By Tim Wilson (continued)
“It will be dark soon,” Dave said. “We should camp and cook these here. Besides, we’re being followed.”
“Kulima?” Scott asked, looking at Dave for evidence of concern.
“He is not a Kulima,” Dave answered, then shrugged to indicate he was not concerned.
They returned to their more comfortable bond of silence. The time for speaking was when the fire had been built and the birds were dressed and cooking. Scott eagerly anticipated the time after a successful hunt. He loved to cook; Dave loved to let him. But telling stories around the evening fire ranked highest for him. Then, his friend Dave really talked. They both knew stories from different African village fires, and when they hunted together, they would often invent new stories of their own. Scott’s excitement grew as he realized this would be Brad’s first time to hear Dave’s stories.
They each worked quietly, lost in thought, when a sudden swishing sound and a loud thwap startled them. They all saw an ebony black arrow impaled in a tree two feet above Brad’s head.
“Everyone sit!” Dave ordered with rare but urgent authority.
“Why is he shooting at me?” Brad asked, trying to restrain the slight tremble in his hands.
“He is not shooting at you,” Dave said. “If he was, you’d be dead. He is a hunter, not a warrior. He is just telling us to be quiet. He will let us know when to move again.”
Dave looked in the direction of the shot; with a raised hand and extended fingers, he waved once across his face, a sign of understanding. Out of the thickets, he saw a hand extend in peace and disappear again. Brad and Scott also looked but saw nothing. A flushed excitement came over Scott’s face, but each time he tried to speak, Dave motioned him to silence.
Brad stared at the black arrow with a single feather dangling from it. He had never seen anything like it before and did not like the idea of one sent in his direction. He remembered what Scott had said about never being in these woods without Dave. He realized how much trust he had suddenly placed in Dave’s hands right then, and how terrified he would be if Dave had not been around to explain things. He looked at the three dead birds on the ground. The damage to one of them was significant with two arrows still in it. The other two did not have a scratch on them.
He looked at Dave again and realized he was seeing him for the first time.
A second swishing sound and thwap came from the brush, followed by the bellow of a wounded animal. Dave held both his friends in check with the open palm of his hand. A wounded bushbuck exploded out of the brush, with an arrow deeply embedded in its side. The wide-eyed antelope veered past the sitting boys and into the brush on the other side of the clearing.
Soon, another arrow whistled through the air and landed next to the first. Dave stood up and began working. Without a word, he motioned for his friends to do the same. He waved the sign of peace again toward the thicket and began to build and set traps around the clearing for the night. His friends finished camp and worked on the meal.
Dave stayed away from his friends to avoid questions until after the fire was prepared. His excitement grew as he realized what he had just experienced. At last, the flames sizzled as the hens slowly rotated on the spit Scott had constructed. Brad bundled leaves and placed them around the fire for sleeping. The sky’s luster was giving way to the early cloak of darkness winding through the trees. Scott and Brad waited by the firelight for Dave to join them.
Soon, Dave sat facing the fire and his friends. The moment that all of Africa waits for each day had finally arrived, when the tales flow and voices paint new textures into the tales extending back thousands of years.
“My friends,” Dave said, speaking over the evening breeze in the trees. “Today, we’ve met our first Waduni.”
“Do you mean…” Scott almost shouted, but quieted at Dave’s sudden gesture. Scott watched a quiet excitement grow on his best friend’s face.
For Dave, this moment seemed to brush away years of physical pain as well as his struggles with the white community.
“What’s a Waduni?” Brad asked. “Should we take those arrows? They look amazing!”
“Take those arrows and the hunter will not miss your head next time,” Dave answered, flashing Brad a rare grin.
“This is wild!” Scott bubbled. “Tell Brad about the Waduni. I didn’t know they still lived around here!”
“You both know the Ibutho are semi-nomadic herders that live in the valley below the forests.” Scott and Brad nodded. “You probably also know that they believe that their god has given all the cattle on the earth to them. They believe that any cow is stolen if it is in the possession of any people other than the Ibutho. They will raid other tribes with force to take back what they believe is rightfully theirs.”
“I have heard that,” Brad said, “but what about the Waduni?”
“A good story must last until the fire burns out,” Dave said. “You built a fire that may last all night.”
“I knew I used too much hardwood,” Brad said and chuckled.
“In order to be a true Ibutho,” Dave continued, “a man must own cattle in good health. From time to time a man will lose his cattle to disease, sickness, drought or too many predators. The Ibutho believe that one can only lose his cattle because of neglect and irresponsibility. When a man loses his cattle, he is no longer an Ibutho.”
“What happens to such a person?” Brad asked.
“He becomes a Waduni!” Scott almost shouted in his eagerness to hear more.
“For the Ibutho, it’s irresponsible and wrong to eat meat from a wild animal,” Dave said. “For them, cattle, goats and sheep are given to man for food. The word Waduni means “the worthless people.” Because the Waduni are considered too irresponsible to be true Ibutho, they are forced to hunt wild animals.
“The Waduni have no real homeland. They generally live on the edges surrounding the Ibutho lands. Not long before our births, no Kulima farmers lived in this area. Only the Waduni, chased out of the valley by the Ibutho, lived in these forests. The Kulima moved into this area and they mistakenly think that they too have chased out the Waduni.
