Kwame, clad in traditional beige crimpline wedding costume, saunters with his Aussie bride before an assembly of elders. Nine gray-haired and bald old men of the village, instructed in Mthobo chiefdom’s cultural doctrines; and considered custodians of their ancestral norms, sit impatiently to deliberate his nineteen sixty-nine mischievous marriage. Their own children marrying from another tribe was abominable; and bringing along a blonde white woman with blue eyes from Australia is totally despicable. It’s a scandal too much for them to condone.
“If this is what academic education means, none of my children should even think about it. Over my dead body,” swears Petticoat Lualua, the headman with scruffy long beard emaciated with age, as he sinks in the presiding Nduna’s chair. His smoke-treated-bamboo- walking stick guiding him to the center of other venerable traditionalists. As he squints in the direction of Kwame and Tanya, his facial expression is as contemptuous as that of a janitor disgusted by a pungent odor from a blocked urinal.
A few women sit on the other side of the court arena floor, its dust, thankfully, suppressed by stagnant water. All wearing multi-coloured head coverings in a show of submission and obedience to tradition. Kwame’s mother, a beautiful, medium built woman in her early fifties, sits aloof on the left side of the arena. She couldn’t hold her emotions having been torn between her love for Kwame and custom. She is imagining the burden of facing this jury could have been lighter with her late husband around. Not just herself, her thirty-year old son, against the livid tribe!
“Our Gods ‘ve cursed this tribe because of senseless acts like this,” says another red-lipped, fat old man.
A short moment of silence ensues. The hot summer wind is blowing off pollen from surrounding mango trees onto the centrally-placed calabash containing the village totem, a medium through which Lualua spoke with the spirits. The smell of fresh beeswax smeared around its girth can be clearly discerned, while its shiny outer skin gives it a scary fetish appearance.
Sitting next to her troubled new husband, Tanya looks solemnly at Emeliya with untold remorsefulness.
I never imagined marrying a loving, intelligent man of colour was such contemptable to the tribe, she thinks. She remembers how merry, joyful and happy Kwame and herself were on their wedding day back in Australia, only four months ago. Yes, countable racial murmurs were encountered. Not this fuss!
Tanya agreed to follow her husband in Mthobo village in the outskirts of Dobo district in south-west Rhodesia to complete their marriage ceremonies. Here she is now, rejected, as forewarned, in the midst of riled elders accusing her husband of impious flattery to their gods. They roundly curse him in their ancestral anathemas, pouring everlasting damnation for marrying his “princess of singular beauty.” She is lost in deep thought of what will come out of all this mess.
“Tell that damn ghost of a woman, in her very own language, that she cannot insult our gods with impunity by yoking her foreign spirits with ours,” Lualua shouts angrily at Kwame. “Muleya, your father, must be turning in his grave. You are a disgrace, Kwame,” he says, throwing fine soil in the direction of the totem and later, Muleya’s grave.
“My, elders, please. Deal with Kwame. Not his wife. She’s just a victim of love. Deal with my son,” Emeliya says amidst sobs, disregarding the ban for women to utter anything at the meeting.
“Enough of your insolence, woman!” shouts another man. “True to our forefathers’ saying, if a mother be stubborn, what of her offspring?”
Kwame, a young, western educated political scientist can no longer stomach the incessant attacks on his family. He is shaking with anger. His diminutive stature notwithstanding, he rises and looks at the men in front. The sound of his chattering teeth is unmistakable.
“My elders,” he says in his small voice. A visible blush as he stares at them. “With due respect to all of you present, I wish to register my utter disappointment at the way you’ve reacted to my individual and human right to choose my life partner,” he pauses to look at Tanya, the most precious possession at the moment. “I came back from Australia to come and show my reverence to my ancestors, clarify my right to live a life of my choice...”
“End of this meeting!” interjects Pumba, the deputy headman. His thick lips stammering and the voice becoming increasingly croaky. “We- cannot- allow- this- brat- to- come- and -lecture- to- us- about- human -rights ... What about our rights to follow our ancestors’ culture? Because of this uncultured, poor little idiot he procured overseas for a wife... ? Because of her long hair, her colorless skin, they have the audacity to vaunt their unholy union before tribal seniors? God forbid,” he says, gesturing furiously at all while rising to leave the meeting; picking his oval- tripod shaped stool.
As if to add salt to the fresh wound of the community elders, Tanya stands to hug Kwame. She whispers into his ears: “I’m sorry for the trouble, Ben.” Her frightful posture betraying her inner resolve to stick to him. Tears roll down her cheeks as Emeliya stands to wipe them with her headdress.
“See the kind of taboos this tribe will ‘ve to endure if you allowed these cantankerous little nothings to go ahead with their bad manners?” Pumba says, pointing at the two, tightly clinging to each other. “The gods will be infuriated with this community and no one will be spared. What a curse of a child Muleya left us.”
Kwame, Tanya and Emeliya stand in silence as the elders leave the assembly, swearing.
Insubordination is normally punished by banishment. And so, I risk my hut, barn and garden. Kwame, has just started work in the city council as a Town Clerk. My own brother, Bono, is against Kwame’s marriage, insinuating a white woman would never treat her black in-laws with respect. Will we survive the village wrath? Emeliya muses.
The trio dash to Emeliya’s hut to pick their belongings. The hut is already in flames! Kwame, realizing that their lives are in danger, drag Tanya and Emeliya to Petticoat Lualua’s house. He picks an axe and commands Lualua’s wife to get into the house or risk being murdered.
Lualua briskly follows inside the house as if he just regained his sight. Kwame locks the door behind him and orders Lualua: “Old man, I know you’re wise. Simply tell the people to burn us in here now! Let them tell the difference between the ashes of my wife and the rest of us.” Kwame moves close to Lualua as he assures Mrs. Lualua that he would not harm her family but wants the headman to realize the folly of racial discrimination.
“Kwame, my son,” comes a deep, panicky voice from outside. “Don’t harm anyone in there. Open the door and let sanity prevail.” It is Heliko, Kwame’s father’s best friend. He was headman of another village where Kwame had left his government Land rover for safe keeping.