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Mwanga Flies To The Moon

An MP3 audio file of the story of how Mwanga Flies to the Moon.

When the moon was very bright one night, everyone in the compound was sitting enjoying the feeling of having food inside them. They sat close to the fire because with the moon so bright the sky was clear and it was cool. When most of the babies had fallen asleep someone asked Mwanga to tell a story.

Mwanga was sitting with a coloured blanket around his shoulders, his dark face shining from the fire and the moonlight. For a while he turned his face full to the moon. Then he looked around to see if everyone was listening, and said “On a night not so long ago the moon was big like it is now, and growing bigger. I had been woken in the deep of night when all of you in the huts were asleep. Perhaps it was an animal crying in the darkness. I do not know. But as I was listening I thought I could hear the moon whispering to me, so I went out of the hut and sat as I am sitting now, near to the embers of the fire.”

He looked meaningfully at the dying fire, and catching his meaning someone threw more wood on and for a moment the sparks flew up into the night’s darkness.

“As I sat,” Mwanga continued, “I felt as if I were the only one alive in all the world. Only a buffalo coughing somewhere was my companion in the darkness. But I could hear the stars talking. Some stars cry, and some stars sing. Each of them tells a story, but on that night it was the moon who spoke to me.”

“Did it tell you a story Mwanga?” Brindy, the woman who had given birth to twins asked.

“No,” Mwanga said thoughtfully, “On that night it asked me if I had ever left the earth and flown to the moon.”

He paused to let the excited talk die down. “That is very strange!” someone called.

Mwanga nodded, and sat closer to the fire. He waved his hands to stop them talking. “I said to the moon that I had never flown to it. I told it I had never even seen the crows, or the great dark winged bird, the ibis, do such a thing. It said to me that if I lift up my mind, if I think of the moon, then I could fly to it.”

“We’ve never heard you tell this before Mwanga” several people called.

“This is because I was frightened when the moon called me to fly to it, and I didn’t want to tell you how old Mwanga had been afraid of the moon. I was afraid because even if I did get to the moon, would I ever be able to come back? Even on the highest hills I have stood upon, the moon has been no bigger or nearer. It is sister to the sun who we can never touch, even if we throw spears from the top of the mountain.”

All eyes were on him and people nodded their heads in agreement.

“I was frightened that if I went to the moon I would never see my wife or my children again. Perhaps the moon would call me so far away I would get lost in the sky, and nobody would be able to find me, nor would I be able to find my way back!”

Mwanga gave a deep sigh as he felt the sadness of being so alone. “But I flew there” he said. “Despite my fear I stood upon the Moon and darkness was in the sky. There was no light from the stars. I was alone.”

There were gasps from the villagers at the thought of being so far away from home and their kin, but no one interrupted.

“Then from far away on my right I saw a man walking to me.” Mwanga pointed across the fire as if the man were indeed walking toward him. Some dark heads even turned to look into the night. “The man had his head bowed, but as he came close he lifted up his head and looked at me. I was full of dread, knowing it was my uncle from my mother’s family, who was dead. My belly felt empty and strange. I fell on my knees thinking I must have died, and nobody had been with me.” Mwanga beat on the hard earth with his hands.

“But my uncle called for me to stand. He came closer and said to me, ‘It is not your time to die, Mwanga, even though you are old. Listen and follow me’. Then he led me across the Moon to a dark hole in the ground. In that cave was a woman I had never met before. She was not of my tribe. She lifted her head with her eyes closed. Then she opened her mouth and only sand fell from inside her.”

Mwanga wrapped his arms about himself, pulling his blanket closer. “I was so afraid my body shook. But my uncle smiled and pushed the woman’s mouth open, making me look inside. Her mouth was dry and full of sand. She was dead!”

Some of the villagers made small moans, but Mwanga continued with bright eyes. “My uncle said, ‘This is what you have been afraid of Mwanga. You have feared your mouth would be full of sand when you died.’ His words gripped my heart so hard I cried, my tears falling onto the dry sand.”

Then a great shout came out of Mwanga, a mixture of pain and much joy and wonder. It made the dogs wake and bark as if they too wanted to shout with the same great feeling. Mwanga looked around at his friends and family, his face alive with his emotion. With a slight sob in his voice he said, “My uncle made me look at him. He opened his mouth. His teeth were young. He was not dead. His mouth was not full of sand. He led me out of that hole in the ground. He said to me, ‘When you die Mwanga you will face that woman whose mouth is full of sand, but now you have seen her you will not be afraid’.”

Some of the villagers reached out to touch Mwanga, to be closer to his spirit as it spoke to them through his words. He held them with the strength of his heart.

“Then my uncle took me to a large compound, a big place with many people. I had known them all, and they had all died. Their mouths were not full of sand. In that place I was greeted and made to feel welcome. I did not feel alone.”

Then Mwanga was silent and for some time the whole village sat quietly taking into themselves what Mwanga had told them, and what he had given them of himself. Then in a very gentle voice, but one touched with triumph, Mwanga said, “In the hour we die and we are buried in the ground and our mouths fill with sand, our spirit flies away and is not lost, and is not lonely. It is met and loved by those who are our kin. This the moon showed me on the night I was alone but for the cough of the buffalo and the crying and singing stars.”

Then Brindy, the woman who had twins, started singing, quietly at first. She sang, “In the hour we die and we are buried in the ground and our mouths fill with sand, our spirit flies away and is not lost, and is not lonely.” She sang the words over and over until the others joined in, and the sound was glorious. People stood up singing, and slowly danced around the fire, letting their body express their joy as they sang the words – Our spirit flies away, and is not lost, and is not lonely.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved