THE LOST SISTER

A long time ago, there lived a young man called Wamwea and his beautiful sister Wachera. Their parents had died in the cassava famine. Their lived in an empty hut whose eaves hang forlornly with want for repair. It was haunted by hunger and need, but the sibling love between them saw them from this moon to the next.
Wamwea used to go the field to tend after their few goats. One day, when he came from the fields, his sister told him:

Two young men came here today. If you go away tomorrow they will carry me off.

Before girls get husbands get husbands to nag, they nag their brothers.

You talk nonsense my sister, Wamwea replied.
I lie not. Wachera said. Wamwea kept silent, ruminating on her sister’s words, turning them his mind.

If they carry me off I will carry a calabash full of seeds which I will drop along the way so that you can follow my trail. Women,unlike men,based on age-old intuition,plan ahead of danger.Men plan when danger looms before their nose.

That following day Wamwea brought the goats from the fields and went away to some muthunguci dance in the next ridge. When he came back home he found the homestead empty. His sister had been carried away by some young men. They had carried her to some faraway land, her young nubile breasts bobbing up and down like two lost mangoes.
Several moons passed, Wachera did not come back. Wamwea had no one to cook for him. He slaughtered goats for his food, and within no time, they were finished. It’s then that he thought of his sister.

The seeds which his sister had dropped in her trail had now grown, and were big shrubs. Wamwea followed them. He journeyed for months in jungles where the sun never seeped through and a green river flowed through the forest floor like an alligator. He got lost in a fogbank of flora, until one day when he came to some children who were fetching water by a gurgling stream. The children took him home like a long lost uncle. Their mother came and served him with little food in a potsherd since he was a stranger. They didn’t give him water to drink-so he drank down the water he used to wash his hands with. After eating he was told to sleep on the floor since there was no bed for him. But since he was tired, he soon dozed and dreamt of his lost sister Wachera.
The following day Wamwea went out with the children to chase the weaver birds from their father’s millet fields. As he threw stones at them, he sadly sang:

Fly away little bird,
As my sister Wachera flew away,
Never to come back again.

Why does he say the name Wachera?  The children wondered.
When they went home they told their mother about this. The following day she came and hid amongst the nappier grass. Then Wamwea started singing again:

Fly away little bird,
As my sister Wachera flew away,
Never to come back again.

At that moment, Wachera realized that this was Wamwea her brother. They slaughtered a goat for him, and there was a great feast and dance. Wamwea lived with his sister for some time, until he came of age and was taken to the river to become a man.

Wachera’s husbands gave him many goats and cows as bride price for her sister. Wamwea grew into a strong man, straight as a Maasai hunting spear. Soon, he fell in love with a maiden called Wacici and they got betrothed. Later, they got married and Wamwea didn’t go back home but set up his home near his sister’s Wachera.

If you go down to the village with big rock facing the river, the names Wamwea and Wacici exist to date.The song too exists in the hearts of boys and girls who sing it as they chase after lost butterflies.

 

PS

This is the last story in the these series of forgotten folktales.If you have folk story that needs to be retold,get in touch with us on njambigilbert@yahoo.com

Thanks for finding time to visit this blog.

MG

 

LEILA AND FEILA

This is a tale of tears that besemears the heart like a balladeer’s song of fears.

Leila walked down the sandy village lane past the mathenge thorn bushes to shallow wells. Her head was covered in a yellow hijab. But deep inside it was covered with a longing to see Feila her passion. She hadn’t seen him for two days-which was an eternity for her. Leila came to the giant tree under which they used to meet. Eagerly, she scanned the horizon looking for her Feila.Her heart sank as she sat down on the mat she had carried for their rendezvous.

Feila appeared from the other direction, his steps light like the evening zephyr. He carried with him a can of fragrant perfume in his hands for Leila and a token of vagrant emotions in his heart. His hair was like silvery wool, his gait was like that of the antelope.

