue to get moving. The sky is already darkening and sunset happens fast in this part of Africa, but this is not the right place to set up a safe camp. They are on the outskirts of lion territory, but there are other predators the smell of blood might draw. Leopards, hyenas and even jackals. But worst is the rebel militia. They come equipped with Kalashnikovs and machetes and their rage is even scarier than the wild animals. They are surely bound to come investigate the crash. They might even be there already. He must find somewhere safe where he can defend himself and the unconscious mzungu. Get a fire going and cut some thorn bushes to surround the campsite, like he has seen the Husuni tribe do with their cattle.
Thorns and fire effectively keep the wild animals at bay during the dark hours of the night, even though the wailing sound of hyenas gets awfully close, hindering Hami from getting any sleep at all. They start out again as soon as the sun colors the sky a rosy dawn, the path wet and slippery from the nightly mist. They keep to the river, crossing it on a makeshift bridge and advancing at a good pace but they don’t reach the Uchawi village before the sun is high in the sky.
Hami clicks his tongue. He waves a stick and as soon as the horse sees it, it accelerates only to gradually slow down again. They repeat the manoeuver the whole way, keeping a steady progress. But he is worried that he will unload a dead body from the horse’s back if they don’t get home soon. He pulls on the lead and for once the horse seems to waken up a little. It holds its head higher and starts walking briskly. Hami has almost to run next to it. He knows they are close. The horse knows it is almost home too, and presses on, tugging at the rope.
And there it is. They turn a sharp bend and he straightens up at the sight of the tunnel through the mountain leading to the village. The cool of the tunnel is welcome after the onslaught of humid heat but the respite doesn’t last for very long.
They emerge into the blazing sun and heat, the first huts hardly visible in the luxurious vegetation. As usual the village seems deserted during the hottest time of the day, its inhabitants sleeping away the hours when it is too warm to get any serious work done anyway. But Hami is eager to tell everyone about the plane crash so he makes his entrance into the village, loudly calling out for help.
The villagers materialize out of their huts. A little dazed at first, but soon they call out to each other, announcing his arrival. Their deception over not finding their merchandise soon changes into excitement over the unexpected visitor. The follow Hami, showering him in questions and touching the unconscious man lying limply across the horse’s back.
‘Who is it?’
‘Is he dead?’
‘Where did you find him?’
‘Where is my merchandise?’ Kamili Balala, the village’s rich merchant, blocks the path, beefy hands on fat hips. ‘Where is my merchandise?’ he repeats belligerently.
The villagers push past Hami and surround the merchant before Hami has a chance to answer the question.
‘Hami has found mzungu! A white man!’
‘Mgonjwa! Sick person!’
The women close up behind the men, ululating and talking excitedly. The high-pitched trilling effectively blocks out the greedy merchant’s protests, and filled with his own importance, Hami proudly leads the way of the cacophonous procession to the priestess Jina’s home.
The villagers are eager to participate in whatever will take place. They hold the gate open for him and he carries the injured young man in his arms, looking up at his mother who immutable stands on the high terrace flanked by her fretting grandchildren. The old woman’s mouth is set in a thin line as she frowning judges the commotion in front of her gate.
‘I found him in mwituni –the jungle. He fell from the sky in a ndege –airplane. No survivors… Please, kuhani mkuu* Jina. Heal his spirit.’
Jina doesn’t say anything. She waits for the commotion to calm down. Then she just motions with her hand for him to follow her into one of the huts built on the traditional high platforms that effectively protect the living space from flooding during the rain period.
The cacophony starts again, everyone talking at once. Speculating, worrying.
Hami is happy there are strong arms to help him carry the wounded stranger up the steep stairs, and it is a whole procession of men who troop in and take up post hovering along the walls. Jina motions them to install the young man on a bed before starting to cut lose his clothes. She clucks her tongue.
‘I am isangoma! I can heal his spirit, but not his wounds… We need my old friend Amne Mponyaji of the Husuni tribe. She is iNyanga. She knows all medicines that comes from herbs, plants and trees.’
‘But Mama, I lost everything.’ Hami accompanies his words with a desperate expression. ‘All the merchandise – everything! I’m sure Kamili Balala will not let me have his horse again because there is no money left to pay him!’
The villagers nod and murmur their approval. Everyone knows how greedy and mean the village’s richest man is. As he uses to say himself – he has not become rich handing out favors for free.
Jina moves her hands in circular movements a few inches over the mzungu’s battered and bloodied body, muttering to herself. Hami turns his back to them and addresses the villagers.
‘I shall ask you – my brothers. We are Ubuntu. We are human. This mgeni –stranger- is not the same as us, but we are Ubuntu and we must help him heal.’
The men look at each other, uncertain what to say. The excitement has changed to a more reflective mood and they are not used to get strangers to their village.
‘But he is mgeni – a stranger,’ one of them says. His words loosen the others tongues and they all want to have their saying in the matter.
‘He is not supposed to be here!’
‘He’ll bring others.’
‘Naam. It is the law. No strangers. The law.’
‘Right. The law says it is forbidden to bring someone here-’
‘-especially a mzungu!’
‘A danger to our families!’
‘And to our secret!’
‘What will happen if he finds out?’
‘He won’t. We’ll send him on his way as soon as he’s able to stand on his own legs,’ Hami tries.
‘Naam. Kumpeleka mbali – send him away!’
‘He’ll sell our secret. Our tribe is not called Uchawi* for nothing.’
‘Kusikiliza! Listen up!’ Jina says, stopping the excited chatter.
They all look to her, waiting for her to continue.
‘We all know we cannot let him leave because he might tell the world about our place… But we cannot let him die neither…’
She speaks to the group about the importance to get a healer there quickly, or the sick man will most certainly die in their village and then his spirit will come back to haunt them all. The men listen in silence, throwing scared glances at each other. They all know about the dangers of imimoya emibi – evil spirits.
Jina nods to her son. ‘Get ready, mwanangu.’ She dismisses the audience with a flick of her hand and the men quickly shuffle out, following Hami to plead his cause to Kamili Balala.
The greedy merchant has to give in to Hami’s request. The pressure of the big gathering of superstitious villagers is too important. He argues a little, but can’t lose his face refusing a common request. Everybody knows what will happen if they let the white man die. Lightning strikes, bad harvest, flood, miscarriage, the children falling ill and dying… Against his will, he agrees to offer one of his goats in sacrifice to the bloodthirsty ancestors. Jina will go through the secret rites, making sure that the ancestral spirits will listen to them and let the mzungu live.
Hami leaves soon after. He has to repeatedly use a stick on the unwilling horse to make it head out of the village again after just getting back.
While Hami is riding through the dense jungle towards the savannah and the far village of the Husuni tribe, the old priestess prepares the mzungu as best she can. She is thankful that her daughter in law stays away. She is breast feeding and it won’t do to have contact with what might be an evil spirit. She can’t keep her two elder children away, though. Chiku and her twin brother, Elewisa, hang around the hut, waiting for their grandmother to give them important chores to save the mzungu. They mostly run back and forth to the well, bringing fresh water to clean the mauled body from blood and dirt.
They aren’t allowed to cross the threshold into the dimly lit hut because of the spirits. But when Jina has to go out into the jungle to fetch a very particular root only she knows where to find, she has to trust them to keep an eye on the patient while she’s away. The two children have taken up position on the floor on each side of the door.
‘A root, you said?’
‘Yes. It is important. She will use it to capture his spirit and avoid it from leaving his body too soon.’ Chiku says, filled with importance over her knowledge.
‘What if he really is an evil spirit and has come here to do us harm? I mean, he’s awfully pale. He looks dead…’
‘Imimoya emibi? Pfft.’ Chiku flicks her hand dismissively, just like her grandmother. ‘Mzungu can’t be a spirit.’
‘Because…’ she rolls her eyes at her brother. ‘Because he’s a man. Like us.’
Elewisa frowns, his expression doubtful. ‘How can you be so sure? I think he looks like an imimoya emibi.’ When his sister doesn’t answer, he continues. ‘Because of his color, of course. Everyone knows evil spirits are ghostly pale.’
‘I think his color is more pink than ghostly white. Just like a pig’s,’ Chiku sneers.
‘And he has a demon mark.’
