Summoning the rain

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/…previously

High on the koppie the old woman tends the fire again. Throwing the final fistful of grey-green herbs over the unfurling flames, she melts into the silence of the pre-dawn shadows.

The once-maiden draws her lover close. He sleeps and she rises again, the child of the new dawn.

She stands gazing over the veld to where the smudge-blue mountains melt into the velvet-black of the burgeoning storm. Earth tremors ripple over the veld, rousing her waiting feet. She grows taller, a giantess, who strides across the yellowed grasses towards the beckoning finger of lightning.

The rain-bull kneels. In a single fluid movement, the San Man straddles the great beast’s back. The rain-bull rises. Thunder erupts from his nostrils and he charges down the mountain-side, scattering huge boulders before him. The men stagger in his wake as the storm clouds unleash their fury. Flood water surges down the slopes and blankets of rain sweep the over the veld to greet the distant sea.

The storm seethes on and the parched earth groans and shudders under its weight. The two men are gathered up in the deluge, spinning in a howling whirlpool across the veld and coming to rest on the cloud-cloaked koppie.

Later, the men awake to find their companion staring into the dying fire. They rouse themselves from their herb-induced dream-time and trudge down from the koppie.

They know that soon the once-maiden will return leading a long-legged rain-cow to bring soft raindrops which will last a whole season.

bushman rock art

This has been the story of the San Man

Raising the Rain-bull

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/… previously

Bright moonlight reflects off the rain-bull’s back, casting a myriad of shadows across the barren landscape. His body strains against invisible shackles. At last, pulling free of his bonds, he throws his head back and roars.

The two men watch as the San Man raises the point of his spear-stick skyward, lifting his face to the still-clear sky where Orion with his belt of three she-tortoises guards the night and shooting stars carve graceful arcs across the heavens, measuring out the width of the veld below.

The rain-bull bellows again and the mountains ripple beneath the watchers’ feet. The great beast paws at the rock, displacing an avalanche of stones which trickle down the drought-cursed ravines. Dark clouds gather, veiling the silver moon. The two men stand silent at the San Man’s side, streams of pebbles cascading past their planted feet.

Back on the koppie the young man stands hand-in-hand with the once-maiden. Already there is a quickening in her belly. They raise their glowing faces towards the mountains.

The rain-bull roars again. Thunder rolls around the wide bowl of the veld. The San Man casts his spear-stick in a slow arc around his head. Thunder booms. The mountains roll and pitch under the heavy footfalls of the great beast.

The rain-bull is almost upon them. The two men cower, but the San Man stands firm. The rain-bull pauses and the San Man raises his spear-stick once more. Lightning issues from its point and the rain-bull lowers his great head.

/… to be continued

The Quickening

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline
Source

/…previously

Evening swells across the veld. Invigorated by its welcome sustenance, the two men rise to follow the San Man. Beneath their feet the dusty soil gives way to barren rock as they silently traverse the wide and empty landscape. With the last of the daylight, the breeze quickens. Gusts of scorched sun-baked air swirl down from the smudge-blue mountains and roll away across the veld towards the faraway koppie.

The ground is steeper now. Step after step the San Man leads them onwards. Walking among the ghostly moonbeams, their feet trace the tracks of long-ago water-carved pathways. Memories of gushing streams and bubbling springs are gouged into the parched rock. The foothills are aching for the water’s soft caress.

Back on the koppie the mountain breeze plays over the mouth of the cave. The maiden lifts her head and breathes the scent of the returning soul. The young man stirs, eyelid fluttering, his mind bursting with the memory of his long flight home.

He raises his head as the maiden kneels at his side. She offers herself to him and under the eyes of the ancestors they become one.

The maiden cries out, her triumphant ululation echoes across the empty veld; high up, among the lonely peaks of smudge-blue mountains, a force awakens. A rock splits, then another. Fragments fall, spilling and spiralling downwards. The San Man raises his spear-stick in salute and the rain-bull, glimmering in the moon-bright night, rises from his slumber and lifts his great head heavenward.

/…to be continued

Dream Time

Capturing the rain animal by Chris Hall lunasonline

/…previously

The breeze-caressed veld sways, sending parched waves to break on a distant shore. The two men sleep on. Under the gaze of their eagle totem, they dream of the great herds of springbok, eland and kudu which once stalked the land; and of the zebra and wildebeest, hunted by prides and tribes.

Back on the koppie, strong arms carry the young man’s trance-cast body into the cool darkness of the cave, where the ancestor paintings will watch over him. The new maiden emerges to stand on the threshold, proud and tall in that powerful place between hearth and wilderness.

