We had heard about what they had done to the other villages, these demon possessed men that killed without any conscious. Those who managed to escape came to tell us how they tore open the bellies of pregnant women, how they set their shrines alight and how they gave the village a new name every time they moved on. We lived in fear for we knew that they were coming to our village, Battlemount.
When our father’s father’s moved to this village, they were coming from the North were similar savages were capturing the villages of the innocent, they had fought and survived, and they took long journeys in search for a village that they could again call home. Amongst them was the last prayer warrior of their tribe, and with every stop they made he would kneel to pray and ask the gods for direction, and that is how they ended up at the village near the river that flowed with the cleanest water known to men. They had wanted to call the village, Sweet Waters, but when the other villages heard about the flowing river they started to send their men to fight our men, but because the prayer warrior knelt often, our men always won the fights, and that is how the village is called Battlemount.
When our parents gave birth to our generation, they told us long indulgent stories of how things were in their days, but all we knew was that, the men in our village were always drunk, that the river was polluted and that households took reluctant turns taking care of the village farm and that even though the prayer warrior had lived to see many years, he too was always drunk. My mother would often finish her stories by saying that “My people no longer feared our gods.”
When the people started flocking into our village, they told us that they started running from over nine villages back, that they had to take the forest path and they were scared that they would not survive the wild animals as they had nothing to sacrifice to the gods so that they bless their ways. We shared with them the little we had and listened to their stories. They told us about the weapons the savages carried, the colour of their skin and how their eyes were deep and lifeless. One of the women stayed in the corner of the temple, rocking herself back and forth, she was the one who heard her child crying but had to keep on running and leave the child to die. She folds her arms as though she is holding a child and rocks back and forth as if to put the child to sleep. The women came alone, barefoot and bloody, the men had stayed to fight, but the women doubted if any of them survived.
We spent our nights listening to their stories, welcoming more women from the other villages and begging the prayer warrior to sober up and kneel. The stubborn woman who made beer had to offer him bottomless barrels of beer if he could just sober up to kneel and hear what the gods were saying. On the day he finally sobered up and announced that he will kneel, we woke up to go and clean the shrine, it was left untouched for many years, we asked the other villagers about their gods, and if any of their prayer warrior had survived, but they bowed their heads in shame and declared in soft whispers that they no longer heard the voice of the gods. In their village, everyone wanted to be rich, so they decided to cut of prayer time to spend more time in the fields, we looked at the shame they bore upon realising that their fields and all their wealth had not saved them from the savages.
When the men in our village sobered up, they wanted to sleep with the women from the other villages in the name of earning their protection. “Otherwise we will sacrifice you to the savages when they come, open up your thighs and welcome us ladies.” Our mothers were disappointed that our father’s sobriety brought to them an animalistic lust.
Months passed, the women from the other villages had their stomach showing but the savages had still not come. The river flowed with sweet waters again, the prayer warrior knelt often but said nothing to anyone, our fathers took second and third wives and the women from the other villages spoke our language with a heavy accent of their own, we walked with our heads held up high, full of a hopeful pride that the savages had been defeated and ours was the surviving village.
The chief made an announcement that the village should change its name. He set aside the day and days leading to the day were filled with joy, with the cries of foreign children crying, our mothers were singing again and we, the older ones, learned the songs and taught them to our brothers and sisters. Days were marked by activities, some were for baking bread, some for drying the meat and some for sorting out the grains. Our village garden was bearing sweet fruit and the vegetables made our skin glow. We sacrificed often to the gods in elaborate ceremonies, and because the other villagers had forgotten the language of their gods, they learnt that of ours.
One day I stood on top of the only mountain in our village after a sacrificial ceremony and looked down at our village and for once, I could see the village whose stories our mothers raised us on. Shades of brown and green taking turns to colour the beautiful Battlemount. I understood why it was important for my mother to have the people fear the gods.
But they came, on the day of the name changing ceremony. No one saw them coming and no one heard their arrival.
The men were drunk and the prayer warrior was amongst them, he was telling them the wise words of the gods. The women were dancing and the children were playing games. We, the older girls, were sitting behind the big rock that stood proud in the corner of the chiefs place, discussing marriage prospects and giggling at the skew haircuts our mothers gave us, when we heard a sudden silence. We looked at each other and the eldest went to take a peak, she looked back us with a glint of a foreign excitement. We all left from behind the rock, and there before us was a sight we’ll never forget.
Blood. Everywhere. Our mothers dead. Our fathers dead and the savages walking away with their backs to us. The drunk prayer warrior of Battlemount, dancing furiously to a song only he could hear. The youngest opened her mouth, to let out a scream, but the eldest caught her right on time and we went back behind the big rock this time not to laugh but to hide.
We herd the prayer warrior start a pleading prayer, asking the gods to resurrect them all, making offers. Saying their lives will be a pure sacrifice to them, we heard his feet stomp into the ground, we heard his prayer become louder and then we heard a yawn that could only come from someone who came from a deep sleep, we left the rock to go and see, and there in front of us, our parents were waking from the dead, poking their bullet wounds and looking around as if waking up from a different sleep.
The chief had changed our village’s name to Kentse, meaning My Name Will Not Change, he said it was a prophesy that the savages will indeed not come to our village.
Once everyone was up, we walked towards them. The drunk prayer warrior of Kentse looked around him slowly and we knew what he meant. He knelt and we all knelt with him and for the first time, all at once, the villagers opened their mouths to pray a prayer of gratitude.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo