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An ancient time

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1 An ancient time on Sat Mar 03, 2012 11:40 am

Sor looks up at the moons in that dark sky above. The other people who live there on the hill in their little town of huts made of clay and twigs, find comfort in the twin moons. But not he. Something just isn’t right with that second moon. It bothers him a lot.

“There must be two, Sor,” is what the wise old sangoma hasalways said, and: “The one is our father and the other is our mother. They watch over us while we sleep.”

But for Sor the second moon is an ominous presence. What else would one expect of a boy, barely twelve summers old, who has to do his father’s secret work in the dead of night like this?

He enjoys going with his father to their secret place on the other side of the forbidden forest. He would then walk right next to Ian, his father, and they would talk of hunting and how it is easier to grow food than to hunt it. They usually also talk about all the things that they do at their secret place and at the big tree on the way.

But this work in the night under the angry eye of that second moon….aisch! Already the other children look askance at him. He is taller and has too little body-hair. “Sor is ugly,” is what they say behind his back, and he knows it. His whole family is a little weird, and that is why their goat-keep has been moved here at the outskirts of the communal kraal. It is here that he must hide the skins and calabashes in a hidden hole.

His father’s plans are not his own. Sor thinks they should rather try to fit in; otherwise he will not one day get a wife and a hut. Sometimes his dad’s ideas are clever, but sometimes they’re really not. Take the case of the long-ear, for instance. This ugly animal cannot even make milk, and the townsfolk say that his meat would not taste good. However, his dad guards that animal like it’s made of gold. “One day we’re going to depend on it,” is what he always says.

As the days go by his appreciation of his dad’s plan, on which they work so hard, begins to rise. Things in their little town take a turn for the worse. Ra, the new sangoma, befriends the young men in the town. Grandpa calls them mugus, and Nanna, his other granny, nods knowingly when he does so. These young men go to sleep later and later at night. They sit at Ra’s hut and they drink beer. They jog like a pack of wild dogs through the veldtwith Ra in the lead.

Large-eyed children tell horror stories to each other about what this troop of mugus do in the depth of night. Some of these stories may actually be true. Children have disappeared, goats have strange lesions in the morning which weren’t there the previous day and much too much of the town’s sorghum is taken for Ra’s beer brewery.

Ra demands more and more iron from Ia, Sor’s dad. Only he knows where to find the iron stone and only he knows how to melt it to furnish weapons with it, and Ra has realised that these weapons are important.

At first the mugus left them alone, but now they also sometimes dance around the hut of Sor’s family at night. They dance in a circle and then they sing:

“RA! Un tologi korpo Rasi!”

This awful noise scares Sor’s little sister and she often cries. When she cries, Sor thinks: “Maybe my dad’s plan is not such a bad idea after all.”

That particular evening the mugus keep on dancing around the hut of Sor’s family. They demand food and beer in return for protection.

“Protection from what? The only threat around here is them,” is what Sor thinks. He has gone to bed early to try to sleep, because they have agreed secretly to get up as soon as the mugus appear to have gone to sleep.



The Ia family get up in the darkest, quietest part of that particular night. Quietly they put their most prized belongings in bags of skin. Quietly also they make their way around the outside of town. They keep their backs to the wind so that the town dogs cannot smell them. When they reach the outer rim of the kraal, they gather all their animals, including their own dogs. They also dig up the skins and other provisions that have been buried there and fasten those to the back of the long-ear. Their trek to safety and freedom has begun.

They walk eastwards to the big tree half-way to the secret place that was on the other side of the forbidden wood. Although grandpa and Nanna are very hip for their age, they do struggle to keep up and from time to time one of them gets a ride on the long-ear.

Sor thinks: “Maybe the long-ear isn’t such a bad animal after all.”

His small brother and sister also hold them up now and then, and then the long-ear has to help again.

They finally reach the big tree by the second evening. Sor has very much looked forward to the sweet water that they have stored there in special calabashes, but an even sweeter surprise awaits him: His uncle Si and the motherless cousins are waiting there for them! Yes, his favourite cousin Khu and Khu’s brother La and sister An are all there. So this is what their so-called hunting trip was about. Delighted to see each other, the boys wrestle and roll around in the dirt.

