IN THE CASSAVA PATCH
Bai T. Moore
behind the rusty bars of a cell in Monrovia's
South Beach Prison facing the Atlantic Ocean,
I can now try to piece together all the circumstances
leading to the violent storm which nearly tore
off the roofs from many houses in the Dewoin
country one bright Sunday morning in the year
rose over the discovery in a cassava patch,
of the mutilated body of Tene, the daughter
of a well known Dewoin family who live in Bendabli,
just a stone's throw from Amina, the former
Paramount Chief's town, twenty miles from Monrovia
on the Monrovia-Bomi Hills motor road.
dry time thunder, Tene's murder shocked every
one in the area. The news spread troughout the
countryside like wildfire. A few hours following
the discovery, hundreds of horrified persons
had arrived on the scene to get a glimpse of
the corpse. Mothers made it a point to bring
along adolescent daughters cautioning them in
these terms, "you see eh, when we old people
tell you children to listen to your parents,
you say this is a new age. "The person,
who killed this child is a madman... A blood
thirsty fiend seeking her vital organs to make
sacrificial medicine, perhaps, stricken
onlookers remarked, as hundreds of them passed
by the body of Tene lying under a palm tree
in the center of the cassava patch.
twelve man jury appointed by the local clan
chief to examine the body reported that Tene
was murdered with a sharp instrument, a razor
or a cutlass. Her throat had been slashed, both
wrists cut to the bone, and there was a gash
above the eyes. From the appearance of the spot,
Tene and her murderer must have fought for a
good while before she was finally overpowered.
much palavering on the scene, the elders all
agreed that because of the advanced state of
decomposition of the body, it should be immediately
interred. "According to tradition,
remarked one elder, "Tene cannot be buried
in the town. " The chief ordered a grave
hastily dug and Tene was thrown into it.
name is Gortokai. Kai, the last part of it is
the Vai apellation for man. Gorto refers to
the brown jugs in which Dutch gin was sold long
ago. It is probable that on the day I was born,
the village elders were feasting on a case of
this delectable spirit, so that they were spared
the trouble of inventing a name for me.
grew up as the son of old man Joma and his wife
Sombo Karn, and with Tene and Kema, her older
sister. One day, I was left alone with Tene.
We were playing Mama and Papa, when suddenly
Tene came up to me and asked me to hold her
tight in the waist. I shivered and recoiled.
"Gortokai, can't you see that we are not
brother and sister? It's a secret Mama told
didn't know then, why this information had been
withheld from me. Much later, I learned that
my real father was once a slave. He had been
one of the men recruited for the Island of Fernando
Po as a contract laborer on Spanish coco plantations,
and came back home disillusioned but still full
of the spirit of adventure, as result of which
he associated himself with an itinerant Mandingo
cola trader. It seems that at one time this
gentleman was unlucky in one of his deals, and
found it convenient to bargain my father off
as part of the deal to a prosperous farmer in
one of the St. Paul River settlements. Shifting
from one village to another in later years,
he ended up in the Dewoin country were he met
my mother and married her. If there is anything
I inherited from my father, it was his urge
to roam about.
third harvest following the outbreak of the
Hitler War was a momentous year for me. Something
every young man in the Dewoin country looks
forward to, happened to me. I was initiated
into the Zowolo, the highest Poro degree offered
by the Dewoin tribe.
foster parents spent plenty of money for this
occasion. There were the initiation fees, new
suits of clothing to allow me to change twice
a day during the four days of feasting following
the initiation and a series of receptions. The
cane farm we made that year all went into the
destillation of juice for the initiation.
harvests after the initiation, I came to the
conclusion that I was man enough to have my
own fire hearth. This meant building my own
house and getting a wife. In looking around,
my mind began to settle on Tene, the daughter
of old man Joma and his wife Sombo Karn.
had just turned thirteen, handsome as they come.
Her coffee color skin and eyes were bewitching.
Men fell in love with Tene the moment they saw
her. The girls in her circle envied her for
this. Because Tene had many admirers, some of
my close friends advised me that if I wanted
her to be my wife, I would have to resort to
strong love medicines to turn her heart towards
When the opportunity was offered me, I did not
hesitate to impress upon Tene, my intense desire
for her. But I had no intimate relative in whom
I could confide, and I realized that this was
the difficulty. Some one had to intercede for
all the details involved in getting a wife.
The only person I could rely on was Kema, Tene's
own sister, who in fact, had suspected my intensions
towards her sister, and for a long time encouraged
trusted Kema so implicitly that I swallowed
anything she told me about her sister line,
hock and sinker. She reminded me of my importance
in the family. Kema felt that because of my
economic value in the family, her parents would
have no reason to refuse me their daughter.
Everyone in Bendabli knew that I was the main
source of support for the joma family. My foster
parents depended on me for making the annual
rice farms, gathering palm nuts to make oil,
making traps and crawfish baskets to supply
the house with meat and other daily needs for
the quarter. Now and then I took small bush
cutting contracts to obtain money with which
the family bought tobacco, salt and paid the
annual hut tax.
more the Tene matter came to my mind, the more
I thought of the dowry the old people would
demand of me. On this question Kema and I shared
opposite views. She felt that since I was the
main source of support for the family, perhaps
a token offer should be sufficient. But what
this figure should be, she never ventured to
tell me. Although I was a member of the family
I did not want my foster parents to dash me
the dowry issue became the talk of the village.
Some felt that my desire for Tene was immoral,
but they could never convince me on what grounds.
Some felt that in order to keep an asset like
me in the house, old man joma should make a
sacrifice and give me his daughter for little
delicate issue like Tene's dowry, I thought
should be discussed in close confidence between
Kema and me. One evening while Kema was visiting
me in my one room kongo adjacent to the big
square house of my foster parents, I seized
the opportunity to ask her, "Kema, this
one dowry business has been all over the town
now for I don't know how many months. What do
the old people want for your sister? Be frank
and tell me.
I thought we had decided this. Kema replied.
the exact amount?
exactly. Kema reflected. "Gortokai,
you have done so much for my old parents, we
owe it to you to give you a wife. If I had a
husband with money. Kema pointed out,
knocking her chest, "I would take money
and pay dowry for a woman for you myself.
I believed every word Kema spoke. To make matters
short I told her that I had decided to pay the
full forty dollars which is required for all
virgins. The only thing that mattered was whether
Tene loved me. Kema gave every assurance that
her sister was in love with me.
I decided to make some quick money with which
to pay Tene's dowry, and was fortunate to obtain
an offer to go to Suehn on the Bopolu Road,
to clean out a man's rubber farm for forty dollars.
This amount would go a long way towards the
dowry and other expenses involved in getting
got to Suehn as quikly as possible. Of the first
ten dollar advance I received, I sent eight
to Kema to buy a lappa, a tin of powder, a jar
of sweet smelling pomade and mambo earrings
for her sister, as a surprise from me. I don't
remember anyone ever giving her such presents.
I did this to make Tene feel that I was serious.
waited one week after the dispatch of the money,
but got no word from Bendabli. This silence
annoyed me, so much so I got dispondent and
careless on the job. I paid dearly for this
a few days later. With my own cutlass, I nearly
chopped off my right big toe.
three weeks I was unable to do any work. My
employer engaged the services of a local herbalist
to treat my injured toe. I thought I would use
the toe as an excuse to get the old folks to
send Tene to see me.
week later, Tene and Kema arrived in Suehn.
They came on a crowded Monrovia-to-Bopolu passenger
truck. I lived in a quarter far removed from
the main road, so that they had a hard time
Tene came across a friend who knew where to
locate me. When the girls saw me way off, they
rushed to the veranda where I was sitting. Kema
reached me first. She gave me a big hug. "What
is the matter, Gortokai? She asked when
she looked at my wounded toe.
nearly lost it, Kema, I said.
it is God who helped you. We must thank him.
Tene sympathizes. "Never mind, you hear?
suppose you girls never heard of my misfortune?
"Gortokai, I swear on the Sande Society,
we heard of it in Bendabli only yesterday.
Kema said. "The person you gave the message
to did not rearch our way but went to Monrovia
instead. Some people from Bendabli happened
to be in Monrovia two days ago selling farina
and heard of your misfortune. When they went
back to the village they told the old folks.
This is how we got it.
true, I said, "times are changing.
It's hard to depend on people these days.
