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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Fiksie | Fiction > English > Published authors

The Rain Dance


Lucas Ledwaba - 2008-04-30

Nkholo Galane surveyed the sky with eyes that had seen much suffering. Even without his trusted spectacles the old man could tell the sky was still as cloudless as he had last seen it.

Last year’s summer had come and gone without any rain. It was now the summer of the following year, and still, the gods hadn’t blessed the village with rain.

Nkholo put on his spectacles just to make sure the skies weren’t playing games with his eyes. It was not clear how he managed to see through that hazy zig-zag of scratches on his spectacles. But he trusted them anyway.

And true, there was not a single rain cloud in sight above, and way beyond the village of Ga-Madiba.

In the distance Nkholo saw a cloud of red dust swirling into the dry air. It was the women of the village, he thought, pummelling the dry earth with hoes in the fields.
They toiled here tirelessly everyday, hoping, praying, that one day the rains would come. But the hoes sang the same forlorn song everyday, the song of steel crushing dry earth, dzi! dzi! dzi!

The women, with eyes bloodshot from the raging sun and the dust, heels that had cracked from too many hours in the burning red soil, sang as they worked. They sang the rain songs of the tribe, hoping that, perhaps soon, the heavens would open up.

But still, the rains did not come. Still, the sun beat down on the earth like a raging furnace. The great river Mogoadi and its little sister Modiye, roaring masses of water in years gone by, remained just a trickle. The village cursed, and mourned the death of yet another cow, prayed and praised the gods for the rain to come, but the sky remained a stark blue, and the red dust rose into the dry air like a ball of fire.

Nkholo rubbed his ears a little. Even from here, under the shade of the morula tree, he could faintly hear the singing of the women. His failing ears could pick up the dzi! dzi! dzi! of the hoes as they chewed and spewed mounds of earth. How he wished he could that night hear the raindrops beat against the corrugated roof of his house in torrents instead, torrrr, torrrr, torrrr...

The old man was interrupted in his thoughts by Malesela, who threw himself exhaustedly in the dust, balancing his tiny frame against the huge trunk of the morula.

“Hao, Nkholo, what are you thinking about so much?” the young man enquired.
The old man eyed Malesela suspiciously. When he starts asking these questions, the old man knew, he must be in need of money to feed his cell phone yet again. Ah, these young people and their cell phones, really!

Nkholo sighed and adjusted the rims of his spectacle, then fixed his tired eyes on his grandson.

“Mtukulu, child of my child, it’s the rains mtukulu,” Nkholo lamented. “You know, you young people have turned from the ways of our fathers, and now look, no rain.”

Malesela suppressed a smile. He knew what was coming: another long lecture on tradition and the gods, all those things from donkey’s years ago.

“Aowa Nkholo,” Malesela smiled. “Nkholo, haven’t you heard of El Niño, the great drought that’s killing the earth, Nkholo?”

The old man studied his grandson’s face for a while, then spoke in his slow and thoughtful manner. “Monrwana we monrwana wa me, child of my child,” he started.

“Nkholo,” Malesela replied, frowning.

“You have adopted the ways of the white people. You have no respect for the ways of your own people. What’s wrong with you children of today?” Nkholo enquired, a little agitated.

Malesela seemed always to have answers for Nkholo’s lectures. He was Nkholo’s favourite grandson. But Nkholo didn’t understand this back-chatting. It was just not the way a child behaved in the presence of elders. But he liked Malesela, even though he was always asking him for money to refill his cell phone. Ah, children of today and their phones!

“Nkholo, this thing of the gods, it doesn’t work, Nkholo. Even in the church they tell us so. Moruti Mogano says it is the ways of the devil.”

Nkholo struggled for words. “Hao, banrwana laba futhi, these children really,” he murmured to himself.

Malesela continued, “Nkholo, only Jesus can help us. We cannot rely on dead people, Nkholo.”

The old man smiled at this.

“Mtukulu, child of my child, this Jesus of yours, is he not dead?”

Malesela was quiet for a while, a little confused by the old man’s comments about the Saviour. He had never looked at it this way before.

“But you see, Nkholo, Jesus is alive in me. The grandfathers that you are talking about, even Nkholo Malesela that you named me after, are not alive in me. And Moruti Mogano says we are going to pray for the rain next Sunday. And Nkholo, you will see, after we have prayed, the rains will come.”