Their trek brings them to the very edge of the forbidden forest by the next evening, and by the day after they reach the secret doorway to a tunnel cave that leads through the mountainous ridge on the other side. They pass through the tunnel and then Sor excitedly shows his cousins what lies on the other side.

Sor watches with enjoyment as his cousins stare at this scene in astonishment: The ridge forms a half-moon of rock around a sandy piece of grassland which leads on to a beach. On the other side of that lies a huge mass of water. The water stands up and rushes towards the sand crowned with beautiful white spray, only to break onto the sand or the rocky ridge at the edges. Then the water pulls back only to start all over again. Sor inhales deeply, drawing as much of this loveliness into his body as he can: The smell of the blue-green water and all its fine inhabitants, the smell of the sand and of the salt it leaves on your skin. He can feel again the precious warmth of the sea sand when it runs through his fingers like grains of gold. Yes, this is his favourite world and here is where his home will be!

The ridge consists mainly of sandstone cliffs, and many caves have been formed therein, including two larger ones. The family Ia moves into one of these and the cousins and uncle move into the other.

Sor and his dad have already made some handy improvements long ago during their secret visits. Their cave entrance is elevated, but they have a step-ladder made of sticks to climb up with. The cave entrance has been closed off with sticks anchored in the many tiny holes in the sandstone entrance, but the step-ladder reaches over the top thereof, with a tiny step-ladder leading down on the other side. This way the entrance is protected, and the children cannot roll out of the cave by accident.

The cave has a special fire-place and they quickly prepare a sleeping place for every family member. The water seeping through into one of the smaller caves is particularly sweet, and the water calabashes are filled up here every day. Sor’s mom and Nanna also get to work on the skins that they had brought, to soften them and furnish new clothes and blankets of them. So begins the daily routine of making a life at their new home.

Outside, halfway between the two large caves, grows a tree that Sor and his dad had managed to establish there long ago during their secret visits. It already bears fruit, red fleshy ones, which Nanna calls matoes.

They also finish a half-built kraal for the animals. Some of their dogs already know where to hunt rabbits and field-mice from previous experience. This place does not offer much for the hunter, but there are other foods in the water and even birds’ eggs in the cliffs. One abundantly available type of sea-shell is particularly pleasant when boiled in salt water until open, and then prepared with a sauce of mato and other herbs. Sor swells with pride as he shares this and other knowledge of this place, with the others.

The Ia and Si families continuously innovate over the next few days in order to improve their caves and their living, and learn from each other in the process.

Everyone has many daily chores in the process of improving their new home here and to provide the daily necessities. Grandpa Kro also schools the six kids, teaching them many things, things that Ra and his mugu’s don’t know. Although they feel safe here, a daily guard routine is still maintained. They also work on making weapons, Ia’s clever weapons…



After a few weeks in their new home, Sor develops a new hobby. There are some coloured stones higher up on the cliffs which he powders and mixes with water to make paint. His mother and he have also found some ingredients in the sea and in the forest from which colours can be produced. Together they go about decorating the cave with paintings on the walls.

Grandpa Kro has by then divided the initial cave in three sections by anchoring further sticks in the little holes in the sandstone cave walls. It is especially in the middle room, where they eat and commune, that Sor and his mother now adorns the stone walls with colourful pictures. They draw animals in rich ochre, pink and brown, and fish and flowers in blue, red and yellow.

Eventually Sor starts to paint weird figures from his dreams. He prefers to draw these away from their living-quarters on the walls of the tunnel cave. This becomes a kind of scare-away tactic to guard the entrance to their secret world. He draws scary monsters, giant lizards that spew fire, and crickets with evil red eyes armed with strange weapons. One such cricket even has a scorpion tail. Grandpa just shakes his head at these alien pictures. However, later on he does a strange thing: He takes the leather necklace and the beautiful green stone from his wrinkled old neck and gives it to Sor. This means something big, but Sor is not sure exactly what.