Kema admitted however, of receiving the eight
dollars I sent, immediately upon my arrival
was generous in bringing me gifts - country
bread with peanuts and sugar and plenty of fried
chicken, and I loved her for this. We put everything
away pending the arrival of my landlady who
was expected at any moment from the farm where
she was harvesting rice.
the girls could finish telling me all the important
news from the village, the landlady arrived
and I introduced the girls to her. She at once
showed admiration for Tene. "I can see
why Gotorkai has been killing himself to make
enough money to pay your dowry.
guest room which adjoined mine, was put in order
for the girls. When she got through making up
the bed, Juku, the little girl whom my landlady
was rearing, said, "Kai, tell your strangers
the room ist ready.
landlady herself inspected the preparations
before ushering the girls into the room. "Tene
and Kema, make yourselves at home, while I go
and get something to eat. I know you must be
hungry, coming all the way from the Dewoin country
as you did today.
going to the kitchen, the landlady called me
aside and said, "Kai, for so she
called me, "the palava reach you know.
What shall we do for the girls to make you happy?
had a dollar bill in my pocket. I pullet it
out and handet it to her. "Here, can this
no Kai, the landlady refused. "Put
your money in your pocket. Can't you see that
you are my stranger son? Anything my husband
and I can do to make the girls happy will be
a pleasure to us.
landlord, who was also my employer, joined us
in the kitchen. He immediately approved of everything
the landlady had decided and suggested we leave
all the details to her. We proceeded to the
veranda where Tene and Kema awaited us.
said my landlord, "I don't know which one
is Tene, but I must congratulate you for your
fine taste, the girls are indeed beautiful.
The girls got up and shook hands with the landlord.
smell of fried chicken and onions from the back
of the house suggested that the landlady was
busy preparing a special delicacy for our guests.
Every now and then she would come on the veranda
to see how we were coming along. When she observed
that her husband had not offered the girls anything
to drink, she inquired, "Jaa, why have
you not given the strangers some cold water?
My landlord at once asked to be excused. He
headed towards the main road through the town
where the shops were. When he returned, he was
laden with bottles of cane juice, beer, soft
drinks and some sweet biscuits. I surmised he
had in mind giving a small party for the girls.
knew that my landlord's generosity also had
an ulterior motive. He was trying to entice
me to remain in his employment. The few weeks
I had been with him had convinced him that I
was a hard worker. Someone he could depend on
to keep his rubber farm going.
landlord had several times proposed that I remain
with him after my contract was over. Just before
the girls had come he offered me the daughter
of a distant relative as a wife. The girl in
question was already some one else's wife, but
my landlord said, that this was no problem.
With his influence and position, as head of
an extended family, it would be quite easy to
refund the man's dowry and turn the young lady
over to me. All he wanted me to say was, yes.
I did meet the girl on one or two occasions
and she indicated her willingness for the match.
But because of Tene I never gave the matter
any serious consideration.
party for the girls lasted until late in the
evening. It started as a small affair but grew
to something lavish afterwards. To judge from
the empty bottles under the table, we must have
consumed over fifteen dollars worth of rum.
Some of it was still on the table when the guests
began going home.
invaded my room early the following morning.
When she leaned over my bed, the odour of rotten
cane juice from her breath got me nauseated.
I noticed her face was bloated and her eyes
red like a ripe palm nut. "Kai, she
cried, "the rum got my hed swimming. My
legs can hardly bear me up. Kema leaned
over and nearly fell on my face. Her hair was
disheveled and unsightly.
is Tene? I inquired. "That sleepy-head
one, I can't get her to wake up, Kema
struggled to right herself beside me, but unfortunately
my bed was a bit short for her tall slender
body. "Why did you inquire about Tene?
I just thought to ask. Maybe she too is suffering
from the same thing.
know Kai, when young girls are just learning
to drink, Kema declared, "they don't
know where to stop. To make me feel good,
she said, "Tene is your wife, why don't
you go to her and play with her.
wife, I thought to myself. I got up hurriedly,
reached for a large towel hanging over my bed,
and tied it around my waist. When I pushed the
guest room door ajar, I saw her wrapped up in
her dream, and but for a narrow scanty piece
of country cloth drawn over her waist, Tene
was practicaly naked.
multicolor fanti headtie had fallen from her
head, leaving her hair a bit rumpled, over the
peaceful round face. Ideas scurried through
my mind as I stood there with my eyes pinned
on Tene. If I wanted to, I could do anything
to her. She breathed faintly, her voluptuous
breast softly moving up and down, quite unaware
of my presence in the room. In height Tene did
not measure both of my arms joined together.
A ring formed by both my thumbs and third fingers
could not go around her plump legs, but her
ankles and toes were slender like mine.
crawled on the bed beside her, and my body tingled
when her warm coffee color touched mine.
put my arms gently around Tene's waist. My hands
nervously touched the two strands of beads she
had around her waist. On one of them hung a
small antelope horn which she wore perhaps as
a charm to bring her good fortune. When I made
an attempt to press her breast against my chest,
Tene extended an arm and shot an imploring glance
at me. I rubbed her face gently with my nose.
is this, Kai! what are you doing to me? "
felt guilty and replied, "nothing Tene,
I was just trying to play with you, that's all.
She drew away and turned her back to me.
we will play but just let me sleep a little
while longer. "
you mean with all the sleep you had last night
you are still sleepy?
gathered the cover cloth and tugged herself
snugly into it, but I moved closer toward her
and with infinite care pulled it back, persuading
her to turn over and face me.
Kema barged into the half shut door to pull
Tene up and escort her to the bath fence behind
the cooking shed, where a bucket full of warm
water awaited them for their morning bath.
landlady who was busy in the kitchen told the
girls to hurry up and dress so they could join
the landlord with a delicious breakfast of fried
chicken and new rice.
insisted on coming into my room to dress. When
she entered the door, I pulled her towards me
and hugged her.
"Gortokai, man leave me. I didn't come
here for that, she protested. "I
gave you all the chance in the other room. Now
let me go so I can dress.
I opened the window opposite my bed so Tene
could get sufficient light to make use of the
only mirror available.
While she was dressing, Tene's inquisitive eyes
peeped into every nook and corner of the room.
One object seemed to attract her, the small
decorated wooden valise on the table at the
bottom of my bed.
like it? I have something fine in that valise.
If you can guess what it is I will give it to
true? Tene giggled excitedly, exposing
her sparkling white teeth. "How many guesses
do I have?
are usually allowed four ...
right, Tene cut me off abruptly. "Here
is my first guess. It couldn't be clothes, I
got two more to go.
looked up and pondered. "It's something
to do with gold? She paused. When she
observed me unconsciously nodding approval,
Tene yelled, "earrings, bracelet, or necklace!
o, wait a minute Kai! She stopped me before
I could open my mouth.
"Now I know what, it is a pair of gold
you are right! I exclaimed. I opened the
box. On top of the loosely packed clothes lay
a pair of glittering clover leaf shaped earrings.
picked them up and dangled them before her eyes.
"Kai, you mean these belong to me? I want
sister Kema to see them. She tried them
on. "Mmmm, they match a lappa suit I have
at home. When I told Tene the earrings
were hers, she swung around and put her arms
around my waist and said, "Kai, I love
you. You are so thoughtful. This was one
of those rare occasions Tene had said this to
on that day, the girls informed me that they
could not stay longer, as they had to get back
to finish harvesting the rice and other crops.
landlady suggested that they remain a couple
of days more. Tene was anxious to go back, but
Kema prevailed on her to accept the hospitality
of my landlady for two more days.
the meantime, I persuaded my landlord to advance
me more money, so that in the event I decided
to send some money ahead on Tene's dowry, it
would be available.
the eve of their departure, I had a long discussion
with Kema. Tene had gone with my landlady to
some village to visit a friend, leaving us completely
undisturbed. Kema wanted to come to a frank
discussion. I surprised her with a bottle of
St. Paul Lightning, the so-called "cold
water, a superior brand of cane juice
produced in the Suehn area. After a couple of
drinks, I opened up the discussion on Tene's
dowry by asking, "Kema, your sister is
matured now, what are the old folks saying?
shifted on the bed.
what for instance? She inquired, lowering
think I have just been eating rice for nothing
eh? I am an old kuba, Kema.
this doesn't tell me anything, and she
lifted her head.
right Kema you want me to be blunt. Your sister's
armpits are no longer those of an innocent child.
I said to Kema. "The hairs under there
show sign of maturity, I swear to God.
remained silent. The room was getting stuffy.
Kema suggested that I open the window. All this
time we had not come to any conclusion, as to
the amount of dowry I should pay. I therefore
told her, "since we cannot agree on any
figure, I take it to mean
She laid her head on my arm.
what? Kema turned up and looked at me.
offer the prevailing dowry mat.
would pay the full dowry required for a virgin,
ten pounds sterling, or forty dollars. The procedure
involved the following: twenty-five cents, to
find out from the family if there was any other
suitor besides me, if no other suitor, twenty-five
cents to shut Tene's ears to any further requests
from suitors; two dollars to tie the rope on
her hand, or engage her, fifty cents to cut
the rope or confirm the engagement.
it there. Kema interrupted. The glass
slipped from her hand and sent the rum spilling
all over me. "How much does this add up
to so far? I took time and checked these
figures on my fingers. The total came to three
dollars. This, plus the forty dollars, a lappa
suit for the old lady and a robe for the old
man would be a fair amount.
presented Kema with twenty-three dollars to
use toward her sister's dowry and we parted
with no definite time as to when I would be
coming back to Bendabli, because I wanted to
extend my contract so as to earn sufficient
money to pay the remaining amount.
you are a professional palm wine drinker, that
is, a habitude, or a connoisseur, the most sensible
thing to do when you arrive in a strange town
is to associate yourself with a palm wine circle.
