Chapter 7.

Mhudi and I.

At times Mhudi and Ra-Thaga found fruitful subjects for animated discussion. On one topic there was a sharp difference of opinion between man and wife. Ra-Thaga at times felt inclined to believe that the land on which they lived belonged to Mzilikazi, and that the Mzilikazi was justified in sending his marauding expedition against Kunana. This roused the feminine ire of Mhudi. She could not be persuaded that the crime of one chief who murdered two indunas was sufficient justification for the massacre of a whole nation.

“But,” protested Ra-Thaga, “all the tribes who quietly paid their dues in kind were left unmolested. Mzilikazi did not even insist that larger tribes should increase the value of their tax in proportion to their numbers. So long as each tribe sent something each spring in acknowledgement of its fealty, he was satisfied.”

Mhudi, growing very irritated cried: “I begin to think that you are sorry that you met and married me, holding such extraordinary views. You would surely have been happier with a Matebele wife. Fancy my husband justifying our exploitation by wild Khonkhobes, who fled from the poverty in their own land and came down to fatten on us!”

“On this subject you can never be logical, Mhudi; you forget that Mzilikazi does not care for riches and wealth, he has enough in his vast regions where every living animal, wild or tame, belongs to him.”

“Nonsense,” pouted Mhudi in disgust.

“Yes,” retorted her husband, “even the lion that we

page 57
chased the other day — the lion that killed the eland for us — is his property.”

“Oh, Ra-Thaga, you are incorrigible! After this I will not be surprised to hear you say that the rain which causes the growth of the grass is bestowed by Mzilikazi and his hordes of murderers. We will chase them from here as surely as you chased the lion the other day, and kill their fighters as you killed the other lion. They had no right to slaughter women and children as they did.”

“Oh, my little dear, you are too optimistic. Bear in mind that might is right. If Mzilikazi had no right to occupy this country, it follows that we had no right to chase the lion, the lion had no right to kill the eland, and by the same process of reasoning we had no right to eat the lovely eland beef that we enjoyed on our wedding day.”

“And by the same process of reasoning,” Mhudi set forth, “we will overthrow their perverted might, which takes women and children unawares, by a force that is more powerful than treachery.”

“Where will you get it, I wonder,” retorted the husband.

“I used to have a high respect for the sense of men, especially your sense, Ra-Thaga; but I am beginning to change my good opinion about it. On the first day we met, you said the Barolong were exterminated and their name shall be known no more. I refused to believe it. You know, I don't know where, but somewhere in this vast country, at a place called Motlhan'oapitse, Sehunelo's tribe — the Seleka branch of the Barolong — is still intact. They include the brave Sehubas, your fellow clansmen, who boldly snatched the Barolong chieftainship from Modibooa, and led the Hammersmiths from victory to victory, through the Central African lakes and forests,

page 58
and on the banks of the Zambesi right over Mosi-oa-Thunya  1  down to Bechuanaland. These include my own clansmen, as merry and valiant, as they were found swimming in streams of the milk of their own cows; they include the descendants of Makgetla who never quailed before a foe; and the Ra-Pulanas whose furnaces have smelted the iron that supplied other nations with hoes, knives, hammers and scimitars; they are famous as the only travellers who fearlessly traversed the jungle of Mafika-kgochoana, by day and night, a region on the Molopa which is shunned by travellers because of the lairs of lions and tigers, as well as ferocious buffaloes roaming or crouching there. The Ra-Tlou clan is still intact; and surely nothing has happened to the Beef-eaters and the Lion-trackers and the other clansmen who venerate the elephant, or the koodoo, or the rhinoceros; nor to the other members of Sehunelo's council with the hippopotamus as their tribal totem.”

“I am sure that at this moment their foundries are busy and it is not difficult to divine the result, as they can handle an iron spear or battle-axe as well as make one. Someday, somewhere, and somehow, they will turn up and teach Mzilikazi that the crim of one man killing two potential women slayers is no excuse for massacring whole generations of innocent men, women and children.”

“Let's change the subject,” said Ra-Thaga in despair.