‘No way.’ Chiku stares at him wide-eyed.
Elewisa nods and makes a gesture towards his own hip. ‘Right here. A grinning beast.’
Chiku chews on her lip. Then she leans to her left and looks around the doorjamb at the unconscious man on the bed.
‘Uh-oh.’ Elewisa doesn’t like his sister’s expression. It usually means trouble.
She stands up.
‘Nyanya told us not to go in there.’
‘I’ll just peek a little. You’ve seen the beast. I want to see it, too.’
There is no way he to stop her when she has her mind set on something, so he gives up and follows her inside.
‘Hurry, Chiku! Nyanya will be back any minute now…’
‘But I can’t see the tattoo! The bowl is in the way.’
Chiku stands on her toes and tries to see over the bowl Jina has used to cover mzungu’s private parts before leaving, not wanting to leave him totally exposed. She reaches out to move it slightly to the side, but with a crash it falls to the floor, shattering.
Chiku gasps. Her mother will freak out over the crushed bowl. With trembling hands she starts picking up the shards from the floor.
‘I told you to be careful!’
‘Help me instead of blaming me.’
‘She’s coming!’ Elewisa quickly slips out of the room, leaving his sister behind to take the heat. After all, he had told her not to go in there…
‘What happened here?’
Chiku looks up at her grandmother. ‘He… Mzungu. He must have awakened and made it fall! I-I-I’m just picking it up again…’
She jumps to her feet and runs for the door. She escapes her grandmother’s halfhearted attempt at stopping her, but runs straight into the arms of her mother instead.
Kesi grabs her daughter’s arm and shakes it. There is both fright and anger over her daughter’s disrespectful behavior in her voice. ‘What are you doing in here? Mzungu is dangerous!’
‘How can he be dangerous? He’s almost dead!’ Chiku says, defying her mother.
‘Don’t talk back to your mama.’
‘Is it possible to get some peace and quiet here? I need to be alone and concentrate.’ Jina turns her back on her daughter in law and her grandchild. She can’t concentrate on domestic matters, too. Not when she has a spirit to contend.
With a firm grip around the disobedient girl’s arm, Kesi steers her out from the room, admonishing her rebellious daughter along the way.
‘You heard your nyanya. She needs to concentrate. Here. Take your baby brother so we can get some peace and quiet. But be back for supper. I need help pounding fufu and your baby brother has to be fed.’
Chiku is happy to get away so easily. She carries the cot on her head and walks briskly to the center of the village where the other children usually come together and play. Her twin brother is already there, goofing around playing football.
The boys in the village are carefree and unconcerned about the daily chores. They don’t have to look after smaller siblings or do boring things like fetch water or cook. They hang around the adult men learning about the ways of the world when they don’t meet up to play football. She can see her brother shouting and doing some ridiculous dance after scoring a surprise goal. Probably just luck, she thinks, he wouldn’t have scored if the others had seen him coming.
Her friends are there, too, and she quickly puts down the cot as they gather around her to hear about the mzungu. At least Bakaari stays in his cot so she can concentrate on her friends. It will be different when he starts moving around on all fours, like little Mudiwa who is exploring and tasting everything, including the corn designated for the chicken in the nearby coop. Kioni and Kizuwanda are in charge of the lively one year old, but their attention is on Chiku because of what she can tell them about the stranger.
‘But how will Hali heal mzungu’s spirit?’
‘As usual, I guess. With mystic mixtures and much, much chanting.’
‘Elewisa said you went into the room,’ Kioni says in awe. ‘Weren’t you scared?’
‘Chaki. I know how to defend myself,’ Chiku answers cockily.
She revels in being the center of attention thanks to the white stranger.
‘Did you get a good look?’
Chiku nods. ‘Yes. It was huge! Like a… a nyoka kubwa – big snake!’
‘Strange… Elewisa said it was a dog… Or a jackal…’
‘But you just said his demon mark was a snake!’
‘Oh, that. I wasn’t talking about his demon mark…’
She motions for the girls to come closer and lowers her voice.
‘I saw “it”. His man-thing…’
The girls draw in their breath. Chiku nods, and continues telling the Bawa sisters everything.