Sor finds little time for his paintings as the weeks draw by, thanks to a new obsession of his dad’s: Diving. He has to dive under the water near their home and then report on everything he sees there. The water in the bay quickly becomes deeper right off the beach, and forms a half-moon of deeper water that mirrors the shape of the cliffs. However, a little further away the ground rises again under the water to form a rocky half-moon ridge under shallow water. This area is very dangerous, with turbulence underwater and waves crashing over the slightly submerged rocks. However, his dad is fortunately not interested in this area. He is only interested in the area within the half-moon.

Sor imagines that if one could fly overhead like a bird, the half-moon cliffs and the half-moon of water could together look from above like a huge round hole. It is almost as if some giant animal or thing had fallen from the sky and crashed there, leaving a crater.

Ever since Sor has discovered huge bones, almost like the skeleton of a massive fish in the bay, his dad insists on more and more diving. Sor’s skin becomes darkly tanned from diving in the sunny weather. His tan becomes so dark that one could almost imagine that his ‘uncle’ Sor actually IS his blood relative and uncle. He begins to look like Khu, and of course Khula finds this very amusing!



And then one day when Sor visits his masterpiece at the outside mouth of the tunnel cave, his heart skips a beat. A new painting has been drawn, a painting of a vicious insect monster in yellow, red and black. This is neither his work nor his mother’s. Quivers run down his spine as he contemplates the possibility of a stranger being in the tunnel. He feverishly looks around for tracks, but the only markings he can find in the patches of soil on the cave-bed, are vague and small, like a small animal or something.

Sor arrives out of breath from running all the way back home.

“DAD! DADDA!” he calls.

The adults make as if it is not such a big issue, but they look worried and tell him not to alarm the smaller kids. From then on the guarding and patrolling are done in pairs. Sor and Khu are partners in this and they keep vigil together. They have been sworn in as blood brothers long ago, something which hurt so bad that they won’t repeat that ceremony. Sor nonetheless makes Khu swear secrecy on the scar of their blood-letting before he tells him what he has found and what the whole fuss is about.

Sor is unsure about exactly what it is that he sees when one day he dives again. He runs out of breath just before he is able to take a closer look at what appears to be a polished rock with a magenta glow, almost like an underwater lantern, in the deepest water of the bay. He decides not to tell anyone immediately as they might think he has had another strange dream. There should be time soon to go and confirm what he has seen.

However, something scary happens after midnight of that same night:

THE GROUND IS SHAKING!

Sor grabs the child closest to him. It turns out to be his little brother, and he is crying of the fright. The trembling of the ground stops after a few moments, and their mom comes to soothe them. There is, however, little chance of them having any more sleep in those early hours of the next day.

Daddy Ia has a lot of work for them as soon as the time comes to get up on that fateful day: All their most important belongings has to be moved to higher ground: The iron pot, weapons, food stores and even a part of the kraal have to be moved and fastened securely.

Thereafter they also get to work on a rope ladder with hooks at the top, for climbing up the cliff from their cave. There would be no chance for thinking about diving before their late breakfast.



Sor has to go to the bird-nests for eggs shortly after breakfast. He climbs up the cliffs at the edge of the bay where cliff meets sea, using a rope and some precious iron arrowheads. He is cautious and nervous, because he has once imagined that he could see something or someone peering down at him from the top of the cliff. And this time his worst suspicion is confirmed when he pulls himself up and around a large rock: There is someone up there!

The other person is higher up on the cliff than Sor. That is an inhospitable part of the rocky ridge that separates their home from the forbidden forest, but Sor knows a secret way of getting there if one goes out through the tunnel cave and over the ridge from the other side.

It is only just possible, but extremely dangerous, to climb down the cliff from there to reach the water. The big water invades the land at the half-moon bay, but is much further away from the land elsewhere on the coastline. The cliffs meet the water as far as the eye can see in the distance. Entering through the tunnel cave, their home is the only place in this area where one can easily reach the water, except for that particular dangerous place.

