The sun dipped below the horizon casting Farato village into the embrace of darkness. The newly formed settlement found its niche beneath sporadically spaced ancient baobab trees. These towering sentinels presided over the landscape, and in their midst, nymph trees adorned with countless birds’ nests swayed in rhythmic unison with the whispering wind. The soft whistles of the nymph trees resonated with a sense of nostalgia, an intangible sentiment that enveloped the late 1980s in a warm, comforting glow. It was a time when the roots of the Farato community dug deeper, and the promise of an expanding settlement added a layer of hope to the evolving narrative of the village.
In the midst of a shifting landscape, the Mbalo family, noticeably absent their patriarch Yerro, gathered on the veranda—a shared space where different generations engaged in subdued conversation. The gentle breeze, carrying the melodious tunes of an Abdel Kabir song from Radio Syd, delicately brushed against the faces of those assembled. Kaw Buba, a skilled custodian of the vintage radio, adeptly manipulated its knobs, crafting a symphony that reverberated throughout the veranda. The occasional crackling notes, a product of radio static, contributed a charmingly nostalgic cadence, creating a collective rhythm for the gathering. This atmosphere was characterised by the harmonious tones of music and the muted conversations shared among Kaw Buba and his elder siblings. Jaja, the eldest sibling in the family, took the spotlight as she delved into a discussion about the merits of the latest Baaba Maal & Daande Lenol album, Wongo, with a focus on the song Demgalam, which celebrated the superiority of the Pulaar tribe to which they belonged.
“Pulaar is the celestial tongue that shall grace the heavens,” Jaja declared with an air of conviction. Recognized for her steadfast commitment to safeguarding Pulaar customs and values, Jaja naturally assumed the unspoken mantle of custodian for their tribe’s heritage. Her influence within the community positioned her as a guiding figure, with members instinctively turning to her for insights. Jaja’s profound understanding of their traditions, values, and the intricate web of relationships learned from her grandparents in the Fulladu region of Casamance cemented her connection with the tribe. It transcended mere allegiance, evolving into a profound symbiosis where leadership was earned through a lifetime of genuine care, wisdom, and an innate understanding of the collective spirit binding them together in their new settlement.
Khadja, the youngest progeny of Yerro and Borogie, silently recoiled at Jaja’s perceived tribalistic sentiments. In response, she expressed her viewpoint, “Why not Arabic? I contend that when we depart this world and ascend to heaven, Arabic shall be the language spoken by all.”
Not one to shy away from defending her cherished Pulaar roots, Jaja retorted in a more accommodating tone, “Ah, but I maintain that Pulaar is the very language of God Himself. What insights do you possess about Islam and Arabic, dear sister? It seems your penchant for debate always prevails.” She cast a formidable look in Khadja’s direction, a silent directive for her much younger sibling to maintain a contemplative silence. The unresolved tension hung in the air, akin to a suspended note in the nocturnal melody that enveloped the gathering.
In the serene cocoon of the enveloping quiet, an unforeseen interruption shattered the calm, entering like a mischievous murmur. Jewo, the precocious five-year-old daughter of Matou, the middle sibling in the Mbalo family, cast her inquisitive gaze toward Neneh Dado, her step-grandmother, her eyes wide with curiosity.
“Neneh Dado, do chickens pee?” The question lingered in the air, creating a momentary pause that reverberated through the adults. Amused smiles gradually shifted into contemplative expressions as they endeavored to decipher the meaning behind Jewo’s innocent inquiry.
Fond of the domestic animals that roamed their house, Jewo held a fascination for the poultry, which she delighted in feeding every morning with grains from the family barn, carefully stored after each harvest season.
Kaw Buba adjusted the radio’s knob, allowing the enchanting melody of Abdel Kabir’s songs to continue weaving through the scene. Familiar with his niece’s tendency to pose unconventional questions that left everyone searching for answers, he opted not to strain his brain attempting to respond, choosing instead to feign ignorance and pretend not to hear her.
“Do chickens pee? I’m not sure,” Neneh Dado contemplated, her furrowed brow revealing a hint of confusion. “What do you think, Jewo?” she added, her bemusement evident. The room fell silent, anticipation thick in the air as the young one pondered, unknowingly contributing a thread of innocence to the evening atmosphere.
As Neneh Dado gathered her thoughts, the lingering question echoed, resonating with the curiosity inherent in childhood.
Breaking the silence, Borogie cleared her throat, locking eyes with Jewo. Her lips curved into a gentle smile as she shared her insight, “I don’t think chickens pee. I believe they do both, pee and poop in one go. How about that for an answer?” Jewo’s face lit up with a blend of satisfaction and fascination, content with the newfound wisdom imparted by her grandmother.
