‘Damn those colonialists, their pale skins and their bibles!’ Shilotu cursed.
Shilotu was a god of dreams and he’d earmarked the African region for himself. Yeah, that’s how things worked in the spiritual realm. You came into existence somehow, no one really remembered how they came to be, and as you accumulated time, you figured out how things worked. Then, if you decided you wanted some worshippers, you chose a spot on earth and a sector to god over and hoped the humans caught a whiff of you so they could start worshipping you for that particular thing. It was one of the ways the gods entertained themselves and kept themselves occupied.
Most of them were of noble intentions and basically tried to help the humans out when they had problems. Shilotu, for example, tried to project dreams that showed the humans how they could solve problems in their day to day existence or warned them about dangerous obstacles in their life’s path. Unfortunately, sleep was a very unstable state for the human brain so much of the time they forgot the dreams upon waking up. And even when they did remember, his communications were of the gods and therefore too abstract for the ordinary human so he had to rely on diviners to interpret the dreams.
There were also the not-so-well intentioned gods aka the bemoms who were always running around the heavens being mischievous and disrupting the other gods at work. These ones had been born with strong anarchic tendencies. They derived their happiness from spreading chaos among lesser beings and watching them lose their minds as they cried up to the heavens for guidance on how to overcome their tribulations. Most of the time the bemoms roamed throughout the heavens and sneaked into the unwatched stations of other gods to do their thing until the owner caught them in the act and shooed them away.
Despite the noble intentions of most of the small gods, sometimes they couldn’t help but be entertained by the side-effects of the bemoms’ work. Occasionally, they would bemusedly let the scenes play out for a while before fixing them. Thankfully, bemoms had short attention spans and were generally considered to be the occasional nuisance most gods had to deal with every once in a while. In a few isolated cases, a bemom with unusual amounts of focus would somehow manage to get dibs on a territory and the neighbouring gods would have to deal with that constant disturbance.
If, as a god, you weren’t interested in the whole goding-over-the-humans business, you also had the option of roaming around the universe, trying to learn as much as you possibly could about its vastness. The god equivalent to explorers and scholars.
Now, the European human explorers had recently decided to journey from their continents to others, including Africa, where they were corrupting Shilotu’s people with their faith. This had been happening more frequently in the recent past and it seemed that quite a number of humans from the European region were catching the explorer bug and allowing it to take hold of them as they set out on missions to go out and discover other continents.
There had been a lot of chatter in the smaller god’s circles on whether this was deliberate or purely accidental. One of the more popular explorer gods, Footlidash, had been hanging with one of the more popular human gods, Zehova, quite a bit. The popularly held misconception was that the human explorers had caught a whiff of Footlidash’s love of exploration through osmosis. However, the fact of the matter was that Zehova, in his quest to be the most powerful god, had recruited Footlidash to influence some of his worshippers to go out and seek out undiscovered lands where he could find new worshippers.
Some of the smaller gods had guessed at the reality of the matter and the implications were making them very uncomfortable. Such a thing had been last attempted in the past by Zeus and that hadn’t ended well at all. Granted, there was an unofficial hierarchy of sorts, because some gods were more popular than others due to how many subjects they had and how much dedication said subjects gave them, but any attempt to intentionally take over other god’s territories had always ended badly. Yes, some gods became so popular they had to delegate some sectors to the smaller gods and that was okay as long as everyone was consenting. But to sneakily penetrate another god’s territory, that was just uncool.
Shilotu observed as the Europeans went around convincing his Africans to abandon him and the other small African gods. He felt a godly tinge of annoyance. A godly tinge might sound like a small thing but when transmitted to a human body, it’s a very powerful emotion. The human spiritual leaders were calling it “being taken over by the spirit”. Sounded apt if you asked Shilotu.
Down on earth, Shilotu had slightly over 100 spiritual diviners who had been exposed to the right chemical balance in the womb to enable a spiritual connection with the dream sector and had grown up to follow the path of being diviners. They felt Shilotu’s anger and beat their drums to let the people in their respective villages know that something was amiss and the dream god was not happy for some reason. As is human nature, the citizens all gave the foreign man the side-eye as the possible cause of the godly annoyance since he was the only recent significant change in their communities. Interesting, thought Shilotu.
‘The thunder, the lightning and the rain, wassup Julla?’ Shilotu hollered at his fellow African-specialist small God in charge of rain.
It was a prestigious thing to be three in one, for most of the gods anyway. The three things usually represented the key features of their sector. Zehova’s thing was patriarchy and its role in society since he went by the bond, the son and the dad.
‘The drowsiness, the sleep, the dream, I’m good Shilotu. What’s good? How is the off-world?’, Julla responded.
The off-world is what the gods termed the time when the humans were sleeping. Shilotu and the other dream gods were the most influential people in the off-world because they had the most attention then. In fact, given that several gods had to compete for attention during the on-world, the gods that operated mainly in the off-world – the dream gods, the reproductive gods, the party gods and the night dancer gods – enjoyed a relatively uncluttered existence.
‘Did you observe what I just observed?’ Shilotu asked. ‘When I got a little angry and it was channelled to the diviner, his message to the people about my anger made them suspicious of the white individuals’ he continued without waiting for a response from Julla.
‘Fascinating!’ exclaimed Julla. ‘Maybe I should try the same and see what….yo, Latel from India wants to have a chat with me. Can I invite him to join our conversation?’
Several of the small gods from other continents were having the same invasion issue with Zehova and the other popular gods from Europe. There had been increased chatter between them of late on how they should handle the situation. Latel was the cow god in the Indian region, one of the most popular in that particular corner of the globe. Why he’d picked cows and how it had become so popular among the humans there was something that still puzzled many.
‘Sure, let him join.’ Shilotu replied.
‘The bull, the moo, holy cow Latel, how have you been? How are things faring your side? Yo, I just discovered a new tactic that I think we can deploy to keep Zehova at bay.’
‘All 3 of you, Shilotu, I’ve been there there. I’d come to Julla to rant about how things are but from the tone of your voice it sounds like there might be hope. Tell me more about this tactic.’ Latel responded.
‘All 3 of you’ was the term the gods used when they didn’t want to say all the titles.
Shilotu proceeded to explain to them what he had accidentally discovered and how they could use it to sabotage Zehova’s plans. They cloud-stormed for a bit and at the end of an extensive discussion, came up with a strategy to get rid of Zehova with his white colonisers and their gospel.
Over the next few days, the excitement in the small god circles increased as the plan was spread out. Shilotu and the other originators of the plan had already started implementing it with positive results. The explorers and their gospel were being banished from the villages they were visiting because they were being blamed for the anger of the gods and the resultant misfortunes they were facing. Yes, balance was being restored, Shilotu and crew smugly thought to themselves as they watched their people burn and banish the explorers away from their territories. An accidental side-effect was that the increased changing weather patterns brought about by the weather gods brought more sickness that the natives could handle, but were taking out the white men like a problem.
But behind the explorers, there was another group of colonisers that was on the way with a more focused religious mission. These were the missionaries. Because the small gods were busy implementing their strategy and gloating over their successes, they had not seen these new colonisers approaching and only became aware of them when they were in the horizon of their territories. Psssh, no problem, they thought to themselves. We shall deal with these colonisers the same way we dealt with the explorers, they figured.
And so they intensified their angry god act. They even intentionally left their stations open so the bemoms could sneak in and do more damage. Granted, the actions of the small gods were taking a toll on their humans, but they figured after they’d managed to get rid of Zehova’s colonisers, they’d give the humans an extended period of peace and prosperity as a reward for persevering while suffering like grass as the godly elephant battles ensued – especially the diviners who were spasming on a daily basis now due to all the angry communication from above. The plan was waterproof.
Only that it wasn’t effectively working against these new missionaries types. If anything, it seemed like they had started losing. To begin with, the missionaries were not getting chased away as vigorously as the explorers had been. Was it fatigue? The small gods didn’t have enough time to figure that one out because a bigger problem was arising. Some of their folks were actually switching sides and embracing the missionaries. Blasphemy! What in the heavens was going on?
Well, while they’d been busy implementing their plans and patting themselves on the back, they hadn’t realised that Zehova had brought a new partner on board: Sainse, the god of martyrdom. But what did Sainse have to do with the turn of events?
