A bevy of dancers known as Ishiololo belted out, song after song, and left the audience in a trance craving for more. In line with the theme of the day, they mimicked drawing battle lines, unsheathed wooden swords and sang war songs to the crowd that had thronged the local stadium, which had seen many bulls lock horns.
This was Chemasisi, the village known more for non-performance than achievement. It was sandwiched between Ukololo hills, the home of the great god of thunder Umeme, and the habitation of Eshakala, the great god of wrath. It was well served with the great river Olmoloti, which served as the lifeline to the people: water to drink, bathing, swimming and watering points for the animals.
Chemasisi was also a battlefield and the river Olmoloti was a bone of contention between the two antagonistic gods, Umeme and Eshakala. Thunder always struck and wrath would follow in their battle for supremacy. Even the people at times would go for one another’s jugulars.
This village had seen and heard it all with bashings from the forces of Mother Nature that were orchestrated by these gods. Famine was as common as day and night. Men killing one another at the slightest of provocations was the order of the day and warriors from the hills would intermittently raid the village leaving the inhabitants maimed and bereft of their goods.
Therefore, to have a day like this was a godsend. In terms of attendance and enthusiasm, it had surpassed the day of harvest called Omuzala. During Omuzala everybody would bring a portion of their harvest for a blessing by the gods. They would also exchange gifts and send portions to the less privileged. It came once a year and was the talk of the village for the rest of the year.
But on this day, the sea of humanity had started streaming to the stadium as early as eight in the morning. What was all the fuss about that even made the rhinos grunt in the Ukololo hills? The jinx of failure had been broken by a mere mortal, which left the antagonistic gods puzzled and dazed. Indimuli, the son of Shimatuli, had beaten the white men at their own game. Today was his homecoming.
His going abroad was not by design but by divine intervention. It was during the wee hours in Kenya while the colonial administrator Mr. Wigsworth was driving to his office that he saw a moving shadow. He had heard about the ghosts that would whip people and behead anybody who defied their demands. But looking keenly he saw a boy running to school, which was twenty kilometres away. Being as inquisitive as the mother of our Lord, he questioned Indimuli who was as bold as a lion. He had a high command of the English language, which left Wigsworth looking like a rookie in his own game. Indimuli excelled in school and then was granted a scholarship to Oxford.
Today was the celebration of the only son to have beaten the demons of failure that had tattooed Chemasisi with the marks of backwardness.
He was not like Omnyololo, the son of Imo, who had started off as a warrior fifty years ago. In the battle of the ridges, Omnyololo had beaten the opposition and took off with herds of cattle at wind-assisted speed to the delight of the Chemasisi fraternity. He had proved beyond any doubt that champions are not made in the ring but are revealed in the ring. But Omnyololo couldn’t read the signs of the times. For the umpteenth time, he had drunk himself silly on the day when the warriors from Umololo hills descended on Chemasisi like a swarm of bees.
They looted the nearly empty mud huts, smashed the treasured gourds to smithereens and left an untold trail of destruction in their wake. Omnyololo, who smelled like a drinking orgy, met face to face with these marauding warriors who beat him senseless and reduced him to a pulp. He succumbed to death after two hours of unrelenting agony and his kinsmen threw him to the hyenas for burial. His kinsmen could not forgive him for having turned from a victor to a villain overnight. In their wildest dreams, they couldn’t have envisaged a scenario where a warrior could die like a chicken. Hence, Omnyololo’s name degenerated into a by-word and a proverb. From then on it was disaster after disaster, crisis after crisis that left Chemasisi without a pillar to stand on. But today the sun shone bright on Chemasisi. Sitting on the makeshift dais were the elders of the burning spear, Mr. Wigsworth the administrator, Chief Amukele, together with many other dignitaries, and of course the “golden boy” Indimuli. He sat between Mr. Wigsworth and the Chief. The rest of the villagers sat on the green grass.
There was porridge in large gourds, yams and sweet potatoes for everyone, along with the local brew that Mr. Wigsworth had termed illicit for having reduced men to non-starters and whose long list of casualties included Omnyololo. But on this occasion, it had been allowed to spice up the fete.
The euphoria reached fever pitch when Abunami took to the dais. He had been unanimously chosen by the council of elders as the first speaker and master of ceremony on this day. He was a tall burly man with a heavily wrinkled face that reminded one of the Indian Ocean waves during the high tide. His hands had been tattooed to wade off the demons of catastrophe. On this day he wore khaki shorts, a green shirt, a black pair of shoes with the socks reaching his kneecaps, and an old dark leather jacket. From the looks of things he was the best dressed man in this part of Africa. Compared to his village mates, he was a king, and an orator of his own class. He was also a man of witty inventions for he was famed as the man who had started both the bull and the cock fights for leisure.
His voice roared through the air like a major commanding a platoon without the benefit of a microphone.
“Uwelele! Men of our land!”
“Uwelele! Abunami the great orator!” was the reply from the multitude that cascaded into the hills. “Uwelele” was the greeting of the great Umulunya tribe. In a raised and smooth voice he recited the following poem in praise of Indimuli’s heroics while castigating and finally condemning Omnyololo to the dustbin of history:
The noble son of Ikolomani – Omnyololo.
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down,
And only when Indimuli son of the living legend shimatuli,
The warrior of our era beat the gods and mortal men at it.
