About the book
In Family Affairs J. Sorie Conteh returns to the fictitious town of Talia which featured in his previous novel, In Search of Sons. Once again he has dealt with the stresses, strains and even tragedies that can arise within families when time-honoured beliefs and expectations are challenged. These are common themes in fiction. What makes Family Affairs particularly interesting is the obvious affection the author has for the people among whom this family drama unfolds. Except for one or two individuals, they are illiterate Mende people living in a small rural town in Sierra Leone. Without ever sounding patronizing, he has woven their concerns, customs and beliefs into a gripping story.
Yema Lucilda Hunter
Author of Redemption Song, SLWS 2006
About the author
J. Sorie Conteh was born in Sierra Leone. He received a B.A. from the University of Rochester, NY, and a Ph.D. in Anthropology & African Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. He was a Research Fellow in the Department of African Studies at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and the Afrika-Studiecentrum in Leiden, the Netherlands. He was a Political Affairs Officer at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Organisation of African Unity to the United Nations in New York. Dr. Conteh has published several short stories and articles. His writings cover topics and concerns on the effects of diamond mining in Sierra Leone, female circumcision, secret societies, African culture, and democracy in Africa. Dr. Conteh was later Political Affairs Officer at the United Nations Iraq Kuwait Mission and also at the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
It was another rainy season in Talia, sometime after Giita died in childbirth, trying to produce more grandsons for her mother-in-law. Since the death of his daughter, Kinie Ndomawaa had tried hard to regain his emotional equilibrium, but he was still floating in a sea of bafflement about the world he inhabited. He kept asking himself why his beloved daughter, Gitta, died. Why had that happened, he wondered. Why? Why should someone die in the process of bringing precious lives into this world? Oh God, he would lament in anguish, why should parents ever have to bury their children? Even the ancestors would be troubled to see that once again, things had not happened in the right order.
As he walked towards his in-laws? house, he was again thinking about God?s mysteries and the many ways in which they manifested themselves. Ah, yes, that is how God maintains a certain balance in this universe, he said to himself. He makes some things simple and straightforward and others complicated. So we experience situations that are difficult to explain; how the wicked among us prosper and the holy barely manage to make ends meet; how some people spend most of their days enduring life rather than enjoying it. We experience both abundant wealth and enormous poverty and wretchedness. Some people live healthy lives while others languish in illness. In some places, it rains and rivers overflow their banks and cause disasters. In other places, there is lack of rain and drought is the result; no crops grow and people die of famine. We witness pain and joy. The same God does all these things. Yes, how else can one explain some of the human anomalies we experience every day? It also explains why Hindowaa and his mother are such opposite poles of God?s creation.
Hindowaa, according to Kinie Ndomawaa?s thinking, represented God?s straightforward, simple creations whereas his mother represented the opposite. She had chosen to maintain an iron grip on her son?s household instead of remarrying after her husband?s death. And it was she who had pressured Hindowaa into trying to have more sons with Giita by threatening to look for another wife for him . Ndomawaa was convinced that this was what had triggered Giita?s desperate search for more sons and eventually led to her death. He promised himself that one day he would confront Hindowaa and his mother on the matter.
?Kinie Ndomawaa, biwah, biseh?, a woman greeted him.
?Eeem, biwah, biseh, kahun yeihnaa? (How do you do, and how is your health?)? he replied.
?When did you arrive?? the woman asked.
They were now face to face and Kinie Ndomawaa was trying hard to avoid making eye contact with her. So long after his daughter?s death, people continued to express sympathy and condolences whenever they saw him and as a result, he continued to experience the agony of bereavement. He knew from experience that the woman would soon begin to cry. Another person saw him talking to her and greeted him from a distance. Ndomawaa returned the greeting.
?Ah,dunyafuu. Dunyafuu,? the woman exclaimed, bemoaning the emptiness of the world without a beloved daughter. ?You and your daughter look so much alike; so good looking! Who would not know that you are her father? Look at your neck, your forehead. You look so much alike! My brother, it is the will of God and our ancestors. But at least you have your grandchildren, especially the twins. They are so lovely. God is great. We are also proud of your granddaughter, Kunaafoh. She is doing a wonderful job in this chiefdom and beyond. We are so proud of her. The child has made a name for herself since she started working. Look at the number of people she has cured of all types of diseases! Everybody says that her injections are so powerful that just one is enough to make you well, no matter what was wrong with you.?