“Yes,” agreed Mhudi abruptly, “let's speak of something different, or else I won't talk any more.”

“Tell me, Mhudi,” queried Ra-Thaga, “were you ever in love before you met me?”

To this she ingenuously said, “You know that, on

page 59
the day I met you was not the first occasion on which I had a narrow escape from a roaring lion.”

Ra-Thaga was not very pleased with this evasive remark, but he listened as she went on.

“Your life was spent mainly at the cattle posts or in the hunting field, so probably you never heard the story. I have had some exciting times in my young life, but my first encounter with a lion is known far and wide; and I was told that it had even reached the wicked ears of Mzilikazi.”

Ra-Thaga, at first impatient, now became intensely interested. His wife continued:

“It happened in this way. A couple of years ago a group of us set out from out Cattle Stations on the banks of the Setlagole River to gather berries in the direction of the Motlhokaditse valley. There were two score and three girls beside myself. They were the jolliest lot of maidens you have ever met — most daring too, or I would not be here to cook this hare for you. There was some competition as to who should first fill her bag with berries, and her knapsack with the mola fruit from the creeping plant on the sands. We picked and gathered and sacked and bagged the fruit, proceeding as we did so from vine to vine, and from tree to tree. Presently, some of us became so engrossed in our work that we left the majority of the girls far behind and there were but six of us together. I saw a big tree behind a sand dune with wood-berries so numerous and ripe that they literally hid the green leaves and gave a maroon colour to the trees. I made straight for that bush, and saw my knapsack filling in imagination before my companions arrived. Coming up to the tree I started picking its fruit. Suddenly, there was a frightful growl and the terror drove the blood from all my veins. I

page 60
was face to face with a monster of a dog which, in my awe, seemed several times magnified. As it opened its terrible mouth it gave a startling roar that shook the earth beneath my feet, and bathed my face in its steaming saliva which drenched me all over; the tree appeared to vibrate and spun round, and only the growling monster appeared stationary. I must have been unconscious with fright, and could barely see the animal in front of me. Subsequently I heard the shouts of girls' voices around me, and after what seemed an eternity, the animal turned and disappeared behind the tree.”

“So then,” said the astonished Ra-Thaga now list in admiration, “you were the heroine of Motlhokaditse, whose bravery was the pride of the countryside! Why, the thrilling tale of your adventure will live as long as there breathes a member of our tribe. I know the story. No man would believe the girls at first, until the next day when their foot-prints were tracked to the spot, and the men found the foot-marks of a girl, face to face with a lion's paw only two paces apart. I remember hearing that it was a Kgoro girl whose bravery crowned the whole of her clan with glory. Who would have thought that I should live to marry the heroine of Motlhokaditse! How did these good girls manage to scare that lion away from you?”

“Just as you did on the morning I met you,” she said, “by shouting and waving their peltries in the air. Of course, young women are timid and not as bold as men. They ran at first, but seeing my peril they returned — to die with me, as they thought, but in reality to rescue me.”

“Wonderful!” gasped Ra-Thaga in admiration. “I feel certain that each of half a dozen boys of the same age would have shown their heels and left their comrade to his fate.”

page 61

“No, no,” said his wife, “as true as my father was a Kgoro the boys would have done just as well.”

“Now tell me,” insisted Ra-Thaga after a long pause of silent admiration, “were you ever in love before you met me?”

Luckily recalling a way out of her dilemma, Mhudi said: “Not exactly, but I remember when the girls of my age-division passed their initiation into womanhood, our school broke up on a brilliant moonlight night. The dance of our thojane feast took place under a starry and cloudless sky with a silvery moon rendered more brilliant by the bonfires that marked the centres where stood the several thojane girls who had just qualified for young womanhood. This dance was held four nights after the full moon, yet before the same moon waned, and before I had discarded the ochre and the rest of the bojale garb, I was told there were no fewer than seventeen aspirants for my youthful hand, from which I was to choose one.”

