Chapter 6.

The Forest Home.

That exactly is how our hero and heroine met and became man and wife. There were no home ceremonials, such as the seeking and obtaining of parental consent, because there were no parents; no conferences by uncles and grand-uncles, or exhortations by grandmothers and aunts; no male relatives to arrange the marriage knot, nor female relations to herald the family union, and no uncles of the bride to divide the bogadi  1  cattle, as, of course, there were no cattle. It was a simple matter: taking each other for good or ill with the blessing of the “God of Rain.” The forest was their home, the rustling trees their relations, the sky their guardian, and the birds, who sealed the marriage contract with their songs, the only guests. Here they established their home and named it Re-Nosi, (We-are-alone).

They were certain now that, once beyond the reach of the blood-thirsty Matebele, each would be sufficient for the other's company until they should have children of their own.

Ra-Thaga, being a trained hunter, they had plenty of venison. He caught bucks with primitive snares which he set near by in the evening; also jackals, whose furs would be needed for their bed during the coming winter. In the adjacent valley near the fountain they secured pot-clay, and Mhudi became quite a clever potter. Her husband likewise carved numerous spoons and dishes and other vessels from the trunks of trees. One or two of

page 49
these vessels were filled with eland lard which always served to flavour their venison. What a change from the coarse and scanty fare of their previous solitary wanderings! Ra-Thaga was already beginning to regard himself as a king reigning in his own kingdom, and the animals of the valley as his wealth. To say that Mhudi was happy would really not be saying too much, for here was a woman who possessed her husband's undivided attentions. There was no room for suspicion of faithlessness, no danger of desertion, no long absences from home, no nights out! Always there when he was wanted. She thankfully realized that the gods were 'wiping away her tears,' and requiting her for all the suffering she had undergone since the destruction of Kunana. What a boon to be able to speak to her husband alone all the time, his attention not being claimed by social or tribal matters, to say nothing of running distant errands for chiefs, — as was the case with her brothers at Kunana, — or of game drives and political missions to neighbouring tribes.

“My mother had to share my father's affections with two other wives,” she said to herself; “Why should I be thus singled out for exceptional favour? Jealousy! my word! With such a monopoly in a man, and a noble man at that! Did they not say that man is by nature polygamous and could never be trusted to be true to only one wife? But here is one as manly as you could wish, and I have never, never seen a husband of any number of wives as happy as mine is with me alone!”

Such were Mhudi's thoughts by day whenever she was left alone; and it naturally followed that when she was alone, he too was alone; and when she had company, he too had company. There being no third person, she

page 50
spoke only to him and he to her. When she was thus meditating, he would perhaps be “abroad” (which was seldom further than a mile, and hardly ever as far as three miles away), also cogitating on his one ambition which was to make his young and pretty wife very happy. He felt that she — his queen — should be free as the birds of the air were free, nay, even more so; she should be a queen ruling over her own dominion, and he her protector guarding her safety and happiness. Then Ra-Thaga would return or leave the shady tree under which he had been braying a buck-skin, and stealthily approaching his wife, he would hear her speaking to herself; — “My little father, my other self, my guide, my protector, my all, while I remain his little mother, his sister, his other self, his helpmate, his life, his everything. How can I help him to be more manly!”

One morning, Ra-Thaga climbed the lofty tree beside the hut, as he was wont to do, to survey the land in every direction and see what was going on; at least between his home and the horizon. He observed a certain movement some distance off among the trees, hastily he called out, “Mhudi, have you any food? I think some visitors are approaching. These will be the first since our marriage, and I should like them to see what a good hostess my wife will make.”

“Just assure me that they are not Matebele,” cried Mhudi, beneath the shade of the awning, “and you will not be disappointed; for I can entertain as many wayfarers as choose to come.”

“They have left their burdens in the grass,” continued Ra-Thaga, still regarding the unusual spectacle from the tree-top, “and are quenching their thirst in a pool near the pan. I can see, passing through the high grass in single

page 51
file, six faggoters with loads of wood on their heads coming almost directly towards us.”

“Now I see that you are joking, dear, for nobody would go to an uninhabited country for wood.” said Mhudi.

“You are right, Mhudi, that did not occur to me — Great Tau's Barolong! Those are not faggots, they are lions' manes. Lions, six lions, I see!”

