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The Bud Opens


The legends tell us that after her return
Amarava the Immortal, most beautiful,
Lived happily with Odu, her lord,
For a hundred thousand years;
And during this period she presented him
With five thousand sturdy sons and daughters

The Wise Men of the Tribes also related
That Amarava did not give birth to her young,
But that like the earliest Amarire people,
She laid crystal eggs that hatched in a month
And adulthood was reached in the space of two years
On reaching puberty their parents turned them out,
In carefully chosen pairs to fend for themselves
Soon they were grandparents to the ultimate power
Of no less than twice times ten millions souls.

What did these new people–
These so-called Second People look like?
We have it from legend that they resembled exactly
The present-day Bantu – my children.
Some were as black as a much-used pot;
Some were brown and even yellow-brown
Some were tall as stockade gatepost
And some were as short as our favorite thornbush
There were types as thin as bullrush reeds
As others as fat as the proverbial thief’s bundle
Some were idiots
From dimwits they ranged
Down to utter nitwits;
Very few were truly wise!
In short, my children, they exactly resembled
The puzzling muddle of present day humanity!
Of the First People who could have achieved perfection
if they had been properly governed
Not in appearance alone they differed
But also in mind and heart and soul
where there had been perfect equality
now we encounter adversity

For thousands of years our Odu and Amarava
(Now called Mameravi or Mother of Nations)
Watched the bud of humanity slowly open
And burst into brilliant flower.
They worked, like the good parents they were,
Towards welding their countless descendants Into one harmonious whole.
Advice they gave – they taught, and meted out justice
When disputes arose amongst their diverse progeny.

Finally Odu grew tired of life
And developed an inferiority complex;
Odu the Mighty – increasingly aware of his humble past
Now turned his mind to suicide.
He knew this demanded most careful planning
As an immortal cannot die,
Unless he destroys himself
Utterly beyond recovery.
So one night when all had gone to bed
He crept out into the sullen darkness
And embarked on a lengthy journey eastwards­
A journey that lasted a hundred days.

Finally he reached the active volcano–
Now the silent snow-capped Kilima-Njaro–
And with anxious strides he scaled the grey slopes
Of the feature he had chosen for a grave.
The billowing smoke from multiple craters
Burnt his eyes and choked his lungs–
And dust-like molten ashes blistered his skin,
But he relentlessly pursued his aim.
When he reached the summit he paused
In the heavy clouds of choking smoke
And with a last prayer to Ma and the Tree of Life
He gracefully dived into one of the red-hot craters.

Odu, the soulless being, died
Without a world of his own;
Be who had survived one world
To become the Father of the second.

In her lonely hut far away in the west
Amarava sensed her husband’s fiery death
And with a loud cry she snatched a copper dagger
And drove it savagely into her chest.
But the soft copper blade buckled
Against her breastbone and in her frustration
She tried to run herself through with a spear,
Though in this effort she was also defeated.

Zumangwe the Hunter
And Marimba the Singer,
Two of her youngest descendants,
Rushed in and overpowered her.
‘No!’ cried Marimba, with quivering ebony-black breasts,
‘No, you must not take your own life!
We shall not allow the star that lights our way
To fall thus from the skies-
If you are no longer burning,
Oh beautiful torch of our race­
Who shall guide our failing steps
Along all the thorny footpaths
Through the uncertain valley of Life?’

Thus spoke the dark and beautiful Marimba,
From whom our Tribal Singers claim descent;
So spoke the first Bantu poetess
Whose voice was the Voice of Spring
And whose singing it was said, could make
Even mountains cry cold tears.
Many, oh many are the tales about her
As many as the lice on an old skin blanket;
Many and countless as the hair on a dog’s back­
And one day – the gods willing – I might be able
To tell you the story of Marimba, my children.

Zumangwe and Marimba seized
The badly wounded Amarava
And tied her hand and foot
To prevent her from trying again.
But the grief-maddened immortal
Snapped the bonds
With one sharp look
And shrieked into the forest
In search of her beloved Odu!

Zumangwe and Marimba raised the alarm
And soon an army of men and women
Clamoured in hot pursuit
After their greatest great-grandmother
‘Come, all my brothers and sisters’
Sounded Marimba’s melodious voice–
Come let us cling to her trail like hunting dogs­–
If she dies we shall all be lost
Like leaves in a storm – like a young impala
Whose mother was devoured by a lion–
Great shall be our misfortune
If we fail to capture her alive.’

Legends say that the number in pursuit
Counted eighty times a thousand souls;
Along the Bu-Kongo river they followed a trail
Of blood from the wound in her chest.
The valiant hunter Zumangwe
And his very young bride Marimba,
Ruthlessly led their followers
In a futile attempt at overtaking Amarava
Who was now stumbling, falling and rising
A day’s journey ahead of them.