“My naughty aunt used to come and help me sort out the names and examine the genealogy of each candidate. I rejected the first one because some generations back, so my aunt said, his forbears used to herd my mother's grand-uncle's cows. I preferred a man whose ancestors herded their own cows, you see. The next one I rejected because it was said that, once upon a time, there was famine in the land, and his grand-parents appeased their hunger by eating dogs and scorpions — this was enough for me, that settled him, for as relations they were hopelessly repulsive.”

“The next one's ancestry was obscure, and the next one I rejected because his father went out hunting one day and fled before a wounded wildebeest. A good-looking aspirant had two wives already, and wanted me as his third;

page 62
whereas my ambition was to become wife No. 1 or remain unwedded. Auntie did not seem to know much about the remaining twelve so I gaily rejected the whole bunch because I thought they were too many. My naughty aunt has since dubbed me 'The blind Eye,' because she said I could not see one suitor among so many. I never heard how all these wooers received their fate; I never troubled to find out what became of them for I knew them not, and cared much less.”

“And then?” enquired Ra-Thaga further.

“And then, of course,” said Mhudi, “there was the massacre after which I was alone until I met you.”

After this they would descant upon their happiness in the wilderness, where their days were ideal and their nights long and pleasant. They had neither cares nor worries of any kind. They had almost forgotten the horrors of their bereavement and the fact that they were apparently the only survivors of a once great race. The solitude of the wilderness had become dear to them and they craved for no other company. And now, as in afterlife, when things were not particularly to his liking, the demands of society often made Ra-Thaga long for the loneliness of Re-Nosi. Then he would plaintively exclaim:-

    I love for the solitude of the woods,
    Far away from the quarrels of men,
    Their intrigues and vicissitudes;
    Away, where the air was clean
    And the morning dew
    Made all things new;
    Where nobody was by
    Save Mhudi and I.

page 63

    To me speak not of the comforts of home;
    Tell me but where the antelopes roam;
    Give me my hunting sticks and snares,
    In the gloaming of the wilderness;
    Give me the palmy days of our early felicity
    Away from the hurly-burly of your city
    And we'll be young again — Aye:
    Sweet Mhudi and I.
page 64

Chapter 7.

Mhudi and I.

At times Mhudi and Ra-Thaga found fruitful subjects for animated discussion. On one topic there was a sharp difference of opinion between man and wife. Ra-Thaga at times felt inclined to believe that the land on which they lived belonged to Mzilikazi, and that the Mzilikazi was justified in sending his marauding expedition against Kunana. This roused the feminine ire of Mhudi. She could not be persuaded that the crime of one chief who murdered two indunas was sufficient justification for the massacre of a whole nation.

“But,” protested Ra-Thaga, “all the tribes who quietly paid their dues in kind were left unmolested. Mzilikazi did not even insist that larger tribes should increase the value of their tax in proportion to their numbers. So long as each tribe sent something each spring in acknowledgement of its fealty, he was satisfied.”

Mhudi, growing very irritated cried: “I begin to think that you are sorry that you met and married me, holding such extraordinary views. You would surely have been happier with a Matebele wife. Fancy my husband justifying our exploitation by wild Khonkhobes, who fled from the poverty in their own land and came down to fatten on us!”

“On this subject you can never be logical, Mhudi; you forget that Mzilikazi does not care for riches and wealth, he has enough in his vast regions where every living animal, wild or tame, belongs to him.”

“Nonsense,” pouted Mhudi in disgust.

“Yes,” retorted her husband, “even the lion that we chased the other day — the lion that killed the eland for us — is his property.”

“Oh, Ra-Thaga, you are incorrigible! After this I will not be surprised to hear you say that the rain which causes the growth of the grass is bestowed by Mzilikazi and his hordes of murderers. We will chase them from here as surely as you chased the lion the other day, and kill their fighters as you killed the other lion. They had no right to slaughter women and children as they did.”

“Oh, my little dear, you are too optimistic. Bear in mind that might is right. If Mzilikazi had no right to occupy this country, it follows that we had no right to chase the lion, the lion had no right to kill the eland, and by the same process of reasoning we had no right to eat the lovely eland beef that we enjoyed on our wedding day.”