He greeted her, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. She looked at him and saw something no one else did, even if she did not know what it was. She greeted him, trying not to look at him, as if he were the moon, yet she saw him, like the moon, even without looking.

Leila was beautiful like a water nymph. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been. Her teeth were even and whiter than camel milk. Feila was tall and lithe, camels stopped to watch him walk when passed by.

You kept me waiting. Leila started. Women will always start the best things with a nag.

I kept you hoping. Feila answered.

She smiled demurely, twirling her fingers around his, like she was binding herself to him. Feila shot her with his soft fiery eyes. He was a warrior. When the clan needed someone to follow the Oromo cattle rustlers, Feila was the boy to do so. At the age of 22, he had overseen more cattle raids than most retired herders in the village. He had this Neanderthal charm not even the sheikhs daughter could resist.

Feila was powerful and lethal. Dangerous even. When he set his sight on anything, he never let go. When his clan’s camels were taken past the Ethiopian highlands by the marauding Oromos, he led a pack of 30 boys to recover them. He never trembled at the sound of the AK47, the dreaded gun that pastoralists guarded their flocks with.

But here he was trembling before a young slim girl who pierced his heart with a gaze of a thousand passions.

They talked deep into the night. When emotions overwhelmed them and words failed, they chatted in oommphs and aaahs which only them understood. They murmured impossible promises and uttered difficult words. Like I will never leave you. Feila rested his head on Leila’s bosom. She pretended not to like it, but her actions said she liked it.

He kissed her. But kissing was forbidden.Haram.They knew they would go to hell for that, but with this realization the kisses got cloying and run over their mouths like honey outpouring from  a beehive that badly need emptying.

One kiss is like the other, but I will never tire of kissing you. Feila whispered hauntingly.

What did my lips do before they met you? Leila asked.

I will never leave your arms. Feila made another impossible promise.

Leila was the desire, and Feila was his prisoner, chained by her touch. She was an ocean; he was a sinking man lost in her waves. Deeper and deeper he sank, each wave getting warmer and sweeter than the previous, all headed to inevitable explosive spasms. A hissing of primordial soups welled up in his hips like uncorked geysers. A maternal beckoning rose up in hers like a mighty wave.

Then, when the two ontological forces were just about to rapture forth, they heard Leila’s mothers voice calling for her incessantly.

I have to….I have to go…She said, dusting sand from her billowy dress.

Promise to see me tomorrow…

Before she could finish, their mother’s sceptre appeared in the soft moonlight, shouting Leila’s name again. She made haste and left Feila, not sure she would see him again, not sure she would again lay her head on his hairy chest, her home. It seemed like they had only met for a few minutes. When two people adore one another deeply, two hours seem like two minutes. When they loathe each other, the same two hours seem like two days.Einsten called it relativity. I call it the absurdity of the human passion.

Feila, I am home. Please remember me in your salah.

Leila whispered to the evening wind hoping it will pick the words and send them to Feila. Nature at times rescues two hearts longing for each other. After she was done with milking the goats, she lay on a mat and watched the stars autograph the skies with Feila’s name. Just about the stars grouped together to write her name next to his, her mother started scolding her. Something she did all night, like she had practiced it all day.

Earlier, when Leila had gone to serve the evening meal to his father in his dash, she had noted that they were three strange men who talked in hushed tones, and stopped when she came around. A camel bedecked with rich felt and gems that glistened in the moonlight was parked by their hut. After taking supper, the strangers stealthily rode their grunting camel into the night, just like they came. Feila knew all was not well. She was low, in the way women feel things will go wrong by their hearts. Her heart was troubled;it cried all night like a siren for Feila.

The wedding was held two days later. It was sombre and sad, with Leila’s tears going down to her heart and all the capital centers of her soul. She cried all her tear wells dry, leaving no tears for future sorrows.

