The view out from under the broad roof of the camping area chitenge is one of my favorites. I prefer it to the views out across the river from the decks of any of the lodge chalets. There is something about its simplicity and lack of clutter that appeals to my sense of aesthetics.
It is minimally touched by the hand of man, little changed from how it was over a hundred years ago, when, no less than at the height of the rainy season floods, Orlando Baragwaneth paddled his dugout canoe past here, on is way to “discovering” the copper of Katanga.
On the one side the sharp line of the riperia defines the rivers edge as it heads down towards the chalets of the lodge. On the other, the copses of big trees seem to float on old abandoned ant-hills, almost as if layed out by some master gardener.
As this patchwork of copses spreads back from the expanse of the grassy dambo, they then, just as the freckles on the cheeks of a redheaded girl merge up into the fire of her hair, so too do the copses coalesce. They blend into the flat bushveld that stretches as far as the eye can see, if one could get high enough above the canopy of its trees to look, which one can, if one climbs the low hill that is visible in the distance, across the river.
The sun was slanting at a full diagonal before I noticed her figure crossing the open ground between the chitenge and the road which skirts past towards the Salamakanga dambo.
As she approached towards where I sat I had time to study her elegant and full feminine figure. I also had time to note that she had lost a sliver of the usual self-assertive sway which characterizes her stride. There was a hint of furtiveness in the way her head scanned to the sides, or even glansed back over her shoulders.
Reaching me, she wordlessly sat on my proffered chair.
We then sat in silence, looking out at the view for some minutes before I turned to her and asked. “So what is going on?”
She took her time before focusing her gaze on me, “It is bad muti Bwana!”
From the simple wooden chair on which she was sitting, she extended a long shapely leg and kicked at a leaf laying on the floor.
“We have been waiting for it.”
“What do you mean waiting for it?”
“In the village Bwana, they say that there is muti put on us. So we knew it would happen.”
“Ahh, Melody!” I exclaimed, “Are you sure that you know what you are talking about?”.
“Yes Bwana I am sure! You know I am correct, you know the ways of the bush. Maybe the politicians in Lusaka would not take this matter seriously. That Bwana is because they are so used to lying and cheating, that they no longer recognize the truth. But you Bwana, from what they say, you have lived with us all your life, and you know these matters, how they affect us all”.
“Now, now” I remonstrated, “not all politicians are bad. Would you not say that HH is an honest man, or Levi before him?”
As she sat in silence, I looked across at her presence, the strangely aloof aura of the strikingly beautiful young woman sitting opposite me. The long single braid of her hair which had dangled down her back earlier in the day, was now looped around the crown of her head like the coils of a cobra. There was no frivolousness about her demeanor. I instinctively knew that what she was telling me needed to be taken with all seriousness.
“So what are they saying in the village, in Chifumpa, about this muti?”
“Bwana, they say that the poachers have been given muti. It is muti that makes them invisible.”
As I listened I felt a sense of unease niggle at the edge of my consciousness. Witchcraft in Africa is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.
“Bwana, this muti, it is also to curse the people here and harm them. We did not know when it would happen, or to whom. But we were expecting it. It was Eddie who was the unlucky one to be chosen.”
“Yes, Melody maybe that is so, but then we can get some other muti against the bad muti.”
“Bwana, I already did that. I did not know what sort of muti to ask for, as we had not yet seen the poachers muti. But the sangoma gave me these shells to keep away the evil spirits.”
As she spoke she delicately fingered the snail shells on the thin leather strand around her neck.
“And Bwana,” she continued, “He said I must make loud singing to help chase them away”.
“So Melody that means everything will be OK from now on,” I stated.
“No Bwana, this muti that the poachers have it was brought here by a special sangoma. A sangoma all the way from the Mlimo. He flew here on the back of a hyena. It was one of the darkness sangoma’s.”
My vague sense of unease deepened as I digested this information.
“Mlimo?” I queried her incredulously, “Are you sure it was from the Mlimo?”
“Yes Bwana, it was the same sangoma who gave the muti to Adamson Mushala. I have an old relative who saw this sangoma flying overhead at night.”
Again I could see the inky blackness in her eyes, and how the sensuous pout of her lips barely moved as she said, “They say that it is very powerful muti.”
It had been decades since I had heard any reference to that strange mysterious part of the spiritual fabric of the bush.
Mlimo! Up here on the other side of the Zambezi! It seemed impossible!
Why would the sangomas of that extraordinary oracle stretch their tentacles out so far. It was hard for me to believe that the Mlimo would be involved in whatever was going on out here. But it was Melody who had tendered the reference to Mlimo. There was no way that she could have made that up if there wasn”t some fire smouldering at the base of her smoke.
Things were not getting any clearer.
I asked slowly, softly, almost to myself, “Why the Mlimo?”
I have never been to the Elitsheni “oracle” cave of the Mlimo, few Caucasian people have. But I know the Matopos hils, hundreds of kilometers away, far to the south, south of the Zambezi, halfway to the Limpopo, those hills where the cave is said to be situated.
I have always imagined it to be like the magnificent Nanke cave, which is located in the same hills.
The Matopos is an exquisitely beautiful, eerie area. Its hills are unique in that they are formed from a jumble of gigantic granite inselberg domes. It is a place that oozes a sense of the spiritual. A place of rocks and huge boulders stacked and piled up on top of each other, like the aftermath of some gigantic dice of destiny, rolled by the long forgotten Gods of Munhamutapa. It is the spiritual Jerusalem of Sub-Saharan Africa. A place of black eagles, and their soaring spirits.
It is where, I was told, once a decade, at midnight in the chill of a moonlit winters night, the ghost of Cecil Rhodes rises from his grave, and links arms with that of Leander Starr Jameson. Then the shadows of the men of the Shangani patrol descend from the fresco of their monument as they all greet Lobengula and his Matabele warriors. They form a circle with the ethereal spirits of the even more ancient Khoisan painters of the rock religion. Then in unison they clap and shout their despair, as they mourn the Africa that once was, and the Africa they, each of them, in their disparate and futile ways, envisioned and hoped for.
And it is a place of the Mlimo, the resilient vestige of that Khoisan religion, daubed thousands of years ago in stark splendor, on the remote rock canvas of the caves.
“But Melody why are you telling me about this muti?”
I waited for her to look up, “Why are you scared to tell me?
“Bwana”, her hands were folded in her lap, as she quietly spoke without looking up from the floor.
“Do you know that Eddie was paying my father lobola?”
I have often wondered how Shakespeare came up with the themes and plot lines to his creations. I have since realized that all he needed was to be an astute observer of life. Drama must have been all around him in its micro and macrocosms. But some of the stuff, out here in the bush, its reality and jig sawed events, are so fantastically remarkable they exceed his creativity.
“No, I did not know”.
“Yes, Bwana. He has made almost half the payment. Another year and he would be able to buy the last few cows to give to my father.”
“So Bwana, they will understand that I resist. Even if it is the Mlimo.”
She crossed and uncrossed the long lovely length of her legs and nervously looked around.
“They will expect that. They will not be concerned. They will smile at my efforts, because they know my muti has no chance against theirs.”
“But Melody, I still do not understand why you are hesitant to tell me these things, why you hide from the others.”
She shrugged and shook her head, almost as if she were weary at having to explain the obvious.
“Bwana, did you not see that stranger? Did you not hear him tell you not to meddle?”
A chill ran up my spine as an image of the gaunt reptilian features of the phantom stranger flicked back into my memory.
“Bwana, did you not recognize the crocodile. It had come back to claim the sacrifice it had been promised. It was disguised as that old man!”
“If that Crocodile sees me talking to you, if it sees me interfering with the muti, it will come back for me. Bwana, you need to follow that Crocodile, you must stop it before it gets back into the river.”
My sense of unease had spread and grown into a feeling of dread. Dealing with poachers was one thing, they could be tracked, hunted and trapped. This I could do, that is what I was here for. I had tracked and hunted for most of my life. I had studied its most intensely exciting variation, the tracking, hunting and ambushing of the human animal, with some of the world’s best practitioners. In the real-life school of bush warfare and its “contacts” there were usually only two grades, pass or fail, winners or losers. Only the very best consistently lived to perfect their proficiency. I was lucky, I had been a good student, and Moses had been an excellent teacher.
However, dealing with the muti that the poachers were said to possess, and its effect on the people, was another thing altogether.
“Bwana!” melody continued, “Only you can do this! The Mlimo, they have not yet perfected their curses on the white man.”
She paused before continuing. “So you must act fast. That Crocodile has been moving for hours. It will be meeting with the hyena when he brings the sangoma of darkness. They will be talking about you. They will be discussing what to do with you”.
“So bwana, Go! Go now, before it is too late”.
With that she stood.
I looked on with dumbfounded perplexity as her remarkable figure walked away, with a rejuvenated sway.
(Rock photos – Justin Seymour-Smith)
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