I haven’t decided if I’m going to kill Kwame or make the elders banish him from the village. Adala says I should castrate him- I think it’s a very good idea, only that it loudly shouts revenge; I’m afraid the villagers may find me out. There’s so much evil to choose from and I can’t even settle on one.
I exhale loudly, causing Mother to turn and look at me disapprovingly. We are not supposed to make any sound as we march up the hill. Everyone is treading softly, careful not to wake the leaves on the forest walls. The moon shines over us brightly like a witch’s torch, illuminating the narrow path that has us trekking in a single file.
The women elders lead the procession, followed by the younger married women. We follow at a respectful distance behind the unmarried women and girls; behind us are the men. It’s the only time the women lead and the men follow.
On nights when the full moon dangle over the village like an overripe mango, all the men yield; for she is the female divinity, companion of our gods, the mother of the sun, and when the spirits let her reign in the heavens, our men let us reign on the earth, and on that night, we are allowed to do whatever we want.
The older women are already seated on the ancestor rocks when I arrive at the shrine, the ash and cow dung smeared on their faces reflect scaringly against the moonlight. I scan the ground, spot Adala and walk over to sit next to her on the grass. She immediately leans over and whispers “Have you decided yet?”
I shake my head in response and she rolls her eyes dramatically at me. The men trudge in behind us with firewood and start making the fire. We are not allowed to do any work tonight, since the ceremony is in honor of our Mother, the moon god.
Mamawa, the priestess, starts a chorus as the men make little fires all over the shrine, we all join in. I spot Kwame making his way to Nalianya and crouching to make a fire near her. His slanted eyes locate hers and he smiles tenderly at her, just like he used to smile at me. I made up my mind immediately–I am going to castrate him.
When we are ready to start the ceremony, the men go down on all fours and we sit on them. It’s their sacred duty to carry us as this is pleasing to Mother moon.
Nalianya predictably rushes to sit on Kwame, I get to have Lurie as my stool and I exert all my weight on him as I sit. If that man Kwame can’t pay for his sins, then another will. The ritual starts with chant and incantations
“Dwe chi Obongo nyakalaga, our big eyed god, whose eyes see everything,
Dwe chi Obongo nyakalaga, our big eared god whose ear hears everything,
Dwe chi Obongo nyakalaga, our large footed god, whose feet are in all the earth,
Bless your daughters with all good things, oh granter of our requests.”
After invoking the spirits of the moon god, the oldest men, who cannot be used as seats, sacrifice the goats, we then present our offerings to the spirits and the priestess finally declares us sanctified, and finally, the hour of judgment comes upon us.
The priestess, who is now adorned in a striking colorful head gear made from hornbill feathers, blows a horn which summons us all to gather round the shrine. I find Adala again and quickly whisper in her ear “castration”. She smiles at me proudly; she had said she would take care of everything, and so I left it to her.
The drum beats starts softly and we jig to the slow steps. The men are watching outside the dance line, I imagine that if I inhale deeply, I will feel the smell of their fear in the night.
The inharmonious chanting of the women elders begin, the drum beats are now faster, our movements faster. Our bodies gleam in the moonlight as our sharp black shadows makes twists and turns with us. The young married women run through the crowd of men with gourds full of wood ash and shower it over their heads, the older women have started going into a trance.
A loud scream from Old Mariama silences us immediately; the moon seems to lean closer to hear the revelation.
“It’s been revealed to me, that Suleimani has been mistreating his wife, not only does he beat her as if she is a burukenge, but he doesn’t even provide in the home, the moon god requires that tonight, all the women should cane him”
“Yes, Mother moon, we will honor your wishes” we chant in reply.
Suleimani is dragged to the centre of the circle and for the next few minutes, we cane, kick and box him mercilessly. It’s a lesson to the other men too–who do not even dare look at him–for all they know, they may be next. When he’s almost fainting, he’s released but with a stern warning.
The drums start again and we continue with our dancing, this time, it’s the priestess who is possessed and she grabs Johanna and drags him besides the fire, all the while screaming:
“It’s been revealed to me, it’s been revealed to me…” everyone stops to listen to the revelation.
“…You are not giving your first wife enough attention since you took the second, is that so? Well the moon god declares that you must visit all equally, provide equally in both homes and sleep with them equally and as punishment, you have to cry like a goat five times then like a cow four times; right now!”
I surreptitiously glance at Johanna’s first wife; the glowing moon reveals her smiling face even as the shock and shame on the second wife’s face is clearly illuminated. Johanna’s bleating and mooing makes me want to burst out laughing, but this is a holy ground, it has to be respected.
The next round of dancing is much longer, a thin trickle of sweat runs down my ash coated face. Someone bumps into me from behind, it’s Adala. She doesn’t say anything, but continues dancing then bumps into me a second time. Then I realize what she’s trying to communicate; it’s time!
Kwame is going to pay for his betrayal. He had promised to marry me during the last sand harvest; yes that evening when I gave myself to him under the byeyo tree. And when I discovered I was with child, I went to share with him the good news, and asked him to announce our engagement only for him to disappear and come back with a cup of bitter herbs, which he told me was to protect the baby against evil eyes. He swore had gotten it from his grandmother.
Later that night, I bled out my baby and when I confronted him about it, he said Nalianya had been betrothed to him; they were going to get married after the moon festival.
“Stop!…” Jakalinda, the oldest woman in the village shouts. The priestess continues dancing in a wild trance, oblivious to the on goings around her.
“…the moon god has a special request.”
The men crane their necks closer to listen.
“She has taken to the liking of a young man here, and wishes that the man is set apart for her”
“The husband of our great Mother is Kwame!” The priestess interjects
“She is pleased with him and wants him for her own. He must be castrated, so that he will never lust after any other woman” and with that, she spins round the fire, screaming and clapping like a truly juogi possessed woman.
Everyone is in shock, even whipped Suleimani looks at Kwame in pity. I want to turn and look at Nalianya’s face but I’m afraid to turn. Kwame looks dizzy, I suddenly feel rejuvenated.
“We cannot refuse our Mother. The ceremony has to be done tonight” Jakalinda continues, looking up to the moon in reverence and with that the dancing continues once again even as Kwame collapses on the ground.
When I had narrated to Adala how Kwame had tricked me, she had come up with the plan for revenge, but only after I had assured her that no one besides Kwame and his nonexistent grandmother knew what had happened.
In the strictest confidence, she had confided that the women elders, if paid handsomely, could come up with ‘divine’ punishments that could not be questioned since the full moon was their sole protector. She only knew this because her grandmother was one of the elders and had assisted several women get vengeance against many men. I only had to choose the punishment I wanted for Kwame and wait for the night of the full moon to get vengeance.
The dance continues as more men are called forward to be caned, stripped, insulted and abused. I can’t tell which accusations are true and which have been paid for, I honestly don’t care. I’m just thankful for the bright ball of round white sorghum hanging in the sky that once every cycle appears to avenge us.