By Aine Susan
Ebifeera: plural for ekifeera; a coward that is weak and timid
Oruhu: hide/skin; an animal’s skin
“Boys ought not to go to war,” Kayikuzi strayed again. He noticed himself do it this time and let out a weary sigh, raising and waving his staff. “Forgive me, son. Not so often do I interact with kin… or foe, actually. My gift binds me to conversations with time, space and matter. Often times, I see the unthinkable and witness the unspeakable; yet even after all my escapades with the forces of nature, I can’t interfere with human lives – the same lives I swore to protect from my brother’s claws.”
“The laws of nature,” He bellowed, mockingly jumping about and swinging his arms; like the monkeys in the forests. “How impertinent of the universe; who could bear the thought of having so much power, yet no way to use it?” he stroked his chin dramatically. “Oh! He’s blacking out again,” Kayikuzi lamented out loud, remembering the task his long-time friend had burdened him with.
“Save the boy! How do I save a boy who ran right into Walumbe’s web? War is no place for a boy. Today it’s over cattle – Tomorrow it will be land; then rights and freedoms. Today they wield spears; tomorrow jambias; rifles then grenades,” Katabani could hear the restless figure mutter. If not for the great stories he’d heard from Shwenkuru, he’d think Kayikuzi was crazy!
“Tell me the story. I need to know the way of the man; before I die,” those were the words he tried to say – yet all he heard wander from his lips was gibberish.
“Stories! That’s what will keep you going, isn’t it!” Kayikuzi let out a boisterous laugh. “Son, I can’t directly help you. You must help me help you. “Get up and run!” the god bent over and whispered into his ear – the first thing that made sense to him.
Suddenly, he felt himself float, and let each foot gush out before the other – a race for at least one taste of a win.
“Come to me, Musinguzi!” the sun called out to him.
“Leap higher, child. Your struggle has earned you this win,” mother earth cried.
“Not so fast, idiot!” … wait – that was a real voice – Kayikuzi? How was this possible? Just a few minutes back, he was on the verge of dea…
“Stop with all the thoughts, boy – you’re distracting me!”
“Jaja,” the boy stammered in a daze.
“I’m channeling your core energy by keeping you in this trance; isolating your physical body from the very phenomenon of pain…,” the god paused, realizing he’d left the boy in a stupor.
“In real life, you’re crawling – how do I say this nicely – dragging your pathetic overwhelmed bag of bones across the battlefield.” Still, the boy looked bewildered.
“This illusion keeps you from feeling the hopelessness that comes with the perceptions of your physical… ooh! Who am I kidding? Your feeble mind will never understand,” he waved a weary hand.
“Want to see the story yourself?” he asked the boy.
“Will I learn the way of the man?” the boy gasped.
“I don’t know. Am I your brain?” Somehow, the answer was satisfactory enough to convince Katabani to follow the god’s gesture to stand closer to him.
Before he knew it, they stood in an isolated homestead; about five huts circled what seemed to be a blunt fireplace. Some sort of family meeting ensued in the same compound, yet the group of five seemed not to notice the extra company that observed them. Maybe this was the ‘illusion’ Jaja Kayikuzi had tried to explain to him earlier.”
“Selfish prick!” Kano the second pointed at the youngest, “You would easily sell out your family for a seat on the table with the gods! He tried to disgrace us before Gulu!”
“I didn’t!” the youngest cried, rushing to stand beside his mother, who raised an arm in show of protection for the boy. “What would you have me do if you and Kano decide to be ebifeera when everyone had a chance to express themselves. ‘The strongest will survive Walumbe’s claws,’ isn’t that what you say whenever I seek your help? Well, it’s time for you to admit that your big arms are no match for my big brain!” He pounced about, mimicking the gorillas he saw before him.
“You little!” the second jumped at him, causing a scuffle, which ended with a shocking scene.
Kano the first fell at his father’s feet, wailing like a calving cow. “I have failed you, father! Punish me whichever way you see fit. I should have….” He was interrupted by his father’s warm embrace – something none of them had seen for years since their infancy.
“It’s over now, my boys. All this was a necessity for the survival of generations to come,” Kintu sighed.
The boys could clearly see the tears that overwhelmed both their parents’ eyes.
