The Medicine Man.

People live in many different sorts of homes. In my country people live in houses, flats or rondavels. These are round houses made with clay and sticks, with thatched roofs. They are quite small, but since African weather is so good the poorer people need their houses only for protection at night from wild animals and from the rain.

The family in this story lived in a rondavel in a village a very long way from the main road. The people had their own code of ethics, which enabled them to live together in harmony. No one was a murderer; no one was a thief. Although one man may have more than one wife, he chose his wives carefully and took no others, so the children of the wives knew who their father was, and they loved and respected him. In this village no man had more than three wives. Most only had one because they did not have enough land to feed more than a certain number of children. Ah, but I tell a lie, the chief had four wives. The eldest and wisest was his first wife, Bulala. The other wives had to pay attention to what Bulala said, or there would be trouble. Each wife had her own special duties and skills.

Bulala was the organiser. There was much work to be done. The ground had to be broken, the crop sowed, the houses must be kept in good order. Then there were the animals, they had to be fed and water had to be fetched every day. Someone had to make and mend the clothes and cook the food. The wives shared the duties out amongst themselves and their children so that everything that needed to be done was done and there was still time for singing and dancing at the end of the day sometimes.

The chief was the medicine man and healer. He spent his time talking to the elders and making decisions for the village, meting out justice, and healing the sick.

In general the system worked very well indeed, the villagers were happy and healthy. Of course people died every so often, but death is part of life. Those who live must also die. No one wishes to die in pain and suffering, and I think the chief did his best to see that this did not happen to his people.

You will remember that the chief had four wives, Bulala and the three junior wives. The youngest was called Mata, and because she was the most junior wife she felt she was given more work to do than the others were. She had only one child, and the others all had two or three, and they would say,

“Ah, let’s ask Mata to do it. Her baby is asleep, she has time now.” There were so many people telling Mata what to do – the chief himself, Bulala, and the two other wives, that Mata didn’t feel that she ever had a moment’s peace, and since she was married to the medicine man himself, she didn’t feel she could complain.

She started taking long walks in the bush with her child on her back, just to get away from them all. She would sit under a tree and wait for dusk to fall before returning to the village with a small piece of firewood on her head.

When they asked her where she had been she would say:

“I have been searching for firewood. There is so little to be found.”

The wives would toss their heads angrily. “We have been working all day long and you come home with one miserable stick of firewood, Mata, What is wrong with you?” She would turn away and take her baby off to feed him.

The chief loved Mata. She was a kind sweet girl. He could see that she was unhappy and he thought he knew the reason why. He decided he would try to show her how things could be different for her. The next day when she went off to gather wood, he sent a group of young men off to follow her. They kept their distance; she did not notice them at all. She sat in the shade and played with her baby and then she slept. While she was asleep one of the youths stole up to her and picked up the child. The baby was not at all alarmed. He knew the young man very well.

When Mata awoke she was horrified to find her child had gone. What should she do? Distraught, she ran back to the village to tell her husband, the chief.

She was amazed at his calm reception of this terrible news.

“Ah, Mata,” he asked, “How was it that you did not prevent your child from disappearing from you, was he not with you on your back while you were gathering firewood?

Then Mata had to tell the truth, she had been asleep.

“And this is what you have been doing every day, instead of bringing back the wood for the fire you have been sleeping?”

“Yes, my husband.”

“Do you not like cooked food, my wife? If we have no fire we cannot cook our meal. I think you would prefer yours straight from the sack, quite dry, or shall we mix it with a little water?”

Mata was very proud. She did not want to tell the chief why she had stayed away from the village every day. She ate the raw meal for two days. She could not understand why no one seemed to be concerned about the disappearance of her child. On the third day her husband approached her. “Do you have something more to tell me about, Mata?”

Finally she broke down and explained about how she felt being the youngest wife.

The chief laughed and smacked his thighs. “Ah, Mata, Mata, I know exactly what you are talking about. As you know I was the youngest of eight boys. They all told me what to do all the time. I had to learn to say ’No’, and to speak up for myself. That is what you must do from now on. Don’t be afraid of Bulala, she is not unkind. Just tell her what you think is fair, and I know she will be just.”

“But how can you laugh? Your son is missing and I don’t know where he is?” wailed Mata.

At that moment the child appeared in the arms of a smiling young man, Bulala’s eldest son, his own half brother.

Mata screamed and ran towards him, overjoyed; the baby held out his arms to his mother who scooped him up and disappeared into her rondavel with him.

The chief looked at his eldest son. “You, Soli, you learn from this . Don’t use your seniority to make others do more than their share of the work, and do better than me, notice when it is happening to those much more junior than yourself.”