...and every of his written literary thought!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Daddy I Dare v. A Ska Ceremony






Simmer down! Oh battle’s too hot so
Simmer down! Then won’t you? Won’t you?
Long time people them used to say
What sweeter to goat a go run him belle
Simmer down! Then hear what I say

Mugithi the one-man guitarist strummed his instrument to the ears of the drinking elders, singing in a croaky, dehydrated tone the little-known ska song. His hoarse voice and wording seemed, literally, charming the elders. We see them and their pot-bellied constipated stomachs. We see them trying to empty them in vain! C-i-C was right! The chief villain would be in the initiation party. Thanks to the free booze that he drank as long as there was passage in his parched throat. While they feasted the goat meat and sipped from ‘the cup of peace’, we went up the murembe tree to scheme—watching and waiting—as the rest of the co-conspirators spied inside the party relaying intelligence to our hideout.

He was animated under the effects of busaa—when booze goes in, truth comes out—and joked how he drunk himself out of his five sentences and still found his way home.

Osalo osalo msinde-e
Ooh msinde-e
Sorry fi maga dawg (maga dawg)
Him a go turn roun’ en bite yo!

Motema Moto is at the centre of attention. It’s his initiation party. He’s becoming a man. Standing naked as when as a boy, came into this world, he blows the traditional whistle while clanking bells tinkle in his legs and arms. A piece of cow’s meat—worn all the way from his paternal uncle—hangs on his neck as his manhood dangled with every jump. The ash and mud plastered all over his body is dry, except the mucky mound—with a blade of elephant grass as antenna— still standing tall on top of his held-high head.

Beads of sweat furrowed along his dried red ochre face forming rivulets that resembled Tina and her guinea-fowl looks mocked in Lawino’s Song. Tina is taunted in song and dance for her make-up experiment gone wrong. But these ceremonial objects! Who knew why Motema was in such comic regalia? This stuff of legend! Perhaps we had lost its purpose, like the peacock’s tail and the lion’s mane or the single tusk of beluga whale. Perhaps like the elders who established them, only paraded a show of male prowess.

Stage dancers shake the arena, gyrating and merry-going round in a ceremony which was as hasty as the pace of a tortoise comically fleeing a blazing bush. The lead soloist, an-almost-dressed lass parading a bottom the size of a small planet, called the song as she circled Motema whose leg-shakers jingled, disturbing the otherwise silent cloud-covered night with acoustic clamour. Talent was vibrant and plentiful and like the young and reckless gazelles, they seem to dance themselves lame before the main dance.

Osala osala msinde-e
Mugithi match me with a good dancer
Ooh msinde-e
Mugithi keep him away after the dance

She seemed to have discovered that a dance involving sex exchange was a melodious invitation she was reluctant to enter. Thank you agile dancer, but no quickies! In other words, she was willing to dance with a great dancer, but her enticement did not extend as license to a one-night stand! So she changed tact, entering the inner arena with a full-size smile, as if she were going into a Talk Show where everyone had been waiting for her. She led the troupe of singers, shaking, spinning waists and suggestively teasing the initiate brushing his loins with her almost-dressed bottom covered only in mini-reed dress.

Papa Pepper yo ting big as donkey
And if a gyal say stop
Ooh, you blow yo’ top.
Dem lass cry ‘fire under moos-moos tail
And him think of cold breeze.’
Papa Pepper, Papa Pepper
Bway what make you so hot 

Motema would be ridiculed in song if his love muscle rose to the occasion at the obvious solicitations from the shaking bottom that was size of a small planet. These girls were traps, sweet traps, and he expected them to be. But how he kept his cool would be imprinted in future circumcision songs—such a staggering task of carrying an elephant on your shoulders while scouring the grass for a cricket with your leg. However, the insulting lass and her bawdy song, is restrained by one of the elders whose office is youth oversight. The musical censor sadly is antithesis to the creative process of many a countless song, poem and performance before they are born!


A crude comrade carelessly invites himself to a dancer—a lesser size planet—but she rejects his forceful advances with impassive shrugs. He takes that into his stride, dances away to try his luck again, sniffing at other lasses, hesitating, pretending, singing, and then ambling along leisurely, like a pool player looking over the table and trying different cue sticks, to get into the proper frame of mind for a game. When the lead dancer gyrates, exaggerating her selling points round and round the inner arena, there’s wild applause from the obviously drunk crowd. The boys take one look at the golden girl and melt in their own oil like lollipop in a thirsty mouth. She takes all this into her stride.

