The year was 2017. It was a high year. CNN would soon hash tag it, ‘Kenya Decides’. It was a time to grant a continuation or reset a course. As usual, our drum beats, dances and rushed, half – baked lyrics chocked off the issues at hand; excitements from both sides of the divide derailed what would have been a sober narrative. His brigade, those who believed in a course reset, claimed that he was to deliver them to Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.
And because of that sweet promise doused with imaginations of how a new life in the Canaan to come would be, they sang songs in his praise, they cast aside any soul that held contrary opinion. It was a season of high intolerance, non – fanatics of the promised land craze were declared myopic, rudderless and hopeless. There was dance, chest thumping and an aura of sweetness never seen before swept over the land. In the end, the over filled balloon of hope and utter assurity burst. He ended up in Canaan, alone. No one else made it, not even to the gates of the promised land.
There was rage, confusion, tears and pockets of joy here and there. Most of the joy anthem came from them who never boarded the Canaan train, who were little swayed by the rhetoric that was hovering over the land. Few adherents of the Canaan express were joyous nevertheless, they consoled themselves that though they themselves never made it, he was able to cross river Jordan into the promised land. They were happy that he made it to Canaan. He had an excuse, or rather an alibi for his sole triumph into Canaan. He blamed it on the crocodiles. The carnivorous mammals swam that made mass crossing into Canaan an unsurmountable quest. How he, nevertheless, managed to navigate the said carnivores is still a mystery, perhaps they were allergic to his blood type. The crocodiles’ gang refuted any claim of being inhibitors to anyone wishing to cross the Jordan into Canaan.
In fact, in rebuttal, they clarified to have no history of having ever inhabited the said river, not in the present times or ages gone. No historical account could prove their existence on the Jordan. They claim he was a conman. He still is, no, not the one you are thinking about. Our village conman, the father of hailstones – Wuon Pe.
Due to the general evenness of our lands, nature deemed it fit that the best crop that can survive and do well in our village is rice. And this we plant in plenty. Rice is a gentle crop; lots of sacred time is dedicated from the preparation of tender seedlings to harvest. Apart from the constant duel posed against it by diseases and worms, nature’s occasional blessing of hailstones also gives it a beating. In fact, hailstones are a sure bet; so certain to rue your seasonal harvest, you deride it at your own risk. Many have held back endless tears behind the granaries. Here is where he comes in, the village conman.
They call him Wuon Pe, a literal translation from ‘father of hailstones’. Wuon Pe claims to have powers to summon the hailstones to hit a section or sections of rice plantations, powers to keep hailstones off the rice fields and powers to demonstrate how rusty it can get on those who dare question his powers.
Most families own an acre of rice field or at most four. The expansive rice plantation spanning several thousands of acres dictate that the vast agricultural land be divided into blocks for easy control of irrigation water that comes from the central pump. Each block would have about few hundred acres under it. Rice planting and harvesting is thus done in shifts, under blocks, not all blocks are put under irrigation all at one. Naturally each block would have two seasons per year, when the village pleased the gods, we had a third season.
Wuon Pe is a wiry skinned old man depicting an image of an orphan whose better days were spent under a spell of a grudging feeding by a cruel foster mother. He has specialized in his hailstones trade. It is a trade that is strictly controlled and transferred from one generation to another within his lineage. Like a man who cannot disappoint his chi, he received the trade passed down from his father.
And for his effort of keeping the hailstones away during the season of planting all through to harvest, each farmer, each owner of a single acre owes him two kilos of rice on harvest. Sounds little, right? Very meager in a harvest where one can be blessed with up to one twenty bags of 90 kg rice per acre. The devil is always in details, so comb the thorns. When he is done sweeping the entire block, fetching a portion back and forth, his summed collection over several days makes mockery of a land owner’s entire acre harvest. He’s a non – land owner who is somehow rich all seasons. And they loathe him. He loves showing up in person, but sometimes send his children to collect in his stead.
The villagers always murmur their remonstration when parting with their portion of the harvest to Wuon Pe. Talks of a conman who has cast a spell on them and succeeded to transform them into robotic ‘submissives’ of his ways are rampant. No one would want to face him head on. A few disgruntlements in hushed tones will do, has always been the case season after season. Tales have it that those who have questioned his powers before have had their rice fields hit by hailstones in isolation or got struck by strange ailments. Ongogo Jaket – Kore was one such an unlucky chap. Like Nza, after a heavy meal, he had decided to challenge the gods to a duel.
It was in the peak of the harvest. For some reason, that season the harvest had performed unimpressively poor. The farmers were weak in spirit; days of hard labor had not been honored with bounty harvest as usual. Ongogo Jaket – Kore had, season after season earlier, led the anti – hailstone god choir. He had incited the villagers that Wuon Pe was nothing more than a conman who had devised plans to cover up for his own lack of land ownership in the vast rice plantations.