Nambi stood up and broke down in song; the best way she knew to express herself,
Walumbe, my brother, you have gotten stronger over the years;
Every day, you come up with something new
To take from me that which I love and hold dearest
You connive with the lowest creatures and impose disease
Connive with the ground and seize the growth of food
You wash down masses of land and bury my little ones
The farther we run, the faster you follow
You connive with the wind and rain and wash away the bodies which I struggle nine months to bear
You connive with beasts, to devour that very flesh
So I won’t remember the beautiful faces of my little girls
Or know the laughs of my little boys
The last one you had, you took without a fight
From now on, my children will fight you
And live long enough to have their own
So one day they’ll be strong enough
To see your own body roll and float
The same way you did to their siblings before
At this, Nambi fell on all fours, the tears too much to bear, her sons rushed to hold her – and embrace her they did. Despite the differences that tore them apart, they had two things in common; the love for their parents and the fear of Walumbe’s treacherous call.
Finally Kintu stood before them to speak, “Each of you holds something valuable, and essential to our cause. By these skills, you and your lineage shall defend our home.”
Standing before Kano the eldest, he rubbed a paste, dark as coal, between his palms;
Kairu ; master of the earth
You are quick to help, and quicker to accept your mistake.
You see the value of the gifts this land gives and strive to keep your kin’s happiness, even at the expense of your own.
Your brothers are nothing without this noble service.
Mother earth sees your kindness and sacrifice and so she is always willing to give you the same.
The seeds you plant grow into the juiciest fruit; the stems you lay swell to make us big and strong.
Only you can fight Walumbe’s advances through the earth.
Bending before Kano the second, he smeared the same paste on his legs and feet
Kahima; master of the beasts
You face all things, head on, guided by plain instinct
I’ve seen you tame wild beasts
And yield fresh milk from many
You can judge a beast’s intention as quickly as it approaches
Only you can subdue any animal Walumbe will send to take your kin.
Before Kano the youngest, father prostrated, causing the brothers’ jaws to drop in awe. “A posture you and your lineage will soon get accustomed to,” Kintu said.
Kakama; master of men
I called it manipulation before; Gulu called it wit
I’ve witnessed you get the most impossible tasks accomplished, with nothing more than a whisper
I’ve watched you calculate the most mediocre words and actions, and turn them to gold
Your brothers called it cunning; the great creator called it vision
Leadership is a crown, worn on the head; similar to the fiber your mother uses to carry the pots
From this day forth, you will embrace the responsibility
Only you can carry your kin
Reconcile the crop, the beasts and the man; for none can exist without the other
And there it was; the golden silence in which each son realized his hand in a cause so great, it would yield generations to come. Each had been set on a journey; if any one did not live up to his role, all three would fall.
Kintu smiled; “My cow wasn’t my most precious possession – this family is.” With that, he held them all in the furthest embrace his arms could allow.
Katabani could see the family fade away, leaving him with Kayikuzi in a place he could only describe as perfect. There, he saw glittering waters touched by the sun’s warmth and clearly heard the wind whistle through vines and branches.
“The way of the man, you said; powerful title for such a grim story. Your grandfather always was quite the storyteller” Kayikuzi sighed, looking serious for the first time since they’d met – a truly serene moment.
“Kintu always had his screws loose,” he laughed, spoiling the moment.
“I’ve been so selfish,” Katabani sighed solemnly, sending the god into relentless laughter.
“A few centuries from now, that will be a way of life!”
“Survival!” He laughed again, “Soon humans’ sole problem will be the pursuit of happiness!”
Katabani closed his eyes; he could feel his heavy, wounded body struggling to move forward. He found Kayikuzi quite strange – understandably so, if one considered an endless chase of one’s tyrannous brother alongside constant journies through the past, present and future. “I’m ready to go back. I can face it,” he sighed.
“Fool, you’re already out of trouble anyway. My debt with your grandfather is fully paid.”
One blink and the boy found himself lying down again, in excruciating pain as before. He tried to move again, like he knew he’d done during the illusion, but his body was too heavy, and his sight blurred.
“Hahaha!” Kayikuzi laughed; “Idiot, remember that the next time you think of running into battles you don’t understand.”
“I’m in a bush! I thought you’d take me home!” the boy struggled to yell.
“Well, the nerve… I didn’t take you anywhere, boy. All I did was channel your core energy and subdue some pain! Did you not get a thing when I said a god can’t interfe…. Oooh! Why do I even bother?!” Kayikuzi was pacing back and forth, clearly mortified. “I did my job; you are safe. The direction you took was none of my business!”
Katabani’s head felt light once again. He could feel himself slipping as his eyes closed. There was a sound – feet scuffling through the bushes.
“There’s someone here!” A woman’s voice cried out. “Oh child, you won’t survive wearing that here,” she said, stripping him of the oruhu Shwenkuru had dried and designed specially for him. She wrapped him up and yelled, “There’s a boy here! I think he’s hurt!”
“Nessi!” he murmured, reaching out as he let himself slip into the slumber he’d put off for so long.
The End…for now