Jatu, the woman speaking, had had a taste of being ostracized by the community until Kunaafoh came to her rescue. She, like a number of men and women who had had old sores, had been accused of being a witch. Everyone, even children, had tried to avoid them. Kunaafoh was able to determine that these people were suffering from diabetes. She had treated them successfully and the news had spread all over Talia that she could perform miracles. She was now revered in the community.
?What that child did for me I shall never forget until the day I die,? Jatu went on. ?Look at me; I am well, and people who never used to talk to me now talk to me and even visit me. People eat the food I cook. Before that, it was not possible. Look what happened, Kinie Ndomawaa, look what happened! God sent your daughter to come and cure us. Now we are human beings again. She gave us back our dignity. Before she came, we lived in this community but were not part of it. I know that many people will not understand what I am telling you Kinie Ndomawaa. You have to have experienced it to appreciate what I am telling you. Oh, your daughter is a good doctor! When last did you see her??
?Every time I come here, I visit her,? Ndomawaa replied. ?But you know the missionaries; they are very cautious and don?t allow you to walk into the mission if you don?t have a specific reason for the visit. You cannot just go there, then sit and talk as you like, even as a grandfather. However, lately, they have become a little more tolerant of me and they give me latitude to come in and see my granddaughter. My sister, Kunaafoh is God?s gift to the family and me. Now everyone in the chiefdom is proud to have the first female doctor. I am sure that Giita, too, is happy where she is? I am going to visit my son-in-law, and hope I find him at home,? Ndomawaa informed her as they went their separate ways.
Alone again, his thoughts returned to Hindowaa and his mother.
I don?t understand. I really don?t understand how a man can stand being bullied by a woman. Yes, my mother had lots of influence on me, but we discussed matters and she often agreed with me if she thought my opinion on an issue was reasonable. She was a reasonable woman and always tried to please me. Hindowa?s case baffles me. What is more worrisome is that he is a Wunde man like me. He is even an Ngombuwaa. How could he have taken such a big title in the Wunde Society and yet behave contrary to the values of the fraternity. I am sure that his father will not be happy in his grave about this. I am equally certain that even his grandfather will not be happy about this situation. They will consider him a man who has betrayed his manhood and position in the Wunde fraternity. I know he is a good man when he is not under the influence of that mother of his.
He noticed that people were looking at him curiously. Some of them had probably guessed that he was heading towards his in-laws? house. As he approached Nyake?s house he changed direction to avoid it, knowing that Nyake would engage him in a long conversation. However, he then bumped into Nyamakoro, the woman who was famous in the town for becoming rich by baking cakes. She was a great admirer of his and also liked to engage him in long conversations. Ndomawaa sighed, feeling as if he had run from the frying pan to the fire. He knew that his plan to see his son-in-law as soon as possible would now have to be postponed for as long as Nyamakoro wished, because he would find it difficult to tear himself away once they started talking. Many people believed that Nyamakoro had the tongue of a ?Jalibaah,? or griot ? a sugarcoated tongue. Ndomawaa prayed that the woman would be considerate enough not to keep him talking for too long.
?When did you come?? Nyamakoro asked him.
?I have been here for only three days.?
?Three days! and nobody told me you were here? I am going to cook for you; I shall tell my husband. I shall cook for you tomorrow morning, so don?t eat anything before I send food for you. You cannot come to this town and leave without me cooking for you. I even feel guilty that you have been here for three whole days and I did not prepare food for you.?
?You know that when I come here, I run around a lot. I wanted to see the chief to discuss a number of things, but decided that I should see my son-in-law first. So far, I have not even seen him. I am on my way to his house and pray that I shall find him at home this time.?
?My brother, that in-law of yours, is his mother?s captive,? Nyamakoro remarked. ?They say that he has been like that ever since his father died. It is sad for a man to be that way. As for me, I would not like to have a husband or son like that. I would not feel secure. In my day, we respected our men. They took firm decisions on family issues. Now things are different. When you look at Hindowaa, he looks so strong and yet he is under his mother?s thumb. It is a shame, because he is a good man. I am afraid for them, because if you allow your house to be run by your mother, you risk the wrath of the ancestors. The ancestors will be angry with Hindowaa one day and teach him and the entire household a sad lesson. I pray that he changes for the better and does not allow this state of affairs to continue.?