Everywhere between, the veld bakes. Shimmers of hot air rise above the rocks and whirlwind dust-devils dance over bare earth, rising up to be scorched into stillness.

Later, as the tendril fingers of the thorn-tree’s shadow reach out towards the smudge-blue mountains, the San Man appears out of the jagged heat haze. A hide pouch is slung across his bony barrel chest; he carries the carcass of a small, furred animal. At his approach, the two men stir. The eagle bows, locking its keen eye with that of the returned hunter, before taking flight on strong, silent wings which will carry him back to the beckoning maiden who stands on the threshold of the night.

Still entranced by the dream-world of the ancestors, the two men look on as the San Man conjures fire. As the thin flames crackle, he offers them water which is cool, sweet and laced with magic.

/…to be continued

The Flight of the Eagle

flight of the eagle by chris hall san man lunasonline
Source

/… previously

Never before has he experienced such freedom!

The curve of his beak parts the dawn sky as he spirals upwards from where his man-body lies inert on the koppie. A wisp of fragrant smoke from the flickering embers of the camp fire floats upwards in his wake. Then the last remaining log splits asunder and explodes in a shower of pin-prick scarlet sparks.

He soars on the thermals; the warm air fills his wings and transports him over the purple veld. He flies east, as the new day’s pink-gold sun emerges and spills over the purple mountains. Below him, he watches his own shadow running beside a long ribbon of eland as they follow-my-leader across the parched earth.

His keen eye discerns the path his companions have taken and he smells their scent which lingers in the breeze.

The song of the San Man reaches out to him across the sapphire sky.

Soon he alights on a branch of the solitary thorn tree. His companions are resting in the still-silence; neither awake nor asleep, drifting in the half-light of the awakening veld. Now, with his arrival, they let go and he watches over them as they sleep.

The San Man picks up his spear-stick and walks silently off into the veld.

Back on the koppie a slender figure emerges from the cave. She kneels down by the man who lies by the dying fire. He stirs, staring up at her with unseeing eyes. She shakes her head. He sleeps on.

/… to be continued

Into the Veld

Thorns - Sunset in the Lowveld by Nigel Whitehead
‘In the Lowveld’ photograph by Nigel Whitehead

/… previously

The San Man unties a small skin bag from the beaded thong which he wears around his waist. He shakes the contents onto the fire which sputters and sends up a shower of silver sparks. Scented smoke descends. The younger man slumbers on, his eyes moving restlessly under sleep-closed lids.

The San Man turns around. He leads the waiting men down the narrow path into the veld where the blue-black landscape is alive with the sound of night-time creatures. The three walk on, following the moon-bright swathe cut into the pungent African night. Up ahead, a long ribbon of eland trek across the land, curving away to be swallowed up by the night.

The grass sings and the men walk, one foot in front of the other, a rhythm like a heartbeat, walking on through the night-time veld.

A sliver of sunlight breaks free from the purple mountains, but still they walk on.

Back on the koppie, the young man lies motionless. Free of his body, he soars towards the summit of the heavens on dawn-warmed wings, flexing his cruel curved talons as, keen-eyed, he scours the waking veld below.

A solitary thorn tree reaches out long shadow-fingers, drawing the heartbeat walkers closer. They plough on, footfall after footfall, their footprints erased behind them by the gentle berg breeze.

The sun climbs and the veld bakes, but now the men rest silently in its shade. An eagle wheels high above. The San Man beckons and slowly it begins its descent.

/… to be continued

Earth Song

Earth Song by Chris Hall lunasonline

/… previously

Air, thick with cicada-song, rises from the veld.  The three men recline on the sun-heated rocks, staring into the fire. Herb-scented smoke hangs heavily in the purple dusk. They are the tiniest specks in the timeless universe, each smaller than a newly-hatched mantis, in this, the place of the ancient ones.

Darkness closes in and the great African she-moon rises; pin-prick stars stab the violet-thick night. Still no one speaks. The older brown-skinned man carefully feeds the fire which crackles in the desiccated air.

A night-bird shrieks and, on the other side of the koppie, a hyena cackles. The young man, still fresh from the sprawling city, stares around warily. His companion turns from the fire: ‘Be still, my brother.’ The young man settles back.

The night wears on. Trance-like they stare into the fire. The young man’s eyes are heavy; he closes his eyes and tries to imagine an ancestor he’s never known.

A shadow appears on the far side of the fire. The two older men sit up, their faces bright in the firelight. The San Man has come. He lays his stick aside and squats by the fire, resting his chin on his folded hands, staring onto the flames. Still without acknowledging them, he starts to hum. The sound swells, its vibration filling the air.