After two months one of the trackers
Made a rather startling discovery
Which sent cold bolts of fear through the spines of all;
Something else was tracking Amarava–
Something so utterly big and monstrous,
As they could tell from the footprints it left­
Footprints like that of a vulture
Of incredible size and weight.

A new strategic approach was now called for;
The search party stopped to build a fortified kraal
While the two leading figures and some others
Formed a small, more flexible patrol.
Three days later they found Amarava
Lying exhausted on a mudbank
In the middle of a very vast river,
A river in boisterous foaming flood!
There was no way of reaching her
Marimba sang out in utter despair;
‘Oh beautiful star of the human race!
‘Oh mother of countless men–
there nothing we can do to help?
Lo! here we stand as helpless as
A dove in the mouth of a civet cat!
Our only wish is to be by your side–
What is there you can addvse us to do?’

‘You can do nothing, my loyal children,’
Her voice carried faintly across the flood;
‘My only wish is to be left alone,
As I wish to die in peace.’
‘Mother of Nations,’ cried Marimba,
‘Is it thus that you sacrifice your life? Is it thus that the beloved Amarava
Turns her back on her destitute children?’

Instead of hearing Amarava’s reply,
They all heard a frightening splash­
Some distance upstream a mighty Monster
Had entered the water in a cloud of spray.
Marimba immediately plunged in as well
And tried to reach the mudbank first,
But the current was much stronger than her courage
And swept her helplessly downstream.
Twice she tried and twice she failed,
And in an alternative desperate attempt
At frightening the monster away Zumangwe ordered his men to launch
A hail of sling-stones across the water.

All their efforts, with spears and arrows included
And another brave and nearly successful attempt
On the part of Marimba to reach her through the flood­
Were futile and they could only helplessly witness
The most horrible scene they had ever experienced.

* * *
Amarava had noticed the Monster
And in blind terror she summoned all her strength
With a shriek she plunged into the water,
But was equally promptly snatched up by the Monster
‘Release her, you vilest reincarnation of Evil,’
Marimba now shouted in utter despair–
And then to everyone’s breathless surprise
The scaly Monster calmly turned and spoke:

‘Poor ignorant, foolish human creatures-
How terribly sentimental you are!
It is for your own good and safety that I remove
This Thing which you knew as Amarava!’
The Monster spoke with infinite tenderness;
‘You are blindly loyal to the outward form-
To superficial appearance alone;
When will your clouded brains appreciate
That things are not what they appear to be!
That there is more to anything than meets the eye!’

‘Aieeee!’ cried Marimba, the only one
Who still had power of speech,
‘Do you mean to tell us that Amarava
Is not what she appears to be!’

‘Yebo,’ replied the Monster that Walks,
To which Marimba lost control of herself;
‘Haiee! not only are you a monster
As foul as the cesspools of hell
tBut the father of all lies as well!’

‘Human female – I speak only the truth­
This creature you know as Amarava
Is a reincarnation at the same time
Of the Fire Bride, or Rebel Goddess,
Who has been evading the Great Spirit
For many millions of years!’

Even as Marimba listened and looked,
The limp and naked from of Amarava
Was slowly changing in the Monster’s clutches;
Her red skin turned to the colour of gold
With the polished brightness of that metal.
Now she had an udder of five breasts–
Ruby tipped and standing out:­
Like anthills on a desolate plain;
And her eyes, once so soft and clear,
Had the greeny hardness of emeralds.
Her hands had acquired a sixth finger,
And all her fingers flourished
Razor-sharp diamond claws.
A lion’s tail sprang from her backside
Which curled and uncurled
Like a whip of living gold!
A flaming forked tongue protruded
And licked her pig-iron lips.

‘Behold her! Look well upon her,’
Cried the Monster, holding her up,
‘Behold the foul creature who not only deceived you,
But Ma, the First Goddess as well.
Look upon the thing you knew as Amarava
And for which you were prepared to sacrifice your lives!
See the one you adored as Amarava,
In whom is now reincarnated
Watamaraka, the Spirit of Evil!’

Before the Monster and its captive
Vanished in a flash of unearthly flame,
Marimba saw the sneer of contempt
On the once beloved Amarava’s face;
‘I shall return one day and avenge myself
On all living things – I shall …’

Night had fallen by the time Zumangwe
And his followers reached the gate of their new village­
The first village in the country which in future years
Acquired the name of Tanga-Nyika.
He had ordered all those who had witnessed events
Never to repeat what they had seen-
They all agreed to abide by the make-belief
That the search for Amarava had failed.

The secret of Amarava’s identity
Went with these men to their grave.
Zumangwe wished that the name of Amarava
Should remain one which future generations

Now all of you my dear children
Have to some small extent inherited Amarava’s split personality.
Within each of you there are two different beings,
One good and one evil – in constant conflict.

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