Ndomawaa was glad to hear Nyamakoro say out loud what many people in the town and outside thought regarding Kigba?s domination of her son. Many of them had come to the conclusion that Hindowaa had compromised his manhood. Some had even begun to doubt whether he deserved the coveted Wunde title of Ngombuwaa.
He could not refuse an invitation to visit Nyamakoro. Once in her house, she said,?You know, Kinie Ndomawaa, I have known you for a very long time. I came to know you even more when you daughter married Hindowaa here in our town. I need to bring something to your attention, provided you promise to keep it a secret. You need to take an oath as a Wunde man. It is a very serious issue.?
Resigning himself to being in Nyamakoro?s company for even longer than he had anticipated, Ndomawaa pulled his stool closer to her and his eyes widened inquiringly as he waited to hear what she had to say.
?Ah, nyapui (woman) Nyamakoro, let me tell you one thing,? he assured her, ?I am among the very few people in this our chiefdom that is a member of both the Wunde and Poro secret societies. Our secret societies survive because we maintain a very high degree of secrecy; it is the hallmark of these societies. So I promise you that I will not tell anyone, dead or alive that you said this or that to me. If I have reason to mention it anywhere, I promise you that I shall never, never mention your name as the source of the information. I swear to my Wunde and Poro fraternities.?
?My first husband was also a member of both the Wunde and Poro fraternities. He was not supposed to belong to them but wanted to show your people that he had accepted their culture, tradition and customs. It also helped his business. The only problem was that when he passed away, there was a lot of confusion because the Poro fraternity wanted to monopolize the funeral ceremonies and the Wunde fraternity objected. It took many consultations and the intervention of the elders before the matter could be resolved. Anyway, the funeral ceremonies were grand. I think both fraternities should find a way to avoid such conflicts in the future.?
?Yes, and that was not the first time we had such a problem here and elsewhere,? Ndomawaa agreed. ?In our own town, we have succeeded in coming to an agreement over what to do when such a situation arises, but I won?t tell you about it now because I am very anxious about what you have to tell me. As you can see, I am not young anymore, and my heart is not as strong as it used to be. When I am anxious, I feel very uncomfortable.?
?Heh, look who is talking about not being young anymore,? Nyamakoro scoffed, though in a friendly way. ?You are still a young man.? Then, she became serious and lowered her voice. ?Anyway, my brother, while there is no one here to listen to us, tell me, and be honest about it, do you really know Kigba, Hindowaa?s mother, very well? All my life, I have lived in this town and I love it. This is where I married and had my family. This is where my husband died and received a wonderful funeral. This is where I shall die and be buried. The people here can be kind, sympathetic and generous; but the few who are not are dangerous, very, very dangerous. That is why they say that our witchcraft here is more potent than in other places in the chiefdom. You yourself, don?t you believe this? Don?t you see it? Ndomawaa tell me. Answer my questions. You don?t belong to this town, but you know it as well as I do.?
?You see, my sister, since my daughter married Hindowaa, we became one family. However, to tell you the truth, I never been close to Kigba. She is a very slippery woman. I also discovered that she is very secretive, maybe because she has a big title in the women?s secret society. I learned very early that she has great influence over her son and two daughters. In fact, I think she exerts too much authority over them. I made these observations over a long period. I am sure you know her better than me since all of you live here in Talia.?
?Kinie Ndomawaa, I knew your late mother very well. She was a good woman. We met several times during the many initiation sessions in your town and here. That was how we became friends until her death. That was a long time ago but I still recall how we used to sit, just the two of us, and talk about your town and Talia. We used to talk about the good old days when this chiefdom prospered in the ginger trade. Those were good times. Oh yes, very good times. As a business woman, I know what I?m talking about. Your mother and I would talk about the initiation festivities ? how they were grand and no initiates died during the period. But things have changed. Now, you cannot trust people, and witchcraft has become a threat to all of us.?
Ndomawaa was beginning to feel impatient. He cleared his throat as if he was about to say something, but remained silent and kept staring hard at Nyamakoro as she continued her rambling introduction to whatever it was that she wanted to tell him.
?My brother, I know how much you have endured in life. You lost your wife and now your daughter, Giita. I feel your pain because I also lost my husband at a time when I needed him very much. I went through a lot of pain because some people believed I was responsible for his death. Oh, there was nasty gossip in this town. You also know how people used to say they knew why I was prosperous. This town is very dangerous and full of malicious gossip. Now, I keep to myself and my current husband most of the time and I am happy.?
As she continued speaking, Ndomawaa began to rub his nose frequently. Nyamakoro noticed his impatience at last and hurriedly came to the point.
?Let me tell you about Kigba. There is a common belief here in Talia and I think even beyond this town, that she possesses a djinn. My brother, I don?t think that this rumor has no substance. Wherever you have smoke, there must be fire; that is what our people say. We the women with titles in the women?s society also believe that Kigba has a djinn. It is a male djinn which is why she never remarried after her husband died. Her possession of the djinn alsomakes her a suspect in her husband?s death. Do you know he died?? Ndomawaa shook his head. ?He drowned,? Nyamakoro told him with a significant look. ?He drowned in a shallow river, where even babies swam safely. Just imagine. The man used to go fishing even when our river here was overflowing its banks, yet he died in shallow water; and what is even more surprising, it happened during the day. Kigba?s husband?s death is still the biggest mystery in this town. How can you explain it? Do you know that even our chief knows about this matter of Kibga?s djinn? He knows. I wanted to pass this information on to you so that you become aware of the kind of people you are dealing with. Be very careful, my brother, now that I have brought this to your attention.?
?Thank you, my sister. Thank you very much,? Ndomawaa said. ?You are a very dependable sister. Thank you. You know, when I was coming to Talia three days ago, I had this feeling that I would find out something useful. My sixth sense never fails me. Let me also tell you that for a very long time, I have had the feeling that there is something mysterious and hidden about Kigba. Have you noticed how she only makes the briefest eye contact with you and then withdraws her gaze? I am convinced that she has four eyes. I told my late daughter about it and told her to take necessary steps to protect herself from her mother-in-law, but she never took me seriously. Oh, how I wish she were alive today!?
For several moments there was an atmosphere of pain in the room and Ndomawaa and Nyamakoro maintained a solemn silence before either of them spoke again.
?My sister, I have benefited a lot from this visit to Talia,? Ndomawaa said finally. ?Do you know that sometime ago, some of us, I mean the men here and in my own town, started asking why Kigba had not remarried like you did when your husband passed away. We said, ?She is relatively young and good-looking, but has no husband.? What is even stranger, and this supports the belief that she possesses a male djinn, is that no one has ever associated her with a male friend. So the question is, how does she manage as a woman? It is suspicious, because as you know, it is not a normal thing for a woman to stay unmarried. This baffles us, the men. Now I am beginning to understand why she is not married. It is the djinn that is responsible. I tell you, there are women and even some men who are like that. From now on I shall be very careful in my dealings with her?Tell me, do you know if Hindowaa knows about this aspect of his mother?s life? I am just curious. Parents don?t usually reveal such secrets to their children unless they want to pass the spirit over to the children when they know that they are going to die. In this case, if Kigba decides to pass the djinn, she will pass it on to her elder daughter and not to her son. That is how it works. I would like to find out if Hindowaa is aware of what is happening under his nose.?
?Hmm, my brother, I don?t think the son is aware. How can you even ask such a question? My guess is that if anyone is aware in the family, it will be the elder daughter who should be the next beneficiary of the spirit. Don?t behave as if you are totally ignorant of our customs. Like you said a moment ago, the woman has no man, so it makes sense that she has a male and not a female djinn. What would both of them, female and female do with each other??
They both laughed heartily at the idea, the first time they had laughed during the visit. Though it was growing dark, the town had become lively for there was no prospect of rain.
?I shall keep to my promise and send you food tomorrow morning,? Nyamakoro called out to Ndomawaa when he finally strolled away in the direction of his son-in-law?s house. ?And don?t forget what I said earlier. Don?t eat anything until you receive what I am going to cook and send for you tomorrow.?