The intruder looks like a human being with long black hair and lithe suntanned legs. Something about it is beautiful to Sor, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. He also thinks it could be a girl like his sister, but a very different kind of girl, one who could get along on her own out here. He is not sure whether he has been seen as well. Carefully he makes his way back down the cliff towards his family, to go warn them.

But then ‘uncle’ Si raises the alarm!

Sor has reached the sandy ground from where he can run to the cave. He looks up and sees one silhouette on the ridge above the cliffs, and then another and another. Their secret place has been discovered! He hears a distressed yell from the direction that he has come from. It looks and sounds as if the human he has spotted first, is trying to get away from the ones on top of the cliff.

For some or other reason Sor strips his clothes off, throws his buckskin shoes down on the sand, and rushes towards the water. From the corner of his eye he sees how his people are being bombarded with rocks pushed from the top of the cliffs and how they gather their weapons and dogs and flee to the water’s edge. The tide is extremely low today.

Now he can see that the first intruder is definitely a girl. He can only just catch a glimpse of her dark eyes, filled with defiance and fear, before she jumps into the water. Then everyone disappears from sight as he himself dives into the cool blue water of the bay.



Ra licks his lips. He has been gathering strength for months. The huts of the weakling sangomas who refused to follow him lie blackened and smouldering across the green hills and valleys behind him. Every day the young men in his company grow in number. They hunger continually for more food and more humans, especially women and young girls in particular.

And today they have made a good find. This is a beautiful place with lots of food, other provisions, women and children. And then of course there is the girl there in the water below the cliff. What a stroke of luck that they followed the girl here! He knows that her name is Li.

Ra feels the warmth of his strength rising upwards from his legs and loins as he remembers her hut and how deliciously her family members had screamed. And she thought that she could get away from him!

But now she can be seen in all her splendour in the water below, she and the beautifully thin boy. The sangoma gestures for his men, the dogs of Ra, to move closer to the cliff with their spears and kieries. They also have ropes with them, which they fasten to rocks to climb down with. They look at their leader with eyes that have grown dark with greedy hunger over the past few months, and answer him with gruff voices:

RA! Ur tologi korpo Rasi!”



Sor moves calmly but urgently below the water, because he knows that soon his lungs will begin to burn with the desire for fresh air. As if in a dream, as if he knows what to do, he swims towards the glowing rock inside the giant skeleton. There is a small opening in the rock and the following words appear on a shiny metal plate below that:

“pergamemnon maneo chalcedonum directus”

Sor has no idea what message these meaningless letters may convey, yet he knows what to do. He tries to think of peaceful and beautiful place that he has seen, and of his family and their need for more security. There must be a better time and place, somewhere where they can be born into a more secure life. He holds the calming green stone on the leather thong around his neck in his right hand. The other hand is already inside the opening in the rock. It is strangely soft and slimy inside, but he also feels another texture in the water, something which isn’t quite right…



Ra can already smell the exciting odour of blood. He stretches his nostrils to ready it for the experience. He feels again the warmth rising from below in his body. Only then does he notice the big water standing up. First from far away and then rushing towards them: It is a giant wall of water as high as the cliff from which he had Li’s defiant father thrown. And then he sees the colours. A scream dies in his throat. The brilliant colours rise majestically over the wall of water and it washes everything in its path in inconceivable hues of the rainbow.

BLUE! RED! YELLOW! MAGENTA!

The violence of the incredibly magnificent energy that washes over him, makes him nothingness and incorporates him into an endless comprehensiveness, all at once. He spins around the universe with the defeated stars around the core of superlative light in infinity. It lasts for both a moment and until the end of time. Within that light is an insignificant spot of darkness which quickly grows into a fast spreading stain, until all the universes are engulfed in the darkest darkness.

*****
And it was night and then the day broke again in hues of red over a tainted world…

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2 Re: An ancient time on Sat Mar 03, 2012 12:12 pm

waiting in anticipation for the next chapter,................

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