Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Fable

Two villages existed near the mouth of the Limpopo river on opposite sides of the river when Northern traders sailed their dhows up the river from the sea. The traders brought luxury goods.

The men from the Orient brought jade and silk, spices and medicines to trade for ivory, rhino horns, diamonds and gold.

The most athletic and desirable single men in Chu (pronounced like the exhale of a steam engine), the southern village, would only look at and flirt with girls who were wearing Oriental trinkets.

The most athletic and desirable single men in Xai (pronounced by clicking one’s tongue against the roof of the mouth), the northern village, listened to their mothers and only made eyes with the girls who honored their family and village; girls who hoed the weeds out of the fields and kept the home cistern filled.

To woo their suitors, the girls in the southern village hoed the fields and looked for diamonds and gold nuggets rather than paying attention to the pumpkin plants and weeds. They uprooted all the wiry grass that grew beside the paths that lined the family fields because the grass roots often capture diamonds.

The girls of the southern village goaded and teased their younger brothers and fathers and uncles, saying they were not men if they could not bring home elephant tusks and rhino horns.

To woo their suitors, the girls in the northern village planted jackfruit and banana trees to add to the value of the family farm. They also planted seeds from the oranges and exotic fruits the traders brought.

In time, elephant and rhino could not found around the southern village. The younger brothers and paters had to venture far into the veldt to find them. Many did not come back.

In the northern village, the elephant and rhino learned to fear the villagers and avoided them and did not destroy their fields and orchards. But when a family needed some money, the younger brothers and uncles did not need to travel far to find one. And when they found one, it was on land they knew well and they could safely ambush the dangerous animals.

Seven years after the traders first came in their dhows, the rains did not stop.

The hillside fields of the northern village were covered with healthy pumpkin vines. The leaves were like umbrellas, slowing down the rain. The vines of the pumpkins struck roots every place they had touched the soil and the roots bound the soil like nets.

The wiry grass beside the paths that outlined the fields slowed the water as it sheeted across the fields.

The bananas and jackfruit and oranges ripened even though the wind blew and the rain fell. The people of the northern village ate oranges and jackfruit and told stories as the rains fell.

The hillside fields of the southern village were bare of pumpkin vines and only a few, young weeds struggled to grow on them. The soil soaked up the rain and become heavy, slippery mud.

The muddy hillsides slid one night, pushing the village of Chu into the raging Limpopo river. Those who escaped drowning or being buried alive found no food and fled into the veldt.

The next spring, when the dhows came, they found two villages. One on the north and one on the south. They were both named Xai. In both villages, the young men listened to their mothers and the girls took care when hoeing the pumpkins and always kept the family’s cistern filled.

A ten years later, it was impossible to tell which village was the elder as both had jackfruit and orange trees of impressive size and productivity. The traders bought elephant tusks, rhino horns, gold and diamonds. But they also filled their dhows with jackfruit and oranges for the long trip home.

The traders from the Orient paid with jade and silk and spices. They paid with axe and spear heads and hoes and shovels. The villages of Xai-Xai were a good place to live.


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