Nkholo rose from his chair and retired to the quiet of his bedroom. He took off his spectacles and dropped them on the wooden table. Lako, the cat, eyed the old man from where she lay resting under the table. Lako’s stare caught Nkholo’s eye. “Hmmm, Lako, banrwana laba, these children, aish, I don’t know really.” Lako just stared at the old man with tired eyes. Nkholo wondered, for a moment, if cats also worshipped the gods, if Lako’s kittens would also do away with the ways of their cat ancestors one day and, maybe, follow the ways of dogs. He took off his boots and jacket and lay on his bed. Even in this heat, Nkholo wore a jacket. “Ndoda mbaje, a man is not a real man without a jacket on," he often told the likes of Malesela.

He thought about his plan again. But then, he didn’t understand why the Christians were planning to pray for the rain on the same day that he’d planned to take the young girls across the river Mogoadi to perform the age-old rituals of rainmaking. He would go and see the Kgosi about his plan tomorrow.

Up in the church, Moruti Mogano was talking excitedly to his wife MaMoruti Moipone, about next Sunday’s procession in the streets of Ga-Madiba. “I say mme we, the Kgosi says he doesn’t mind. He says anything that will bring rain to the land of his fathers, let it be done,” Moruti Mogano said in his deep baritone.

“Aowa, that’s good news, ntate. So does that mean he will now come to church, is he now a changed man?” MaMoruti responded.

“Eeish mme, I didn’t want to upset him. You know how he feels about the church and Christians. He’s a man who holds dear the teachings of his traditions.”

“No, ntate, the Kgosi is in the dark, he’s doing the work of Satan, and you must try to show him the light at every given opportunity. What is he doing telling people to worship badimo, the dead?”

MaMoruti Moipone, a lean and hungry-looking figure with piercing eyes, was known for her sharp tongue. She was known, even feared, in the village because she never thought twice about firing abuse at anyone who crossed her path or disobeyed the good teachings of the Word.

Like the other day when she caught a group of women from the village remarking about her husband Moruti Mogano’s good looks. MaMoruti Moipone laid into them with her sharp tongue and when she was done, after what seemed like a whole hour, she asked the women to join her in prayer, to ask God for forgiveness and to help them remove such dirty thoughts as flirting with Moruti from their minds. They all went down on their knees and listened to MaMoruti Moipone’s hour long prayer.

“I know mme, but sometimes it takes God’s miracles to convince people. You see, after the Lord has answered our prayers next Sunday, after the rains have showered the lands of Ga-Madiba, you will see the entire village, including the chief, come to pray with us,” Moruti Mogano smiled satisfactorily.

Kgosi Madiba was a sombre old man. He spent his days under the cluster of trees in his homestead playing dipela, a hand organ. He didn’t have much to do these days. The coming of democracy had taken away much of his powers, the power to fine transgressors of the laws of the tribe and the village a cow at the kgoro. These days when a man had assaulted his wife, she went to the police; when a boy of poor morales abused a girl, she too went to the police, and the magistrates in grand buildings heard these cases. Democracy, yes; the young men called councillors, the ones who accompanied their speeches with fancy English words such as development, budget and procurement were now in charge, building schools and digging trenches for water pipes.

The Kgosi, these days, only presided over traditional ceremonies which these very men, the councillors, had very little or no regard for at all. The Kgosi was just a figurehead now, a remnant of the old order.

Word in the village was that since the coming of democracy, Kgosi Madiba had taken to the bottle with much vigour; he was bitter, they said. The loss of his powers had killed something inside him, the rumour mill went, unlike in his heyday, like when Moruti Mogano first arrived in the village to establish his church. Kgosi Madiba had refused to give him land to build his church. Why, he asked, would he want to bring the ways of the white man to Ga-Madiba? Why, he enquired, did he think Ga-Madiba needed a church?

“How many villages did you pass on your way here?” Kgosi Madiba had asked Moruti Mogano.

“I was sent by God to do his work in this village, Kgosi,” was Moruti Mogano’s calm response.

“Do you think God would have let us live if we weren’t doing his work? Do you think you are the only one who knows God? Please, don’t bring the white man’s God here,” Kgosi Madiba dismissed the parson.

