by Levi Keidel
Tshiyamba is Sacrificed
A guard named Katombe watched the captives. They passed each day in great fear, as snared animals awaiting the arrival of the snare owner. The day for Ngongo's return came and passed. When there was no more food, Katombe sent guards with slaves to get cassava from fields near villages they had destroyed. He had others make palm-frond shelters to protect people from rain. He loosed the bonds of a few women each day to prepare palm oil and to gather greens for cooking. Bit by bit, the fear of Ngongo's return was washed from their minds as the tears of a weeping woman slowly wash the face.
A month passed. It became clear to everyone that they could not continue this way forever. The day was coming when Katombe would have to make a decision. Clan leaders among the slaves whispered with one another when they were not being guarded closely; they formed a plan, and waited.
One evening, the sun already having set, slaves were given larger portions of food. They ate. Guards began to make them lie down to sleep early. Slaves with more courage kept asking them why. Finally a guard said, "You will need strength. When day breaks, we begin our journey."
"Where are we going?" Those who heard the guard's words fastened their eyes upon him.
"We are going to meet those waiting for us."
The word spread like fire driven by wind through dry grass. Clan leaders knew that on such a journey, many would die. Others would become ill and, after arriving, would also die. At this point they had one word in their hearts: "The forefathers said, 'What is the difference whether the witch doctor kills you with flea bites, or with poverty? The chicken who sees the knife and pot knows what is going to happen.' Now is the time to have courage and speak. If we die, we die."
"Let us speak with Katombe," one said.
"Yes. Take us to Katombe!" answered other clan leaders. The words caught the lips of everyone: "We want Katombe! Let Katombe come." Guards began striking a few people, but the captives would not be silenced. Katombe, in his hut, knew by listening that this was no meaningless uproar. He heard his name. Through darkness that now made everyone look the same, he came, and stood at the edge of the circle of people.
"What do you want?" he shouted.
Even the insects became silent. Then a clan leader brave enough to die spoke in the darkness.
"Is it true that we begin the journey tomorrow?"
There was more silence of waiting.
"Do you know this journey will be a success?"
"Why would it not be?"
Sufficient silence appealed for Katombe's respect.
"Have you gathered enough food for this many people for such a long journey?" one asked.
Another followed. "If we raid the fields of others along the way, will they not attack us? You and your helpers have only a few guns and hand weapons; will that be sufficient to defend us?"
"Some of us will die on this journey," said another. "With the passing of sufficient days, others of us will truly arrive. But if when we arrive, we find that Ngongo was slain in war, what will we do? The journey will have been for nothing."
Katombe was silent. Slaves hoped this meant he was perplexed. Finally he spoke.
"What are you asking for?"
"We know that you are troubled," said the first one. "You are as a wren sitting alone on a grass stem after a prairie fire. You want your chief. But we have watched you. You know how to take care of people. You may take us tomorrow. Suppose after many days, you lose many of us and find your chief. Then will your heart truly be happy? The elders say, 'Feed animal entrails to a lion long enough, and it will return to consume you.' Do you think you will serve Ngongo happily forever?"
"What do you want to say?" Katombe asked.
"Which is better? For you to be the servant of Ngongo who may someday betray you; or to be chief of people who want you?"
People stopped breathing and waited. Katombe was thinking hard.
"If I were your chief, what would you pledge me?"
Words of clan leaders ran one over the top of another.
"We would pledge ourselves to be your people forever."
"We would not desert you. Where would we go?"
"We would pour the oil of anointing upon you, and upon your sons who follow you."
"We would sit here as one people, and build the kingdom of Katombe."
Katombe paused. Within him these words were writing themselves clearly. Then he took his guards to one side and began talking with them. People waited, fear battling their hope. Finally, through the darkness spoke the voice of Katombe.
"Greetings. If your pledges are true, so be it."
No one could sleep that night. When day came, Katombe sent guards with a gun to hunt a male sheep and other food animals. They returned when the sun was past half its journey. The seven clan leaders shed the sheep's blood and, with it, sealed the covenant of Katombe's chieftainship. From one of its horns, they poured the oil of anointing upon his head. Then they carried him on their shoulders to a tree. He mounted himself onto its big limbs and with a loud voice, declared the authority of his chieftainship. Clan leaders cried out in assent, and bowed to the ground before him. Then guards cut off the bonds which remained. That evening, women prepared a feast. Everybody partook of the covenant food. Then they danced in celebration of their joy, not watching the time, into the darkness, until their strength was finished.
X X X X
Our people abandoned their palm-frond shelters. They built huts of mud walls and grass roofs. They planted their fields; they bore their children. Katombe was a strong chief, ruling his people well. As one plants a peanut in the ground and, later, pulls up a handful, so our people multiplied.
The passing of years washes away the colors of memory. The way my people had suffered under Ngongo Lutete began to fade; their promise to sit as one person under Katombe began to fade. Clan leaders began competing for power, each wanting to make himself a chief. Then came fighting. Bloodshed, beginning as a rivulet, grew into a stream that wanted to wash them all away. One day Katombe called the clan leaders, sat them down before him, and spoke.
"Many rain seasons ago, when you wanted to make me chief, I had hard thoughts," he began. "No one had ever heard of a stranger becoming chief of slave captives from mixed tribes. Also, our hands were empty. But your pleading softened my heart, and I accepted. Then by working hard, we did an amazing thing. As maggots, without a knife, butcher an elephant carcass, so we, with nothing, built our tribe.