As she left her mother’s hut to her new forced home, she sent a hundred messages to Feila through the wind, hoping he will pick them. When things decide to go wrong, they go wrong completely. That night the wind was flowing in different direction, and thus Leila’s messages went to remote villages up-stream. Love-struck lads picked them up, the way bulls pick  pheromones of randy cows in the air, but they didn’t decipher what the messages meant.

After few days, Feila came to the tree they used to meet under. He waited for her but she never came along. He did this for several days, until his heart sighed with a thousand stinging emotions. Forest gnomes and fairies watched him as he wrote these words on the bark of the tree:

Leila,I need you more than  I need air to breathe.

The writing was in a language only the two of them could decipher. After a few days, Feila was going to the shallow wells to draw water. She read the message and answered back:

Feila, rescue me-like you rescued our thousand camels from the Oromo.

The following day, Feila knew there was a message for him written in the trees bark. He put on his best kanzu and fez. With a spring in his step and foreboding in his heart, he rushed to the tree, hoping to whet the longing in his heart with her letters scribble by Leila.When he went to tree of their secret rendezvous, it had been cut down. A gaping hole sat like heartache where the tree  used to be. Where do messages intended for a treasured one go to when they don’t reach him or her? The fighter in Feila didn’t give up. With a forlorn heart and firm stick, he wrote on the sand nearby:

A hundred times I long for you, A hundred times I cry for you.

An evil wind blew that night and erased everything from the sand. When Leila came to the place and found the tree cut,she blew some messages to Feila, but the same evil wind blew them to a herd of cows that were grazing around, making some bulls fan their ears and stomp their feet. Such is the energy of raw passion.

Then, Feila got sick. Each day he woke up with new pain, each stronger than the previous one. He developed into thin pencil of man; he couldn’t walk in an open field without a light  wind attempting to sweep him away like a dry leaf.

Leila was no better. She refused to eat, getting thin like an orphan fed grudgingly by its stepmother. Her rich husband sourced for the best doctors in the village, but with each treatment, she got worse.

Then one day, Feila’s eyes closed eternally. They buried him near the tree where they used to meet. After a short while, Leila eyes closed too, never to re-open again. Hearts go on working even when they are broken: souls go to sleep when they get broken. The imam decreed that she be buried next to Feila.

Two evergreen trees sprung up where the two were buried. When they reached the height of a teen and their barks got pimpled, their roots and tendrils and branches edged towards each other, finally embracing in a bond neither ax nor man could break. To date, the two evergreen trees stand, watered by some cosmic force, held in some eternal embrace, with birds forever singing madrigals to Leila and Feila.

 

Pssss…….

This was an experiment to retell an old love story without using the word ‘love’.

That said, do you have any forgotten folk tale that you would like to tell? Let’s talk about it.Get in touch with us at njambigilbert@yahoo.com.

Thenkyu.

 

 

CAMEL IN THE SKY

A long time ago there lived a man called Galgalo who had a humble herd of camels and goats and cows. Galgalo lived well with his neighbours and was a good husband to his two wives;Habiba and Ebla. He performed his religious duties to Allah well and was blessed with healthy children.

But Galgalo was human. Sometimes he loved his sons more than he loved his wives. Sometimes he loved his camels more than he loved his daughters. But such is the nature of men-the ebb and flow of love in man’s heart can be unpredictable like the direction of the wind.

Galgalo was good to his neighbours from his bullah or village. When their flocks died leaving them with nothing to eke out   a living from, he gave out his calves to them. When their wives had nothing to cook for their crying children, he gave a sack of bariss or rice to them. He was generous to a fault. The Somali have a saying that if people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky. This saying was Galgalo’s constant north.

One day, Galgalo’s female camels pranced about and brayed all night. They trumpeted at his neighbor’s male camel in some amorous animal gibberish, begging for some primordial proteins. It was life begging to perpetuate itself. Galgalo, acting from ancient pastoral instinct passed from father to son, realized he had to move with speed if he wanted his herd to grow.

