1700 A.D. Bombada Brikama
The serene stillness of the predawn was punctured by the humungous booms of the tabular drums, the junjung-ba, their echoes racing across the thatched crowns of the city through the dewy mist into the forests that rim Bombada.
Fina Keba’s voice rang out, shrill, clear, powerful and measured: “Son of Madi, Son of Boto, Son of Kejaw, Son of Kubay, Son of Soliba. Son of Musu Joko, Son of Sibo Jankey, Son of Mba Siro. Your jali brings you glad tidings of the birth of a cub, a little lion, the sweat of your loins. Arise and answer your jali, you the tiger who does not need stripes!’
The booms of the table drum rattled.
The wooden front doors of the large baked brick house shifted and Sankalang stepped out. A single piece of woven cotton draped around his massive shoulders. His forelock, a greying skein of twisted knots rising from the crest of his head was flung across his back.
“I hear you Fina. I thank the gods and the spirits of the ancestors for this gift. The child of a fool shall drool all his life but the child of the scorpion shall always sting. I am a lion and this, my child, shall
be a lion; wild and free to roam the plains of Duma Sutu and the forests of Jambarr Sanneh, to take whatever he wants, do whatever he wants, fearless and strong. Bring him to me on the night of the seventh day.” He turned and went back into his house.
7 Nights Later
The full moon bathes the night in silvery hue. A solitary figure riding a chestnut stallion rode out of the city heading for the hill. Except for the thumping of hooves, it was all-quiet. There were no hooting nocturnal raptors; even the cicadas and crickets that people the undergrowth were silent. Reining in his horse, the rider looked over his shoulders and cantered down between the baobab trees lining the narrow path to the base of the hill. He stopped, climbed down, gently placed down the box he was carrying and tied his horse to a knothole in a tree and entered the cave at the base of the hill.
On top of the hill stood Santang-ba, the Grand Mahogany, the chief god of the tribe in which the spirits of the ancestors repose. This is a sacred place, a sanctum where even the grass is petrified to grow above the earth. Sankalang had come to offer sacrifices, pour libation and seek the protecting hands of the gods over his son. He knelt, placed the box containing the baby on the stone altar hewn out of the hillock and lifted the lid. He retreated a few feet, removed the bow, a quiver of jagged tipped arrows and a gourd slung across his shoulders. From the gourd he removed a cockerel with a crimson crown, a keg of wine, a pot of cream milk and motley of beads
Light tappings of feet from the hollow depths of the cavern in the hill preceded the appearance of the priestess. Sankalang did not look up. No man looks the Custodian of the secrets of the Santang-ba in the eye and lives. But he had known her as a young girl. He remembered her strange arresting looks but otherwise she was a normal girl, polite, even shy. Then one day during the season of the Leaf Dance, she was suddenly struck down by fits of spasms. All the medicine men of the land could not cure her of her strange affliction.
In despair, her mother carried her comatose body to the shrine and plaintively cried to the gods: “Spirit of the Santang-ba, you who gives and who takes, you who creates and who destroys, you who draws the lines of the horizons at the end of the sea, I have come to you
because we have nothing else to go to. You only gave me one bit of wood and now she lies before you motionless like the very rock upon which she lays. If you truly can do anything then give me back my one bit of wood. Let her live.”
Then the old priestess appeared and told her to leave her ill daughter and return in a week. Three nights later, whirlwinds darted through the city and falling stars raced across the sky. The old men of city read the signs. The sybil of the shrine has died and the gods have chosen a new wife, a new priestess, the beautiful young girl with the fit.
It has been almost twenty rains and neither Sankalang nor any other man had set eyes upon her since. Now she has become the vessel of the gods, the sole voice through which they speak. She had shed the flesh of her humanhood and had become one with the spirits that invade her. But he remembered those days when he would dream of seizing her in the brooding dusk by the well and claim her for his harem. The jangling trinkets that adorn the neck and wrists of the priestess and the sharp scent of camphor wood that seem to envelope
her cut off his yester-thoughts of stillborn romance.
He could feel her presence by his child before the altar. There was silence. She stood there. Naked. Her eyes burning behind lashes bedaubed in thick kohl. Her hair knotted in two big braids. A small forest of pubic hair sprouting from her mid-section. She had grown fuller and bulbous and the lack of sunshine had given her skin a distinct pale glow. And then she spoke, in a thin ethereal voice: ‘You have come to the Shrine of Santang-ba, make your wish known.” Without raising his head, he replied: “Guardian of the Shrine, you who sits like a hyena; you who hears the commands of the thunder and can see the burning mountains in the sun, I have come to the gods to thank them for the gift of this my son who lies before you and to ask for their protection over him all the days of his life. Here, accept these my sacrifices,” thrusting them towards her.
The priestess took the keg of wine, put it to her mouth and let it pour over her naked body. She picked up the cockerel, wrung its neck and let its hot blood squirt
on the baby in the box. The baby cried out. The priestess ignored it. Instead she started swirling in a wild dance creating a puddle in the wine-soaked earth, singing strange songs. Then she fell down.
Sankalang stayed kneeling. He showed no reaction to either the sybilic spectre or the bawling of his son. Then suddenly, she got up, swaying slightly as if in a trance and as abruptly sat down, cross-legged. She stared blankly at the bowed figure of Sankalang.
“Your noble parents gave you a worthy name. And you shall give your son a worthy name; call him Bamba, The Crocodile.
And like its namesake, he shall swallow everything in its path and burn them in his innards; he shall eat the hearts and drink the blood of his enemies. Like the crocodile is in the river, so shall he be on land among men. He shall never be enslaved nor vanquished in jest or joust. War and death will be his enterprise. He shall not die by the sword of another man but, but…” her voice started breaking, “after his death nothing shall remain of him.” Silence.
Sankalang was elated but puzzled. What is the meaning of the last part of the prophecy? But like the nihilist he is, he soon shrugged it off.
“After death, what remains of a man, a warrior? Only fools hanker for the glory of afterlife. True men seek their glory in
their life. And my son will be a warrior, a true man.
The man among men!”
His thoughts jolted to the present. Still kneeling before the priestess, Sankalang addressed her: “Wise one, custodian of the shrine. I ask for nothing else.”
Moments later, he heard the light tapping of retracing feet as the priestess disappeared into the bowels of the cavern. He got up, closed the lid of the box, picked up his bow and arrows and empty gourd and left.
The full moon was still up in the sky but soon it would be dawn. Sankalang hurried back to his house. No one must see him. In the morning, the tribe gathered. Five bulls were killed, the warriors danced and wrestled and the women and girls clapped and sang. Bamba, Son of Sankalang, Son of Kubay, Son of Kejaw, Son of Boto, Son of Madi was presented to the world. The fluffy black mane growing on his head hair was razored and buried in a hole in the middle of the courtyard. His hair won’t be cut again. Until the day he dies.