The First Vision

When all the adults and children in a compound have worked to till the earth and grow a crop of root vegetables or corn, the harvest is very precious. Not only has everyone helped to make the soil ready and plant the seeds, but also because the sun is so hot water has to be brought to the plants to help them survive the blistering sun.

But there is still more to do. The plants have to be guarded against all the birds and animals that might eat them. If the crop were unguarded and eaten there would be no food, even for the children.

To guard just such a crop as this, a group of boys aged between eight and twelve were walking from the compound to the fields. Mwanga, the old witch-doctor and story teller of his people, walked with them. One of the youngest of the boys, Dindin, who was eight and just a bit frightened to be so far away from the compound, asked Mwanga when he had first chased the birds away from the fields.

“When I was your age Dindin” Mwanga replied, “I often went with the other boys to make noises at the birds. But the first time I guarded a crop alone was when I had been alive for nine years.”

Dindin couldn’t believe he would get a lot braver in just one year. “That was very small” he said.

Mwanga looked at him and smiled. “I was a child like you Dindin. That was my first time to be left to care for the harvest alone. I was very proud. My father had walked with me to the field. My father smiled as he left me.”

“Weren’t you frightened Mwanga?” Dindin asked.

“At first I was too proud Dindin. Sometimes men guarded the field without help, and this was my first time to be a man. I knew I must try not to fall asleep as the sun grew hot. I must frighten the birds, and I must keep away the cattle that might try to eat the crop. That was what my father had said to me.”

Mwanga walked along quietly for a few moments, looking at the other boys. He was old and thin and muscular. He said, “When my father had gone I made a picture in my head of having a bigger body, and being as strong as a man. I saw myself standing tall like my father. I walked up and down the field shouting. I made so much noise nothing dared come near, not even a mouse. But I was only nine. I grew tired from being so big and I fell asleep.”

Most of the boys laughed. They banged the sticks they were carrying to whack any wandering cattle with on the ground. Only Dindin looked worried.

Mwanga watched him and carried on with his story. “But Dindin, when I slept I had a vision. It was not a dream, it was a vision. It was my first vision.”

Now the boys who had banged their sticks grew quiet. They knew that to have a vision was something to be respected. Only those who could see beyond what the eyes looked at could have a vision.

“In that vision” Mwanga said, “I was standing in the field and I was looking at the sky, watching for birds. In the sky a bird flew from the East. At first it was a long way across the sky and very small. But it came closer and closer growing bigger until it landed just outside of the field. It stood as tall as I, and its wings spread longer than my two arms.”

Dindin was searching the sky to make sure there were no such birds about. “what did the bird do Mwanga?” some of the other boys asked.

“It looked at me and asked me to let it eat. I said to it, ‘I must drive you away. I must drive you away’ and I waved my stick. ‘My father has told me I must not let any birds eat.’ But the bird wasn’t frightened of me. It held up its head and called and cried, calling a flock, a black cloud of birds. They descended upon the field and they ate. I ran into the field trying to drive them away, but there were too many.”

Dindin still looked worried. “I don’t know if I like this story yet Mwanga” he said.

“Well, Dindin, you asked me if I was frightened looking after the crop alone. When I couldn’t drive the birds away, then I was afraid. I was fearful that I was still a child and I would never become a man. And I cried like a child.

“When I did that the big bird walked toward me and spoke to me and told me to watch. Then it opened its wings and flew high till it was small in the sky again. It called to me from the height. The words it said were, ‘In the pastures when the crops grow high, you will lead your tribe. There will be a bad time. You will lead your tribe through this bad time.’ Then the bird flew to the ground again and stood before me. It said ‘Do not leave me hungry Mwanga, for I can lift your eyes high. When I am so high I can see all the earth. Do not leave me hungry.’

Then I stopped crying. I took what was left in the field in my hands and I fed that bird.”

“Why Mwanga?” The boys shouted, “Why, when it had called the birds to eat the crop?”

Mwanga stopped walking, for they were near the fields now, and the boys looked at him. “That great bird is the Bird of Vision” he told them, looking right into their eyes. When it was so high it could see when I was born and when I would die. It told me I would lead my people through bad years. Such a bird one must give honour to.”

“What happened then Mwanga?” Dindin asked.

“Then I woke, for I had seen my vision in my sleep. The crops were still good. There were no birds, and I was proud, that I was no longer a child, even though I had slept, for I had seen my first vision.”

“Will I see a vision?” Dindin said.

“Perhaps you will” Mwanga replied, as they walked into the small fields, “For you are growing into a fine man, and a vision would show you your strength.

So Dindin walked into the field with his stick feeling it was a good day.

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