The following morning he went to Shukri his neighbor’s duful or hut and asked him to lend him his bull camel so that it could play with his female camels. Shukri was sitting on mat, furiously brushing is ever shiny teeth. He spat heavily to the ground and coldly told Galgalo off.Next, Galgalo went to his friend Dekow-the man who owned a thousand camels and was poised to be the next kaliph.Dekow pointed a brutal finger at him and disappeared into his big herd. Dekow was known to have a tongue that could flog a camel so Galgalo let him be and went home, bats of sorrow flying ominously above his head.

By the time he went to the fifth person in his bullah,Galgalo had realized that there was a village-wide conspiracy to deny him a bull camel. He got sad, like grief had laid actual hands on him. His heart curved inwards like a dry leaf with sorrow.

Allah, what have I done to deserve this? He cried one day.

From then on he made Masjid Noor the nearest mosque his abode. All night he prayed till his knees were sore and his eyes red.When his wives brought him pasta and aleso for his super, it went cold and ants started feasting on it.He became a thin pencil of a man with ribs sticking out like those of a cow that had survived ten droughts. His wives got worried that he wasn’t eating well owing to his praying. But there is no such thing as too much of a good thing; Galgalo kept on praying.

One evening as Galgalo lay on a mat after saying his magharib prayers, there was a celestial rustle in the air, like a great force was in motion. Galgalo went on his knees and prayed earnestly, for he could feel he was in great presence. Then, a beautiful strong bull camel dropped from the sky. Its flanks were the colour of gold, its hump glowed like a minaret. Galgalo gazed and mumbled to himself, then realized this was an encounter with the supernatural.

Galgalo marveled at the golden camel, but before he could tie it, Allah spoke to him. He asked him to take good care of it.He finally asked Galgalo never to tell anyone about the source of the camel. Galgalo solemnly swore to Allah never to do so, even at the pain of death.

After a short while his camels were pregnant and they bore very strong calves which made Galgalo proud.  The beautiful calves pranced about like little animals of heaven. When they went to drink water at the shallow wells, the herdsmen stopped their throaty water songs to marvel at them. When they went back to their pens, women fetching firewood sat on logs to admire them and wonder why their husbands didn’t have such beautiful animals. To add to their beauty, Galgalo bedecked his camels with gold and silver and precious felt rugs from Persia.

Abdi Majid the itinerant griot and the poet laureate of that region even composed some poems nad water songs  for Galgalo’s camels.

Galgalo’s ranking in the village circles where the men met went up. You see, a great man needs no introduction. But Galgalo wasn’t great man-until his camels increased tenfold and gave forth very strong calves. If he was living in 21st Century, he would be on Instagram with his camel from heaven-tagging all herders to make them feel envious and getting likes from Kismayoo to Kakuma.

Whastsapp groups by then consisted of wazees meeting by the watering hole, with theone with  biggest herd of camels being the group admin.As long as human beings admire wealth,rich men will always be elevated,and poor men disrespected.Galgalo was made the group admin owing to his new-found wealth. He started wearing imported kikois and high quality open leather shoes reserved for emirs and rich sheikhs.

The Somali has a saying: aaddane eed ma waayo .Human beings are never without a fault. The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.Most men cannot keep their mouths shut after hitting it big. By and by, Galgalo started boasting about his camels with a heavenly pedigree.

Galgalo you are such a braggart! One old man told him someday.

It’s not boasting when you can back it up, Galgalo answered back.

One day, Dekow his friend borrowed his bull to mount his female camels which were on heat.

Wewe mtu hasidi! You are a bad man!

Galgalo told him.He furiously spit a gallon with disgust.Dekow recoiled into his kikoi,for he didn’t expect such an answer from him.

Ngamia ya mbinguni hawezi zaa na ngamia hio yako ya badia.

My heavenly camel cannot sire with your bush camels.Galgalo told Dekow, waving his walking stick mortally close to his chest. It is the habit of bad men to repay unkindness with unkindness.