See, Sainse was a freelancer, like the demons, but his targets were more focused and most of the gods actually courted his services when they wanted to inspire more loyalty from their humans. Sainse would come in and select an individual, usually an influential one, and possess them. Said individual would then proceed to die for whatever cause the territorial small god wanted. The result was that the people, touched by the selfless acts of the human Sainse had chosen, would then take on the martyr’s cause with a renewed sense that it was one worth dying for. This was Sainse’s area of expertise.
After investigating and taking a closer look at what was happening on the ground versus what was happening in heaven, the small gods realised that they had been played. It seems that this time, Zehova had recruited Sainse to possess a huge group of people with the spirit of martyrdom. This big group of people were the missionaries. No wonder they had been so readily willing to die in the name of preaching their gospel unlike the explorers who had fought back and had been easy for the native humans to hate on. When the locals had seen how the missionaries were willing to lay down their lives, they became less reluctant to fight them. An opponent who isn’t fighting back becomes boring very fast. When the locals stopped fighting the missionaries, they started listening to them and hearing about how their god, Zehova, was a forgiving one. Given the missionaries’ peaceful way of life, which was in sharp contrast to the current violent existence of the natives, the natives that were tired of the suffering kept on going to the missionaries and converting. The small gods had been outsmarted and their winning strategy had been used against them.
As the number of natives switching sides increased, the small gods convened an assembly. It was a heated one and, after exploring and abandoning different strategies they could use to turn things around and get their followers back, they came to a conclusion. They decided that this was a lost battle, on earth anyway, and that they would have to take the fight to Zehovah in the heavens. Peace in the skies be damned, he was the one that had started this. And so they launched an offensive.
The freelancers, explorers and knowledge seekers slid out of the mix because they are not about that power play life. Instead, they used the fact that the major players were distracted to run experiments on humankind for their different skill sets. The demons were characteristically drawn to the chaos so they jumped in every once in a while to stir things up. The rest of the time they spent taking advantage of the unlimited access to the humans to sow seeds of discourse on earth as well. By the time the gods realised the futility of the war, since they were all immortal and no one was dying, the heavenly status quo had changed so much that most of them no longer had a place to rule on earth.
See, while the small gods took on Zehova, their stations were left open and the bemoms and freelancers had unlimited access to do as they pleased. As colonialism took full effect after the spread of Zehova’s religion, one bemom, Keke, and two freelancers, Sainse and Revolu, placed a wager to see whose effect would take the day. Keke, the bemom, was responsible for Race Discrimination while the freelancers brought Martyrdom and Rebellion respectively to the table. Whereas Keke dominated for a while, the combined force of Martyrdom and Rebellion eventually took the day and independence was granted to all the countries. But the damage had been done and Race Discrimination had taken root.
As the years passed with the gods not giving their humans full attention due to the battle, two freelancers, Mane (whose area of expertise is Capitalism) and Ensten (who specialises in Innovation) steadily grew in power and influence and are currently the main players. Between them, they’ve managed to make humans progress rapidly and this rapid growth in science and wealth has had the adverse effect of making the humans take religion less seriously. The godliness of Mane and Ensten is so indirect that they are worshiped by proxy through a human characteristic called ego.
There were some influential demons too and the most powerful one was riding on the success of Mane’s Capitalism to spread his vice: Corruption. In fact, there was an entire division of demons that embraced the Capitalistic way of life and established side sects where they are prospering through the success gospel. It’s a whole different environment out there now.
By the time that the small gods and Zehova’s team called a truce and went back to their sectors to figure out how to resume their old lives, the influence of the demons and the freelancers on the humans had been cemented and the humans were no longer willing to return to the old small gods. Luckily for Zehova, even though his original base in Europe was shrinking as more humans became godless, his invasion of other continents and the methodology used had left a big mark there. That’s where his new centre of power was in terms of worshiper numbers. Still, his influence has been saturated by bemoms that had adopted his model and created their own micro-worship centres.
So, here I am, Shilotu, formerly the God of Dreams and now the heavens librarian of memories, telling this summarised version of the story so that the same mistakes might be not be repeated. Our generation failed to learn from that of Zeus and with the way I see things now, I’m afraid we might be headed for another upheaval because there are too many conflicting interests and a lack of a sense of order. And if you are wondering why I’ve been narrating in the third person the entire time, it’s a god thing. Remember, we operate in mysterious ways.
This story originally appeared in Dear Nev: An Anthology of Contemporary East African Writing. Image: Youneek Studios