From his elevated post Ra-Thaga finally noticed that the lions were changing their course and making for the ridge where he had chased the one notorious lion on the morning he first met his wife. A shudder went through him as he saw them sauntering about the place, examining the ground and smelling at the few eland bones left about. He felt that with half a dozen lions prowling in the neighbourhood, he could not claim the sole proprietorship of Re-Nosi — the name he had given to the valley. It would be a case of the survival of the fittest, and it seemed certain that he could not measure strength with the claws and jaws of six black-maned lions. What was to be done? For the first time since the forest home was planned, Ra-Thaga felt helpless and afraid.

But his wife, far from entertaining any fears, considered herself quite safe under the protection of her husband.

“Are they gone?” she asked, more out of curiosity than alarm.

“Apparently,” replied Ra-Thaga, “for I cannot see what has become of them.” Mhudi added: “Don't worry. Our old friend may have been among them for all we know, and explained to the others something of his past experience and his narrow escape from you. It is possible that animals converse in their own way. By-the-by, I see by the smoke that the wind is blowing towards the spot where you spotted them. They have

page 52
probably scented our presence and gone for good. Come down and have a drink of berry-beer; they are far away by now.”

Ra-Thaga, who had been wondering whether the sudden appearance and disappearance and no further re-appearance of the lions were a reality or but a phantom of his mind, now thought that there was a possible solution of the puzzle in Mhudi's process of reasoning; so he asked her “Are you not afraid, Mhudi!”

“Why should I fear,” she said “who would be afraid in your company, while fear is afraid of you? I feel ready to meet any number of lions as long as you are about.”

He said little after this, but thought much.

For a long time Ra-Thaga considered it unsafe to set any more traps except for jackals; antelopes he feared would attract lions and make his place untenable, so he fell back on what dried venison they had, and they were seldom able to eat freshly killed game. The juicy lerisho  2  and similar roots which formerly served as their vegetable food became scarce, as his wife would not hear of his going out alone, for whenever he did she would count the moments and work herself up into a frenzy until his return. He could not bear to see her in an unhappy mood, so the better to maintain her cheerfulness, he seldom wandered far from the enclosure.

Some weeks passed in this manner, till, no doubt owing to the hard and dry fare on which they were obliged to subsist, Mhudi suffered from an attack of malarial fever and could not leave her bed. After several wakeful nights, she one afternoon fell into a heavy sleep, and Ra-Thaga

page 53
sat watching her. Thinking over their unfortunate condition, his mind naturally turned to the old easy life of Kunana among his people, now dead and gone. He remembered how, when people were ill, they consulted a herbalist and how the longana  3  bush served as a tonic and cure for every ailment. He therefore resolved to go out in search of this herb and risk his wife discovering his absence. He left her asleep and hoped to return before she awoke.

He examined every root and plant as he went, and although not able to find at once what he wanted, he presently came upon something not less welcome. The ears of a young duiker buck appeared above the grass-tops where the animal was crouching. Fortune favoured Ra-Thaga for, as he raised his heavy knobkerrie, the buck took fright, and, darting off tried to clear a little bush with one spring; at the same moment the kerrie, propelled by the force of a powerful arm and healthy broad shoulders, broke both its hind legs, and our hunter pounced upon it and killed it. Knowing that fresh tender venison would be as good for his patient as the medicine, he threw it over his shoulder and proceeded cheerfully on his search.

Very late that afternoon Ra-Thaga found the longana herb and hastened homeward with his bundle, impelled by anxiety to reach his sick and lonely wife. He wondered whether she were better or worse? How had she felt on waking and finding him gone? Would the sight of the medicine and fresh meat appease her into forgiving him? His heart palpitated as he was nearing his home, propelled, as it were, by some mysterious force. Indeed he could not

page 54
account for his nervousness which was increased rather than allayed by the sight of the enclosure round his hut. He paused at once beside a tree. But … what was that moving stealthily, and menacingly, outside the enclosure to the hut? Could it be that Mhudi was still there, or had a lion devoured her in her sleep? As the beast came opposite him, it stood still, with its tail towards him. There was no mistaking the fact that he scented life and was preparing to leap the fence. Ra-Thaga's presence of mind did not desert him. Carefully putting down his load, he slipped off his sandals, thinking as he did so of an old acquaintance who, while travelling in the wilds many years before, fell asleep in the shade of a big yellow wood tree. He was suddenly awakened by the roar of a lion rushing at his dog. Knowing that the animal would make for him after it had destroyed the dog, the traveller seized it by the tail while it was mauling his pet. He held it tight and never slackened his hold for two days and nights, until a party of trekkers who chanced to come that way speared the lion for him.

“Oh!” thought Ra-Thaga, “if only I could get at the lion's tail! I would not care how many days and nights I had to hold it so long as I could keep the beast from reaching Mhudi.” But how could he accomplish such a feat?

With these thoughts crossing and re-crossing his mind, Ra-Thaga, with his senses keyed up, was breathlessly and without noise making an effort to reach the lion. Circumstances favoured him. First of all, the wind was in his favour; secondly, the beast was so engrossed with its intent to enter the enclosure that it was indifferent to aught else.

He never could describe how he managed to reach that

page 55
lion unobserved and to grip it by the tail. The frightened animal leapt into the air, lifting him up so high that he was nearly thrown on to its back; but he held on tenaciously by the tail till the lion abandoning its prey was only struggling to get away; but Ra-Thaga would not let it go.

Inside the hut, his wife had slept nearly all the afternoon, waking up just in time to hear the scuffle outside. She rose to her feet, and hearing his frantic calls for her to come out with his assegaai, she was quickly on the scene.

Most Bechuana women in such circumstances would have uttered loud screams for help. Mhudi yielded to the humour of the picture of her husband having a tug of war with the lion; feeling highly amused, she gripped the situation, stepped forward in obedience to Ra-Thaga, and summoning all her strength, she aimed a stab at the lion's heart. The infuriated animal fell over with a growl that almost caused the earth to vibrate.

Leaving the dead lion, Ra-Thaga fetched his herbs and his buck, secured the openings to his enclosure with fresh wacht-een-beetje bush, and followed Mhudi into the hut where he skinned his buck while sunning himself in the adoration of his devoted wife. Her trust in him, which had never waned, was this evening greater than ever. She forgot that she herself was the only female native of Kunana who had thrice faced the king of beasts, and had finally killed one with her own hand. Needless to say, Ra-Thaga was a proud husband that night.

page 56

Chapter 6.

The Forest Home.

That exactly is how our hero and heroine met and became man and wife. There were no home ceremonials, such as the seeking and obtaining of parental consent, because there were no parents; no conferences by uncles and grand-uncles, or exhortations by grandmothers and aunts; no male relatives to arrange the marriage knot, nor female relations to herald the family union, and no uncles of the bride to divide the bogadi  1  cattle, as, of course, there were no cattle. It was a simple matter: taking each other for good or ill with the blessing of the “God of Rain.” The forest was their home, the rustling trees their relations, the sky their guardian, and the birds, who sealed the marriage contract with their songs, the only guests. Here they established their home and named it Re-Nosi, (We-are-alone).

They were certain now that, once beyond the reach of the blood-thirsty Matebele, each would be sufficient for the other's company until they should have children of their own.

Ra-Thaga, being a trained hunter, they had plenty of venison. He caught bucks with primitive snares which he set near by in the evening; also jackals, whose furs would be needed for their bed during the coming winter. In the adjacent valley near the fountain they secured pot-clay, and Mhudi became quite a clever potter. Her husband likewise carved numerous spoons and dishes and other vessels from the trunks of trees. One or two of these vessels were filled with eland lard which always served to flavour their venison. What a change from the coarse and scanty fare of their previous solitary wanderings! Ra-Thaga was already beginning to regard himself as a king reigning in his own kingdom, and the animals of the valley as his wealth. To say that Mhudi was happy would really not be saying too much, for here was a woman who possessed her husband's undivided attentions. There was no room for suspicion of faithlessness, no danger of desertion, no long absences from home, no nights out! Always there when he was wanted. She thankfully realized that the gods were 'wiping away her tears,' and requiting her for all the suffering she had undergone since the destruction of Kunana. What a boon to be able to speak to her husband alone all the time, his attention not being claimed by social or tribal matters, to say nothing of running distant errands for chiefs, — as was the case with her brothers at Kunana, — or of game drives and political missions to neighbouring tribes.