But after long months of pleading and kind persuasion, the Kgosi had allowed Moruti Mogano a little plot of land to build a church. Even then, it was way on the outskirts of the village, on an isolated patch of land towards the village of Monotoane in the west.

And, the Kgosi had added, there would be no preaching in the village. That could happen only in the church, and once a week when the women of the village were not working in the fields.

But now, with the coming of democracy, the Kgosi had no powers to stop the people from preaching and worshipping in the village. Moruti had consulted him as a matter of courtesy.

The church had attracted quite a sizeable crowd, especially widowed old women and children, dragged to the house of worship by their grandmothers. The men, like Kgosi Madiba and Nkholo Galane, refused to convert to the ways of the white man; theirs was a life lived according to the teachings of the forefathers.

Nkholo went to see the Kgosi as promised the morning after his chat with Malesela. Nkholo and the Kgosi had grown up together, and went through the rites of passage into manhood together, down in the valley of Utjane years ago. Unlike other mere mortals, Nkholo didn’t have to go through the normal protocol to have audience with the Kgosi. But, still, he had to address the Kgosi as the ways of the tribe demanded.

“Kgomo!” Nkholo saluted the Kgosi, who sat under the morula, drinking a bowl of mageu from a calabash. “You of the great horned people, you son of Madiba, the great bull that savaged a leopard with its horns, moshate!”

“Hao, is that the great elephant? Isn’t that the son of Galane, isn’t that the great Ndebele himself, son of a people who, when they can’t find a cow to slaughter, simply devour the flesh of men? Galane, the rainmaker, welcome to the house of Madiba, the great bull, the wet-nosed god!”

Nkholo sat on the mound of soil before the Kgosi, rubbing his hands as a sign of respect to this man, the father of the village.

“Kgomo, the land of Madiba has suffered greatly. Only yesterday the son of Mokonyama lost yet another goat. And I hear that there is almost nothing left in the kraal of Legodi the carpenter,” Nkholo started.

Kgosi Madiba wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief. He sighed heavily, rose from his chair and looked into the distance. He was quiet for a while. Nkholo observed him quietly, for is it not rude to interrupt the Kgosi when he’s deep in thought, deep in quiet conversation with the forefathers?

“I am looking at those mountains in the land of Matlala. My eyes are failing me these days, but I can tell even from here that the water that used to wet those rocks on the mountains has dried up too,” the Kgosi said, returning to his chair.

They were both quiet for a while. Then Nkholo started, shifting uncomfortably from where he sat. “Son of the great bull, Madiba, the gods are angry,” Nkholo said.

“They are, Ndebele!”

“It’s been long since we sent the little girls across the Mogoadi, to the resting place of the great bull himself, and the resting places of the rainmakers. I speak of Lesetja himself, Galane the dark-skinned Ndebele,” Nkholo spoke in a voice that was heavy with grief.

“You surprise me, Galane,” the Kgosi remarked.

“Kgomo?”

“Are you not the son of Lesetja, the dark-skinned Ndebele, who in his day brought us much rain with his gift from the gods?” Kgosi asked.

Nkholo hesitated a little. “Son of the great bull, I hear and understand you. It’s been long since we crossed the Mogoadi with the young girls, the young ones that are still innocent. I was saying we should …”

The Kgosi stopped Nkholo with the wave of a hand. “I have already sent for Sebabala the medicine man in Sengatane. Galane, you are the rainmaker, not me. On Sunday morning we will send the young girls across the Mogoadi.”

The village was buzzing with anticipation for the big day. In the church, the old women cleaned the windows and swept the floor. Moruti Mogano rose everyday at dawn to pray for the day that was coming. In the village, Christian families sang and prayed solemnly for the big day that was coming.

Word had come from the moshate, the Kgosi’s homestead, that all young girls who didn’t know a man avail themselves at the kgoro on Saturday morning. Nkholo was a busy man that week, rising shortly before midnight to join Sebabala the medicine man in strengthening the village with herbs, then walk the long way to the river Mogoadi at dawn to bathe.

Malesela, too, saw very little sleep that week. The young men and women of the church met to pray in Nkholo Galane’s backyard at night. Nkholo hated it, but, Malesela and his friends were just children who were in the dark, led astray by the ways of the white man, he thought to himself, and they would learn their lesson on Saturday, when the gods finally brought the rain.

Malesela and his Christian friends sang and prayed for the rain, for God to bless this day that was coming, they prayed for Moruti Mogano and MaMoruti Moipone, for all the people that were in the dark, including the Kgosi and Nkholo. They asked God to perform His miracles and bring rain to Ga-Madiba, to convince the likes of Nkholo that indeed, there was a God, a Christian God.

The ceremonies began just before sunset on Saturday, the day before the big day.
Nkholo led the young virgins who came from families of traditionalists like him, children of the gods, down the wide street to the moshate. Alongside the young girls who balanced calabashes on their heads marched the dinaka dancers, old men and women in colourful traditional dress, beating the drums and singing and whistling, blowing horns.

Mogoadi weee
Mogoadi weee
Re fe meetse weee
wena noka ya badimo wee.

On the other side of Ga-Madiba, Malesela and the Christians, with burning candles in their hands, marched up the narrow footpath leading to the church, singing Jesus’ praises.

He’s mine mine, Jesus is mine
Mine, mine, mine, Jesus is mine.

Kgosi Madiba and Sebabala the medicine man stood at the gates of the moshate, to welcome Nkholo and his entourage. When Nkholo saw the Kgosi, he leapt into the air, jabbing the air with his spear, shouting, "Madiba weee! Ageee! Kgomo weee!"
The women ululated and beat the drums loudly, the men blew their dinaka and the young virgins sang in their childish voices.

When the Kgosi saw this, he was suddenly overcome by emotion, reciting the battle cries of his people.

Ho! Children of the horns,
The warrior whose horns
Are splattered with the
blood of the enemy
Ageee!

Sebabala dipped his whisk into a calabash and sprinkled the crowd with its contents, the herbs, the secrets of the forefathers.

“Hai, hai, badimo, aaahh, the gods, bless these children of Madiba, cleanse them, bless them,” Sebabala roared.

At the church Moruti Mogano was waiting at the door, sprinkling holy water on his folk, these children of Jesus, who had come to pray for the rain.

“Halelua! Haleluja! Haaaamen! Haameniii!”

In the church the worshippers spent the night singing and praising, beating the Bibles and hymnbooks rhythmically with their open hands. There was no sleeping at the moshate either. The beating of the drums and singing of the virgins saw the night off.

At dawn Moruti Mogano led the worshippers out into the quiet streets of Ga-Madiba. They marched, singing, Moruti Mogano, his wife and church elders leading from the front. They sang the songs of Christ their Saviour. "Oh yes, He’s the God of miracles, this God of ours, please, our Father, give us rain, you creator of everything."

Earlier, Nkholo Galane and Sebabala had quietly led the young virgins down to the valley. By the time the first rays of the sun appeared behind the hills of Ngopane and Ramahute, Nkholo and Sebabala had sprinkled snuff and asked for rain at the graves of the elders of the village, the great bull himself, and Lesetja, the rainmaker, son of Galane. When they were done, they led the young virgins to the dry bed of the river Mogoadi. "Oh come ye the rain clouds, come back now, we’ve been waiting a long time, come back now to the land of Madiba, the great bull who savaged a leopard with his horns."

They all gathered around in a circle. Nkholo knelt down to pour a bowl of snuff on the dry riverbed, then the young virgins dropped their calabashes in the sand, forming a half circle around where Nkholo had sprinkled his snuff. When they were done, Sebabala sprinkled more herbs with his whisk and they left, with strict instructions not to look back, and walked back to the village, singing the sacred songs of the tribe.

Up in the streets of Ga-Madiba, the Christians knelt in the centre of the village, opposite Nkholo’s house, praying, asking Jesus to plead with His Father to unleash the rains. When everyone had said their prayers, the last one, as usual, being MaMoruti Moipone, the people walked back along the main route cutting through the village, singing a hymn.

Just after sunset that evening, rain clouds gathered and thick droplets of rain pelted the dry soil of Ga-Madiba. People ran outside to dance in the rain, caring very little about whether it was Moruti Mogano's god or Nkholo Galane's gods who had, at last, brought the rain to their land.