Dancing is very vital in the initiation ceremonies. Woe to anyone whose style was too off key to woo a heart. No girl wasted their costly attention to such poor dancers. Even if the language of music is universal like love, knowing no boundary, but it still discriminated on the basis of first impression. His lousy dancing is the hindrance. He’s not an agile dancer. He tries to pull her love handles but she pushes him away—her rebuffs are obvious. She won’t dance because she is not in the mood. Tonight she was breaking a whole lot of hearts with her miniature-Pluto behind. Defeated, he throws up his arms in the air and consoles himself with more drink. Oh, the logic of girls! Girls! Creatures of poetry and romance as the bards of old once sang:  

‘If I hold her hand she says, ‘don’t touch!’
If I hold her hand she says, ‘don’t touch!’
But when I hold her waist-beads, she pretends not to know.’

The grand uncle performs a moran-spear dance with the initiate. The mock war song is supposed to reinforce him, as a man among men in the society, to rise up in defense of his family. He thrusts the spear insultingly at the initiate’s unblinking eye. He sternly stares back blowing his whistle and jumping like a Maasai moran—a sure signature that he’d not bat an eyelid when the cold knife finally cuts through his Johnny Boy. Truly, this was at a circus with all kind of jokers and clown princes but no matter what they did, he held his peace, adamant to laugh at them—even if Cato bid that the joke required laughter. A man chewed uncomfortable jokes about his manhood with a painful tooth. In agreement, the rowdy crowd crowns above his head him with bundle of notes, while the size-planet golden girls glow with ululations.

Oyaya khano mwana akwamunda..
‘Coz I was born to be a man..
Oyaya khano mwana akwamunda..
And I deserve the right..
Oyaya khano mwana akwamunda..
To be like any other man..

Oh, how lively it was! How amusing! How animated we felt perched up the murembe, looking like dark knights, vigilant but absorbing it all! The arena and its mask dancing! Indeed, if you wished to enjoy it better, you did not stand in one place. It was like a Shakespearean stage. It was indeed a theatre, and the dark sky encircling us the tinted backdrop. After all, the village was a stage and its drama the constant attempt at reconstructing our own images to recreate different worldview from which we found. Even Simba, like a skilled stage dog, with his new-found bitch sniff for bones, carelessly scattered about the arena, and then retire backstage to relish his spoils! This African theatre, where the crowd—animate and personified—was also part of the action, clowning their characters and roles as support cast in the larger drama.

Off the stage, we watched the performance of elders’—a drunken interval between scenes floating in airs of disbelief because busaa had active ingredients of erasing the boundaries between appearance and reality. They too masked their actions chewing words behind a booze-oiled tongue that was tentatively suspended of loyalty. Their lips were too drunk with nonsensical statements that were too inhibited to oppose my bully father croaking like a giant toad from my grandfather’s seat of honour. Their downcast faces, it seemed, confirmed that they were part of a cast following scripted lines, not merely imitating reality but symbolically representing it.

We had even missed a few dramatic lines in this unfolding episode (herein have poetic faith, for your suffering narrator is with the audience, main arena and actor too!). The thespian elders had abdicated their roles as guardians of the galaxy, like Greek gods in primitive myth who battled and squabbled in eternal wrangles that made their pantheon a perfect drinking den.

‘We?’ My father angrily posed. ‘Speak for yourself senor, or are you using the royal plural here?’

‘My smatement exactly…,’ one of them (dis)agreed, trying to remind the elders that he too was an actor that had a lively lines. ‘is… is ve-ery complex complic- compl-cated in… in-deed...’ But his stammer delivered them like a pedestrian amateur.

‘We are merely bending the law, a little that is. Not breaking its entirety!’ My father thundered back, banging a stool, generating an off-stage rumble, swinging his fist and volleying answers to and fro with the ease of professional football player.
‘Unbreakable like a donkey’s back.’
‘We ride it too hard. Beware he kicks.’
‘Kick? But not very far…’
‘The law has long arms.’
‘Hahaha! Tired legs.’
‘But no third legs!!’

‘Shhh…!’ One of the senior elders shushed. He poked the blazing logs with his walking stick while his left hand shook the booze pipe. He swept his eyes on the elders too resigned, as if informing them of how he suffered from the rituals of the kangaroo court. Like he drunk—as my father—so he could spend time with his fools! It’s true, booze upset his stomach and the goat meat constipated him and made him fat for he feasted too much of it. Yet, he had never turned down the invitations to frequent banquets and carrying along his busaa pipe!

‘This serious business weighs heavily upon our grey heads. This lunacy that has lodged itself without notice, right into our moral powerhouse—the very place it can do worst damage, if I am to stick with the metaphor, by eating the sanity centre.’

