A story I was told – Baeletsi Tsatsi

My great aunt sat me down and said, “Tsaya,” I looked at her hands to see what she was giving me but they were empty. She reached out and pinched my ear and with the same hand, touched my heart. “As you will come to learn, that stories are about things that happened before this time, as you prepare to go on your journey, I gift you memories I created before you were born,” and out of her mouth a story poured. She said:

When she was a little girl, growing up in the village of Botshe, their village got overcome by a severe drought. They spent the entire spring season being teased by swollen clouds that poured no rain. They moved into the summer still clutching on to their hope. Her father’s fields were losing their green and each morning they ran into the kraal to count how many cows had died over night and how many thin ones remained. She said the drought introduced the man she once knew as her father, as a man who was always disappointed and frustrated. Her mother, she said, was pregnant during the drought and instead of growing fat and allowing her skin to stretch and glow, she grew thin in wait of the rain.

Even though the children were getting different infections every day and the rivers dried and the healing herbs were eaten by the cows in search for food, everyone in the village chose to live in hope. The winds blew at night, throwing open the window and mocked the villagers in their sleep. Still, my aunt said, she watched the village elders hold dear on to their hope that tomorrow would bring rain, only to be disappointed by the morning sun shining bright over their dry fields and dead cattle. When her mother was heavily pregnant, she watched her father become an angry desperate man, he couldn’t understand why the chief was holding out the option of consulting with the Moroka – the rain doctor. One day her mother got a false alarm and everyone thought that she was giving birth but once she was settled and lying on her bed, her father marched towards the chiefs place, where he was welcomed by thin men, who were the guards to the chiefs place, men who had been fat and strong once, the very quality that qualified them to be guards to the chief. But now they resembled the results of the drought. They were too lazy to put up a fight and too hungry to ask questions, so without any hassle, they let my aunt’s father to go through to the chief. He stood in front of the chief, who still maintained his weight, because even though the village was in drought, the villagers kept the chiefs place supplied with a quarter of their portions. Her father, my aunt told me, was a man who assumed calmness when he was angry, so he stood in front of the chief and calmly and sincerely pled his case.

“My first child is a girl,” he started, “who I love dearly but my wife is expectant and the women of vision say it will be a boy. My fields have dried up, even crows do not bother to fly above them. My cattle have died and the remaining ones do not care about survival. My wife is about to give birth and I cannot allow myself to welcome my heir into a world that bears no fruit. Please honourable chief, I appeal to the man in you who knows the honour and respect that comes from having an heir, a son to call your own, please consult with the Moroka,” he said.

The chief who was eating peanuts when my aunt’s father walked in, stood up and wiped his hands on his pants and offered it to my aunt’s father. After the two men had shook hands, the chief spoke,

“The men of this village held on to their pride and thought it was hope. No one wanted to be the one to stand in front of the chief to ask that I consult with the Moroka, but because you have swallowed your pride before it swallowed you, I will honour your courage by going to see the Moroka first thing tomorrow morning.”

And so it was, early the next morning, the chief and his advisors stood at the entrance of the Moroka’s hut, waiting to be invited inside. The gift bearer held them out as the Moroka appeared, he accepted the gifts and sang the chief praises before inviting him and his eldest advisor in. In the room, a drop of rain was suspended in the middle, a sound that could not be located made the Moroka’s words sound like the lyrics to a lullaby, the room smelled like the remains of petrichor and a big window above where the Moroka sat, let in the bright morning sun. The chief and his advisor sat opposite the Moroka, looking directly at him to avoid looking at the sun.

“I am no stranger to the reasons that bring you here. I have been waiting for chief’s visit and I am ready to carry out my duties as a servant of this village,” said the Moroka.

“Your words please me. Let your commands be known so that they may be carried out,” said the king

And the Moroka told the chief what needed to be done for the mighty rain to fall from the great skies.

First he said that the chief had to deploy strong and able men to go and dig for a plant, it had no name but when the young men see it, they will know it. “It is a shade of green and it has many layers,” was the only description that was given of the plant.

After the young men had found the plant, they were to hand it to the Moroka. Then the chief was to gather all the boy and girls of the village, pure virgins, and line them up outside of the Moroka’s hut, for each of them to receive a layer of the plant. And lastly, the chief, the Moroka, along with the chief’s advisors and the chosen elders of the village will accompany the children to the sacred mountain in the village also chosen by the Moroka. The elders would wait at the foot of the mountain and the children would climb up. When the children get to the mountain top, they will simultaneously place their layers on the mountain and it will start to rain.

The chief carried out the Moroka’ instructions carefully and on the third day, the children were walked to the mountain. My aunt says she was one of the girls and that even though the mountain was a long way to go, the excitement kept them going up and up. The chief had honoured her father with an invitation to join the elders, but he had to turn down the invite because his wife was nearing birth and he wanted to be there to welcome his heir into the world.

And so it was, when the children reached the mountain top, my aunt’s mother was pushing at the instruction of women who were helping her deliver her baby into the world – The village midwives. They cursed the presence of her husband at such a sacred time that women had to enjoy alone. It was when they heard thunder and saw lighting strike that her father started to pace up and down the room, the more the women shouted Push! Push! Her father stood at the door of the room, contemplating to leave his wife to endure this alone, unable to watch her in so much pain. Just as he was about to leave the room, he heard the clouds release a heavy rain, followed by the cry of a new born baby and ululation. He turned around and saw a little penis erect in the air, his mother, one of the midwives, held out a scissor for him to cut the umbilical cord and he went over to hold his son in his hands and whispered, “Moroka”, and so the son was named. Moroka, the rain doctor.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

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