Turning into Dust – Samson M. Mlambo

“You children got it all wrong. You are wrong!” Malome said to the children who sat around him under the giant Baobab tree. His pipe was lingering from his pitch black lips. The smell of tobacco was burning his lungs. “Young women, take a look at yourselves! Why burn your scalp with the poison attempting to straighten your pitch black, strong, curly, beautiful hair. Why attached a dirty man’s hair on your head to feel beautiful?” At this point, some women touched their weaves. “What is wrong with your dress? Are you mocking the beauty Almighty had bestowed upon you? Are you ashamed of your thick, warm, tantalizing thighs? Had your diamond between them thighs lost that much value? Is there anything wrong with your enticing breast that fed a child with love? What?! Do I sound mean to you? Is it the reason you resent your heritage; the legacy your forefathers had left you to inherit? Are you ashamed of the truth? Take a serious look at yourselves? Are you that cheap?! The young men laughed at the young women who looked ashamed with their eyes searching the ground.

“Young men, I have your number too.” Malome looked at them, blowing the poison smoke into thin air. “Where is your dignity? Why ink your bodies with tattoos to claim toughness? What is wrong with that gold on your teeth? Is your natural smile not bright enough? Did God make a mistake by giving you the responsibility of loving women? If not so, why use her as your punching bag? Is that what you think God gave you a masculine body for? Are you ashamed to listen to a woman’s voice? Does “No!” sounds like an insult to you? Is it why you rape the value of her diamonds? Have you forsaken the worthiness of your manhood? Is your package heavy enough to carry? What? Do you think I insult you? Are you that weak?! Take a look at yourselves. What is wrong with you? And do not answer me with your big words and fancy accent! It means nothing to me. What is wrong with all of you, really? You don’t know? I will tell you what is wrong with all of you.”

Malome coughed, his lungs were rattling like a strong thunder in the middle of a stormy. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth. After he placed his pipe back on his lips and left it lingering like a hopeless child. “Ga le itse dinaane tsa lona – You don’t know your stories. Gape ga le na Moya wa go di fitisetsa kwa baneng ba lona – Also, you don’t have the spirit to pass them to your children,” Malome said. “Ga nkabo le nale Naane le Moya wa bagolo ba lona, nkabo lo ikitse gore lo bomang – If you had your stories and your elders’ spirit, you would have known who you are.” They all looked at him without uttering a word. Their silence felt like they had stopped breathing.

“Come. Sit.” They all sat down on the ground surrounding him. “You all got it wrong. During my times, children took pride of their bodies. They cherished their natural beauty. They accepted themselves. Children lived under the laws of their elders. They never question their elders or attempt to reason with them. They listened to their elders. Today you have rights. What the hell is a right? Is it a tick on a piece of paper? Can you show me a right?” They stared at him silently. “You see, we used to have different compartments within a single yard.” Malome continued. “Young men had their huts. They stayed alongside their fathers and learned their responsibilities. They will clear and cultivate their land. They will protect the cattle from wild animals and the raids from other tribes. A man who cannot protect his cattle is not capable of protecting his family. Young men would be taught how to use a spear and shield by his father. He will be taught how to treat a woman, how to speak to her and how to behave around women.”

Malome coughed again as if his lungs would fall out of his mouth. After wiping off his mouth with his handkerchief, he continued. “Young women would stay alongside their mothers in the huts. Each mother had her own vegetable plot, which she will cultivate with her daughters. She will teach them how to cook a man’s food. She would teach them how to fetch the water from a well and clean the house. She will learn how to grind millet into porridge and how to create pots with clay. She will be taught how to behave around her man and how to speak with him. At night, the young men would eat with their fathers and the young women with their mothers. They will sit around a fire and listen to dinaane – stories and capture the moya – spirit of way of our people. Their stories taught women to respect men, to embrace nature, to entice men with their gift of beauty, to value themselves more than gold. It taught men to love women, to praise their beauty, to caress their beautiful body with their strong hands. Both men and women will sing traditional songs to each other or to elders with thanks for their contribution in their lives. That is the way we carried out our Naane le Moya (Story and Spirit) alive within ourselves. For our life without stories is dust.” He paused as he looked at his pipe. “The children of today want to cheat nature. They are not satisfied with how God created them. Do you know why? They don’t know the value of learning their stories and don’t understand the spirit of their elders.

Malome cleaned out his pipe. He coughed once again and looked at their shamed faces; “Now, I will ask you once again. Who are you? If you still can’t tell me your story, you must worry. Just know you are slowly turning into dust.” The young men and women looked at each other.

Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo

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