Despite all his vanity, Mzee Galgalo was careful not to let the secret out about the source of his camels. He had made a solemn promise to Allah never to let tell anybody about the camel that fell from the sky. He even slept far away from his wives and sons, let he talked about the camel that fell from the sky in his dreams.

He avoided speaking about it even when he was alone. He feared that the haboob-the dry wind that blew from El Adow and was strong enough to knock down a strong camel might take the secret to the four corners of the world. He avoided singing about while herding lest the leaves and the barks keep the secrets and tell them to strangers.

Nothing in the world remains hidden forever. Gold or silver which has lain hidden in the bowels of the earth reveals itself on the surface one day. Sometimes the sand turns traitor and betrays the footsteps of the camel caravan, giving out not only the size of the herd but also the direction it has taken. Water eventually brings to the surface the body that has drowned. Revelation is the law of nature-the eternal preservation of a secret by a living man is a miracle we are yet to see. Galgalo was no exception to this iron rule.

Thus one day, as Galgalo sat down with wazees in a khat chewing session, he let out the secret.In one  moment of weakness, he bragged about how he once talked with Allah. He said that Allah sent him beautiful camels direct from heaven the way one sends a parcel to a friend. He even added that he had a ticket to heaven where VVIP seat was reserved for him.

In that moment, the big beautiful bull camel that Allah gave to Galgalo took to the sky. It was followed by its off springs which were now a sizeable herd. They say the best way to cure a braggart from bragging is by surgery-the amputation of the neck. But since Allah is most merciful, He didn’t do that to Galgalo.

On a clear night, the golden camel together with its off springs can be seen up in the sky, next to the moon.

POSTSCRIPT

This story was told to me by one Mohamed Kosar one breezy evening as we  sat on a mat stargazing, in small hamlet called Diff on the Kenya-Somali border.

 

 

 

HOUSEFLY STEW

Boys will always be boys-biting more from life than they can chew. In their journey towards manhood, they dare the gods and test their parents. Give a boy enough time to wander and surely he will wander; boys are born with innate longing for adventure without obligation.

Once upon a time when dawns were young, one such  boy wandered and went to visit his maternal uncle in some far of land. He was a young chap with knobkerries for knees and fans for ears. But he was a lovable one-the type that makes one want to give them a whole year supply of toys. He forded through raging rivers and went through forests teeming with animals red in tooth and claw. He stoically braved the brazing sun overhead and stinging briars at his feet. When his hunger pangs started drumming loudly in his belly like tom toms he sighted some smoke wafting from a woody grove. He was hungrier than ten donkeys but with renewed strength he rushed down the last hill for he knew he was almost there.

The boy was received well by his kin who hadn’t seen him for quite a while. As he chatted with his cousins, the lady of the house busied herself with preparing a meal for the guest. After a short while, the cloying aroma of a delicious meal wafted into the githaku-the traditional sitting bay where the boys were playing. The boy’s taste buds went into a riot-boys are almost always hungry.

Finally, the lady of the house set a meal of mukimo and housefly stew for the guest. Black slimy things that were flying  in some toilet some minutes ago were now floating on some fat and onions, ready to be eaten.Ok,by then houseflies hadn’t attained that ugly Latin taxonomy name musca domestica but they were still hideous. The boy was taken aback by this culinary serving, but since his stomach rumblings could be heard a mile away, he decided to take a small bite just to silence them. By and by, he was done with the mould of mukimo and housefly stew. Boys will always do the undoable-they can fall into a pit latrine and come out smelling or roses. He never had as much as stomach ache since boys are always led by some benevolent celestial assistants we call angels.

As the lady of the house picked her utensils, she gave the boy an evil glint with her red eyes. Her eyes were always red-they had enough blood in them that she could sell by the pint. The boy’s uncle showed him a place to sleep and pretty fast, he was in slumberland, dreaming those boyhood dreams full of big ripe mangoes and girls with even riper chests. He was sleeping with belly up since that was the only tenable sleeping position.