“My mother had to share my father's affections with two other wives,” she said to herself; “Why should I be thus singled out for exceptional favour? Jealousy! my word! With such a monopoly in a man, and a noble man at that! Did they not say that man is by nature polygamous and could never be trusted to be true to only one wife? But here is one as manly as you could wish, and I have never, never seen a husband of any number of wives as happy as mine is with me alone!”

Such were Mhudi's thoughts by day whenever she was left alone; and it naturally followed that when she was alone, he too was alone; and when she had company, he too had company. There being no third person, she spoke only to him and he to her. When she was thus meditating, he would perhaps be “abroad” (which was seldom further than a mile, and hardly ever as far as three miles away), also cogitating on his one ambition which was to make his young and pretty wife very happy. He felt that she — his queen — should be free as the birds of the air were free, nay, even more so; she should be a queen ruling over her own dominion, and he her protector guarding her safety and happiness. Then Ra-Thaga would return or leave the shady tree under which he had been braying a buck-skin, and stealthily approaching his wife, he would hear her speaking to herself; — “My little father, my other self, my guide, my protector, my all, while I remain his little mother, his sister, his other self, his helpmate, his life, his everything. How can I help him to be more manly!”

One morning, Ra-Thaga climbed the lofty tree beside the hut, as he was wont to do, to survey the land in every direction and see what was going on; at least between his home and the horizon. He observed a certain movement some distance off among the trees, hastily he called out, “Mhudi, have you any food? I think some visitors are approaching. These will be the first since our marriage, and I should like them to see what a good hostess my wife will make.”

“Just assure me that they are not Matebele,” cried Mhudi, beneath the shade of the awning, “and you will not be disappointed; for I can entertain as many wayfarers as choose to come.”

“They have left their burdens in the grass,” continued Ra-Thaga, still regarding the unusual spectacle from the tree-top, “and are quenching their thirst in a pool near the pan. I can see, passing through the high grass in single file, six faggoters with loads of wood on their heads coming almost directly towards us.”

“Now I see that you are joking, dear, for nobody would go to an uninhabited country for wood.” said Mhudi.

“You are right, Mhudi, that did not occur to me — Great Tau's Barolong! Those are not faggots, they are lions' manes. Lions, six lions, I see!”

From his elevated post Ra-Thaga finally noticed that the lions were changing their course and making for the ridge where he had chased the one notorious lion on the morning he first met his wife. A shudder went through him as he saw them sauntering about the place, examining the ground and smelling at the few eland bones left about. He felt that with half a dozen lions prowling in the neighbourhood, he could not claim the sole proprietorship of Re-Nosi — the name he had given to the valley. It would be a case of the survival of the fittest, and it seemed certain that he could not measure strength with the claws and jaws of six black-maned lions. What was to be done? For the first time since the forest home was planned, Ra-Thaga felt helpless and afraid.

But his wife, far from entertaining any fears, considered herself quite safe under the protection of her husband.

“Are they gone?” she asked, more out of curiosity than alarm.

“Apparently,” replied Ra-Thaga, “for I cannot see what has become of them.” Mhudi added: “Don't worry. Our old friend may have been among them for all we know, and explained to the others something of his past experience and his narrow escape from you. It is possible that animals converse in their own way. By-the-by, I see by the smoke that the wind is blowing towards the spot where you spotted them. They have probably scented our presence and gone for good. Come down and have a drink of berry-beer; they are far away by now.”

Ra-Thaga, who had been wondering whether the sudden appearance and disappearance and no further re-appearance of the lions were a reality or but a phantom of his mind, now thought that there was a possible solution of the puzzle in Mhudi's process of reasoning; so he asked her “Are you not afraid, Mhudi!”

“Why should I fear,” she said “who would be afraid in your company, while fear is afraid of you? I feel ready to meet any number of lions as long as you are about.”

He said little after this, but thought much.

For a long time Ra-Thaga considered it unsafe to set any more traps except for jackals; antelopes he feared would attract lions and make his place untenable, so he fell back on what dried venison they had, and they were seldom able to eat freshly killed game. The juicy lerisho  2  and similar roots which formerly served as their vegetable food became scarce, as his wife would not hear of his going out alone, for whenever he did she would count the moments and work herself up into a frenzy until his return. He could not bear to see her in an unhappy mood, so the better to maintain her cheerfulness, he seldom wandered far from the enclosure.

Some weeks passed in this manner, till, no doubt owing to the hard and dry fare on which they were obliged to subsist, Mhudi suffered from an attack of malarial fever and could not leave her bed. After several wakeful nights, she one afternoon fell into a heavy sleep, and Ra-Thaga sat watching her. Thinking over their unfortunate condition, his mind naturally turned to the old easy life of Kunana among his people, now dead and gone. He remembered how, when people were ill, they consulted a herbalist and how the longana  3  bush served as a tonic and cure for every ailment. He therefore resolved to go out in search of this herb and risk his wife discovering his absence. He left her asleep and hoped to return before she awoke.

He examined every root and plant as he went, and although not able to find at once what he wanted, he presently came upon something not less welcome. The ears of a young duiker buck appeared above the grass-tops where the animal was crouching. Fortune favoured Ra-Thaga for, as he raised his heavy knobkerrie, the buck took fright, and, darting off tried to clear a little bush with one spring; at the same moment the kerrie, propelled by the force of a powerful arm and healthy broad shoulders, broke both its hind legs, and our hunter pounced upon it and killed it. Knowing that fresh tender venison would be as good for his patient as the medicine, he threw it over his shoulder and proceeded cheerfully on his search.

Very late that afternoon Ra-Thaga found the longana herb and hastened homeward with his bundle, impelled by anxiety to reach his sick and lonely wife. He wondered whether she were better or worse? How had she felt on waking and finding him gone? Would the sight of the medicine and fresh meat appease her into forgiving him? His heart palpitated as he was nearing his home, propelled, as it were, by some mysterious force. Indeed he could not account for his nervousness which was increased rather than allayed by the sight of the enclosure round his hut. He paused at once beside a tree. But … what was that moving stealthily, and menacingly, outside the enclosure to the hut? Could it be that Mhudi was still there, or had a lion devoured her in her sleep? As the beast came opposite him, it stood still, with its tail towards him. There was no mistaking the fact that he scented life and was preparing to leap the fence. Ra-Thaga's presence of mind did not desert him. Carefully putting down his load, he slipped off his sandals, thinking as he did so of an old acquaintance who, while travelling in the wilds many years before, fell asleep in the shade of a big yellow wood tree. He was suddenly awakened by the roar of a lion rushing at his dog. Knowing that the animal would make for him after it had destroyed the dog, the traveller seized it by the tail while it was mauling his pet. He held it tight and never slackened his hold for two days and nights, until a party of trekkers who chanced to come that way speared the lion for him.

“Oh!” thought Ra-Thaga, “if only I could get at the lion's tail! I would not care how many days and nights I had to hold it so long as I could keep the beast from reaching Mhudi.” But how could he accomplish such a feat?

With these thoughts crossing and re-crossing his mind, Ra-Thaga, with his senses keyed up, was breathlessly and without noise making an effort to reach the lion. Circumstances favoured him. First of all, the wind was in his favour; secondly, the beast was so engrossed with its intent to enter the enclosure that it was indifferent to aught else.

He never could describe how he managed to reach that lion unobserved and to grip it by the tail. The frightened animal leapt into the air, lifting him up so high that he was nearly thrown on to its back; but he held on tenaciously by the tail till the lion abandoning its prey was only struggling to get away; but Ra-Thaga would not let it go.

Inside the hut, his wife had slept nearly all the afternoon, waking up just in time to hear the scuffle outside. She rose to her feet, and hearing his frantic calls for her to come out with his assegaai, she was quickly on the scene.

Most Bechuana women in such circumstances would have uttered loud screams for help. Mhudi yielded to the humour of the picture of her husband having a tug of war with the lion; feeling highly amused, she gripped the situation, stepped forward in obedience to Ra-Thaga, and summoning all her strength, she aimed a stab at the lion's heart. The infuriated animal fell over with a growl that almost caused the earth to vibrate.

Leaving the dead lion, Ra-Thaga fetched his herbs and his buck, secured the openings to his enclosure with fresh wacht-een-beetje bush, and followed Mhudi into the hut where he skinned his buck while sunning himself in the adoration of his devoted wife. Her trust in him, which had never waned, was this evening greater than ever. She forgot that she herself was the only female native of Kunana who had thrice faced the king of beasts, and had finally killed one with her own hand. Needless to say, Ra-Thaga was a proud husband that night.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1BogadiDowry
2LerishoA sort of wild turnip
3LonganaThe Bechuana wormwood