Abruptly it stops.

The figure stands, takes up his stick, and beckons to them. They try to rouse their young companion, but he sleeps on.

The San Man motions them to follow.

/… to be continued

Parched Earth

 

Parched Earth by chris hall lunasonline

‘You must call the San Man,’ she whispers. ‘Only he can bring the rain bull.’

‘But how?’

‘You must go to the cave which watches over the veld. Go at dusk, light a fire.’ She reaches into the pouch she has beside her and holds out a handful of grey-green herbs. ‘Burn a little of this; and then watch and wait.’

He raises his eyebrows at his two companions.

The old woman holds up a finger. ‘He may not come the first night,’ she shakes her head slowly. ‘He may not come at all.’ She stares intently at each of them. ‘Now go.’

The three men depart.

‘I guess it’s worth a try,’ says the first. He is a tall, robust white man, dressed in shorts and sandals; the hint of an overseas accent.

‘Another winter with no rain; we must do something,’ agrees the second, a brown-skinned man, whose features echo the ancient people that once inhabited this corner of Africa.

The third man, by far the youngest of the three is silent. He too is brown-skinned, a son of the Rainbow Nation, where a multitude of peoples have planted their seeds.

Later, the three trudge silently up to the koppie where the ancient cave paintings are. The air is hot and parched like the veld. The sky turns liquid orange as the sun is swallowed up by the smudge-blue mountains. They light the fire and sprinkle herbs onto the flames. The three settle down to watch and wait.

/…to be continued


Today is a public holiday in South Africa. The Day of Reconciliation came into effect in 1995 after the end of apartheid, with the intention of fostering reconciliation and national unity for the country.

The characters in this new story represent (some of) the different groups in this country and the story has its roots in some earlier pieces I wrote about the rain animal my mythical, mystical San Man. There is more to tell of the story.

The struggle for water is a perennial and worsening challenge in many parts of the world. It was starkly brought home to us last year when Capetonians faced ‘Day Zero’, the day when the taps would run dry. The crisis was averted, but we still cannot waste a drop and must search for other ways to bring water to the thirsty land. 

 

Why can’t we live together?

 

why can't we live together lunasonline
Photo: @erdwolf

I’d been late leaving school that afternoon. I’d stayed behind because nice Miss Leibrandt had been helping me with my poem.

On the way home I’d been kicking a can along the dirt pathway between the shacks when I heard shouting over on the main road. Then there was the explosion. Flames shot up into the air, all red and angry-looking. Black smoke billowed upwards.

My house was the other way, but I had to see. I peered out from the end of the lane. People were jumping up and down in the street, arms waving angrily. They were chanting.

Flames licked out of the little corner shop. My friend’s shop. Mr Kabongo whose skin was as black as night, who came from another country further up the map of Africa. Mr Kabongo who told me stories about the animals of the forest where he grew up and the people who lived there before the war in his country. Mr Kabongo who gave me sweets when I went to fetch a half-loaf for my mother.

And now his shop was destroyed. I wondered if he was safe. Had he run, as he’d run before?

Why can’t we all live together?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clbqKFM5oQY

The Tokoloshe

 

Tokaloshe

Auntie Rose was the first to notice something amiss that morning. She’d taken the first tray of spice-fragrant samosas from the oven and set them down to cool. She’d just returned to the stove when she heard a crash. She turned, cloth in hand, to find the tray up-ended and freshly-baked samosas strewn across the floor. Albertina came running from the stoep where she’d been sweeping, still holding the broom.

“What happened Auntie Rose? Did you drop the tray?”

“No, I put it on the table. I don’t understand how it could have fallen.” She bent down awkwardly to pick up the spilled samosas.

“Wait, Auntie Rose, let me.” Albertina crouched down and swiftly replaced the little savouries on the tray. She stood up. “No one will ever know,” she smiled at Auntie Rose. “The floor’s clean.”

Auntie Rose grinned toothlessly (she wasn’t one to wear out her false teeth by using them). “Cleaner that the people’s hands, anyway.” She looked at the tray. “That’s strange.” She stared around at the floor. “Did you get them all up?”

“I think so, why?

“Six are missing. Someone came in here while my back was turned.”

Albertina pulled a puzzled face. “But how did they get in? I was at the front sweeping the stoep, Auntie Grace is in the back room doing her knitting, and the window’s much too small for anyone to climb through.”

Just then they heard shouting coming from the road outside. Albertina snatched up her broom and hurried out followed by Auntie Rose; behind them came Auntie Grace, clutching her knitting.

Abdul was staring down the road in the direction of the harbour. The display table outside his shop had been overturned and all the pots and pans and gadgets and gizmos had spilled across the ground. A big blue football lolled in the road.

Albertina picked up the ball. “What happened?” she asked handing to Abdul.

“I only caught a glimpse of it,” Abdul said, retrieving a stack of brightly coloured plastic bowls from the floor. ‘Some kind of animal, about this high; he indicated a height just above his knee. Brown and very hairy.” Abdul shook his head. “I thought I heard it mumbling something though.” He shrugged his shoulders.

Abdul glanced down the road. There was nobody in sight, but there was a trail of footprints; small and wide with huge toes. Albertina’s hand went to her mouth; the other hand gripped the broom tightly. “Tokoloshe!” she exclaimed. She dropped the broom and ran past the aunties and through the house to her little room in the back yard.

Abdul looked questioningly from Auntie Rose to Auntie Grace as he walked over to them. “What did she say?”

Auntie Grace snorted. “Tokoloshe. There’s no such thing. A creature made up to scare naughty children. It’s more likely a young baboon.”

“Well, something stole my samosas,” said Auntie Rose walking into the road and looking down at the footprints. She pointed at the tracks. “Look, crumbs as well. That was my thief.”

Abdul and the two aunties stood contemplating the line of strange footprints. Moments later Albertina re-appeared. “I’m going for bricks,” she announced as she picked up the broom, brandishing it in front of her like a battle standard, and marched down the road in her bright pink pumps and second best wig.

“Bricks?” said Abdul frowning.

“To make the beds higher so the Tokoloshe can’t get you in the night… so they say,” Auntie Rose explained to the baffled Abdul.

“They’re short and they can’t climb,” added Auntie Grace. “Like us,” she glanced at her sister and giggled.

Abdul shook his head. He’d led a very sheltered life growing up as he had in Cape Town’s District Six.

Nearing the harbour, Albertina noticed more signs of the Tokoloshe’s passage. Overturned baskets and fruit lay scattered across the road; grimy hand prints were smeared across shop windows and ransacked dirt bins had spilled their contents. Dogs were barking everywhere and people were scratching their heads and surveying the mess. As she passed Andreas’s café, she was almost knocked over by the wiry café owner and three other men, one of whom she recognised as the man called Johannes who habitually sat by the harbour and had greeted her so nicely when she’d first arrived in the town.

“My dear, just the thing!” the man behind Johannes exclaimed, looking at the broom in Albertina’s hand. He put his hand on the broom. “May I?”

Albertina snatched it away, frowning crossly at him.

“My dear, I simply want to borrow it. It will help us catch the creature that I, the Professor,” he put a hand to his chest and bowed his head slightly, “so unwisely unleashed.”

“You mean it was you? You made a Tokoloshe?” Albertina said warily, looking up at the large, red-faced man.

“Tokoloshe..? No, my dear, I don’t think it’s…”

A hairy brown shape appeared from the side of the building,

“That’s him!” the Professor pointed.

Johannes reacted swiftly, running towards the creature, arms outstretched, forcing it towards the lean-to at the side of the building, while calling to his friend Sam to do the same. Sam who, Albertina noticed, smelt rather strongly of fish, ran across to block its escape. Albertina advanced with her broom. The creature glared back at them, trapped in a corner.

“Now what do we do?” asked Andreas.

“I need gold! Give me gold!” the creature chanted.

The Professor took a step towards it. “I don’t think you’re in a position to make demands.”

The creature stuck out its tongue. Then it let out a wild shriek. It tried to dodge past Sam, but Albertina was too quick. She shoved the broom in the creature’s chest, pinning it to the floor where it thrashed about.

“That’s what it said this morning, when I stupidly prized open this old chest I’d bought the other day. I didn’t know there was anything in it, but I was curious. I didn’t have a key you see and…”

The creature continued to struggle, grinding its teeth unpleasantly.

“Do something!” Albertina shouted. “I can’t stand here forever.”

Sam reached into his pocket and carefully drew out a small object, wrapped in a piece of oily rag. He opened the rag and held it out in front of the creature. “Here now, this is gold.”

“A real gold coin?” Albertina whispered, glancing at Sam in awe.

“Gold!” The creature groped the air with its long, grimy fingers. “Give me.”

Sam tossed the coin toward the creature. It caught it in its hand and started to laugh, but the laugh became a scream. The creature suddenly went limp. Albertina pulled the broom away gingerly. The creature’s body started to fade until all that remained of the creature was a dark stain on the floor.

Albertina crouched down, searching the floor. “Where’s the coin?”

But that too had disappeared.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

In case you were wondering about the tokoloshe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikoloshe