(please note that the culture portrayed here is a conglomeration of different tribal cultures.)

 

imagine sitting on the coarse black stone beside the women’s garden.

the third wind blows the smell of cinnamon from the south. you run the earth through your fingers, feeling out the tension that builds in the village.

everywhere you look the world is speaking to you. from the womb space of the men’s hut to the tall spirit stone in the center of the village. some women touch it to become pregnant, others avoid it like a curse. sometimes you feel as if it is watching you, just over your shoulder when your back is turned.

the large coca plants to the east of the village are three sisters, the daughters of Owa, the village founder and seer.

the trees are old. you collect their leaves for the men, they grind them in their poporo and use them to commune with the mother.

they say it makes the thoughts flow, the mother speaks fast, they focus to hear her.

my mother, myself, the women, we do not use the coca or poporo, mama says it is because “we are the mother. we do not have to try so hard to hear her,” that is why the men have their hut and their shaman, so that they can try harder to hear her.

you look out towards the jungle where your uncles and brothers are hunting for you. nothing has been caught in the village for three days. Anansi says it is because the Horned Frog Tribe has cursed us. Dwitti’s house fell in on him last week and hurt him bad.

the shaman’s drum played all night that night and the next two days. we sat and sang the healing songs together. Anansi was furious.

mother says Anansi is just angry because he is getting old. he wants to blame the Horned Frogs and take a head, but no magic has been done, our sisters in the garden still grow. Nitti, the old woman says that sweet yams wilt and night shades bloom early if sorcery is done. neither has happened, mama says there is no sorcery, just an angry Anansi.

you shiver when you think of the head hunting. it is a tradition as old as time, the Horned Frog are your blood tribe, every tribe has a blood tribe, none from your tribe take them to bed, not even at the great feasts, and when a head must be taken, it is from them. you shiver because you know that when one of their heads comes to the village, it is not long before one of yours goes away.

you shake the thought away as the dream from last night runs through your mind. you are a jaguar running with your village. it is dark and you hear a strange roar. a boar charges your pack, before you wake up you think it odd that jaguars run in a pack.

you once heard Dwitti tell a man that dreams of our soul animal and the village are bad. “the gods and troublesome spirits can hurt us through our soul animals, sorcerers too. if we all run together in the jungle, then the whole village may suffer.”

that year a sickness came, it took three lives and made many more week for months. the shaman’s drum beat for days and days until he was too sick to beat the drum and the village had to send for the Jungle Hair’s shaman.

he found the man who had the dream and performed an exorcism. in just two days the sickness went away. there were no more deaths.

you try not to think of the dream as you look out over the village. your thoughts are not so filled with words as is this account. words are different here. growing up, when you heard a word you did not understand and you asked about it, you were not given a definition, you were told a story, a tale on how the thing came to be, or who first invented the action.

all the world is filled with the forms of shifting ancestors, shifting spirits who have become the trees, the stones, the first houses and spears. their actions created the ways in which things are done, like the first trickle of a stream, the years have carved out these actions, where you sleep, how you eat, how the shaman plays his drum, who the women choose to bed.

when you look out over the village and watch your thoughts, it isn’t so much one word after another, it is the smell, the sounds, the memories piled up. reverberating through these are the words, like the shaman’s drum, bringing life, calling all things by their name, summoning their spirit, the deep meanings of the stories beneath.

as you grow older you catch more and more of these meanings with the seasonal ceremonies. last year’s initiation into adulthood has brought an even deeper meaning to the ancestor stories you thought you knew everything about.

it told the secrets of the spirits, of the jungle and the stars. things you had already felt, not quite known, but sensed like a dream you have just forgotten.

you look out to the east and try to imagine the villages there, villages much like yours belonging to the Jungle Serpent Tribe and the Boars, the Vultures and Chimp tribes, and beyond these the new, younger brother.

you have never seen one, but the rumors have spread throughout the villages.

they are pale men, and their bodies do not do well with the heat and insects of the jungle, they grow pink, red and puffy.

the rumors say that they do not see well, hear or smell well. they do not know the time of day by the wind nor the smell upon it. they do not know the difference between the poison vines, the most sacred plants, or the trees yet to blossom.

they cut at everything, our mothers and sisters all throughout the jungle, and they do not pay for them with coca, shell or tobacco.

when they kill they do not perform the rites of hunting, and this is why the shamans say they get so sick. we have never heard the drum among them, which explains why they die so easy from fever and poisoned bite.

but still, they come and come, out of the sea, all male, birthed from the waters and attacking the jungle as if they would take every tree’s head.

the rumors say their magic is in talking. they are always chattering, using many, many words to say even simple things, and when they try and teach one of your own, they get upset when your people do not understand why so many words must be strung together in such a way.

like the tribes, they talk to the spirits around them, but only with strange markings, then they say that the thing they call a book has “told them so.”

they tell you of the Father, a name you do not know, and say the being created all things. she must have been pregnant forever to birth all the things in the world. they say she is a man, but you know better than this, men may weave, hunt and raise the house poles, but they do not birth plants and trees, nor do they birth the animals of the jungle.

once your aunt Utsey joked that men were only good for their spools and spears, in and out of the hut. your uncles and brothers are good men, they do much for their sisters and the tribe, but they do not birth the world. sometimes they die and become bits and pieces of it, but this is all.

your stories make more sense to you, you think they make more sense in general. there are so many things in the world, the Father could not have birthed them all. even the Great Mother had help from her daughters and the ancestors.

but now the drums are starting. they always bring you back to the time that you were sick, and the shaman gave you his brew, the sensation of melting, shifting, mixes with the memory of your coming of age ritual.

you feel the subtle shifts that come whenever the drum plays, all those moments of healing and ritual, of the great festivals where you swear the spirits walk among you.

they swim now with the thud and beat, right below the surface of things, as you rush to the shaman’s hut, asking what the news is along the way.

“it is Binti, Binti! he was killed by a boar while hunting!” say the others as you rush to the hut. you feel the shiver again, running down your spine, last night’s dream and the shouts of Anansi.

a head will be taken tonight.