From a distance, Ndomawaa could see Hindowaa in the hammock, but he could also see other people on the veranda. He had hoped that he would find his son-in-law alone so they could carry on a one-to-one conversation. He had also hoped that he would not meet Hindowaa?s mother in the house because he wanted maximum privacy with his son-in-law. On reflection, he decided that it would be a waste of time to proceed to Hindowaa?s house with visitors there, so Nyake became the choice for his next visit. He changed direction and headed that way, thinking deeply about what he and Nyamakoro had discussed. The more he thought about Kigba, the more human behavior puzzled him. How could a woman become so powerful in a male-dominated society and nobody seemed to be concerned about it? Was the chief not aware of Kigba?s masculine characteristics, or was he turning a blind eye to them because she was championing his wish to marry Kunaafoh? Why had it taken so long for Nyamakoro to tell him about Kigba? Was it that she assumed he knew about it because of his relationship with the family? Why was it that Nyake, whom he liked and respected, had also not mentioned it to him even by way of man-to-man gossip? Was it possible that Nyake was not aware of this aspect of Kigba?s life? He remembered that he and Nyake had had several discussions, and had joked about Hindowaa and his mother, but not once did he recall Nyake saying anything relating to Kigba?s spiritual connections. Strange, he thought as he walked along. He wanted to bring the subject up with Nyake but wondered how to raise it. He was also baffled by the fact that Nyamakoro had chosen to bring up the subject. Was there a motive behind it? He could not answer the question. Yes, he certainly believed Nyamakoro was right. Why had Kigba not remarried and why was she always on the backs of her son and daughters who were adults with their own families? Why could she not leave them alone? As he went along, he was searching the recesses of his mind for examples of women of Kigba?s age who had been widowed and remained unmarried. As far as he could recall, there was only one such woman in the entire chiefdom; but she had been married for a long time and was no longer young when her husband died. Also, she was very fat which had intimidated even the most adventurous men.
From a distance, Ndomawaa could see Nyake lying in his hammock and was glad because he could not face the prospect of going to Hindowaa?s house only to find his visitors still there. Someone greeted him just outside Nyake?s house.
?Ah, Kinie Ndomawaa, how are you??
The man was short and heavily built, with a long, bushy beard and a belly which protruded as if he were eight months pregnant. He looked perfectly content, however, and not aware of his unattractive and untidy appearance.
?Ndakei, how are you?? Ndomawaa responded warmly when they came face to face. Nyake had observed them and decided to eavesdrop on their conversation.
?When did you come?? the man asked.
?Three days ago.?
?What! ndakei, when you come here if I don?t meet you by chance you don?t visit your old friend. Why? What have I done to you? You could at least come and let us drink palm wine together, enjoy kola nuts, and talk about the good old days.?
Ndomawaa felt embarrassed at being caught out by the short man and was silent for a moment as he tried to think of a good enough excuse for not paying him a visit. In the end he said only, ?Ndakei, I apologize. You are right. Forgive me. The next time I come I shall pass by your house and we shall drink palm wine and eat kola nuts together. Everybody tells me that your palm wine is one of the most potent in Talia. I look forward to seeing you the next time I come. You see, I am still trying to sort things out after the death of my daughter.?
Mention of his late daughter drew a sympathetic response.
?Ndakei, one thing we shall always remember your daughter for is the granddaughter she left with you,? the man said. ?Thanks to her, we now have a doctor we are all proud of in this town and the whole chiefdom. People?s ailments are now cured. Every day people go to the clinic and when they come out they say what a good doctor your granddaughter is. They talk highly of the potent injections she gives. Before she came, we had one white doctor who hardly gave injections. All she gave were tablets, some powdered medicines, or sometimes some sweet liquid medicine that took a long time to cure you. Now that we have our own daughter, who knows about medicine and our diseases, we get powerful injections. They are so powerful that when you walk out of the clinic, even your head feels it, and you have to drag your foot. That is good. May God bless her and may her mother rest in peace.?
Ndomawaa was moved almost to tears by the short man?s words as they went their separate ways. When he entered Nyake?s veranda, he found him lying in his hammock with his clay pipe firmly sandwiched by his lips. The atmosphere was peaceful with the skies outside still free from any threat of rain, and people were going about their normal nocturnal activities. He announced himself by saying,
?My granddaughter has told me that as we get older, we should avoid the hammock. She says it is not good for our posture and will affect our backs.?
?Ndakei Ndomawaa, good evening,? Nyake said, ignoring the remark.
?Ndakei Nyake, good evening. How are you?? Ndomawaa had sat down close to him. ?How is the family??
?Thanks to God, they are all well,? Nyake responded, puffing away at his pipe. ?When are you returning??
?Ndakei, the way things are now, I cannot say exactly when I will be returning. I came here to discuss very important matters with my son-in-law, but we have not been able to find time to talk because he always has visitors. At this very moment his house is full of people. That is my problem. I had hoped to talk with him today, but it has not been possible. I am coming from Nyamakoro?s house and by the time I leave here, he will probably be sleeping.? He sighed, adding inconsequently, ?I like the smell of your tobacco.?
?Ah, ah, you have not smoked since your granddaughter arrived. You said she told you that smoking is not good for your health. Now you are telling me that I should not lie in my hammock, because your granddaughter said it is not good for my back. Well, if she continues like that she will one day say that we should not eat because it is not good for our stomachs. That is what happens when they know too much of the white man?s book. I hope she did not say you should not drink palm wine anymore and eat kola nuts. Ndakei, let me tell you something. These days, anything that you really enjoy, the doctors will tell you it is not good for your health. My father and my grandfather lived to a ripe old age. They used their hammocks, smoked their tobacco and drank their palm wine and bamboo wine to the very end. When my father died, he was over eighty years old and he walked as straight as a ghost. He never stopped smoking, drinking and eating kola nuts. Now, I am beginning to fear that one day your granddaughter will say that at our age, we should stop woman business. Can you imagine that?? Both men laughed and laughed and laughed.
?Ah, before I forget, let us share a gourd of palm wine; it is fresh. My brother brought me some this evening when he came from the farm. He taps good wine.?
?Do you know that since I arrived, that is three days ago, I have not had a single drop of palm wine? My granddaughter has not told me not to drink palm wine, but then she has not actually seen me drinking, so I?ll wait and see.?
?Boi-Komah,? Nyake called out to one of his daughters.
?Naah,? the girl answered.
?Nyagbeh keh keh. (Here I am, father).?
?You know where your uncle put the palm wine. Bring it for us with two cups, and then, go and ask your mother to send us some kola nuts.?
The girl assembled the gourd of palm wine and the cups and ran back into the house to deliver her father?s message.
?Yes, your in-law must be busy, running up and down,? Nyake remarked as they started to drink. ?It is a long time since we met even though we don?t live far from each other. Anyway, I do understand his situation. He is living under the same roof as his mother. It is not easy for a grown man to be in that position.?
?It is interesting that you are making such a comment. Nyamakoro and I were discussing the same issue of Hindowaa still clinging to his mother?s wrapper. We concluded that it is a strange thing in our culture. The way I see it, ndakei, to your parents, you are always a child. Perhaps that is the way Hindowaa sees it too. How else can you explain it??
?Listen to me, ndakei,? Nyake replied, ?listen carefully. Where in Talia, or your town or anywhere in our chiefdom have you known or witnessed this type of closeness between a mother and her adult son? We have been discussing this among ourselves. Unfortunately, no one has brought this to Hindowaa?s attention. People say that it is not our business to interfere in their domestic affairs, and indeed, they are right. Why should we get involved in their household affairs? It does not affect us, so why get involved? We really do not have a case to make against Hindowaa and his mother, do we??
?I agree with you,? Ndomawaa admitted.
?But, ndakei, let me tell you something in confidence. This town of ours is well informed about things that you and I think are big secrets. People know things that would surprise you. I tell you, people are well informed even though they pretend to be ignorant.? They were now emptying their second cups of palm wine. ?Don?t you ever underestimate the intelligence of people in this town. Sometimes they know more about what is going on in your household than you do. People get rudely shocked when they find out how much others know about their domestic affairs.?
?Ndakei, you are correct. That was the impression I got from Nyamakoro when I visited her. We had a long conversation and she said almost the same things you are now telling me.?