‘So you, sir, is saying, sitting among us….’ He pauses in mid-sentence, looking already bored sitting about discussing affairs that had no heads and tails.

‘Exactly! And with deep shame. Sutra has reported an attempted rape. Wekesa has reported assault. The chief headman who is the chief character in this tramedy has disowned and disinherited him. A son who is the only honorable vestige holding a marriage in place. Such is the sad business that I must ask…’

As they shake their bowed heads, my aggressive father dismissed them: ‘I’m not answering questions like that from you. But so you know, he thinks he has the courage and the will to rise from the festival of life so early and have the cheek to live according to his own rules. Today, he became a man and challenged his chi. And I merely welcomed him to the adult world—the best way I know—with my power (and of course kicks and blows) vested in me and my great responsibility.’

‘It grieves me deeply, chief, but I’m afraid I must dispel that charming illusion from your head.’
‘Illusion?’
“Yes, illusion. Not allusion. I’m talking about fathers and sons, marriages and divorces, rape, fornication, adultery, bla bla bla...’
‘You wouldn’t be allowed to keep it for long, anyway.’
‘The marriage? The senior position?’
‘The boy who wrestled his adultier chi?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘An adulterated adult getting adultier..

The beer garden gods were in disagreement. Confusion may as well been trapped at their doors for those drunken and slippery mouths went into a ritualistic Babel of hollow blubber. Having trouble with my ears because of my condition, I was strained beyond measure, by the swelling buzz of humdrum dialogues into an acoustic anguish, which only my eyes could helplessly rove from one excited pair of mechanical jaw to the next. Who’d quash this concert, and bring this towering Babel to the ground? Who’d save our sick ears, at the mercy of the babblers of verbal diarrhea, performing a brouhaha comedy?

A bone in mout’ of a puppy
Passing the bridge oo ee!
Saw his shadow ah hoo!
Opened his mouth oo ee!
The bone fell out ah hoo-o!
Cravin’ a go chok puppy!

I crept away—steady as a whisper—but only to witness matchless madness exploding in the dance arena, through Motema’s metamorphosis, now chiseled out of song, dance and sexual innuendo to fulfill Masaaba tradition! Cultural gymnastics, pushing, shoving and delirious laughter vied for genial space from young and reckless dancing antelopes! Amazing scenes that Mr. Biswas witnessed but didn’t like its sight, except on script or from stories—between its comfortable pages—being written in pages of the stage! The fanatical folklorists and their booze-written music forcefully invaded every village sphere and no sober Shakespeare, it seemed, could tear these scripts to tame these drunken shrews. Must have been traditional brews that the Hebrews enjoyed ritualism and ‘dancing for their Lord’ which was excellent exercise for the body but not for the soul. Anyway, the global gods (and the local dark knights) were watching above us—the least we could do was be entertaining!

An air of hallucination shook the murembe tree and turned upside down the arena; a mirage rising out of a nightmare. I thought I caught a vision of a vanishing vampire bat—but my 2D view played hide and seek with me because I was hensure—without thinking anything about it—if indeed what I saw was the bat or only its disappearing. I tumbled from the dizzy heights, and with such zigzag thoughts, my body ruptured, and spirit escaped, descending into a vast abyss, digging through all the shadowy Hades, seeking for the paradise promised by the ancient sages. I saw somber souls, masked characters and various villains, some like my father’s, I recognized; while others screened their faces in futuristic costumes, others still, were mere morsels of mortals, as my ma, patched up in frayed bridals—their threadbare bones woven into filthy honeymoon robes.  

Oo-o e! Oo e! Oo e! Oo e oo o!
Aah o! Aa o! A o oo oo e!

Sleep had overtaken my eyes! C-i-C was shaking my shoulder. I almost fell in my dreamy disorientation. Motema had already gone for the dip in the river and was making his way back accompanied by a mammoth crowd. My father, now drunk silly out of his five sentences, rose slowly from his chair, his back stiff as a rake handle and was making his way to the arena. This was the signal. It was time we took our positions on the footpath and carry out our mission while the crowd met the welcoming party for the final rites; just before the main cut. Quickly, one of the dark knights must entice my father to the foot path!

Simba ran ahead of us barking piercing lyrics to the arctic sky. His knife-like bark seemed to stir up the late-rising moon and his mighty phenomenon cousin—the magnificent star Sirius—which is such a prominent object in night skies. Being the brightest star in the firmament, its bluish light caused wonder and terror in local minds, in fact adoring it as a divinity. The circumcision cut is always scheduled to coincide with its insipid rise in the eastern sky!

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