| Modimolle, mountain of the gods
Malome Boy-Boy was the only known person in the village's long history to ascend the sacred mountain of Modimolle and return. But they said because of this violation of the age-old village rule he was never the same man when he returned after a week on the sacred mountain's summit. For as long as everyone, including the village's oldest citizens could remember, it had always been taboo for anyone to set foot on Modimolle. It was not even clear if there was indeed anyone except malome Boy Boy who in recent memory had dared defy this age-old rule.
The elders said up there on Modimolle's summit lay the secrets of the MaNdebele people, the elephant-worshipping people of the great king Mokopane. The gods, the elders said, did not want anyone among the living to understand their ways, for what man could still respect the gods if he found out their ways, their secrets?
Modimolle, east of the village, was shaped like the wide, imposing head of a giant bull elephant. For as long as everyone could remember, it had always stood like this, watching over the village and surrounds like a village elder jealously guarding over his lands. Even the trees seemed to hold Modimolle in awe, for even though the area around the mountain was covered in a blanket of sickle bush trees, very few of them grew on the mountain.
Every morning the village shivered under Modimolle's massive shadow, and at night, the village quietly listened to the haunting musical notes which travelled down the mountain through the warm evening breeze. The elders said the strange music, which sounded like notes from the setorotoro [a traditional mouth instrument] to the accompaniment of drums and shakers, was a sign that the gods were sitting around a fire, deliberating on the day's events. It was taboo to question these things, the elders said, for didn't the gods hate it when the living questioned their godly ways, their secrets?
The elders said it was malome Boy Boy's constant questioning of the ways of the gods that led to his sojourn up the mountain. So each time we young ones asked questions that had anything to do with Modimolle, the elders reprimanded us, saying we should stop doing so if we did not want to end up like malome Boy Boy.
Some of us secretly wished to be like malome Boy Boy though, because didn't everyone in the village love him? But then, did we not fear the wrath of the gods?
Although his name often came up whenever someone raised something that had anything to do with Modimolle, not many people in the village were willing to talk about malome Boy Boy's forbidden trip.
Malome Boy Boy himself never spoke about it either. Instead, when we youngsters asked him to tell us what he found on the mountain top he would whistle softly, look up at the distant mountain, shake his head slowly and walk away. The elders explained his reluctance to reveal his findings by saying that what malome Boy Boy found on the summit of the mountain so overwhelmed him that he was stunned into a lifelong silence on the matter. Others said the gods had released him back to the village on condition he never told a soul about what he had seen on the mountain. Some simply reasoned that malome Boy Boy could not explain what he found there because there was no living person who could explain the ways of the gods.
But there just didn't seem to be anyone in the village who disliked malome Boy Boy. The older people loved him because they said there was no one else who could dig a pit toilet as well as he did. In fact, almost every toilet in the village was dug by malome Boy Boy. I remember being woken by the thud of a pick axe in my household one morning in winter. It was malome Boy Boy, his orange workman's overalls visible in the misty early morning darkness. He seemed not to have a care in the world as he went about digging, humming strange songs which grandmother explained were songs of the gods he learnt on his stay atop Modimolle. They said malome Boy Boy's mastery with the pick axe and shovel also made him a favourite among diphiri, the village grave diggers. They said when diphiri's pick axes failed them in rocky territory, it was to malome Boy Boy they turned. And they say he never disappointed them. Some said he had acquired the skill from the gods at Modimolle, but this too, could really not be confirmed by anyone.
When there was a cow to be slaughtered for a molato in the village, it was to malome Boy Boy the villagers turned. Once we children of the village watched him single-handedly subdue a big, strong ox with killer horns at the royal homestead. The ox had earlier shrugged off the attempts of six strong men to drag it to the pole in the centre of the kraal where it was to be sacrificed. On realising that the men were not winning and the ox was getting dangerously agitated, someone sent for malome Boy Boy.
When the crowd that was gathered around the royal kraal spotted the tall figure of malome Boy Boy approach in the distance, the women ululated and we young ones clapped and sang. When the ox saw the tall figure in orange workman's overalls, it went mad, snorting several times while stomping the earth with its front hooves. The crowd went silent, worried, afraid that malome Boy Boy would be gored to pieces. Malome Boy Boy, on the other hand, whistled softly, looking the ox straight in its menacing eyes. Someone shouted, calling for malome Boy Boy to jump out of the kraal because the ox was going to kill him, upon which the six strong men, their eyes wide with fear, retreated to strategic positions in the kraal. Malome Boy Boy kept his cool.
Malome Boy Boy asked one of the men to throw him the rope they had been trying to use to snare the ox. The man hesitated, but when malome Boy Boy's outstretched hand didn't go down, he reluctantly threw the rope in his direction. Malome Boy Boy grabbed the rope, his eyes still fixed on the ox. He tied the strong ox-hide rope into a noose, then swung it once, twice in the air. The ox charged. A woman let out a sharp scream. People pulled back from the kraal, anticipating a bloodbath.
Malome Boy Boy let rip with the rope, snaring the ox's big, scary horns, and ran in the opposite direction, almost sending the massive beast flying through the air. In a flash, malome Boy Boy had the rope around the massive pole in the middle of the kraal. The six strong men ran towards malome Boy Boy to help tie the ox around the pole. The ox, mad with rage, snorted and tried to wriggle its horns free from the rope. But it was too late; Malome Boy Boy had sunk his long, sharp knife behind the ox's massive head. The ox bellowed once and went down on its knees. The crowd hurried back to the kraal and broke into song. Malome Boy Boy quietly walked away,
We youngsters loved malome Boy Boy for another reason, though. Well, firstly it was not even clear why everyone called him malome, uncle, for he was not everyone's uncle. He was nobody's father either. Nor was he anyone's husband. He was not a boy either, and nobody seemed to know exactly why he was called Boy Boy. But everyone called him that anyway. In the village one just does not address someone older by name, so some of us gathered that perhaps it was out of respect that he was addressed as malome.
On Sunday afternoons we village children gathered at malome Boy Boy's ramshackle home, two crumbling mud huts, to listen to him play the concertina and sing. It became one of our highlights of the week, gathering at the Thaga Cash Store, then walking to malome Boy Boy's home. There we would wait under the morula tree where he often sat alone for hours, even at night, having a quiet conversation with invisible people. Some said it was messengers of the gods from Modimolle.
Malome Boy Boy would emerge from his crumbling hut, dressed in his orange workman's overalls, humming a tune while playing the concertina. Soon, malome Boy Boy would take to the wide, dusty streets of the village, with a group of us in tow, singing, dancing. We raised a cloud of dust trying to keep up with malome Boy Boy as he sang and danced wildly, with tears streaming down his face.
One had to run a little to keep up with malome Boy Boy, for he was a tall man with big strides. He walked very fast too. And at times, when the music possessed him, he half ran, half walked, so that we little ones had to run to keep up with him.
Often the old women of the village ran out of their homesteads when they heard malome Boy Boy's powerful voice and melodic tunes from the concertina approaching. Some of the women brought little cowhide drums which they beat incessantly while we children clapped and backed up malome Boy Boy's powerful voice. The young women stood along the street, ululating. At this stage, you would see malome Boy Boy cast his eyes in the direction of Modimolle, and tears would flow down his perspiring face.
Malome Boy Boy's music roadshow often ended at the big tree in the centre of the village, where the men gathered there drinking beer joined in song. Some danced graciously with tears in their eyes, for they said malome Boy Boy's songs reminded them of a time that once was, when as young boys herding cattle in the veld, they swam with crocodiles and hippos in the rivers, days when they often spotted the spoor of leopard while on the hunt for rabbits and wild pigs.
At times, it seemed as if even the giant tree's branches danced to the magical sound of malome Boy Boy's music, the thumping of feet and the pounding of cowhide drums. At sunset, when malome Boy Boy stopped singing, the men rewarded him with a crate of beer which he took home to drink in solitude under the morula tree in his yard.
One Sunday afternoon, we gathered under the morula tree at malome Boy Boy's homestead as usual. But when he did not emerge from his hut, we decided to go and look for him. After knocking for a while without any response, we opened the door, to find the room deserted. The grass mat where he slept was neatly folded in a corner of the hut. Next to it lay his only other prized possessions, a pick axe and the concertina. There was little else in the room. We looked in the other hut, which served as a kitchen, but malome Boy Boy was not to be found in there either. Because malome Boy Boy lived alone and his house was at the furthest corner of the village, there was no one we could ask about his whereabouts.
The next morning, when malome Boy Boy had not returned and there was no sign of him, the elders at the tribal office summoned a group of men to go out in search of him. But instead of just this team, the entire village joined in searching for its favourite son. Even the men at the big tree took a break from drinking beer and joined in the search. Women suspended their daily trip to the fields to help in the search too. Even lessons at both Modimolle primary and high schools came to a standstill as students joined the elders in search of malome Boy Boy.
Later that afternoon, after an exhausting day-long search, the search party picked up what turned out to be the unmistakable tracks of malome Boy Boy's big boots. Women ululated and men whistled in excitement and hope that at least a trace of malome Boy Boy had been found. Old Malope, an experienced hunter and tracker, estimated the tracks to be at least a day old. The search party followed the spoor in excitement and hopeful anticipation, until after a long while, someone realised that the track was indeed leading to the sacred mountain of Modimolle.
It became clear, when the search party reached the foot of Modimolle in the fading afternoon light, that malome Boy Boy's big boots had made it up the sacred mountain.
A hushed silence fell over the massive search party. Men wiped the sweat from their furrowed brows. Women wept quietly and we children stood there among the stunned adults in quiet confusion. Slowly and without anyone having said a word, the villagers turned to walk back to the village. Modimolle, the mountain of the gods, was off limits.
That night the musical notes from Modimolle sounded very different, upbeat and uplifting, indeed like malome Boy Boy's concertina. Even among the elders it was agreed that the music had never sounded so different since the day malome Boy Boy first ascended the sacred mountain. Later, when the mystery musical notes from the mountain had quietened down to a quiet whisper, Grandmother, her teary eyes shining in the moonlight, reasoned that perhaps the gods had finally recalled malome Boy Boy to Modimolle, mountain of the gods.
Even as I write this today, after these many years, malome Boy Boy has still not returned from Modimolle, mountain of the gods.
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