Manchild, page 1
By Khaleel Jooste
Copyright Khaleel Jooste 2013
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1 – The Feast of the Petals
Before white man set foot on southern African shores, there lived a people, known as the Tree Dwellers. As the name suggests, they preferred to live in the trees. To see a Tree Dweller was a rare sight for they rarely left the safety of their abode. They were people of myth and their stories were that of legend. The men and women were all small, rarely taller than a hickly bush. They're arms were slightly longer than the average person and their feet, well; they were adapted to skillfully wrap around a branch or a tree trunk. A Tree Dweller would never leave the trees, except to hunt. Hunting only took place once a year and this was always to mark the beginning of plenty. The time when nature starts to wake up from its cold, dead slumber and life returns to the barren lands. The animals return and so too the great floods.
The Tree Dwellers respected nature and lived in harmony with it. They believed in some deity that provided them with sustenance and protection. Once a month they would have a ceremony to give thanks to this being. They believed as long as they gave thanks, that the deity would be pleased and they would continue to prosper. They only consumed meat during the feast of the petals and for the most part, they lived off roots, shrubs and herbs. That which they could gather from the earth. Each Tree Dweller male, had to learn to hunt. For only once he slays a big animal can he choose a mate and start a family. Tree Dwellers rarely had more than two children, the chief, being the only one who had three. Two Tree Dwellers, one from each of his two wives. The third was not a Tree Dweller. He was of them. They referred to him as Manchild. The child of man that found his way to the home of the Tree Dwellers.
Manchild was much larger than any of the Tree Dwellers and was less adapt to living in the trees. His home was flat on the ground. It had all the makings of a Tree Dweller house. The ropes that hung from the branches of the many trees. Tree Dwellers only lived there where the canopy was vast and wide. Rarely would they inhabit areas where the trees are not tightly densed. A single rope hung through the roof of Manchild's home. Tree Dweller houses are nothing special. Straw lined the wooden floors and big fleshy leaves lined the roof. When fully dried, it would reflect the sunlight. Tree Dwellers used them to send signals to each other. It is through exactly such a signal that Manchild showed up at the edge.
The edge was the furthest any Tree Dweller would go from the village. This was much further than the hunting grounds. It was across the river to the east. Few Tree Dwellers ever ventured there. The chief was one. He saw three flashes. Repeated three times. He was sitting in his private quarters. It had a view of the hunting grounds. He was watching the hunters circle a kudu, when he saw the three flashes coming from the edge. He responded with the same signal. The response was then one long flash from the edge. Then it was gone. The chief tried to get another signal out, but none came. He found that odd. The signal was that of distress. Repeated three times meant someone was in danger.
The chief left for the edge by himself. None of his people even knew that he had left. He knew the lands the best and he blended in wherever he went. Always unnoticed. Near from where he saw the flashes come, he heard him cry. The infant that he would immediately take as his son and called Manchild. When the chief removed him from the animal skin he was wrapped in, he was able to hold him as a Tree Dweller child, but soon Manchild would grow to be much taller than him. Though he was much bigger and taller than all the Tree Dwellers, he was very loved by them. They accepted him as their own and the chief always said that he was a blessing from the deity they worshipped.
2 – The White Lady
The beginning of the feast of the petals was always heralded by the Victory Swing. This was a game the Tree Dwellers thoroughly enjoyed. It all took place in the trees. Swing from one tree to the other while grabbing baskets that were placed at strategic places amongst the trees. Most of the baskets were filled with flower petals. These were specifically plucked at the Sacred Spring. The one place the Tree Dwellers regarded with great respect and humbleness. Only Tree Dweller girls were allowed to pick from the flowers. These girls were always also the ones that had not yet found a mate. To the Tree Dwellers this all signified the beginning of plenty and purity.
To partake in the Victory Swing was a great honor. The baskets' contents were to all be thrown in a pile right at the centre where the Tree Dwellers would gather to listen to the stories of their wise chief. Very often he would stir them so with his parables and wars of the past that none of them wanted to sleep. They would then spend the night dancing for being able to rejoice in the beginning of plenty.
Manchild had participated in the Victory Swing before, but he never got further then the first branch. Fell right off and hit his head hard several times. The Tree Dwellers would all laugh hard at that. To be good at the Victory Swing, you had to be adapt to the trees. Be able to hold onto the branches and grab the baskets. Still managing a swing to get the next branch and drop the basket, before grabbing the next.
Manchild was determined to partake in the Victory Swing this year. He was exactly twenty three years old. He had become a strong young man. He had yet to slay his big kill. He fared poorly with the bow and arrow. He did manage to spear a few gazelle before, but these were small for his size. He would have to impress the chief with a much larger kill, before he would let him accept a mate. That was the rule of the Tree Dwellers. The chief may never be doubted. His words must be final and accepted.
Before he would allow a hunter Tree Dweller to go on the hunt for the honor of a mate, he would remind them. The animal must choose you. That will be the only time you will truly kill. Many of the Tree Dwellers would always ponder on the words of the chief. Manchild thought about them often. What did his father mean? That is what Manchild would wonder when he was out hunting with the rest of the hunters.
Most Tree Dwellers hunted only small antelope. The biggest they would attempt to kill was a kudu. This they would also only do in groups larger than four. The largest kill ever recorded was an eland. This large African animal was referred to by the Tree Dwellers as the short-horned-dream-flesh. It rarely came near the dense trees that were the home of the Tree Dwellers. They did enjoy the flowering plants along the river to the east though. The chief was responsible for this kill. He injured the animal with only one arrow; a shot just below the heart. The beetle poison then took care of the rest. Usually they’d run after the hunted animal for miles on end, but this one only went as far as a few feet, and then fell dead. It took twelve Tree Dwellers to carry all the meat back home.
That was one of the feast of the petals that the Tree Dwellers often spoke about. To kill a short-horned-dream-flesh was something unheard of. To take one down by yourself would never be believed unless witnessed by your own eyes. The kudu at its smallest already stood at twice the size of a Tree Dweller. Manchild was the only one that would deter these animals from attacking them when they were hunting. To be impaled by any antelope was a nasty business and all Tree Dwellers believed that Manchild was here to make the hunting easier for them. If only he would learn to be less clumsy and understood the bond between the hunter and the hunted. The chief had tried to teach him often, but had said that as long as the past is unknown, the future will not make sense.
These words too were always on Manchild’s mind. More of the wisdom of the chief, his father, though Manchild knew that he was not his own. He knew nothing of his own people. The chief had only told him once about man and then never spoke of them again. Man was the only foe of the Tree Dweller. They encroached the land and killed more t
To the west of the land were those that kept animals and stayed in one place. These were kind and gentle man and they posed little threat to the Tree Dwellers.
There were those that the Tree Dwellers rarely saw for they chose to live in the more arid bush lands, closer to the red-vast-space. No Tree Dweller alive today has ever seen the red-vast-space.
Beyond the red-vast-space lay the home of the White Lady. The only Tree Dweller that ever saw the White Lady was the chief's grandfather. He had told his people of the White Lady often. The White Lady came to the Tree Dweller's aid at a time of great famine among the people. The Tree Dweller herbalists could not cure those infected, but the White lady gave them what they needed.
She too was regarded as a blessing from the deity they worshipped.
3 – The Campfire Story
The chief had told Manchild that he did not know to which
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