“And by the same process of reasoning,” Mhudi set forth, “we will overthrow their perverted might, which takes women and children unawares, by a force that is more powerful than treachery.”

“Where will you get it, I wonder,” retorted the husband.

“I used to have a high respect for the sense of men, especially your sense, Ra-Thaga; but I am beginning to change my good opinion about it. On the first day we met, you said the Barolong were exterminated and their name shall be known no more. I refused to believe it. You know, I don't know where, but somewhere in this vast country, at a place called Motlhan'oapitse, Sehunelo's tribe — the Seleka branch of the Barolong — is still intact. They include the brave Sehubas, your fellow clansmen, who boldly snatched the Barolong chieftainship from Modibooa, and led the Hammersmiths from victory to victory, through the Central African lakes and forests, and on the banks of the Zambesi right over Mosi-oa-Thunya  1  down to Bechuanaland. These include my own clansmen, as merry and valiant, as they were found swimming in streams of the milk of their own cows; they include the descendants of Makgetla who never quailed before a foe; and the Ra-Pulanas whose furnaces have smelted the iron that supplied other nations with hoes, knives, hammers and scimitars; they are famous as the only travellers who fearlessly traversed the jungle of Mafika-kgochoana, by day and night, a region on the Molopa which is shunned by travellers because of the lairs of lions and tigers, as well as ferocious buffaloes roaming or crouching there. The Ra-Tlou clan is still intact; and surely nothing has happened to the Beef-eaters and the Lion-trackers and the other clansmen who venerate the elephant, or the koodoo, or the rhinoceros; nor to the other members of Sehunelo's council with the hippopotamus as their tribal totem.”

“I am sure that at this moment their foundries are busy and it is not difficult to divine the result, as they can handle an iron spear or battle-axe as well as make one. Someday, somewhere, and somehow, they will turn up and teach Mzilikazi that the crim of one man killing two potential women slayers is no excuse for massacring whole generations of innocent men, women and children.”

“Let's change the subject,” said Ra-Thaga in despair.

“Yes,” agreed Mhudi abruptly, “let's speak of something different, or else I won't talk any more.”

“Tell me, Mhudi,” queried Ra-Thaga, “were you ever in love before you met me?”

To this she ingenuously said, “You know that, on the day I met you was not the first occasion on which I had a narrow escape from a roaring lion.”

Ra-Thaga was not very pleased with this evasive remark, but he listened as she went on.

“Your life was spent mainly at the cattle posts or in the hunting field, so probably you never heard the story. I have had some exciting times in my young life, but my first encounter with a lion is known far and wide; and I was told that it had even reached the wicked ears of Mzilikazi.”

Ra-Thaga, at first impatient, now became intensely interested. His wife continued:

“It happened in this way. A couple of years ago a group of us set out from out Cattle Stations on the banks of the Setlagole River to gather berries in the direction of the Motlhokaditse valley. There were two score and three girls beside myself. They were the jolliest lot of maidens you have ever met — most daring too, or I would not be here to cook this hare for you. There was some competition as to who should first fill her bag with berries, and her knapsack with the mola fruit from the creeping plant on the sands. We picked and gathered and sacked and bagged the fruit, proceeding as we did so from vine to vine, and from tree to tree. Presently, some of us became so engrossed in our work that we left the majority of the girls far behind and there were but six of us together. I saw a big tree behind a sand dune with wood-berries so numerous and ripe that they literally hid the green leaves and gave a maroon colour to the trees. I made straight for that bush, and saw my knapsack filling in imagination before my companions arrived. Coming up to the tree I started picking its fruit. Suddenly, there was a frightful growl and the terror drove the blood from all my veins. I was face to face with a monster of a dog which, in my awe, seemed several times magnified. As it opened its terrible mouth it gave a startling roar that shook the earth beneath my feet, and bathed my face in its steaming saliva which drenched me all over; the tree appeared to vibrate and spun round, and only the growling monster appeared stationary. I must have been unconscious with fright, and could barely see the animal in front of me. Subsequently I heard the shouts of girls' voices around me, and after what seemed an eternity, the animal turned and disappeared behind the tree.”