The veranda, bathed in the soft glow of the evening, witnessed a tableau of familial unity, a snapshot frozen in time. However, the tranquility of the evening was suddenly pierced by the distant barks of stray dogs, a cacophony that echoed through the village. Soon after, the rhythmic creaking of the thatched gate resounded, signaling the arrival of someone. A hushed anticipation fell upon the gathering as Yerro, the patriarch of the Mbalo family, strolled in. His shoulders were draped with the glowing skin of a large snake—a trophy from his nocturnal pursuits as a farmer by day and a hunter by night.
The family members cast their eyes toward him with a mixture of awe and familiarity, well-acquainted with his sporadic but enthralling returns from the wilderness. The snake skin, draped across Yerro’s shoulders, lended a sense of mystique to his presence. With his weathered face and sturdy frame, Yerro embodied the quintessential patriarchal figure—a guardian of both family and village traditions.
The once-innocent veranda, filled with the warmth of familial unity, now hosted an unexpected contrast with the untamed essence brought by Yerro’s entrance.
As he strolled majestically into the house with his latest hunt, the veranda scattered. Women and children fled from the sight of what appeared to be a massive snake, except for Jewo, who stood her ground as her grandfather approached with delight. “I knew you would not run away like the rest of them,” he beamed at her.
Yerro continued his stately walk, placing the impressive snake hide at the edge of the veranda. As he did so, the family members who had scattered in surprise began to cautiously return, drawn by the curiosity and fascination surrounding his latest trophy. With the snake hide uncoiled, its vibrant patterns and textures seemed to come alive, commanding attention in the dim light of the evening.
With a gleam in his eye, Yerro greeted the household and proudly announced the name of the snake—a majestic African Rock Python. He delved into the details of his encounter, recounting how he had stumbled upon this formidable creature in the wooded expanses of the Nyambai forest. Although his primary objective had been to hunt wild game for their meat, Yerro’s hunting expedition had yielded no such fortune. Instead, it was the sheer size and vibrant colors of the snake that had captivated his attention.
Despite being devout Muslims with dietary restrictions that included snakes, Yerro had pursued this creature purely for its aesthetics. He explained to the attentive audience how, in the midst of the dense Nyambai forest, the striking patterns of the African Rock Python had shimmered against the verdant backdrop, making it an irresistible addition to his collection of trophies. Demonstrating the process, he recounted using his machete to meticulously and strategically sever the snake’s head from its body after immobilizing it with a well-aimed strike from a large boulder.
With the snake hide displayed at the edge of the veranda, Yerro headed to his bedroom and emerged with a hammer and some nails in hand.
“Buba,” he called out to his only son and the last born of the family, “come over and help me pin this hide on the wall. I need your assistance to position it correctly.”
Kaw Buba, in his late teens and navigating the challenges of that impressionable age, found himself reluctantly confronted with the task of handling the snake hide. Despite his hesitation and visible discomfort, he reluctantly made his way over to the scene, all the while pinching his nose in an attempt to ward off the imagined smell of the creature.
The unfamiliarity of the situation stirred a mix of curiosity and unease in him, as the daunting nature of the task clashed with the typical pursuits and interests of a teenager. Yet, compelled by filial duty, Kaw Buba ventured forward, embodying the delicate balance between youth and responsibility that often defines the transitional phase of adolescence.
Observing her uncle’s hesitation, Jewo courageously stepped forward, determination evident in her eyes as she inquired, “Can I assist you, Maama Gorkor?” referring to her grandfather. “No, my dear. Your heart is strong like a lionese’s, but your body is weak, for you are a little girl,” Yerro responded, his warm smile radiating encouragement. “But one day, your heart will take you places a man would only dream of,” he nodded approvingly at the young girl.
As Yerro and Buba diligently worked on attaching the snake hide, Jewo’s mother, Matou, intervened, calling her daughter away from the veranda.
“Jewo, come over here right now! A little girl has no business helping with wild animals,” Matou admonished.
Despite her mother’s statement, Jewo’s curiosity remained unquenched. Reluctantly leaving the veranda, she positioned herself with the rest of the family, determined to continue observing the unfolding events.
As the night progressed, the veranda transformed into a sanctuary where family bonds continued to strengthen. The collective heartbeat of the Mbalo family resonated with the rhythm of the music playing over the radio and the rustling leaves in the background. In the soft glow of a kerosene lamp, the snake hide attached to the mud walls stood out with its bright colors, becoming a symbol not only of Yerro’s hunting prowess but also of the enduring spirit and past bravado that defined the family.
For Jewo, every time she crossed the threshold of their door and stepped onto the veranda, the lingering magic of that enchanted evening fueled her aspirations to witness her family’s endeavors flourish, echoing Yerro’s words that had unintentionally captivated her heart.
Unbeknownst to the family, Jewo, fortified by her unwavering spirit and the empowering words of Yerro, embarked on a journey to become a formidable woman. Destined to navigate life’s challenges with the strength and resilience instilled in her by the bonds of family and the wisdom of her grandfather.