14 Mar Death at Dawn
By Wr. Cheryl Kahingo
On that eventful day, the sounds of the mourning drums tore into the dark silence of the night. The few who had managed to catch some sleep hurriedly woke up. It was a quiet dawn, perhaps too quiet and it seemed that nature too was aware how heavy the matter was. The melancholy in the air was quite appropriate and very much needed. The villagers made a beeline for their leader’s compound and spoke in hushed whispers, for such happenings weren’t discussed openly.
At the front of the growing crowd were the women whose fault it was. To many, they appeared to be solemn, but they were merely leading the traditional funeral songs mechanically. The birds joined in the songs and everyone, however much immersed in their own thoughts, hummed to the tune. By then, everyone had gathered in the chief’s compound and people huddled around in groups. The women at the forefront, the young teenage girls looked on fearfully, perhaps grateful that it hadn’t been them, while the younger ones wondered if they too would suffer the same predicament. The morans lingered at the back, while the older men sat on stools outside the hut, their heads bowed down so low, and occasionally, one would spit out while another shook his head. Slowly, the songs on their lips died down and the women silently moved towards the isolated hut at the far end. It was time for the purification of the body; my body.
Yes, that’s right. This was my own burial.
In my community, purification before burial was only necessary if the deceased had died in an unusual way. How’d I die? You may wonder. The women will say that I was too much of a coward; a disgrace to them and the community at large. Many felt that it was just an accident, but I knew better. This day, the day I would be buried, had been planned for me by those very same people thirteen years ago, when I was born. From the crowd of the women, I spotted my own mother. From her face, I read more of disappointment and shame rather than sadness and regret. But I didn’t blame her; I couldn’t. It wasn’t her fault that she had been so embedded in our ways. She was my mother and I had to obey her. And this was where my obedience had led me; to my very own grave.
Thirteen years ago I had been born; the first daughter to my parents. Considering that father had only sired sons before me, I was quite a gem; the beloved one.
I grew up in an era where the government had put in place strict laws concerning the education of all children. However, in my community, education was just a waste of time, especially for the girls. I was therefore sent to school, not because my parents so the need to, but only because they did not want to end up locked up in a cell.
To say that I liked school would be an understatement. I loved it; every single bit of it. It was all I looked forward to when I got back home. I can’t say that I lacked much at home for we were quite well off. It was at school though, that I experienced complete satisfaction.
I was not ignorant of the ways of my people. I knew what was expected of me once I hit puberty. Somehow, I thought I would convince my parents to let me continue with my studies. How wrong I was! Papa would hear nothing about school. Mama simply ignored me as she continued teaching me how to be a good wife.
As the purification process went on, I looked on at the crowd of mourners. Perhaps I should call them my murderers, for they were all they as I was being sent to my grave, and they spoke not a word. I remembered as they had all cheered as I was led to the hut where I would e “made a woman’. I had been scared, crying, kicking, and fighting with the little I had left. But the women were much stronger and slowly, I grew tired of fighting. The hut smelled awful and the old woman inside looked as though she was already dead. They had held me down as she went about her work, that was until something went terribly wrong.
I felt a sharp pain as the razor first tore through my flesh. I wanted to cry out but I had been warned. Suddenly I felt something warm trickle down my legs. The looks on the women’s faces told me something was not right. I tried to hold I the pain but when I couldn’t take it anymore, I let it all out, before everything went dark.
The purification was over; it was now time to bury my body. Seated next to my father, I saw the old man I was to be married off to. He would be asking for his dowry, that I was sure. He would look for another young girl to be his sixth wife. The village elder officiating the burial chanted the ceremonious burial phrases. I happened to catch one where he prayed that my soul rest in peace. I looked over at the villagers, my family. I was disgusted. These people would do it again. Other girls would suffer the same fate I had and yet they wanted me to rest in peace. How many others would have to die for them to realize that they were merely murdering these young girls. By upholding these outdated practices, they were pulling back the girls and the community at large.
No, I refuse to rest in peace, not until they realized what they were doing.