“So then,” said the astonished Ra-Thaga now list in admiration, “you were the heroine of Motlhokaditse, whose bravery was the pride of the countryside! Why, the thrilling tale of your adventure will live as long as there breathes a member of our tribe. I know the story. No man would believe the girls at first, until the next day when their foot-prints were tracked to the spot, and the men found the foot-marks of a girl, face to face with a lion's paw only two paces apart. I remember hearing that it was a Kgoro girl whose bravery crowned the whole of her clan with glory. Who would have thought that I should live to marry the heroine of Motlhokaditse! How did these good girls manage to scare that lion away from you?”

“Just as you did on the morning I met you,” she said, “by shouting and waving their peltries in the air. Of course, young women are timid and not as bold as men. They ran at first, but seeing my peril they returned — to die with me, as they thought, but in reality to rescue me.”

“Wonderful!” gasped Ra-Thaga in admiration. “I feel certain that each of half a dozen boys of the same age would have shown their heels and left their comrade to his fate.”

“No, no,” said his wife, “as true as my father was a Kgoro the boys would have done just as well.”

“Now tell me,” insisted Ra-Thaga after a long pause of silent admiration, “were you ever in love before you met me?”

Luckily recalling a way out of her dilemma, Mhudi said: “Not exactly, but I remember when the girls of my age-division passed their initiation into womanhood, our school broke up on a brilliant moonlight night. The dance of our thojane feast took place under a starry and cloudless sky with a silvery moon rendered more brilliant by the bonfires that marked the centres where stood the several thojane girls who had just qualified for young womanhood. This dance was held four nights after the full moon, yet before the same moon waned, and before I had discarded the ochre and the rest of the bojale garb, I was told there were no fewer than seventeen aspirants for my youthful hand, from which I was to choose one.”

“My naughty aunt used to come and help me sort out the names and examine the genealogy of each candidate. I rejected the first one because some generations back, so my aunt said, his forbears used to herd my mother's grand-uncle's cows. I preferred a man whose ancestors herded their own cows, you see. The next one I rejected because it was said that, once upon a time, there was famine in the land, and his grand-parents appeased their hunger by eating dogs and scorpions — this was enough for me, that settled him, for as relations they were hopelessly repulsive.”

“The next one's ancestry was obscure, and the next one I rejected because his father went out hunting one day and fled before a wounded wildebeest. A good-looking aspirant had two wives already, and wanted me as his third; whereas my ambition was to become wife No. 1 or remain unwedded. Auntie did not seem to know much about the remaining twelve so I gaily rejected the whole bunch because I thought they were too many. My naughty aunt has since dubbed me 'The blind Eye,' because she said I could not see one suitor among so many. I never heard how all these wooers received their fate; I never troubled to find out what became of them for I knew them not, and cared much less.”

“And then?” enquired Ra-Thaga further.

“And then, of course,” said Mhudi, “there was the massacre after which I was alone until I met you.”

After this they would descant upon their happiness in the wilderness, where their days were ideal and their nights long and pleasant. They had neither cares nor worries of any kind. They had almost forgotten the horrors of their bereavement and the fact that they were apparently the only survivors of a once great race. The solitude of the wilderness had become dear to them and they craved for no other company. And now, as in afterlife, when things were not particularly to his liking, the demands of society often made Ra-Thaga long for the loneliness of Re-Nosi. Then he would plaintively exclaim:-

    I love for the solitude of the woods,
    Far away from the quarrels of men,
    Their intrigues and vicissitudes;
    Away, where the air was clean
    And the morning dew
    Made all things new;
    Where nobody was by
    Save Mhudi and I.
    To me speak not of the comforts of home;
    Tell me but where the antelopes roam;
    Give me my hunting sticks and snares,
    In the gloaming of the wilderness;
    Give me the palmy days of our early felicity
    Away from the hurly-burly of your city
    And we'll be young again — Aye:
    Sweet Mhudi and I.


Footnotes & References

#NoteDescription
1Mosi-oa-ThunyaThe Victoria Falls