By so doing you get to know all the current
gossip of that town.
It was my good fortune, as soon as I had arrived
in Suehn, to join one of the conservative groups
of early risers because, this is the best time
to drink palm wine.
the circle I joined, I met a very articulate
and likable character for whom I soon developed
a great admiration. His name was jaa Buu, but
everyone called him Buu for short. He had travelled
extensively, and told us some exciting stories.
morning following the departure of the girls,
I accompanied Buu to his new palm wine tree,
which by the way, was located not far from the
rubber farm where I worked daily. In our conversation
enroute, I jokingly told my friend how I missed
Tene, my future wife.
the younger sister, my friend recalled,
"she is indeed a beautiful thing. I do
not hesitate to say how much I envy you for
such good a fortune. I blushed as Buu
paid me such a flattering compliment. "What
about the other sister? I asked. Here
is the shocking reply I got.
she can out-drink a fish. She is the woman palm
wine and cane juice ran away from. The whole
time she was here, I supplied her half a gourd
from the swamp every morning. She taught me
a concoction which you should try; a mixture
of palm wine, cane juice, seejohn roots, wild
bush peppers and a drop of perfume, to improve
the aroma. If that doesn't send fire through
you, I suggest you go and see old lady Dii,
otherwise you are finished.
get you, and we both burst out and laughed.
"Buu, this concoction, my first time hearing
of it. So it's good for impotence too eh?
my friend grinned, "what do you think all
these old men follow me here for every morning,
with charged root bottles? You see palm wine
ferments quickly. When added to cane juice,
the two work hand in hand and draw all the strong
medicines out of seejohn, peppers and whatever
you put in them.
am learning a lot about my future sister-in-law.
you stay around long enough, Kai, you will hear
a lot more.
Tene too, I suppose? I noticed that my
friend refrained from making any comments. He
simply said, "just the usual village gossip,
suspected that Buu had no doubt seen or heard
something unfavourable about Tene, which he
did not want me to know. And yet if I prodded
him unduly, he might reveal something I myself
would not want to know. I merely said, "Buu,
I love Tene so much, I don't know what to do.
Her people wouldn't come out and tell me how
much dowry to pay for her. "Kai you
are a man like myself. We all like women. As
for my part, I don't give them a chance to cross
my tracks. My advice to you as a friend is this,
don't let this Tene palava become an obsession.
In the first place, for you to marry a girl
like that, you will have to have a strong man
behind you. I don't mean a man with money, but
someone with powerful medicines to work magic
on that girl.
reflected for a bit and said. "Buu, I believe
you are quite right. I need someone behind me
who can manipulate strong love medicines in
order to turn Tene's heart solely towards me.
this time we had almost reached our destination.
Buu looked up in the palm wine tree and yelled,
"o boy! look at my old lady, she's foaming
like I don't know what. All new trees are like
that. We got under the tree. Buu flung
his cutlass on the ground and immediately climbed
up by aid of a bamboo pole.
watched him remove the leaves which covered
the receptacle containing the wine. He dipped
his finger into the liquid and tasted it. "Mmmm,
the old lady is strong like bushcow milk,
and sent down a bamboo quart container full
By the time I had finished the third quart,
we were joined by three newcomers. They gossiped
about everything from my landlady's extra love
affairs, to the old men who were trying to conceal
their impotence. I well laughed at the trio.
Some of their jokes centered around themselves.
our visitors left, Buu and I got back to Tene.
I wanted to benefit from his wide experience,
particularly in matters pertaining to getting
a wife, so I listened attentively.
my friend commenced, "all this haste in
paying dowry for Tene, have you had someone
to look into it for you, that is, to divine
for you? My advice to you as a friend is, never
contemplate such a major undertaking without
it being looked into.
I had not thought of this, I admitted.
"Do you know someone you can recommend?
asked. "A very good man you mean?
know of several, Buu replied. "Ever
heard of Bleng? He can tell you things that
will make your hair rise. "
I shook my head. "I would very much like
to meet him. How far does he live from here?
so far. I can take you there tonight if you
so wish. "
suppose, his fees are reasonable?
depends on what you want him to do for you.
is not only a diviner, but a zowo and master
of medicinal leaves. He can do wonders for you
if you need him.
that evening, we were in the presence of the
celebrated sand reader. Bleng was every bit
the description Buu had given me of him; a short,
stocky, bowlegged gentleman, with large bulging
eyes planted proportionately between two huge
curved ears. On one of the lobes hung a tiny
brass earing. Around his neck hung a heavy necklace
strung with assorted objects, including barracuda
teeth, seashells, tiny copper spears and antelope
horns. These adornments enhanced the sand reader's
wind blows my friend Buu to my humble abode
this time of the evening? The doctor man
asked, waving us into two low stools in his
I want you to meet Gortokai, a friend of mine.
where do you come from? Bleng cast his
eyes on me.
Bendabli, on the Bomi Hills Road, Buu
been a long time since I was last in those parts.
happening there? He spoke slowly.
am sure this question was intended for me, so
I answered, "nothing of any significance
that is, up to the time I left there a few weeks
what is your mission gentlemen, may I ask?
"The palava reach to you. Buu pointed
ahead and break word. You brought me here.
I told my friend.
right, Buu agreed. "Bleng,
he began, "my friend comes to you with
a strong palava which catches his heart. He
got his heart set on a woman and wants to have
you look into it for him.
he wants to marry, I suppose?
old man set for a few minutes looking into space.
"What is the name of the girl? He
said we in unison.
reached for something under his bed. It was
a rolled up mat with a bag inside. He spread
the mat before us and pressed the small bag
against his forehead. "Gortokai,
the sand reader called, "touch this three
times, and call the name of the girl three times
to yourself. Confide anything you wish, to the
placed the bag on the mat and began to unfasten
it. I had my eyes glued on every movement he
made. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the
sand reader poured the contents of the bag into
the mat. They were an assortment of quartz crystals,
large yellow beads, smooth pebbles and some
strange-looking beans. One of the pebbles rolled
under my stool. I tried to reach for it. Bleng
one is allowed to touch these sacred objects
unless I give them permission. God gave them
to me in a dream and taught me how to use them
to help mankind. He told me not to let anyone
touch them, else they would loose their magic
contents of the bag were collected and tossed
into the air and allowed to scatter on the mat
again. Bleng viewed the objects with penetrating
eyes for a minute or two without uttering a
word. He broke the silence, by murmuring the
word "Tene to himself several times,
nodding in between. The old man cleared his
throat and offered to tell me what he saw in
the crystals. For some reason which I cannot
explain, I turned pale and felt nervous. Bleng
looked straight into my eyes; "young man,
he uttered. I felt a sudden thump against my
chest. It was my heart, beating like a machine.
"Tene's heart is divided. The old
felt a sudden jolt. I felt like the whole world
had suddenly dropped from under me. I was unable
to speak. In such a state of mind, the old man
found it useless to continue telling me what
he saw in the crystals. For true I was dumbfounded
and numb all over. In his long experience as
a professional diviner, Bleng had discovered
a way of bringing clients like me back to reality.
think what you boys need right now is a good
shot of St. Paul Lightning on roots. A
good gulp of the hot liquor sent an exhilarating
sensation through me. I felt better all of a
sudden. When the old man asked, "how you
like my roots?
told him, "just fine. It has brought me
know it. Old man Bleng smiled. "Gortokai,
when you have reached my age, you will agree
that good rum, delicious food and some money,
not too much, to keep you worrying, are to be
desired more than a beautiful unfaithful woman.
Although I had not gone through some of the
experiences the old man was referring to, I
found myself agreeing with him. "So you
mean Tene will not be my wife? I asked.
wouldn't say that, but ... Bleng stopped
suddenly and smiled. "You need strong forces
behind you to win that woman, my boy. Someone
who can make strong love medicines, so she can
turn her heart solely towards you.
was just as blank as I could possibly be. "Well,
I breathed heavily, "this is the reason
why I am here old man, I want you to help me.
help can be given must come very fast, because
right now the family of the girl have four offers
before them besides you.
got through telling me all what he saw in the
crystals. Besides the urgency of moving fast
in the Tene palava, he said, I had a long trip
before me. That a tall fair woman close to Tene
had so much influence over her, Tene dare not
make a move without the approval of this person.
About the short brown man who was making strong
juju to win Tene, I had an inkling who it might
I left Bendabli, there was bush-bush talk of
a secret love affair between Tene and a Bomi
Hills fellow. They said, it was being engineered
by Kema, her sister. I swear to God, Bleng is
a master zowo. His crystals confirmed all the
rumours I had been hearing of this Kema woman.
That she was a snake in the grass is obvious,
and a poisonous one at that. The whole while
she was in Suehn she had been secretly drinking
palm wine with Buu and going to be with him.
I had heard enough and wanted to get up and
go back to Suehn, or walk aimlessly the whole
night. My friend Buu, sensing my feelings the
whole while, avoided making any comments until
we were an our way back home. He tried to console
me when he said, "Kai, I have been through
the same situation. Many men before us have
been through it, and those who will come after
us too, will go through it. It's one of those
evils God put on earth. You know now what I
mean when I say the secrets of a woman are deeper
than the bottom of hell.
part is a little better, Kai. The first woman
I said I loved, my parents paid all the dowry
at one sitting. At that time coffee was money.
It was one shilling and six pence a pound. My
folks had a sizable plantation and hence commanded
a little money. So they thought that by paying
the girl's dowry right down, they would make
a favourable impression on the parents, and
the girl as well. Besides that, I had made rice
farms for three years for the girl's family
to prove to them that they were getting a hard
working son-in-law. When it was time to receive
my wife, my parents again went to work and outfitted
a round hut for us.
here is the fun. On the day the girl was to
be handed over, I invited several friends and
entertainers for a big reception feast. Biekpakla
was packed with people from every section of
the Tee country, to witness my wedding. "For
the occasion, I was dressed in a white suit,
with helmet to match, brown shoes and eye glasses.
I got the nickname, Joa Kanda (a chief's son)
that day. As evening approached, the appropriate
time to receive a wife, all the people started
looking into the direction where my bride was
expected to come from. At that moment, a friend
of mine arrives in the village and invites me
down the road to tell me something urgent. My
heart at once begins to beat faster.
the road, my friend says to me, "kengeo
foe-e! I have just left the village. The young
lady swears she does not want you. Her people
are in tears.
my friend, I didn't wait to hear the rest of
the story. My bowels turned loose right there.
dammed, I shivered. "If Tene should
disappoint me like that, I will do something
know Kai, Buu suggested, "the moon
is shining bright, why don't you and me go by
the old lady in the swamp and get some palm
wine to charge our roots?
get drunk eh?
Buu replied excitedly.
excellent idea. I agreed.
three days I was useless to myself. I avoided
revealing to my landlord and his wife what old
man Bleng told me. Although I did not show it,
I also tried to avoid my friend Buu. I was not
pleased with the way he had made love to Kema
behind my back.
waited one week and went to the old man. This
is what Bleng himself had suggested. To turn
Tene's heart solely towards me, he said, was
an easy job, but pointed out that it would require
patience and a series of sacrifices. Bleng was
not at home when I got to the village. He had
left word that if anyone wanted to see him they
should follow him to his fish-trap. I was directed
to the place, a makeshift shed, where the old
man spent the night when it was not convenient
to return to his village. He was accompanied
by his grandson, a child of ten. The little
boy was the first to see me. He ran to tell
the old man. When Bleng saw me he called, "Kai
friend, where is your shadow?
man, it is not all the time friends must know
what you are doing.
are right. The old man agreed. "Some
people who pretend to be your friends are the
very ones who help to spoil your palava.
the usual greetings, the old man offered me
a seat. He wanted to know how Buu's old lady
in the swamp was coming on.
"The old lady had a misfortune for some
reason, I informed the old man. "I
understand that Buu permitted a novice to attend
a pity, Bleng admitted.
fool cut the heart of the tree too far back
and she refuses to leak.
sand reader grinned. "When I was making
palm wine, I never permitted anyone to go up
in my trees. Everyone in this country knows
this. Some people got bad luck and when they
go up in a palm wine tree, they cast an evil
spell on it.
soon got to the problem which brought me to
the old man. The first thing I did was to reach
in my bag and hand Bleng a big bottle of cane
man, I told him, "my heart is heavy.
I love Tene too much. God knows it. I have slaved
all my life for her. I can't sit down and see
another man get her.
course not. The crystal reader agreed
with a deep voice.
I beg you, do it for God's sake, make all the
strong medicines you know to make Tene's heart
turn towards me alone.
noticed old man Bleng commenced thinking very
seriously. His ears began to move up and down
as if they were being pulled by some mechanical
device. "Gortokai, he raised his
head, "for true, the palava don't reach
a man's kinja. We got to put fire behind turtle's
behind to make things move. I can try to help
you, but this will cost you plenty money.
man, I don't care what the cost is, if I get
Tene, I am willing to enslave myself for the
rest of my life to pay you.
man, are you serious about this woman?
I assured the old man.
things I need to make the love medicines for
you are difficult to obtain. For instance, I
need right away, a braid of Tene's hair, a piece
of her garment, three of her toe nails, a piece
of otter skin, particularly from the breast
section, some gun powder and other odds and
ends. But some of these I believe I can get
locally. The immediate needs are the hair, nails
and garment. "
think I can get you these easily.
how I like to hear a man talk. I see that you
are brave my son, how long you think will take
pondered over my reply. "In seven days.
You see Bleng, I cannot trust anyone with a
mission as delicate as this. I must go myself.
Kai, my son, as soon as you can bring the items
I need for your job, I will fix Tene's heart
in such a way she will eat out of your hands.
felt relieved for the first time in days. I
asked the old man about his fee, and how he
wanted it paid. "Kai, I like you as my
own son. I understand your Problems. When we
get our hands on all the things I have asked
for, I will want an advance of sixteen dollars
in America money. When the work is finished
and you are satisfied, I will demand an additional
sixteen dollars and wave the balance. Some people
pay me one hundred dollars for jobs like this.
thanked the old man for his generosity, handed
him fifty cents and bid him goodnight. I reaffirmed
my promise that I would see Bleng in seven days.
Back in Suehn, I met my landlord, his wife and
my friend Buu sitting on the veranda with some
of Kema's concoction. I could just imagine what
they were talking about - me and Tene of course.
I wanted to avoid them and go straight in my
room, but this was not feasible. Buu had seen
me. He called, "Kai, come here and join
us! Your landlord has found something new to
add to the Kema concoction.
what is this new invention? I asked.
big secret, my landlord said with a broad
smile. I tasted the stuff and found it even
superior to Kema's brand. "Come from old
man Bleng, I suppose? Buu inquired inquisitively.
wish he had kept his big mouth shut. But since
he had opened it, I was left with no other choice
but to frame up a quick reply. "I went
in that direction to get my cutlasses repaired.
you didn't get to see the old man?
I said, "I learn that he had gone to his
fish trap. "
is Bleng all right, my landlord remarked.
"He used to be the best man in this area
for leaves. But, his reputation is waning somehow.
was taken aback when my landlord said this.
Buu who had introduced me to the old man did
not put up any defence for him. In fact, he
added, "that old man, he drinks too much.
St. Paul Lightning these days.
I decided to place complete confidence in the
doctor man. I figure out, that if the old man
manipulated the right leaves, I had no doubt
he could bring Tene around.
my landlord and landlady were about, I thought
it an appropriate time to frame up an excuse
to run to Bendabli for the parts of Tene I needed.
I had to present a convincing lie.
told them that I had just received an urgent
message from home, saying that old man Joma,
my foster father was at the point of death,
and that whatever I was doing, I should drop
it and come to Bendabli at once.
a pity, the landlord sympathized. "How
long has he been ill? He inquired seriously.
person who brought the message did not say.
I sympathize with you for your sudden misfortune,
Buu remarked. He offered to accompany me. I
told him it was not necessary at the moment.
I woke up with the pepperbirds the following
morning and started my journey.
mission was of such a delicate nature, I had
to be extremely careful to avoid being seen
in villages where people would recognize me.
I decided therefore, to take a different route
which lead through a high forest. I got to Bendabli
earlier than scheduled, hence I had to conceal
myself until I could achieve my objective.
of the people in the village were engaged on
the other side of the town, removed from our
quarter. Now and then, children I recognized
ran between the banana orchard where I secreted
myself and our big square house. When I was
certain that no one had detected my presence,
I crawled on my belly carefully, until I got
within hearing distance of the people in the
open kitchen opposite our house.
and Kema were sitting there running their mouths.
The other members of the family, the old man
and his wife, were sitting on the far side of
the kitchen. Tene was telling Kema of her experiences
with one Bioma Chachi, a pursuant from Bomi
heard her say, "sister Kema, you should
see his house. It has four large sleeping rooms,
a big hall, kitchen and wash house. And, o!
Tene continued. "Water is no problem, for
right in front of the house is a pump which
supplies water to all the other quarters in
sat attentively listening to her sister. "Ain't
I told you so? Chachi is the man for you. Only
thing, his wives. How many has he got?
o! Tene explained. "The head wife,
she is an ugly thing. I don't know what he's
doing with her.
thing like that, she's just there to take care
of his children by his other wives, what do
what you think, Kema, the old hag dogs the poor
boy around like you do a child.
all that Tene, wouldn't you like to be one of
hesitated for a moment, then said, "sister
Kema, my eyes are just opening. You and the
old folks have tried your best to bend me, to
make me decide on a man. But, the more I look
around, the more I feel that I should be left
alone to make my own choice.
is the difference between the young people of
your age and those of my generation, at your
foster mother spoke up. "When I had matured,
my parents came to me and said that a man wanted
me to be his wife. I had nothing to do with
the proposal. One morning, while taking my bath,
my mother summoned me and told me that the man
who wanted to marry me had come to our quarter.
Everyone told me to say that the proposal met
my approval, and that was all there was to it.
that was in your days. From here to Gbarnga
took weeks, when you were a girl; places like
Tapeta, Saniquellie, Juarzon, sounded like names
in fairy tales. Today, one can visit these far
off places and meet new friends with ease. I
feel that a girl should be given a chance to
look around before she decides on one man.
Tene told her mother. With what had heard and
seen with my own eyes, I must admit now that
I have the greatest admiration for Bleng's crystal
reading. Something else I noticed, Tene carried
a little air of sophistication about her. She
was not the same beautiful little girl I had
been knowing all my life. Bomi Hills had done
something to her. The more she spoke, the more
I was determined to get her by any means, foul
waited until the attention of the family was
concentrated on the evening meal, to undertake
my delicate mission. Unnoticed, I slipped from
the banana orchard and made straight for the
window of the room in which Kema and Tene slept.
Fortunately there were no utensils under the
window sill for me to step over, to attract
attention. I had been in this very room so many
times that everything was familiar to me. The
wooden chests and beds were occupying the same
spot where I left them. I wondered whether the
contents of my trunk were still intact.
managed to ease myself under Tene's bed in a
comfortable position where I could remain unnoticed.
I made sure that the new razor and scissors
I brought along were sharp enough to achieve
my objective as quickly as possible.
I was reflecting on how best to get the parts
of Tene I needed, I heard footsteps at the front
door. A gush of blood rushed to my head, rendering
me nearly blind. I immediately reached in my
pocket for a vial containing a syrupy concoction
Bleng gave me to lick to quiet my nerves.
the sound of the footsteps, I could tell it
was Kema, who came into the room. I heard her
ask, "Tene! where is the lantern! I want
to light it! Tene told her it was sitting
by the head of the bed where I was secreted.
"Bring a torch, its too dark for me to
see! Kema demanded. I didn't know exactly
how this would effect my safety. A bright light,
and ill luck, could expose me and turn my mission
into a complete fiasco.
came in with the torch. But it turned out that
the lantern had no wick. Kema remembered throwing
a piece of felt hat under her sister's bed which
they had been using whenever the wick was finished.
"Reach under your bed and fetch the piece
of felt hat! " The older sister ordered.
I saw the light coming under the bed, I became
very tense, in fact rigid. What if the girls
should discover me and alarm everybody in the
village? What, if all the men in the village
overpowered me? Yes, what excuse would I have
for being under the bed. These and other questions
passed through my mind so hurriedly, there was
hardly time to figure out any quick solutions.
When Tene put her hand under the bed, her palm
swept my face. She felt the movement of my eyelids
and yelled, "Kema! there's a rat under
the bed! I felt its tail.
nothing unusual, Tene. This house is full of
them. I thought you knew this. One thing I miss
old Kai for, when he was here, he killed them
in his rat traps. "
know it Kema. Many days rats were all we could
find for making domboy soup.
the kind of men we will be associating with
from now on look down on women who eat rats.
would eat those dirty things if they can get
cow meat and fresh fish all the time? That's
one thing I enjoyed when I was in Bomi Hills.
Our dryer was forever full of fresh meat or
body remained rigid while this dialogue was
going on. I did not dare move a muscle. The
girls lit the lantern and never bothered to
look under the bed.
and Tene were fast asleep by midnight. Bendabli
was enveloped in total darkness and silence.
Now was the time to execute my delicate mission.
first thing I reached for was the lantern at
the foot of Tene's bed. I turned it off, to
render the room completely dark so that if the
girls did detect my presence, they would not
be able to make me out. I had figured out minutely
how to go about getting the things the crystal
first thing that came to my mind was, how to
obtain Tene's toe nails. I resorted to the technique
of the rat. When he wants to eat off your toe
nails, he bites and blows. So with the aid of
the scissors and plenty of gently blowing I
managed to clip off three of Tene's toe nails.
Then, my luck turned.
to reach the head of the bed to cut off a braid
of Tene's hair, I clumsily knocked against a
pan, causing Kema to scream, "Tene! Tene!
Is that you? "
is it sister?
is in the room! The window is wide open! "
alarm plunged Bendabli into one helluva holler
holler. All able bodied men were ordered to
converge on old man Joma's quarter with whatever
defensive weapons they could get hold of.
I heard the creaking of doors and rapid footsteps
close by our house, I felt the impending danger
facing me. It was during this state of confusion,
that Tene jumped right into my arms and cried,
"Sister Kema! sister Kema! The person's
got me. 0 God help me.
I could hear men banging at the door with mortar
pestles and sticks to force it open. Two men
with raised cutlasses had taken positions at
the tossle, I hurriedly slashed off a braid
of Tene's hair with my razor, then managed to
fight my way out through the window.
How I succeeded in concealing my identity is
a miracle. I must thank whatever gods that smiled
on me. Dawn found me half way between Suehn
and Bendabli. In order to stick to my alibi,
I delayed my arrival in Suehn by a couple of
travel so rapidly in these days of motor cars,
I had no doubt that my landlord had heard about
the incident in Bendabli. This is the first
thing he and the landlady asked me on my arrival.
conveniently forgot that my foster father was
supposed to have been at the point of death
and said that in the middle of the journey my
toe had started giving me trouble again, so
I decided to come back.
my landlord and my friend Buu had some misgivings
about the story, to judge from the expression
on their faces. From the gossip I picked up
from the palm wine circles, my landlord actually
suspected that I had been in Bendabli on the
night of the incident. My father's health was
not mentioned again, but the atmosphere around
me became unbearable. I yearned to escape.
a few days, I plucked up enough courage to tell
my landlord, I was feeling weak and unable to
do the job. I said, I wanted to go home. I still
owed him a few dollars worth of work, but graciously
he waved it. Old man Bleng got through with
all my works and told me to meet him so he could
deliver them to me.
nights after my departure from Suehn, the old
man and I met in a small room in a village not
far from Bendabli. When Bleng poured out the
contents of the carryall raffia bag unto the
small table between us, I noticed that every
item was neatly wrapped.
Kai, let me explain to you how to use each item,
the old man paused. "You have here three
packets containing gunpowder.
you get home, get a torch or box of matches
and ignite each packet, calling Tene's name
each time. The rolled up otter skin contains
her hair and nails. This you keep on your person,
at all times. In the antelope horn, Bleng
went on, "you will find strong love powders.
Try to put some in food for Tene to eat. Her
heart will jump after you, whenever you desire
hurriedly repeated everything the old man told
me, to be sure I would not make any mistake.
Before departing, I handed Bleng ten silver
dollars and told him he would hear from me.
arrived in Bendabli shortly after parting with
the old crystal reader. Everyone had gone to
bed. I moved straight to our big house and knocked
on the door. "Who is that? A heavy
voice asked hoarsely. It was a male voice. The
person cleared his throat and repeated his inquiry.
It was not until I heard the loading of a shot
gun inside, that I identified myself.
a flash, I heard the creaking of the door, followed
by a blinding glare which rendered me helpless
immediately. "Gortokai, and what are you
doing here this time of night? The person
inquired, holding a flashlight directly in my
"My old folks and my sisters, they live
The person inquired. "They have told me
about you. But, arn't you suppose to be in Suehn
cleaning out a rubber farm?
"Yes, I answered. The person switched
off the light and suggested that we go and sit
under the kitchen. It took a little while for
me to regain my vision. The interrogator was
a total stranger to me. I asked his name.
Bombo, from Firestone, the stranger explained.
"This is my second time coming here. Just
before my first visit, a heart man broke into
the girls' room to harm them. Since then, they
have been sleeping with the old folks.
When Tene, Kema and later the old folks recognized
my voice, they came out to greet me. It was
indeed not an enthusiastic reception.
following morning someone informed me that the
stranger was Kema's new man. She had changed
them so often, it was nothing strange to me.
the next few days I observed that Tene had changed
completely. I could not get her committed to
anything I proposed to her. This would be taken
care of, when Bleng's medicines began to take
effect, of course.
satisfy my curiosity, I took Kema to task one
day by asking her bluntly, "now tell me
frankly, does your sister still love me? Don't
hide anything from me. They say, teeth and tongue
fall out, what about mortal man?
swear on the Sande Society, I was told.
"Eh ya, if only you could open the poor
child's heart and see for yourself.
could see the hypocrisy in Kema's face. But
I knew that Bleng's leaves would solve all my
while I refused to worry about the family's
baffling behavior, and their two tongue approach
regarding the Tene palava, the short brown fellow
from Bomi Hills decoyed Tene and one day took
her secretly away.
that afternoon I came from the bush, Tene had
moved off bag and baggage. Anger shot up and
swelled in me like a furious sea, and I was
going to take my revenge, by setting Bendabli
on fire. However, I only burned the medicines
old man Bleng gave me, but still I don't know
whether that was the right thing to do or not,
they were certainly taking long to take effect.
add more fuel to my flaming anger, I learned
that Tene had left with a two-month old belly.
Kema and her people followed two days later.
They did not dare ask me to accompany them.
I did however tell Kema before they left that
whatever I had advanced in the dowry the family
Kai, you cannot lose your money like that.
tied cloth on my sister, or took her virginity
and made her pregnant shall pay a hundred dollars
damage to the family. That is what the law says.
probably forgot the law which says if family
people play katakata in a woman palava, the
devil catches them. Sensing my anger, Kema hesitated
to press the issue any further. I felt that
nobody meant to restitute my money to me.
happened, what didn't happen in Bomi Hills,
I turned my back on it all and moved to Monrovia.
Knocking about from one place to another I found
my way to Gbarnga where my father came from.
There I learned that he had eventually returned
home. He died but left a well-to-do brother
as head of the house.
uncle and wives, who had never seen me gave
a tremendous welcome when they saw me. The change
helped me a lot. I was kept busy visiting relatives
who were anxious to see me.
first thing my uncle did was to offer me a wife.
He did this to prevent me from returning where
I came from. Uncle Pewulo was probably right
in making such a generous offer, but I just
had enough of one woman. To be involved with
another so soon, I felt was premature. I told
him I would consider his proposition at a later
two month, I drifted to Tapeta. Here, I was
enticed by a friend to accompany him to Bokonjede
where he had a prosperous gold creek. He claimed
he had so many beautiful girls at his operations
that one had a difficult time selecting the
one to sleep with.
I never realized how rewarding travelling can
be, until one morning, while sitting on a log
by the roadside thinking of where to go next,
a pickup drove up.
to? The driver asked.
be candid I had no special destination in mind.
But since the impatient driver insisted, I told
him, "anywhere. - "0. K., jump
friend, you got any loads? The carboy
shouted with beaming eyes. He found a seat for
me in the over-crowded duazet, a one and a half
ton late forty model Ford. Soon we were heading
for Saniquellie. The dilapidated vehicle managed
to negotiate the long and rain-washed road without
falling apart. Just as we got in sight of the
town of Saniquellie, the gas gave out. The irritated
passengers threatened to headload their belongings
the rest of the way. The carboy was dispatched
to the nearest gas station and saved the situation
when he came back with a few gallons of gas.
"I swear to God I will never trade this
duazet for a new pickup, the driver boasted
proudly to his carboy. "Boss, God bless
we for true. I knew a three quarter tank wouldn't
reach us here; but I wanted to try something
so we can save on gas.
way from here, you dam fool. Why didn't you
tell me so we could fill the tank in Ganta?
Look at your head and mouth, like a hungry time
porcupine, the driver scoled and kicked
at the carboy jovially.
the Saniquellie truck depot many persons were
waiting for friends and relatives. Waiting there,
but not for me was an old acquaintance from
Karmo yelled when he saw me. He dashed towards
the pickup and embraced me excitedly. "And
what wind blows you to these parts? It
had been almost three years when last I saw
Karmo. From boyhood we had known each other
simply as Compin, a corruption of the word company.
the rush and confusion to collect the fares,
both driver and carboy overlooked me. I turned
around to Karmo and said, "Compin, but
how, this truck brings me all the way from Tapeta
you mouth. Say thanks to God and let's get the
hell out of here. Karmo advised.
friend piloted me through a maize of twist and
turns, until we finally came to an imposing
house facing the chief's compound. "I don't
know what your mission is yet, Compin, but this
is your home. Karmo offered and ushered
me into the first room at the beginning of a
long hall. A charming young lady greeted us
at the door.
this is Gbiti, my wife. Gbiti and I snapped
fingers in traditional greetings.
is a seat, she offered and took my mbeke,
the carryall raffia bag which I used for light
here is the stranger. A personal friend from
way back. What do you think we should do for
him? Karmo inquired.
don't know, you are the man. Anything you say,
the food will soon be ready.
we not talking about chop yet. Got to wet our
the room opposite ours was a rum shop maintained
by a Mandingo woman. Karmo suggested we go in
for a drink. The shelves were filled with an
assortment of bottles. "Let me see,
my host remarked, when we entered the shop.
"I am having a small bottle of Power Rum,
same thing, I accepted. We had hardly
finished our second round of drinks when Gbiti
called us in to eat. This invitation came at
an opportune time, for I was starving by now.
coming back just now, Karmo told the shop
Karmo, you goo man. You de pay my money all
time, I no fear you.
did not wait, I dived right into the hot bowl
of rice. It reminded me of Tene's cooking when
things were all right. "Compin, this chop
is surely delicious.
host accepted the compliments by petting Gbiti
on the buttock. "You see, when a woman
does good, she gets praises from every corner.
Gbiti smiled and left for the kitchen for additional
I am not kidding, tell me, how did you manage
to get such a charming woman?
chuckled. "You like her eh? If the old
man up yonder made them any better, he kept
them in heaven for himself. I have nothing to
complain about. It's a long story. When I became
a man, my dear old mother, may God bless her
wherever she is in the other world. She worked
hard to save enough money to pay dowry for this
girl. Unfortunately, Gbiti developed a peculiar
illness. A terrible water spirit, a genie, would
come to her in a dream to make love to her and
try to make her his wife. When she refused he
threw her in a fit like a crazy person. The
old lady tried all the doctor men she could
find, but none seemed to be able to help, until
one day mother was advised to try old man Boima
shivered when I heard the name. "You mean
Bleng of Bieben?
right. Karmo replied. "Bleng took
six months to drive the evil genie away. Now
here is the sad part of the story. My mother
did not have the money to pay Bleng's fee and
she passed away.
Mandingo diamond dealer came to Gbiti's people
and offered to pay the required amount provided
they gave him the girl. My hopeless uncles were
helpless. All of them put together could not
raise a pound, so they gave in.
day in tears, I watched Gbiti being taken away
to Saniquellie by the diamond dealer. What did
you tell me that morning, Gbiti?
too was crying, I told you that in the long
run, right would triumph over wrong, and that
somewhere we would meet again.
swear by God, Compin, I reflected.
months after they got to Saniquellie,
Karmo continued, "the man abandoned Gbiti
and moved off to diamond mines with another
this point, Gbiti dashed across the hall and
brought two more bottles of Power Rum. My eyes
were turning slightly by now. I definitely was
approaching the point of intoxication. While
pouring the liquor, I clumsily let go the glass
and it came crashing on the floor. "Look
at what I have done, I admitted guiltily.
Compin, Karmo joined in, "that's
raised his hand and said, "here, take my
glass. Finish what's in the glass so I can continue
insisted. "As soon as I got through with
the old lady's burial, I went to the chief in
Suehn and gave him the details of what happened.
"Not long thereafter, he gave me a letter
to the District Commissioner here, explaining
the whole palava from start to finish. After
looking into the matter, the kind old D. C.
ruled that the woman was mine, provided she
still loved me. My friend looked up at
his wife and smiled. "Tell Compin what
you told the court that day, Gbiti.
Gbiti, looked at her husband and said, "that
I was yours, and will always be.
a story, Compin, I suggest we drink on it.
I told Karmo how my woman palava had been an
unfortunate affair. "No Compin, Karmo
drew his face. "You mean all you did for
that Tene girl, that is how they treated you?
I can't believe it. You see now when some of
these people be dying they catch hell, and they
pretend someone witched them. "For
instance, right now Tene is in Bomi Hills. If
I am not mistaken, she has had her child.
give up Compin, Karmo advised. "Women
are like a dry leaf floating up stream. Eventually,
it belongs to a fish trap down stream. One day
Tene will come back to you. My friend
predicted. "It's only her foolish sister
Kema, who made that match for her, but I am
sure everyone in Bendabli is for you.
persons had made similar predictions before.
I certainly did not want to be disappointed
again. If Tene wanted me, she was the one who
would have to approach me. On this point, my
mind was definitely made up so help me God.
Karmo kept prodding me; "Compin, Tene belongs
to you. Don't let her remain in Bomi Hills.
" He was so happy with Gbiti and wanted
me to be the same way. The more I thought of
it, the more it appeared that a reconciliation
with Tene was possible, if only her sister would
play the fool one day and drown herself in the
St. Paul River.
I was contemplating on getting back to Monrovia,
Karmo told me that he had obtained a few weeks
from his employer, one Mr. Chibli, a Lebanese
trader, to take Gbiti home to visit her people
all joined the same Monrovia bound truck. Karmo
would take Gbiti to Suehn, leave her there and
proceed to Bomi Hills to see Tene.
we got to the Truck depot in Monrovia that afternoon,
I met someone from Bendabli who told me that
Tene was in town selling gari or farina.
got excited when I told him the news. "Compin!
he shouted. "Let us go man, what are we
standing here for, we got to find the woman.
hurriedly carried Gbiti and all our plunders
to a watchman friend behind P. Z. Store, on
the Water Front. During our search we stopped
at a stall to buy some cola nuts. While waiting
for the change, I saw Karmo dashing across the
street. "There she is, Tene! He shouted.
a year's time, Tene had changed. She had become
a bit darker. Her lappa, buba and headtie, all
looked like cast off clothes that someone had
handed down to her. Under her arm, she carried
the five gallon tin in which she measured her
farina. All we could do was, to look at each
other. "Come on, you two, say something,
Karmo prompted. "You just stand and stare
at one another like bobos.
raised her head and looked into my face. "Came
down this morning to sell farina. Someone credited
one tin and asked me to collect the money this
evening, or soon in the morning. She explained
are the old folks? I inquired.
know, Kai, old age is telling on the old folks,
they are making out as can be expected.
the watchman's place, we hurried through a meal
of boiled cassava and fresh bonnie soup which
Gbiti had prepared. Our host we learned had
gone over to Vai Town for a family conference,
but his wife told us to make ourselves at home.
we got to wash our meal down with something.
What will it be? Karmo inquired.
who was accustomed to teasing her husband on
occasions like this replied, "I have a
bottle of something hot to drink. If you men
want to credit it, I have no objection.
what I like you for, Gbiti, you got a solution
for all my problems. Bring the bottle. I will
pay you double interest for it.
know it's the truth. If you pay me all the interest
you owe me, I will be rich. Gbiti pointed
reached in her bossom and pulled out a handkerchief
with a knot at one end. She opened it and took
out a dollar bill. "Gbiti, she called,
"here is the cold water for the men.
I pitied her for the gesture, but nevertheless
watchman's wife had some cane juice and beer
under her bed to sell, so we did not have far
to go. This illicit selling of rum helped to
augment the watchman's meager income.
host, a jovial little stooped shoulder fellow
soon joined us. The first joke he cracked was,
"I see the liquor palava's coming on all
right, but where do I pen you two billy goats
for the night?
asked us to excuse ourselves and follow him.
"I know it is the sleeping place palava
you have called us here to hang head.
Karmo observed. "Old man we don't want
to embarrass you. When we are finished with
our drinks, we will go to Cooper Farm to ask
some friends to put us up for the night.
boys sound like two asses. You know I wouldn't
agree to such a preposterous idea. The
old man pointed out. After a further search
of the warehouse facilities, the old man came
up with a new suggestion. "You boys follow
me, he invited. "The boatboys are
not here. They left a big tent capable of accommodating
went over and examined it. "There's nothing
wrong with it, Karmo remarked. I didn't
know how well Tene would accept the idea of
sleeping with me, having just left her husband
and returned to her parents in Bendabli. When
the old watchman observed my indicisiveness,
he asked, "what, you not sure of your woman?
"Well, she's got a young baby, I
interferred, "man move from here, with
your baby business. You will be a big fool if
you don't begin cashing in for all your lost
night under our tent room, Tene did not resist
my approaches. We played until very late in
the night. Early the following morning we all
scattered in different directions; Karmo and
Gbiti headed for Suehn, Tene for Bendabli and
I to Cooper Farm to stay with some friends.
Before leaving for Suehn, my friend offered
to come to a family council in Bendabli, if
I thought it is useful.
weeks after the encounter with Tene I paid a
visit to Bendabli. I noticed that our quarter,
particularly, the big house was in a very dilapidated
condition. The rains had washed away a considerable
portion of the outer walls. The old folks found
it convenient to move into my kongo, the annex
I built in the back of the house. Tene and her
baby shared a room with Kema in a neighbor's
man Joma asked friends to beg me to come back
and settle down in the village. He and the old
lady promised that, under no circumstances would
they allow Tene to put her foot out of the village.
To further convince me, one morning old lady
Karn invited me into the kongo to tell me that
from now on she would not permit Tene to be
dominated by her sister. I pitied the old lady
very much. The wrinkles in her face had become
deeper, and her ribs, jaws and shoulder bones
man Joma still preferred sitting in his tattered
hammock, wearing a weather-beaten, short grey
country cloth gown and smoking a clay pipe which
he boasted was older than Kema.
felt unable to turn my back on the old folks.
With the little money I brought, I begged and
dashed friends to help me collect building materials
to repair the house and put the back yard gardens
back into production.
the girls were moving back into their room in
the big house, Tene cried pitifully, "Gortokai,
your God is catching me, I swear.
don't know, rumors soon started spreading that
Tene would be given me as a wife. This made
me happy, as well as the news that Kema would
be moving to her man in Firestone.
soon got the little child attached to me. I
took Bubu as my own child. Every time I returned
from the field, she expected fruits from me.
In fact she knew me simply as Papa or father.
the time I settled back in Bendabli, the farming
season was too far gone to make a cassava farm.
To support the family I did odd jobs here and
there. With plenty free time on my hand I devoted
more time to repairing the big house and kitchen.
I enlarged the vegetable garden and built a
new bath fence to keep the old folks from using
those of our neighbors.
months passed. Kema had not been heard from.
After my meal one evening, I felt like drinking
a little cane juice. I visited Meine, my littler
hunchback friend who operated the shop in Amina.
Mene told me something which gave me the creaps.
He told me confidentially, that he had heard
from a reliable source that Kema was considering
moving the old folks and Tene to Firestone.
for true you mean what you are telling me?
I am not telling you any fairy tales.
Meine, this is a helluva world isn't it. I had
planned just taking me a schnapps bottle, but
give me a Tallah instead. News like this is
enough to make a man feel like getting drunk.
gulped the hot liquor hurriedly and left the
shop. Meine warned me not to expose him under
any circumstances. Not especially since he was
planted in an advantageous position to be of
further assistance to me.
there is smoke, there must be fire. I soon began
to detect a secret line of communication between
Kema and her sister, which caused me to believe
what Meine told me. Tene was receiving expensive
gifts from her sister which she kept with a
friend in Amina. Whether the old folks were
aware of this or not I do not know.
satisfy my curiosity, I approached them one
evening after meal. Tene was not around. I began
with the old lady. "Ma, I addressed
her, "what is this I hear, that Kema intends
moving the whole family to Firestone.
old lady turned pale at once. The old man who
was hard of hearing pulled his stool closer
to listen to the conversation.
"Kai, old man Joma called, "what
is that you are asking?
Joma! The old lady interrupted. "Kai
said he heard that Kema is sending for all of
us to live with her in Firestone!
the old man frowned. "She must be going
out of her mind. If the Kaiser and Hitler wars
did not move me from Bendabli, I don't see what
else will. Tene too, if that is what she is
up to, the government down in Monrovia will
have to tell me, whether or not if you born
a child you control her, or she controls you.
I just dare Tene to make a move to leave this
village. It will be over my dead body, I swear
on my mother's breast milk. Old man Joma
was so furious, he commenced trembling.
mind Joma, keep quiet, before you go into one
of your fits. The old lady pleaded.
Kema thinks I am! He-e! He-e! Tell me!
old man continued with a raised fist.
you just leave her. Kema will soon come to the
end of her rope. Ain't I born her? When I get
through swearing her, she will forever remember
a mother's curse. "
am sorry I brought up this question, Ma Karn,
but I have to get certain things clear in my
mind, before I contemplate on making farms for
the coming season. For, what is the point starting
to cut bush for a rice farm, when the girls
particularly Tene, will not be here to see about
did not take me long to discover the secret
line of communication between the sisters and
learn about the expensive gifts Tene was receiving
from a man in Firestone whom Kema wanted her
gifts were being kept in the home of a friend,
where Tene had secretly moved her large trunk
and the brown valise she got from the Bomi Hills
time I thought of the whole affair, my mind
ran to Buu's adage, that the secrets of a woman
are deeper than the bottom of hell. As God would
have it, the person who kept Tene's belongings
was an old lover of mine. She hated the Joma
girls for the way they were treating me. It
was she who gave me complete access to Tene's
hidden stores. One evening while carrying my
bath water to the fence, Tene put her arms around
my waist and whispered, "Kai, it's you
I am sleeping with tonight. How do you like
that? But I noticed that Tene looked serious,
and that she was doing this just to appease
my growing bitterness. You see, she could not
stand up against pressure from anyone, because
her heart was domineered by her sister. She
was helpless and unable not to obey her, even
thought this meant unhappiness for herself.
But by the same token my ardent and possessive
love haunted and terrified her even more, and
sensing my slowly mounting desperation and repressed
anger, she tried to cojole me throught the occasional
gift of her body into sweet forgetfulness. While
playing with the baby that night, I asked her,
"Tene, why do you try to fool me. Every
time I ask you about your new lappas, you tell
me you got them by selling farina. Many girls
round here sell more farina than you do. Why
is it they don't have nice clothes?
Tene shrugged her shoulders, "maybe they
don't care for nice clothes.
a helluva answer isn't it?
did not think that I was in the know of everything
that was going on between her and her sister
- the sending and receiving of gifts from the
new suitor Kema had found for her, an overseer
in Dolo Camp near Harbel.
my fear of losing Tene the second time stopped
me from challenging her openly, but bitterness
gnawed at my entrails and frustration piled
up in my heart and my brain was forever racing
on to find other ways out.
very afternoon, I again managed to intercept
the last parcel containing three lappa suits,
a pair of easywear shoes, some panties and brassieres,
together with a few nicknacks for the baby.
I had them in my raffia bag right under the
bed. If Tene had been curious she would have
the morning before she left the room, I asked
her about the gold earrings and necklace I had
given her in Suehn. "Why do you ask me
no particular reason. Just want to know if you
still have something to remember me by.
course I do, and will always until I die.
Tene, if you could bring them to me, I will
duplicate them for the baby, so when she also
grows up, she will cherish the memory of Baba.
had no idea that the earrings and necklace were
in my possession. I actually stole them myself
in the hope to see her mourn their loss. But
she only came back crying, "I can't find
them. Maybe I have loaned them to a friend who
forgot to return them. I will ask around and
will bring them as soon as possible.
was nervous as she departed. I noted that she
looked bewildered. But I was strangely happy.
I was finally punishing Tene.
for all her wriggling and ducking, she's going
to be roasted in hell while I kindle the fire,
and I was all the more elated as she was quite
unaware of my power to mastermind her misery.
evening when she brought me my cover cloth in
the bath fence, I reminded her about the jewellery.
"Arrangements have been made for a goldsmith
to come here and do the job.
was on Thursday evening. While eating my evening
meal in the kongo, Tene came and sat opposite
me at the table. She looked worried and nervous.
I asked her why.
for the past few days I have felt light in the
head. I can't concentrate on anything. For what
reason I don't know. "
many people get like that sometimes. Especially
if they have something on their mind.
the meal, Tene collected the dishes and disappeared
into the darkness. I closed the door behind
her and pulled my bag from under the bed. I
poured its contents on the table. There were
the earrings, the necklace and wearing apparels
I had intercepted.
dashed everything on the floor, in a rage I
rumpled them under my feet, and to defile them
further, I spat on them. . In the midst of
my desperation, I heard a distant yell, "a
ke-e ma o!
few minutes later, I heard rapid footsteps in
front of the kongo. "Kai! Kai! Tene
yelled excitedly. "Get up, sister Kema
I hurriedly kicked everything under the bed,
jumped into my pants, and by the time I could
get to the door, Kema was pushing it open. She
gave me a hug and nearly pushed me over.
how, you didn't know I had come?
noticed Kema wore a very loud perfume. She had
on a shiny light blue tie-dye lappa suit with
headtie and shoes to match. She also had her
eyebrows extended by artificial means, and crowned
a front tooth with gold to enhance her appearance.
She laughed on purpose to enable people to see
the gold in her mouth.
flopped on the bed and kicked off her shoes.
"Kai, I am thirsty for something to drink,
what do you have here?
"Kema, unless I run to Anima and see. They
have something good there to drink.
juice and imported schnapps. I will see what
I can pick up.
really hesitated leaving Kema in my kongo. She
might be too inquisitive and discover the things
I had intercepted. When I got back from Amina,
I detected subdued voices in my room. My mind
told me to press my ear against the window so
I could hear what was being said inside.
one point I observed Kema stretching her hand
out. "You mean the last parcel I sent day
before yesterday was intercepted?
Kema expressed excitedly. "Whom do you
only God knows. I do not have the slightest
idea. Tene's tone was blank. "Since
I got wind of it, Kema I have not been myself.
I'm very nervous. My head is light and have
not had any appetite.
looked puzzled. "This deformed-nose Kai
of ours, what do you think of him? I don't trust
him. He is like a wounded bushcow, ready to
jump for a kill any moment. Tene, I don't know
if the old people ever told you. Kai's father
was a shiftless fellow and liked to roam about.
His in-laws, that is Kai's maternal grandfather
and mother got into some big trouble once. Rather
than suffer humiliation, they sold the poor
fellow across the Lofa River and he has not
been heard from since. This is a deep secret.
Keep it under the roof of your tongue.
there is a lot to learn in this world isn't
if you have time. The older sister expressed
gravely. "Are you still making Kai feel
that you will mary him? Tene look here, there
is no need to sit down in Bendabli and put up
pious face, talking about marrying that boy
or man, I don't know what you call him. You
put your hand in that, and you will remain here
to rot like the old people. You see, sister,
they have had their day and are tied to a past
which has long since gone. When you started
out you made a mistake. Of course, you have
been fortunate to get a child out of the deal.
Why sit down here now and waste your youthful
days behind Kai, when you can come to Firestone
and get you a good man, who is making plenty
money every month and who can buy plenty of
good clothes and make you presentable.
man who has been sending presents, how is he?
my sister, you know me, I don't go in for cheap
men. The older sister boasted. "Besides
that, there is no problem finding good men in
Firestone. Kema ended.
all I had heard, I did not wish to face the
girls. To get drunk was the obvious thing which
came to my mind. I walked halfway to Royesville
and drank cane juice promiscuously. I don't
know why, I could not get enough of the stuff
to put me to sleep. The conversation between
the girls kept echoing in my ear like a dream.
roosters caught me pondering, their crowing
reminding me that it was dawn. When I finally
came home, the girls had gone out. I pulled
out Tene's things I had hidden under the bed
and chopped them up in pieces with the cutlass.
I slipped out of my room and scattered the cut-up
brassiers and panties along the path between
Bendabli and Amina. A man from Amina, going
to his palm wine tree, was the first to notice
the strange trail. He ran back in a hurry to
inform his friends. Soon the palm wine man's
discovery stirred up commotion in both villages.
Curiosity also drew out Kema and Tene.
tried to position myself so as to observe what
effect this discovery would have on the girls.
Kema was shocked, because she knew these were
the very pieces she had surreptitiously sent
to Tene. I heard Kema say, "sister, we
better get someone to look into this palava
before it is too late. Look at Kai, standing
against the rubber tree, holding his waist.
I bet it's nobody but him.
do we do, Kema? Tene inquired nervously.
"I don't know, Kema expressed dejectedly.
"What ever it is, we must do it quickly.
Kema suggested a crystal reader.
many of the crystal readers now-a-days are such
big liars, you don't know who to rely on.
was Thursday, the day before the Muslim prayer
day, Aijuma. I informed the old folks that I
was not feeling well.
When the girls got back from the diviner, they
found me in bed. As soon as Tene got the news
she came over to the kongo and asked, "Kai,
what ails you?
stomach, it's not so good.
observed Tene did not care to talk much. I said,
"I think I'll take some medicine tomorrow
morning, and asked if she would mind making
me a small piece of domboy with dry meat soup.
people never plan that kind of domboy the day
is the difference between us, Tene. I like to
plan everything I do ahead of time.
morning, I gave Tene some dry meat I bought
in Amina for the soup. She went around the village
and collected all the ingredients, but discovered
that no one had cassava to lend her. Our own
cassava patch was just ten minutes away from
the village. So Tene told me she would run there
and dig up a hill or two.
reached a tall palm tree and put down the rattan
basket she had balanced on her head. Sitting
in a thicket near the palm tree, my forehead
crashed on a stupid twig. Tene heard the frightening
sound and looked around. Her eyes caught mine.
Softly she said, "Kai, that's you? Kai
... She screamed.