Can you now see the way?


When the world was still wet and covered with marshes, one night a big black bee – the ones with the red-hot needle – carried a dull mantis to a dark clay house, there to lay an egg inside him. But tonight she would not reach her dark little clay house, for a teeth-chattering wind blew over the vast dark waters. The freezing wind made the black wings stiffer and the drab bundle, heavier and heavier. The carrier looked for a resting-place, but of all grasses sticking out of the wide world of swamp waters, pointing towards the sun, not one blade was stiff enough to carry a double load. The eyes of the black one with its load of death and life, searched the endless stretch of water for a resting-place. But all there was, was an endless stretch of swamp waters and more limp grasses.

The dull bundle forced the bee lower and lower. When the black eyes could see the ripples on the waters from the little folk that lived below, in anticipation of their nearing meal, she saw a big white flower, on the dark waters. The inner leaves, in anticipation of the rising sun, still upright. Tired wings, a heavy load, and the nearing death under the marsh-waters, made her who carried life and death, dive headfirst into the still open lily. She crawled deep inside the stiff leaves, deep, to where the seedhut have never been touched by the rays of the sun. And there, where the cold from the deep mud still waited upon the rays of the sun, from a new day, the bearer of the hot arrow head, was pressed firmly between the tight lips. And she died in the kiss of death…the kiss of death from which the first Heikum was born.

It was a woman. Her name was Kai-a-xamabis. Never was there a woman so beautiful, nor so wise. But she was very alone among the marshes of cold mud. And that, is the story about the great night from which our first mother was born. It is the story of the drab-grey world, of the time when the cold winds blew the black bee with its red-hot arrowhead-sting, far from its course. We the Heikum were born from the winds. The!Kung, and all the other San, heard the song of the wind over the grass, from us, the Heikum.

Do you mean the song of the wind over the swamp waters?

You ask many questions White Father. It is now the third day that you want to know from me, where us yellow people come from, how we live and which of our old laws we still have. For every answer I give, you just ask more questions. Listen now to this answer, and thereafter do not tire me with more questions.

I will listen carefully, Xameb.

The three stories about the Heikum-people are no longer told in full by the menfolk.

Three stories…?

Yes the story about our birth, the story of our great suffering, and the … story about our slow death – the hunger death of the yellow orphans of the desertland.

Xameb, I came from far, far away to search for the still living yellow orphans of the desert There are many of my kind, who carries a deep hurt in their hearts, because they heard that there are less and less of you in this great waterless desert land. If you give me the answers to my questions that I seek, I will have enough firewood to make a big fire in my land. And when the people are drawn to my fire, and hear the three stories, their hearts will open to you. Can you at least tell me one of the stories in full?

Yes… maybe the second one… the one about our great suffering today. But you must wait until I am finished with braaing this Puff adder, and have eaten it.

And since when do you, the great hunters of the desert eat Puff Adders?

Since we live like we do now….Since you white people, and the black people, drove us from the land of running waters.

Wait a moment, let us understand each other well, because I came from far. If you did not steal our cattle, we could have lived in peace together.

Aai….White Father, must you who came from so far, who have seen so many of us hungry and thirsty and dead here in the desert land, also echo such a lie?

What is written in books Xameb, does not have a short memory.

Are there also written in your books with the long memories about who slaughtered whose cattle first?

But you have never had cattle and sheep, how could anyone ever slaughter anything that is yours?

Aa…all the. buck of the plains and mountains were ours. They were our food, our clothes, and that with which we won our women. Then you came, and started shooting until not even the vultures could eat it all…In those days it was the law of my people; one buck for another buck…one skin for another skin. When you exterminated our livestock like that, and we had to watch our children get thinner and thinner, from eating Puff Adders, we aimed our arrows on your livestock and you live. That was the only law we knew in those days. You did not teach us another law, only the law of death. You made us into a nation of scaterlings and fugitives. Our pregnant women had to give birth on the run. In flight we had to leave our old ones of many days to the wolves. Ugly footprints mark the trail of our flight…the scattered bones of our old ones, and our infants for whom the road was too long.

Ai, Xameb…let us not first begin with the story of death. Let us go back to the story of your birth.

The story of our birth? That you have to ask the oldest of our mothers.

Why from them? Why a new search? Here the two of us are together. Every day I will shoot a springbok for you, then you do not have to go hunting for Puff Adders.

Go to the very old mothers.

But the hearts of the very old mothers is in desert land.

The breeding ground may have turned to desert, but still the wind-blown seeds roll, searching, searching for a damp fertile spot….Go to the deep cold mud out of which the sun of tomorrow and the day after, may call a seed to life…a second Kai-a-xamabis can be brought forth as a new mother for my scattered people. For the old people like me the sand dunes have blown too high. Their arrowheads are rusted and blunt. They are now moving to the great roads to hold out their hands, where you and your iron horses put the game to flight – holding out hands for bit tobacco and some old clothes. That is what the rusted arrowhead and the Puff Adders do to us old men.

But why have the old mothers retained their folk pride?

Say that thing again, my White Father.

Why didn’t the old mothers also become beggars at the roadsides? Do the old days live stronger and warmer in the hearts of the old mothers than in the hearts of the old fathers?

I have asked myself that question, next to more ash heaps than I can remember …

And what answers did your heart bring you in dark hours of the quiet night?

In the late hours, I hear two voices calling….the one voice calls from this side of the hill, the other voice on the other side of the hill. It is as if the two who are looking for each other, lost the way… as if the dull-grey rain winds covered the tracks before the seekers could find each other….Then the old stories from my mothers mouth comes back to me and I think; The Black bee that carried the grey mantis to a dark clay house, blown from its course…The cold and the night once was stronger than the day, but out of the deep cold, black mud a white lily grew….If I understand the far voice, the one on the other side of the hill, then it says; ‘ The white fen lilly can not die, because it is stronger than the night’…..Can the White Father now see the way?

Translated and adapted from P.J.Schoeman’s “Jagters van die Woestynland”

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