It was sunrise in Baraki. Magawa, who was sleeping in his mud hut, heard a neighbour’s cock crowing. He also heard the common blue finches chirping in nearby trees to greet the new day and a troop of monkeys hollering in the hills.
He snapped out of bed. He had been in bed all night but had hardly slept. He had spent the entire night brooding about the speech he would make at a meeting of elders in Ochuna.
He tied his brains in knots thinking really hard. Magawa, who had spent years living alone in the hills, had just rejoined the communal fold. Baraki received the elder, a member of the revered Baihare clan, with open arms.
Young clansmen were instructed to build a befitting hut for the homecoming elder. His return to village folk was smooth--no wonder he was selected to lead a team of elders to Ochuna to deliver dowry cattle.
The impending trip to Ochuna, a distant village that was reputed for its powerful local brews, bumper harvests of maize and flawless weekend feasts, was only hours away.
Magawa would be at the head of a ten-strong team that would drive Haruna’s dowry cattle to Ochuna. Haruna’s son, Kimbo, had attained the age of majority and was poised for marriage.
Magawa and his team would hand over the dowry to Ogutu, whose daughter, Akinyi, was the appointed bride. Magawa would speak on behalf of his team of elders.
It was this speech that bothered his mind. However, Magawa found solace in the fact that plenty of eating and drinking would follow. He struggled into his best shorts and shirts as pencils of sunlight filtered through the thatch.
He threw a red blanket over his frame and slapped an old but impressive sombrero on his head. He stuck a dignity plume in the brim. Yes, he looked dignified as he left his hut.
A late hyena giggled in the hills and a solitary dove cooed in a nearby “ngaka” tree.
The village was fully awake and vibrant. Magawa was the first to arrive at Haruna ‘s home. Kimbo, who was in a jovial mood, received him, addressing him as “my elder.”
Magawa was led into a large hut and offered a round Simbiti stool to sit on. Haruna, his host, joined him as Kimbo walked out of the hut to offer privacy. The two elders exchanged greetings and talked about the task that lay ahead. More elders arrived and settled down on stools. Greetings and pleasantries were exchanged. Magori was the last to arrive.
Haruna’s two wives served maize flour porridge in decorated calabash bowls.
The elders spoke in low tones about their impending journey. After taking the porridge they trooped into Haruna’s large thorn-shrub cattle enclosure.
Ogutu had demanded 20 head of cattle. He wanted to see five hefty bulls, eight large cows and seven plump heifers. This was the bride price. As was customary, only black, brick red or brown bulls were acceptable.
Speckled or plain white bulls were vocally rejected. Haruna had no problem on that score. He showed the elders five pitch-black bulls, eight brown cows and seven brick red and black heifers.
The herd had only one speckled bull--a senile zebu that was too old to make the journey. Magawa nodded his approval. The elders led the cattle out of the enclosure ready for the trip to Ochuna.
Each elder carried a crooked walking stick, another symbol of dignity.
The journey was long, eventful and energy sapping. At one moment Magawa ran away from a harmless tendril thinking it was a king cobra. His sombrero flew off his head and landed on a low shrub.
He retrieved it, calling the mishap a bad omen. “I have run out of steam. I am sure some of you are tired too,” he said. There was a general consensus on Magawa’s idea so the party took a rest.
The cattle were thankful too for the rest. They moved around eating the undergrowth in a clump of trees. Most of the elders took a nap under the canopy of a tree. An hour ticked away as the elders snored in the shade.
Magawa, who had been narrating to Magori his ordeal with a large king cobra the previous week, stopped short.
He swatted what looked like a large fly that kept buzzing around his head threateningly. It was an incensed bee! It stung him on the neck. Magawa sprung to his feet shouting: Sinshoke!” (bees).
Everyone struggled back to his feet and fled. Indeed, the august elders had been surrounded by a swarm of nesting bees. The angry bees had been disturbed by the feeding cattle in a nearby clump of trees.
It was a huge, very angry swarm. The bees attacked the men and the provocative cattle causing a mad stampede. The cattle fled in disarray kicking a cloud of dust with their hooves.
The elders took to their heels. Magawa yelled as he headed for the lake. When the dust resettled the elders collected the cattle. The journey resumed with the crestfallen elders walking slowly scouting for danger.
The party finally arrived, panting with fatigue. The trudge was, indeed, tiresome. They were received by a group of Ochuna elders whom Ogutu had invited for the occasion.
Ogutu collected his guests’ walking sticks and handed them to his senior wife. He took a long look at the dowry cattle and smiled broadly. He was impressed by what he saw.
“Yes, dowry cattle should look like this,” he thought. The visiting elders were ushered into a large hut. Feasting started almost immediately. Makumba drums throbbed on the compound as the elders chatted away with glee.
A popular local brew, that packed a powerful punch, flowed. Plenty of food was served. Everyone ate and drunk to his fill with Magawa attacking the largest helping.
Ogutu stood up to speak when everyone looked satiated. He thanked the visiting elders for a task accomplished well. He told them that the feast would roar beyond the wee hours.
Much to Magawa’s relief, he didn’t have to deliver any speech. Ogutu called in his elder daughter, Akinyi. She came around and went down on both knees as she greeted the august elders. Ogutu introduced the girl to the visiting elders. He said the delivery of the dowry heralded her marriage to Kimbo.
Then, the girl was allowed to leave. Drinking, singing and dancing roared on. At daybreak many of the visiting elders were asleep. Unknown to them, Ogutu and his wives were terribly unhappy.
All the dowry cattle had stolen their way out of the enclosure. They had sneaked through an opening in the thorn fence and wandered off in the dark night, much to the delight of a large pack of marauding hyenas.
In fact, the hyenas that had been heard laughing all night had been busy eating the stray cattle. Everyone felt devastated..