This recitation by the old man stimulated the minds and nerves of the young and old alike. Then Mr. Wigsworth, who was well versed in the local dialect having lived here for over thirty years, gave a chronology of the achievements of this young man to the delight of the people.
“Indimuli,” Abunami continued, “You are our hero and at such a tender age. We are proud of you, our son. You took that monster Chienu that had teamed up with Eshakala and Umeme the gods of wrath and thunder,-that caused havoc to Chemasisi, and you grabbed them by the horns and wrestled them to the ground. You are a lawyer, a judge and our adjudicator from now onwards. Much hangs on your shoulders.”
All this time Indimuli was in dreamland. The talk of the province made his fame-spread like a bush fire. They had given him a standing ovation and coupled it with accolades, which ranged from small tokens to a champion black bull that had won the previous edition of the bullfights. He was so overwhelmed by this gesture that it looked to him like the cowboy films he had watched while in England.
Girls of marriageable age kept winking and peeping at him in hope of getting his attention. After eight hours of this exhilarating display, the celebration came to an end with Indimuli accompanying Mr. Wigsworth to-dinner- at his house.
Amulembe, a silent observer of the celebration, was the grandson of Omnyololo. He would scale the hills and run down valleys in the deep of the night to cast a spell on anyone who overshadowed his grandfather Omnyololo in achievement. His despair led him to tantrums and drinking. Due to his violent fits he was considered a nonentity and a burden to Chemasisi. The people shunned him like a plague. He had mastered his dark art and whomsoever he targeted could never finish the race of life.
The success of Indimuli put a black mark in his brain and particularly Omnyololo’s failure that was brought out so vividly by Abunami during the celebrations. He was not going to take it lying down like an antelope. Fired up with a hunger for revenge, he rushed home, took his dark craft’s paraphernalia, and climbed the Umololo hills. When he had identified a Mgoko tree he removed a rope from his bag and tied it around the tree. He wrapped the rope around the tree seven times enchanting and divining. He pegged Indimuli’s destiny to the tree declaring the beginning of the end to Indimuli’s shining star.
For two hours he raved and feigned madness and unleashed curses on Indimuli, which left the gods in awe. By the time he returned home it was three in the morning.
Having qualified as a lawyer, the sky was not the limit but the degree of Indimuli’s desires. He was going to be a big name in the international scene. Giovanni drove all the way from Nairobi to Western Kenya to pick up Indimuli. Giovanni was a former classmate of Wigsworth and had a perfect performance record in the high court. He even won the case of Mackenzie the industrialist, who would have lost his business empire to a rival business mogul if it wasn’t by the sheer interpretation of a clause that gave Mackenzie full ownership of the farm machinery factory to the detriment of John his former associate and later a business rival. Therefore, to practice law with Giovanni was a triple honour for an African like Indimuli.
When Indimuli starting winning case after case his white colleagues became delighted and some even envied his mastery and interpretation of the law. In only six months he was promoted to serve as Giovanni’s assistant.
But after one year, the invincible Indimuli started losing even simple cases. His confidence and boldness started waning. The man who before was bubbling with joy became reserved. His body turned frail. Fear gripped his colleagues hard as they tried but couldn’t resuscitate him emotionally. His fall was starting to trickle into the gossip of Chemasisi.
The legendary Shimatuli was very remorseful. He knew that black magic prevailed. After the great celebrations, he had forgotten to “cover” his son from men with a “bad eye” like he had done on two previous occasions when his son was going to high school and to England. On these two occasions he had taken Indimuli to a highly respected medicine man in a nearby ridge and √É¬´covered’ him with medicine against all evils. But this time round, he had been carried away by the euphoria of success and it dawned on him that the mess was already done.
Hurriedly, he gathered the elders and close associates, took a bull and went to the Umololo hills to unravel this mystery of iniquity that had befallen his son. After two days of sacrifice and great inquiry, it was revealed that Amulembe was the culprit and the remedy was to take him to the Mgoko tree, which was only known to Amulembe, to do some recantations to loosen Indimuli’s destiny. It was Amulembe alone who could undo the curse and not anybody else. This would be a one-man affair under the supervision of the elders and the traditional medicine man. This case was intricate because the rope had to be literally removed if Indimuli’s star was going to shine again.
Everybody was angry with Amulembe. So when the elders returned, news spread like bush fire and Amulembe getting wind of it took to the hills. Searching for him became a mammoth task. No sooner had Amulembe disappeared than Wigsworth’s land rover pulled up at Shimatuli’s home.
A frail looking Indimuli and two aides came out of the house. He looked confused and shook intermittently. Saliva was drooling from his mouth and this scene sent shivers down the spines of the crowd that was building up. His mind had been scattered by Amulembe and he felt useless to the world.
Mr. Wigsworth who was well acquainted with the traditions and norms of Africa knew it was the power of witchcraft. He had convinced Giovanni that the solution was in the village and that is why he brought him to Chemasisi. After one hour, Mr. Wigsworth and his two aides left Indimuli who by now was a shell of his former self. The parish priest came to support the morale of the village, as other villagers in the Umololo hills were seeking the password to Indimuli’s destiny.
It was an intricate web of fear and intrigue. Indimuli was headed down the same abyss as Omnyololo, the half-performing warrior of Chemasisi.
“It is well with my soul, it is well with my soul” chanted the priest. As he led the crowd into singing that waited nervously for the other villagers to return from the Umololo hills.