“I have had many conversations with the Ibutho Chief Lenana in the valley below. He has told me that the Waduni are still up here. He told me that they are a very proud people, and even though they are worthless to the Ibutho, they are still better than any other people. The chief has told me that the Waduni are the best hunters on earth. Even though the Ibutho disapprove of their worthless people, they’re very proud of the great skill of the Waduni hunters. He told me that one never sees the Waduni unless they want to be seen.”
“Do they mind being called Waduni?” Brad asked.
Dave broke into a gleeful smile. “Why don’t you ask him yourself? He is sitting right next to you.”
Brad and Scott jumped up in fright then laughed in embarrassment. The hunter pretended to ignore them and kept his eyes on Dave, but his bright white teeth showed between slightly parted lips.
“We are Waduni,” the man said. “Your friend has told our story well. We are both worthless people and mighty hunters. But the fire still burns bright; the story cannot end here. Your friend told you that no one could see one of our people unless he wants to be seen. Yet earlier today, your friend saw me, before I wished to be seen. He has the eyes of a Waduni. ”
“We have prepared a meal from our hunt,” Dave said. “We would be honored if the Waduni would share it with us, and if you are far from the village, we would invite you to share our camp for the night. We can learn your name. I would like to hear why you have shown your face to us. We are white boys and our fathers are not friends of the Waduni.”
They all sat quietly for a few moments, stealing glances at each other. Dave estimated the Waduni to be in his early twenties. He had the chiseled facial features and the long strong arms and legs typical of the Ibutho. He appeared to be well over six feet tall. However, unlike an Ibutho, the hunter had short cropped, almost clean-shaven, hair, which seemed odd—only Ibutho women wore their hair so short. He had no tattoos, no decorative scarring, and no beads. It seemed that worthless people did not wear any status symbols. For clothing, the hunter had a single skin wrapped over his shoulder. The animal skin had none of the red ochre that the Ibutho usually wear in their hair and on their garments. He wore a simple skin belt with a sheathed knife; in one hand, he carried a shiny ebony bow and a sack filled with shiny ebony arrows. Most Ibutho are lighter skinned than the Kulima, but this man’s skin seemed very black. He must have applied mud or dye to camouflage his skin during the hunt. White teeth and clear eyes stood in sharp contrast to his dark skin. Dave had never seen a more simply and practically dressed African. He felt like he had known this man forever, though he did not know his name.
The Waduni broke the silence first. “I will tell stories, and I will tell you my name when the time is right and before the fire burns low. But I will tell you first who you are to the Waduni people. My great uncle is Chief Lenana of the Ibutho you spoke of. My grandfather lost his cattle long ago and my father and I have been Waduni all our lives. But the Ibutho still have some concern even for worthless people.
“The Chief Lenana has sent a message to my father that we should watch for the white boy who hunts without weapons. The Chief said that this white boy does not own cattle and is not worthy to be an Ibutho, but that he is as a Waduni to the white people. My great uncle said we should be honored to have him among the Waduni.
“You are called Dave among the white people,” the Waduni said. “I know that among the Kulima you are known as he who understands. My great uncle says that among the Ibutho you are called he who listens. Among the Waduni you are now called the hunter without weapons.
“The Waduni is honored to share the fire with the white boy hunters and their white Waduni friend.” He paused. “Soon, I must get the bushbuck that I shot. I must get it before the leopard comes for it. Then we can eat and share the stories of the firelight, and I would be honored to stay the night with you.”
“You mean you have not tracked it down yet?” Scott asked. “It’s almost dark. How will you find it?”
“Your white Waduni friend can answer for me,” the Waduni replied. “I watched as he listened to the sounds of the forests, and watched the birds fly and the movements of the monkeys. He has not tracked the bushbuck, but the hunter without weapons also knows already where it lies.
“My father heard that you travel near our village through these forests at this time between the rains. He sent me to look for you to send his greetings. I followed to see if you were the white Waduni. I can now tell my village that I saw with my own eyes how it took two hunters to take one bird with two weapons, while another hunter took two birds with no weapon. I have heard no stories of a Waduni doing that before.”
“I am humbled that the father of my Waduni friend would send a greeting,” Dave answered quietly, “but now you will know that the stories told at the fires are bigger than the white boy who sits before you. If you are going to get the bushbuck, you would honor me if you would take these two hunters of the bow with you and show them your ways. Words cannot teach like the feet. ”
“Come, hunters of the bow,” the Waduni said. He stood up with a flash of white teeth. “The hunter without weapons wishes us to leave him alone for a little while.”
Brad and Scott stood up; Scott beamed his gratitude to Dave, as both boys followed the Waduni into the darkness.
Dave gritted his teeth as he slowly stood up, watching his friends disappear. Spasms and cramping shot streaks of pain up his weak back and legs. Sweat began to pour down his cheeks and a quiet moan escaped his lips as he straightened his back. Dave ached, but mostly, he ached in his heart for the strength to hunt with a bow.
He stood looking at the two arrows still lodged in the tree and nodded to himself. Then the hunter without weapons went to check on his traps.