So what are you going to tell my in-laws about your stay here?  The boy’s uncle asked him one morning after he had stayed for there several days.

I am going to tell them that I was received very well and fed on housefly stew. The boy answered back.

His uncle got perplexed. He scratched his bushy beard that looked like thatch, his big Adam’s apple moving up and down like an animal trapped there. He got sad, like grief had laid actual hands on him.

Did you hear what the boy has said?

He asked his wife who sat across him, looking regal and resigned like an abdicated monarch. She didn’t answer back. Cuckolds always get such treatment from their wives. Which sometimes they deserve.

The following day the boy’s uncle slaughtered his prized cock for the boy. He asked his wife to make a dish fit for a muthamaki for the boy. The wife did make a good meal-though the chapatis were thin enough to read a newspaper through. The young fellow ate heartily and licked his fingers till they almost came out and burped loudly to tell the host that the meal was hearty. His uncle went to sleep a happy man.

What are you going to tell my in-laws about your stay here? He asked the boy the following morning.

I will tell them that I was received well, served with a meal of housefly stew and then a cock was slaughtered for me. The boy said without batting an eyelid.

Did you hear what the boy said?

The boy’s uncle asked his wife. Once again she didn’t answer back but sat there pursing her thick lips since rolling of eyes wasn’t in vogue then. The uncle was one of those men whose wives had sat on his chapatis before serving him. This was said to make even the wildest man a cuckold who tugged at his wives apron strings like a little boy. Later,the uncle slaughtered one of his prized bulls for the boy, but his answer didn’t change.

Every community has its hallowed animals that are reserved for the gods. Sacrificial animals which cannot be eaten by mortals even under the pain of death. The boy’s uncle had such an animal-and this was his last card up is sleave.It was an abominable thing to do. But again, it was an even more abominable thing to have one’s nephew reporting to ones in-laws that he was fed with a meal of housefly stew. All at the behest of a domineering wife. He had to kill his nephew with kindness to erase housefly stew from his mouth and mind.

The following day, the uncle hired the woman with the best culinary skills in the village. He couldn’t trust his wife any more. Some girls with the best gaps between their teeth and voices like kanyoni-ka-nja the nightingale were also hired to serenade the boys as he ate. You see, the way to any man’s heart is through the mouth and his eyes. You give a boy a feast for his mouth and his eyes and he is in heaven.

The ngoima or fattened sacrificial ram was slaughtered for the boy the following morning. The neighbors watched by the fence at this mad man who dared slaughter  a ram meant for the gods for a young boy who didnt even know the difference between a girls breast and mangoes.The things that men do to correct the mistakes of their women are sometimes hard to fathom.

Soon afer,the boy was served with the delicious meal fit for the gods. The village belles belted some forgotten serenade songs for him-mentioning him two times in every stanza. The boy ate like an army on the march, all the while eyeing the nubile girls’ titties going up and down like lost mangoes as they danced for him. You see, boys dream of strippers while men dream of a woman waiting for them at home. When he was done, he burped loudly-an indication that he had his fill. His uncle was sure that his trick had worked.

The following day, the uncle prepared the boy to leave since his wife wouldnt do it.He packed for him the fruits that were in season then. He also gave him a big cock to take home. Finally, he was given rukuri-those delicious crunchy meat pies that were preserved in honey for him to snack on in his journey home.

At the gate, the boy’s uncle confidently straightened himself, thrust his chest forward, cleared his throat and in a fatherly tone asked the boy:

What are you going to tell your parents about your stay with your good uncle?

With the pimpled insolence of a 14 year old the boy answered back:

I am going to tell them that I was served with a housefly stew, a cock was slaughtered for me, then a bull and finally a fat ram.

Uta-do?

The boy then left for home.

Bats of sorrow forlornly flew over the boy’s uncles head, threatening to build a nest there. In the kitchen the lady of the house chuckled as she did a triumphant mugithi jig.