‘… and it was just like, err… you know. But pinkish!’ she concludes, leaving the two girls wide-eyed and gaping.
The sun sets on the second day. Jina is worried. She joins Chiku on the porch where the little girl has spent the whole evening scanning the entrance of the village. But there is no sight of Hami and the iNyanga – the healer.
She reaches out to caress the girl’s head, making Chiku startle.
‘I didn’t hear you coming, Nyanya. You move silently like the leopard! Do you think baba will bring help?’
Jina shrugs. ‘Mzungu –the white man- will join his ancestors tonight. I shall prepare for his passage to the other side…’
She sends a crying Chiku for fresh water at the well, and orders her daughter in law to wash the clothes of the future deceased.
‘What’s the point, Mama katika sharia*? They are totally shredded. Why not just throw him to the fisi – hyenas?’ Kesi wrings her hands despairingly. ‘We don’t even know if he’s important enough to have a funeral. No family, no money… For days on end we’ll have the whole community passing to pay their respect, and we’ll have to cook for them all! He can even be a sorcerer for what I-’
‘-you said yourself he’s nobody, so nobody will come here to offer their condolences. After what I’ve heard from Elewisa and Chiku, the villagers are more or less of the same opinion as you are. But you live in my son’s house. You are my daughter in law and I am isangoma who talks to the spirits!’ She looks sternly at Kesi. ‘Now go and wash his clothes while I finish cleaning his body three times. We mustn’t let him die before the ritual is accomplished and I’m losing precious time talking to you. It’s maybe already too late-’
She pauses dramatically for effect. Her daughter in law opens her mouth to say something but thinks better of it.
‘-and he’ll come back as a spirit because we didn’t prepare him as we should,’ Jina adds for good measure, and it works. The superstitious woman turns on her heels, fleeing the hut.
*mother in law
Warily Jina turns the unconscious young man over to cleanse his back with sacred water. She has torn out a page of the Koran and let it soak until it completely dissolved and now she is wetting Allah’s words directly into the wounds, carefully dislodging the sheet that has stuck in the blood and pus. But you can never be too sure, so she holds a sacred incotho root over the infected cuts and gashes, mumbling incantations to the spirits as well.
Elewisa scrunches up his nose at the smell emanating from the hut. This must be the smell of death. Ugh. He can’t understand how his grandmother and sister can bear with it…
He knows he is not supposed to intrude, but somehow he has to signal his grandmother that he’s got something important to say. He doesn’t dare trespass, so he clears his throat to get her attention.
‘What do you want that is important enough to disrupt the ceremony?’ Jina asks, continuing her magical administrations.
‘Nyanya! Baba has arrived and he’s not alone! He has brought someone! It must be the old iNyanga! Come and see!’
‘That is good news. Send her to me.’ Jina nods to herself. Her old friend Amne Mponyaji has heard her call for help. She has come all the way here on horseback, and right on time.
Hami reins in the exhausted horse in front of the family huts. He dismounts and helps his precious passenger down.
Jina welcomes the healer, Amne Mponyaji, heartily, and both old women vanish into the mgonjwa’s -the patient’s- hut. The iNyanga stares at the unconscious man on the bed. She approaches, looking him over without touching him.
‘Is it safe?’ she asks.
Jina nods. ‘All the rituals have been followed to the letter.’
‘And he has been unconscious the whole time? For three days?’
Jina shakes her head. ‘He woke up once, when I was performing the death ritual.’
‘Mzuri – good. He wants to live,’ iNyanga says, nodding with wisdom.
‘Naam. He was as fast as the black mamba! He reached out and took the incotho root before I had the time finish the ritual and ban his spirit.’
She doesn’t tell iNyanga about the teeth. About the feral long canines, and how mzungu’s eyes had glowed dangerously, before rolling back into his head, leaving him unconscious once again. She had quickly put the sacred root under the mattress, before resuming tending to his spirit.
‘Hmm… He’s more severely wounded than Hami told me… Imimoya emibi –evil spirits- have taken over his body. I will need strong medicine, and you must call on the amadlozi –the ancestral spirits- to help us.’
‘Will he survive?’
Amne Mponyaji ponders the question. ‘I have come a long way to heal this man. My journey shall not have been in vain. I shall try. But his recovery is in the hands of the amadlozi.’
