Man With The Dark Head
On a day when a number of people from the compound were walking to a village some miles away to sell produce at the market, the talk turned to whether the rains would come on time. The river was the flow of life to all the tribe and animals, and being drier than usual, it was something important to talk about. Without water the crops and animals would die. As Mwanga was a respected elder of the tribe they asked him if he thought the rain would be heavy. He walked along with them silently for a while, then said, “If we are a happy people, then the rains will be full. But if there is division among us, then is the time to worry about the rain.”
This seemed a mysterious answer so they asked him what he meant by it. He said, “The talk of rain reminds me of a story told me many years ago in my early years of being a father. An old woman of the tribe told it to me, and I will try to say it just as she spoke it to me, because it answers the question.”
He paused for a while to borrow a coloured scarf from one of the women, and arranged it around his chest as if he were no longer a man. Then as he started to walk again he walked as if he had carried many a child on his hip, just as old women of the tribe do. Everyone laughed, especially the children walking with them, and Mwanga laughed too. But then he looked serious and started to tell the story just as though he were the old women. Tallking like he was eanestly remembering he said, “In the autumn that came when the river was dry, there was very little food. But a little rain came in the winter and we managed to find enough food to keep the animals alive and feed the children. My belly was small then. I have never had such a small belly as in that winter.”
Mwanga made sad noises, just as women do to let out their sorrow and not hold it inside like a thorn in the foot. He said, “When the spring came we hoped for a change with the new year. The dark spirit that had stopped the rain falling was still troubling our people. Many of us were afraid and we wept. Someone thought we should move, that we had been cursed and we would all die. So spoke my own fear. It was like a shadow that crept into my hut at night and whispered that unless I ran away my baby and I would die. I know fear spoke to the hearts of many of us like a shadow at night. It told us to run away from this place.”
Mwanga knew that when the river was low, there was always some fear that if the water got lower and dried up, everybody would have to leave their homes and try to find somewhere else they could live. So the story was saying what was in the heart of each person, especially the women with children.
Now, still sounding a little like an old woman remembering her past, Mwanga spoke as if the troubles were something happening for those walking with him. He said, “In the past our tribe have been proud, and our people have been strong. We remembered this as the shadow of fear spoke to us, and the spirits of our family came close to us. They strengthened us and told us not to run like frightened dogs.”
Mwanga’s voice became wistful, and there were tears at the corner of his eyes. “But my child was two years old, my breasts were very dry, I was trying to feed my child with husks of last year’s harvest, and there was nothing to eat.”
The women in the group moaned at the thought of this. Some of them cried because this was the story of their tribe, and it felt to them like they too had lived through this dark time and feared for their baby. Brindy, the mother of twins cried loudest. How would she have fed two babies at a time like that. “What did we do not to run away Mwanga?” she asked.
Mwanga wiped his eyes with the scarf wrapped around his chest. “Let me finish the story as the woman” he said. “Then you will find out.” So returning to his role of the aged woman of the tribe he continued. “At that time when there was no water left anywhere, Nhadrach Dandra, the man with the dark head, as we called him, who lived by himself outside of the compound, asked for food and we had none. We told him this and he said if we found him a woman he would lift the curse. For when Nhadrach Dandra was living outside of the village as a youth, no woman had chosen him at the dance of choosing.”
“How could he lift the curse?” the man named Adega asked. “Did he know magic Mwanga?”
Someone else told Adega to let Mwanga finish the story.
Mwanga carried on without attempting to reply to the questions. “There was a woman Bantwa, who said she would be his wife if rain came within a week. Rain came within three days and it was heavy. Then rain came again and we were saved.”
Everybody clapped and laughed. “It rained” they cried. And Adega shouted out, “He did know magic!”
When they had quietened they asked Mwanga what happened after it had rained. He took of the scarf around his chest, to show he was no longer the old woman, and said, “Then Nhadrach Dandra and his new wife were with the tribe and he became a father. With water the woman’s breasts became full and her child lived. The tribe had food. The cattle gave milk. We, the children of those people are still here.”
Adega, still thinking about Nhadrach Dandra said, “But did the man with the dark head know magic? If not how did he know it would rain?”
“The old woman told me Nhadrach Dandra had no dream. He had no vision. He was not a man of magic. He was a boy who was left outside of the tribe until he found a wife. The woman told me the story because that is what happened. There is no other reason.”
Some of the women laughed and said, “Finding a wife strong enough to make you a father is magic enough.” And they walked on to the village market to sell their produce.