"But now it appears you have forgotten that I had pity on you. You have forgotten that it was your hands which poured upon my head the anointing oil; it was your mouths which spoke the words that you would sit in peace and together build the kingdom of Katombe. These many years, as one family, we have slept under the same roof. If you have not forgotten your promises, why do you now speak words which split the house?"
Clan leaders sat looking at the ground in shame, as dogs caught stealing meat.
"Under the chieftainship of Ngongo, some of you would have lived. Shall people say that under the chieftainship of Katombe, everyone died? Will you wipe yourselves from the earth, and at the same time, bring such shame upon me? No. I will not accept it. Each of you must look hard into the customs of your forefathers. Together, we must carry out a strong covenant. The blood of those you have killed is crying from the earth. Our covenant must be strong enough to silence it. The covenant we make must bring an end to bloodletting, and show all generations following us that we are a tribe of peace."
When shame subsided, clan leaders began looking at one another. They agreed on what they must do. Then their hands worked, while their hearts, as dumb sentinels, watched.
One day a covenant feast was prepared. They chose a large open space between the path where bypassers walked, and the first row of houses. They cleaned and swept it. In the center of it they dug a large deep hole, heaping the fresh brown dirt around its edge. The people of each clan brought a live goat; a throwing spear; an innocent virgin girl, and cassava flour to prepare mush for the feast. Before eating together, they would seal their covenant. Every person of Chief Katombe was to be present, or bear the penalty of death.
Chief Katombe sat on his chieftainship chair, the hole remaining to his right. His leopardskin of authority was across his knees. A strong servant stood on each side of him. Seven clan leaders sat on low stools in a circle before him; each had a spear and a bound goat at his feet. Seven young girls stood quietly in a line along the other side of the hole, facing the chief. In the open space encircling them all, packed as tightly as dried grass stems on a hut roof, stood the people of Katombe.
The chief drew lots to choose one of the girls. The lot caught a girl named Tshiyamba. Katombe made her stand before him.
"Our child Tshiyamba, this is your day of glory. As of today, all of us you see standing here wipe from our memories forever the names of our clans. It is your honor to be founder of a new tribe of people, the tribe of Tshiyamba. We who look upon you with our eyes, bind ourselves in a covenant never to be broken to honor you forever, and to live as one tribe in peace. Because of what we do today, our children and our children's children will call themselves by your name, and will sit in peace and happiness. Heaven and earth, witness our oaths."
Katombe nodded to his servants. They covered the girl's eyes with a cloth, and tied it. They laid her on the ground. One tied her hands, quietly speaking words of comfort to her. The other tied her feet, his hands wanting to tremble. The hearts of all watching them trembled. The servants lifted Tshiyamba, sat her down into the center of the deep hole, and returned to their places. The chief cried with a voice loud enough to enter every ear:
"Earth under our feet, upon you all living beings walk; from you all living things eat. We have done you badly. We have drained upon you the blood of our tribemates. They died for nothing. Their blood cries for vengeance. Today, may its cries be appeased and silenced forever. We now drain upon you this innocent blood to cover our guilt. Accept this sacrifice which we offer you, and let peace again come between us."
Then he cried to his people, "May this shed blood appease the earth for our fighting!"
"So be it!" cried the people.
"May it cleanse us of our evil!"
"So be it!"
"May it bind us together as one thing!"
"So be it!"
"May it seal our oaths forever!"
"So be it!"
Then the clan leader on the chief's right rose, took his goat to the hole, slashed its throat, and drained its blood into the fresh ground. Each other leader followed in his turn.
A piece of meat was cut from each carcass and cooked in one pot. A portion of cassava flour from each clan was cooked in another. When the food was prepared, clan leaders sat closely in a little circle around the two pots, and Katombe said:
"May the one who eats with enmity in his heart toward another be cursed and die."
"So be it!"
"Make your vows to the earth; show it that there is no longer anger among us."
Each clan leader in his turn, broke a handful of cassava mush off the loaf in the pot, and threw it into the hole. Then they sat down together and ate the food.
Again the chief cried out, his hands gripping the chair arms tightly.
"Is fighting among us finished forever?"
"It is finished!"
"Before the Great Elder Spirit, pronounce your oaths to the earth."
Each clan leader, one after the other, took his weapon of war, broke its staff, and laid it in the hole beside Tshiyamba.
Then Katombe turned his chair to face the hole. Clan leaders knelt around the edge of the hole, and lifted loose dirt in their hands. A woman began to mourn. Katombe stood slowly and spoke, his voice like that of an animal in pain.
"Tshiyamba, our vows have entered your ears. Your ears are the ears of the earth. Your spirit will live in the earth forever. We have made our peace now. Should any one among us raise his hand to break our peace, may the earth swallow him in vengeance. May your spirit destroy him. May his seed be cursed to perpetuity."
"Shall it be thus?" he asked his people.
"Let it be thus!"
Each clan leader threw his handful of dirt onto Tshiyamba.
The servants closed the hole, with everybody watching.
Thus one gave her life to finish our evil and to reconcile us again. Since that day, our people, under Chief Katombe and his descendants, have called themselves "The Tribe of Tshiyamba," and have lived in peace.
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