‘We shall make a sacrifice to the ancestral spirits tomorrow. Do you think a goat will be enough to appease the spirits?’
‘I would offer a cow. Let’s not offend the amadlozi with a too frugal umsebenzi –ancestral sacrifice. And we all need bracelets soaked in the blood to protect us for when the imimoya emibi leave this body…’
Jina nods. Finally she can be of real use to both the mzungu and her family.
Elewisa is balancing on his sister’s shoulders so he can peek through the high window inside. The hut is dimly lit and filled with acrid smoke from the magical herbs burning in bowls around the bed. One of them must be placed right under the window as it keeps coming at him and he has to fight an urge to sneeze.
His grandmother, the priestess Jina, is sitting cross-legged on the floor, chewing on something and murmuring monotonously. She rocks gently back and forth, hands held out palms upwards.
His eyes water from the smoke in the incense filled room and he blinks, trying to focus.
Over by the bed, he can see the old iNyanga turning the white man over, ready to sew one of the larger cuts on his back.
‘Tell me, what are they doing?’ Chiku whispers from below, tugging at his shorts and almost making him lose his balance.
‘Tell me,’ she begs again.
‘There’s blood everywhere, and iNyanga is sticking him with needles and cutting up his wounds again. Maybe they’re trying to kill him…’
‘I think the stranger is dead. iNyanga is turning him this way and that like a piece of antelope meat and his eyes look dead to me…’
‘He can’t be dead! They wouldn’t be trying to heal him if he was!’ She lets go of his ankles and he tumbles to the ground.
‘Ouch! You didn’t have to do that…’
‘Do you realize how heavy you are? But it’s my turn now.’ She motions for him to approach.
‘Well. Dead or not, I guess we won’t get much sleep tonight with all that racket going on.’
‘Come here. Help me up so I can see.’
‘Because you’re a girl,’ he says with conviction and walks away.
Chiku stares after him. The guts! ‘If you don’t help me look through the window, I’ll tell mama!’
‘Hakuna matata! Good luck with that…’
The following morning Chiku is back in the doorway. She sits legs crossed, just like her grandmother. She has brought her favorite wooden toys and have lined them up on the floor in front of her. They could be totems that save the stranger. Hali and iNyanga have been busy the whole night. She can see iNyanga rubbing a paste of some sort into the cuts and the stranger groans with pain.
So Elewisa was wrong, mzungu is not dead. Not yet.
She watches with fascination the straight back of her chanting grandmother and straightens her own back self-consciously. Jina is chewing on something, dribbles of green saliva staining her chin.
Father of all, he who was in the very beginning – listen to your servant!
ancestral spirits – listen to your servant!
Clean out the body of this man so iNyanga can heal his flesh!
Let the herbs do their healing…
Father of all…’
‘Chiku, come. This is not a place for a little girl.’ Her mother has stopped behind her with baby Bakari in her arms.
‘Please, mama. Just a little while more.’
‘Amadlozi are thirsty for blood. I don’t want you to be around when they leave the sick body. The cassava and yams have finished cooking, I need you to come and help pounding fufu.’
‘Why can’t Elewisa pound the fufu? He’s stronger than me.’
Her mother looks at her with a stricken expression.
‘Chiku. He’s a boy. Since when does a man help with the cooking?’ With that she turns on her heels, certain her daughter will follow. Chiku hesitates. With a sigh she gathers her toys and gets on her feet, trailing after her mother to the backyard.
The day drags by, rhythmed by the usual daily chores. Chiku can hear the monotonous singing from the hut, but her mother sees to it the little girl is too busy to even approach the area. The singing doesn’t stop until late in the evening, when the children are fast asleep after another hot day. Amne Mponyaji has finished dressing all the wounds and Jina has contributed by singing non-stop to the ancestors to protect both themselves and the mzungu.
Amne dries sweat from her forehead.
‘His wounds are very deep. But if no infection sets in, he might just make it.’
They both look at the bruised and battered body.
‘What about his leg?’ Jina breaks the silence, gesturing towards the purple and blue extremity.
‘It is broken, almost crushed in places. He is lucky if he walks without a cane. If he walks at all… The longer he stays unconscious, the better… But I do worry about his head.’
‘Ndiyo – Yes. There was a lot of blood,’ Jina says thoughtfully.
‘There is always much blood when you cut the head. La. I am thinking about roho. His spirit. It might escape and not find its way back. Ever.’
Jina clicks her tongue. This is her area of expertise. ‘Roho will search. It might get into a feeble person. Like a child.’
‘Ndiyo, ndiyo. Better get some fresh incotho root and exorcise him correctly. Mimi nina njaa – I’m hungry. And after I will rest. Goodnight.’
Amne bids goodnight, leaving the old priestess in the darkness with the stranger.
‘I heard what you talked about.’
Jina swirls around at the voice of her son. ‘Mzungu is badly wounded. Are you sure he fell from the sky? Nobody can survive such a fall-’
‘-about roho. His spirit. It worries me,’ Hami continues.
‘Faulu – I have good omen – mzungu’s wounds will heal, and in time his spirit will heal too.’
‘But iNyanga is worried about his spirit.’
‘Mwanangu – my son.’ Jina looks at him the same way she did when he was a little boy and had asked an unnecessary and very stupid question. ‘Who is the expert, hmm? I am isangoma, not umthakathi, a witch. I will protect us from the evil spirits, not call for them to descend on us. There is no need for you to be worried. I will exorcise mzungu.’
‘And the hut, Mama katika sharia. You mustn’t forget the hut,’ Kesi peeps from the doorway. ‘Or it will be useless and we’ll have to burn it and-’
Jina shuts her up with a glare. ‘Ndiyo, binti katika sharia*… And the hut.’
*daughter in law
Jina starts the purge at sunrise. It is too dangerous to perform such evil matters in the dark when she can’t see what the spirits are up too. They might hide somewhere else.
She has been chewing on different roots and spitting them out in her little ceremonial bowl made out of a human skull and now she dips her special ceremonial wand into it and makes sure it is entirely covered in the greyish goo. She puts another root in her mouth and starts her incantation. First a low muttering, ‘Imimoya emibi –evil spirits– leave the body of this man so he can heal…’ which becomes more and more intense for each sentence, punctuated by her spitting on the mzungu, the walls and the floor.
Chiku is also up at sunrise. She pretexts fetching wood but hides under the hut where she can see through the floor planks what is going on. She will become isangoma when she grows up and she has to learn, hasn’t she? No one pays attention to her. Kesi is covering in the main hut with the newborn baby and her father is out in the woods with Elewisa.
Jina moves around in a frenzy and Chiku gets some spit in her eye. It burns, but she quickly dries it off without a sound. It is probably a good thing, she is now protected, just like the mzungu is. She repeats the words in her head. She’ll try them out later.
When the old priestess finally passes out from exertion Chiku realizes that she won’t see any evil spirits. She waits a moment, but disappointed, she picks up the dry branches and goes to start the fire before her mother notices the singing and screaming has stopped and starts looking for her.
When everyone is dozing off in the heat after lunch, she sneaks back to mzungu’s hut. Her grandmother’s things are cleaned and are neatly stocked on the bedside table. Reverently she picks the special wand up. It is made of bone, of human bone, just as the bowl. She pulls forward a chair and stands on it. She clears her throat.
‘I am Chiku, the most powerful isangoma in the village. I order you, Imimoya emibi, to show yourself to me – so I can destroy you!’
She doesn’t have any magical roots, but she spits on the unconscious man nevertheless. It can’t really do any harm.
‘Wake up, mzungu! Don’t be sick anymore, Chiku has chased the evil spirits from your soul!’
To Chiku’s frightful delight, the patient stirs. He forces his eyes open just a mere slit, enough to focus on the girl. She stops in midsentence and stares at him wide-eyed.
‘Who are you?’ His voice is but a miserable, raw whisper. ‘Where am I?’
She takes a step back and falls off the chair, slamming it to the floor in her haste to get away.
‘Nyanya! Mama! Kuja haraka – come quick! Mzungu is awake!’
Part II – End of Chapter 45
I would never have succeeded in locating my story in Africa if it wasn’t for
the talented world creator who made it possible!