On many occasions he would remind the villagers that Wuon Pe resorted to blackmail his fellow kin by engaging in black magic while camouflaging as a munificent father of hailstones. Murmurs kept inward far too long must soon boil a yam. It boiled Jaket – Kore on the day Wuon Pe passed by his farm to collect his seasonal ritual’s token. A nasty confrontation soon ensued. Jaket – Kore chased the poor fellow from his farm, warning him never again to set foot on any of his farms.
It was a scene never seen before in the land. The villagers watched in horror how the tin god had been taken head on, how he had not only left Jaket – Kore’s farm speechless but dropped altogether the bag of rice he had fetched from other farms and headed home. The old, who had lived long enough to fathom the ways of the gods, knew only one thing would follow, disaster. The careless, fun lovers who naturally would laugh at such scenes struggled hard to swallow their laughter. They must have laughed later, in the comfort of their homes, away from the watchful eyes of the hailstone god.
Two days later, Ongogo Jaket – Kore was struck by a strange sickness. He could not leave his bed and no food passed to him would last in his tummy. He grew thin, weak and lost appetite. He had found a new friend in the name of a bush toilet. His tummy was forever running; endlessly seeking to eject something but nothing came. Word soon went round that Ongogo Jaket – Kore was heavily laden with spikes of diarrhea, vomit and poor taste. Some added that he was bewitched, he was seeing things, doppelgangers chasing him.
His wives watched helplessly as he kept wandering about chasing shadows in his moonlit compound. His household, his neighbors they were all in agreement, he had worked up a god. But Jaket – Kore was a man not to be scared by such talks. His days were however narrowing, he steadily assumed a frail sketch of his former self.
On the fourth day of his torment he went to a clinic. They did some tests. The white man’s ways pronounced that he was suffering from what appeared to be acute bouts of amoeba. Appeared! Why couldn’t they conclusively say what he was suffering from? Isn’t the white man’s machine able to tell, with fine print exactness, when one suffers from deadlier diseases? He was given few tablets to help manage his condition.
But Ongogo Jaket – Kore knew where he had to go. He knew whom to pay homage. The doctor trained in the white man’s medicine doesn’t understand the charm and spell this land has been placed under, he reasoned as he hastened his steps to Wuon Pe’s compound.
Wuon Pe lived in a humble home, bedecked with grass thatched mud walled huts, very green and fortified with dots of few pawpaw trees.
He was sitting under a tree shade seeping porridge from the African calabash, directly facing his mud walled hut that stood in the middle of the compound. The hut where no one dared venture. The hut, the villagers whispered in low tones, contained the charms and paraphilia of witchcraft.
He saw Ongogo Jaket – Kore approaching, a once proud giant who strode the land with agile strides turned into a rained orphan cat limping on one side. Jaket – Kore greeted him, his greetings went unanswered. There was no room to be vexed for his ignored greeting, he had gone to make peace anyway. He slowly narrated his four – day ordeal that had turned him into a sleepless cry owl and brought shame to his compound. Wuon Pe listened keenly uttering no word in reply. He seemed unmoved, almost irritated. He was lost in his thoughts.
“I beseech you to plead with your gods to have mercy on me. I am a mere mortal who has not yet fully grasped the sacredness of their ways. I have abominated against you and them. Please, intercede for me. Save me from this shame I have put myself in,” Ongogo Jaket – Kore, on his knees, pled.
Those words seemed to have landed on Wuon Pe’s puffed pride. He seized him with disgust.
“I know I went overboard with you last time.” Jaket – Kore continued begging, “I was bitter for the poor harvest. You were right to ask the gods to punish me.”
Finally, with an iota of self – importance, the almighty Wuon Pe replied to his poor victim, “My son, you think that little show you called bravery the other day moved me to agitate for your destruction?” Wuon Pe stood up adjusting the helms of his tattered flowing robe.
Pointing to the sky with his flywhisk he continued, “I am yet to call upon the gods to claim their name, to restore their honor, to punish trouble makers like you. You’re at war with yourself.”
With tears flowing from his eyes, Jaket – Kore swore to Wuon Pe that he’d be a good man, a man dedicated for the restoration of the honor of gods and their ways. He couldn’t imagine what would happen were Wuon Pe to summon the gods to punish him. His war with self was enough, it had made him see the light!
The following day he carried a full sack of rice to Wuon Pe’s home as a peace offering, an atonement for his grievous deeds. They say he didn’t take a single tablet of the medicine from the clinic. All he needed to be healed was peace, peace with himself and the gods.
After bouts of amoeba or whatever ailment it was that nearly killed him, Ongogo Jaket – Kore learned to keep a studious silence on matters hailstones. His once ever animated beak that used to spew rage and dare stirring ruckus had been muffled. It beckoned on him, the Igbo saying, ‘the man who has never submitted to anything will soon submit to the burial mat’. He learned how to toe the line and keep his peace. Ever since he’s been a gracious giver to the hailstone god. His faithful crusader if you may.
The villagers still murmur, they are befuddled and still grumble in giving. This con game is stuck with them, they still pay, they still fear, they still insist he’s a conman. But was he? Is he? Isn’t he the necessary upset they must learn to live with?