?Ndakei Ndomawaa, let me share a secret with you. This time I really mean a secret. You understand what I am saying, eh. You and I are Wunde men and Lawaas for that matter. Tell me, why has Kigba not remarried since the death of her husband? Look at Nyamakoro. Her husband died, and she remarried. Look at Sande?nya. Her husband died, and she remarried. Look at Magundia. Her husband died, she remarried. I can go on like this; you know what I mean. So what happened to Kigba? After all she is not that old, she is beautiful and she looks healthy. How does she manage her life without a man, you understand what I mean? To be honest with you ? and this is between us ? there was a time I thought of having a relationship with her. You think she was interested? She never even looked at me. No. She certainly did not encourage me. And I am not that old. Look at my wives, they are young. Anyway I gave up. So how does she survive without a husband? Strange,? Nyake mused.
?Ndakei, I agree with you. My own feeling is that maybe she has no appetite for a man. Perhaps she lost it after her husband died.? Ndomawaa suggested, and both men laughed until Nyake began to cough.
?Ndakei, you will kill me,? he wheezed, still chuckling. ?How can you say that she has lost appetite for a man? No one loses appetite for that thing. Don?t deceive yourself. Even if you are as old as creation, it is the one thing you don?t lose appetite for. It is true and you know it.?
?That is the point I am making, Nyake. That is the point. Now we are talking. So how do we explain this? I do not have an answer. Your town is unique in that you are the only people that have this type of situation. So it is you who should explain it to me. Why in your town, and only your town??
?Tell me. Did Nyamakoro tell you anything or did she answer that question during your conversation with her this evening?? Nyake asked. He was trying to prod his friend into divulging information. However, though slightly tipsy by now, Ndomawaa remembered his solemn promise to Nyamakoro.
?No, she never told me anything; you know how secretive women can be sometimes. Perhaps she has no information on Kigba. Or, if she knows anything, maybe she does not trust me. After all, I come from another town.?
?Ah, but that is just why she should trust you ? because you are an outsider. Let me tell you another secret about Talia. We love people from outside more than we love each other. That is one of our problems and that is why we are where we are today. We can do anything to please other people, but when it comes to each other, we only pay lip service. When our own people make efforts to move ahead in life, to prosper, we become jealous of them and do everything to bring them down to our level if we can. That is common and we know it. It will take us a long time to get out of that habit in this town. How long? I don?t know. You see Nyamakoro herself, her people came from outside many, years ago. She is prosperous because of our generosity to outsiders. She is now the richest woman in this town. There are other people like that here. They came as strangers and we gave them shelter; later they became more native than we were. They even challenged our nobility and wanted to contest the chieftaincy. One day, I mean it my brother, if we continue like this, outsiders will become chiefs in our chiefdom, and our people will support them. They support anyone or anything from outside this chiefdom. As I told you earlier, I shall share this big secret with you and I trust that as Wunde men it shall be a secret between us until eternity.?
Ndomawaa moved his stool closer to his friend as if he wanted to capture every single word emerging from Nyake?s mouth.
?They say that it is a family thing, but what I don?t know is whether it is from the father?s side or the mother?s. But it is a family thing which she has inherited.?
?What family thing? I don?t understand what you mean by family thing.?
The two men were almost whispering now, and Nyake let out the secret.
?Hinii loh nge?yaah, keh djini mia.? (She has a husband, but it is a djinn).
For a moment, Ndomawaa clamped a hand over his mouth, which was half open, then the two men returned to doing justice to the palm wine in silence.
?Kooh, ndakei!? Ndomawaa exclaimed inwardly, looking over his shoulder. To Nyake, he seemed overwhelmed by the news.
?Ndakei Nyake,? he said, ?if this is the case, then it explains many things. Yes, all my bafflement will now be put into perspective. Yes, ndakei, there must be an element of truth in this idea, because, for us Mende people, it is not a normal thing what is happening in Hindowaa?s household. It is not normal at all. You know what I mean. I am so happy. This trip of mine has been rewarding. I was completely in the dark, but now I have seen the light. Thank you, my brother. This will be a secret I shall keep till eternity. Thank you very much. But tell me, ndakei, is her son aware of this??
?That is the big question,? Nyake replied. ?We here in Talia have been asking the same question. Is Hindowaa aware of this? It is a big question and we need to find the correct answer to it. If we can get to the bottom of it, then it will explain and put into the right perspective many of our concerns about the situation in their household.?
?Ah, ndakei, human beings are too hard to understand,? Ndomawaa remarked. ?When you see Kigba from the outside, you will not think that she is part of this kind of thing. You say she did not pay any attention to your advances? Well, she must be satisfied and faithful to what she has. It must be a very strong djinn.? They laughed again. Nyake said,
?Ndakei, you will give me a headache this evening. You make me laugh so much. But you are right. She must be very content with what she has. Wonders shall never cease. But what is bad about this is that she never gave me an opportunity to prove myself. She has no basis for excluding me. It is very unfair; don?t you think so??
?Maybe, you should protest to the chief,? Ndomawaa replied in the same jocular way. ?Present your case as forcefully as you have just spoken and maybe the chief will give you a hearing. But face it. You are now an old man and she has a strong djinn.?
?To tell you the truth, there are many people in this town ? and this is also a big secret. Many people who believe that Kigba?s husband?s death had an element of mystery to it,? said Nyake, becoming serious again. ?Tell me, if it was not because of the djinn, how could the husband have died so easily? Drowned in shallow water. The matter was discussed during the Wunde ceremonies for his funeral, but it was only gossip and still is.?
?Have you ever recalled in living memory, here in this your town or the chiefdom, any woman whom you can compare to Kigba??
After a moment?s thought, Nyake shook his head.
?I know that Mamie Yoko was very powerful, but not in this respect. You know what I mean. We still talk very fondly of her today. No, she was not like Kigba. What also baffles me is why she put no pressure on her daughter, Boi-Komah, who has two daughters and a son, but she was ready to exert pressure on Hindowaa to have more sons with my daughter. It was constant pressure. My daughter told me all about it.?
?If you want me to be honest with you this evening, only Kigba can answer that question or perhaps her son, Hindowaa? Ndake Ndomawaa, the way I see all this is that something good came out of your daughter and Hindowaa ? I mean, your granddaughter, Kunaafoh. Look how much good she has brought to this town and the chiefdom. People who had sores that did not heal have now been cured. This is something we should be grateful for. Sampa had her goiter treated and now her beautiful neck can be seen. It used to be so distorted by the goiter, not to mention the discomfort she had to endure. People said that she could not be cured, and we all accused her of being a witch. She was ridiculed and scorned by the entire community, an outcast among her own people. Now she is a happy woman. Ndakei, this is good for our town and its people.?
?Thank you, ndakei. Thank you for these kind words. I am consoled by them. It is because of comforting thoughts like these that I have been able to retain my sanity. It has not been easy for me at all, to be honest with you. I know that my daughter, Giita, will come back one day; and when she comes back, I shall give her the same name. She was special, and I am not saying this because she was my daughter. I know that you and many others in this town had a very high regard for her,? Ndomawaa told his host.
Nyake was still lying in the hammock, not caring about the effect it would have on his back as he got older. ?One day when I was coming from our town, I met a woman by the river,? Ndomawaa went on. ?She had finished washing her clothes. I did not recognize her but she called my name without hesitating. She greeted me nicely and started thanking me. I was confused and felt that she had mistaken me for someone else. Then she said to me, ?Kinie Ndomawaa, you don?t know me, do you?? I told her that her face looked familiar, but I was unable to put a name to it. She said, ?I know you. You are the father of Giita and your granddaughter is Sister Kunaafoh. I almost went blind but now I can do many things by myself. Everybody here in Talia said that I was a witch and that was why no medicine could cure me. Now I can see. Do you know who cured me?? She started crying as she said. ?It was your granddaughter. God will bless you. God will bless her and I know her mother is peaceful where she is.?
On hearing about this incident Nyake asked kindly, ?Tell me, how did you feel when the woman said that to you? There is no doubt that your granddaughter has brought fame to this town and the chiefdom. But, let me also warn you before you get a nasty surprise one of these days. Do you know that there are many others in this town who say that your granddaughter is doing things that they don?t understand? Yes, many people come to me and gossip. They are worried. Why? Because they say some people are now rejecting the idea of witchcraft saying that Sister Kunaafoh has powers that witches do not have, otherwise, how else could she cure all those ailments that afflicted people in this town? They are worried. Look at the way she treated our well known Kinie Mbaqui who had the most chronic sore here in this town. The man can now put on shorts and move around with pride. He is not asham