It was a harmattan afternoon when the thunder struck. It slashed the ancient baobab tree at the center of the village into two. Soon, there was a heavy downpour, a violent storm. Alata, the great seer and mouthpiece of the gods, was dead. When the gong-gong beater announced it the next day, the people of Mkomenfa knew what was in store for them. They had exhausted the patience of the gods. Before the twenty full moons given by the gods are expired, they would have been punished. How? they did not know. Not even Alata.
* * *
Everyone knows Ayikuma in the village, not only because his wife recently turned her back. Also, his youngest son, Adama, is an idiot. Afroso’s was in between the births of Adama and the eldest, Akoto. Each of Ayikuma’s sons is gifted. Akoto already is a great orator. Singing comes naturally to Afroso, and nobody is as strong as Adama. Like every poor man in Mkomenfa, Ayikuma’s situation is worsened each day because of the greed of the folks in the village.
Kwaadu is Ayikuma’s nearest neighbour. Although Kwaadu has many farms and livestock, he always fights with Ayikuma over rats. Ayikuma traps rats at his own backyard. Whenever Ayikuma gets a rat trapped, Kwaadu will come, insisting that the rat Ayikuma has looks just like one of those he – Kwaadu – is rearing! He will add, ‘Let me know when you also start rearing rats. And then, I will have the fence that separates our households repaired’.
The story is also told of the man who beats his wife every dusk because she repeatedly tastes for either pepper or salt whilst cooking. According to the man, it is so unfair that the wife is always, already half full before the family shares the evening meal.
Sooner than anyone could expect, Ayikuma left his children orphaned. Akoto was already a young man by then. And it became difficult to tell how much older he was than Afroso. (Already, the time in between their birthdays was in months, not years.) Despite this, strangers always mistook Adama as the eldest – he was the bulkiest of the brothers.
Every market day, Afroso went to the market square to sing. Out of pity or sheer love for his rather rare talent, people gave Afroso money and gifts. The latter usually consisted of all that went in the name of foodstuffs, and once in a very long while, something as frivolous as dried palm frond. None of the givers was from Mkomenfa, though.
By some arrangement, Adama did the cooking of the gift-cum-food items, while Akoto used his deft tongue to sell the other gift items they would not need. Once, Afroso got one of those frivolous gift items while singing at the market. Akoto did not fail to sell it out. When the buyer, a woman, asked Akoto why she should buy a doll with lips and brow twitched at one side of the face, Akoto explained that, it was doll with mixed emotions. He reasoned, with the woman, with one odd smile lurking at the tip ends of his lips:
“It is special. Besides, no other child will want to steal a doll like this. And that should save you a lot of money. See, you will not be buying your child another doll in a long time, until which she will even be so grown up that she will not be playing with a doll anymore.”
Thus, the three orphans eked a living out of the greedy village that Mkomenfa was, and was rightly called.
* * *
Some years later, Mkomenfa was besieged by Gbonka, their longtime enemy.
Preparations towards the battle were slow and scanty. As expected of the good old people of Mkomenfa, those who had sons refused to give them out for the battle. Their reason was simple: those without sons would also benefit from the security or victory that would be earned by their sons. Since they had no parents to restrain them, the three brothers decided to fight the battle. Their own way.
One night, Akoto, Afroso and Adama went to the enemy’s camp under the guise of stranded wayfarers. By promising to show him a secret passageway to Mkomenfa, Akoto convinced the chief warrior of Gbonka to shelter them. Afroso offered to delight the camp with songs. His brothers watched him sweetly hypnotized the warriors with mirth, mere and mild.
The warriors of Gbonka were caught in deranged dancing motions around the camp fire. The warriors. They shrieked and shrunk in turns; they clapped their clubs in the air, beat their chests with their hands and drummed the earth with the urgent throbbing movements of their feet. The smell of dust and sweat, mingled with that of smoke, and solemnly snaked up into the stark dark moonless sky. This. It must be because of something about Afroso’s songs and his singing them.
After all their strength was wasted, and before the effect of the song died down, Afroso lulled the warriors. And in no time, the camp was dead asleep on the laps of mother earth.
Only Adama kept wake…
Before the first cock crowed the next day, Adama had killed all the Gbonka warriors. He had stuffed gunpowder into the noses of those warriors who were heavily asleep, and he had fought off the others with his iron strength.
On their way back to the village, the three brothers individually met one fragile old man. He claimed to be god-sent and promised to grant them any wish they make in the future. One just had to say some senseless stretch of syllables, three times, and someone appears, to grant whatever it was one wished. The old man would not tell each of them what his name was. The same vaguely reminded each of the three brothers of someone, someone who – as if by some strange design – just defied to be remembered. And even though the old man had not bade them so, each of the three brothers, by that same strange design, kept his encounter with the old man a secret.
Mkomenfa was not fully awake when the three reached its outskirts. On their way into the village proper, they first met some old men, the elders and king makers of Mkomenfa. The old men were about parting ways from what looked like an emergency meeting. The brothers greeted. The old men responded, and asked the young men where they are coming from that early in the morning. Akoto narrated their exploits. The old men listened.
Soon, Akoto finished telling his tale. And only then did the old men tell the three brothers about how the king had mysteriously died that dawn, just before the sound of the first cock crow. A brief solemn silence ensued. Then suddenly, with bright hideous eyes, Ataa Kwei asked, almost carelessly,
‘Why can’t one of these young
men become the next king instead of e-e-e-r-r-m…?’
Ataa Nuumo quickly finished it off,
‘Yes. We can forget about Anum’s son. These young men have killed an elephant for a whole people.’
Casting sly glances and nods of agreement at each other, the rest of the old men smiled, knowingly.
It therefore happened that before the late king was buried, Akoto was installed king of Mkomenfa, because he was the eldest and most eloquent of the three brothers. All the people of Mkomenfa thought the enthronement ceremony was done rather too early – if not rash – after the death of the previous chief.
Some others deemed the decision to install Akoto was unfair in itself. After all, everyone knew it was Anum’s son, Kwatey, who was next in line to be king. Akoto’s family was nowhere near the royal family line.
Others believed it was right for Akoto to be installed King because he, together with his two brothers, had delivered the village from what most people believed would have been the doom of a punishment prophesied some time ago by Alata. Alata. Alata.
The discerning ones knew that the elders were jealous of Anum. They made Akoto king because it would have been too obvious if any of their sons had been installed king instead. It was therefore, just another case of the proverbial we-both-lose-it-then-since-none-of-us-would-let-the-other-have-it.
* * *
Akoto was enjoying his reign as Mkomenfa’s king when something about Afroso angered him. Many came from far and near, just to hear Afroso sing. Because of that, Afroso was not only as rich as Akoto. Also, Afroso was so much more famous and endeared to the hearts of many – even beyond Mkomenfa. Similarly, Afroso envied the honor and pomp with which his homeland treated Akoto. But Adama would not, could not be bothered by anyone, and by anything. He continued to stay in his late father’s now-ramshackle hut. And he enjoyed the attention of being an idiot.
The night before the twentieth full moon came, each of the three brothers said that senseless stretch of syllables. Three times. Then, in their various closets, each made his wish. But unlike what each of them had been told by that old man on that fateful day, no one appeared. And it did not appear as though each of the three’s wish is, or will be. Fulfilled.
* * *
Mkomenfa woke up the next morning to an emergency attack.
Six hundred and sixty-six sweaty warriors with calico wrapped around their groins were quickly dispatched. Each of them wore a raffia skirt and a head band made of leaves. Hanging from their right shoulder to their left side were strings of cowries. A fresh green leaf was clamped in between each pair of lips.
Everything seemed to be set for the battle. Akoto only had to give the final word. Everyone was to be surprised at Akoto’s speech to the parade. He sang, actually. And Afroso’s words – no, lyrics, rather – were just like him, both convincing and convicting, deeply philosophical and steeped in the timeless wisdom of the fathers of old. But the charm in the lyrics was very unlike Akoto, and so much like that of his brother, Afroso.
All the Mkomenfa warriors were caught up in what was supposed to be the final address before the battle began – some overwhelmingly awe-full song which can only call for a rhythmically taut, entrancing dance. There was thunderous droning on the war grounds, as the Mkomenfa warriors beat their swords in the tinkling air, pounded their chests with their fists and dug the red-brown earth with the heavy delicate steps their expert feet.
The battle grounds got lost in the giant heaving rising clouds of dust. It choked on the stinging smell of young gurgling blood under hot sweat. The battle grounds was blinded by many a dreary clash of iron with iron. And for more clash, four gusts of wind blew from the four corners of Mkomenfa. They clashed at the centre of the village. Then they roared and rolled, again and some more, all on the battle grounds. That whole world was in frenzy, dangerously spinning on a needle point.
Amidst that frenzy, each Mkomenfa warrior, worn beyond death with the dancing, lifelessly fell, on Akoto, one after the other. The pile grew from heap to mound and then into a huge mountain between Mkomenfa and the now-advancing army of Gbonka…
* * *
To this day, someone sits on this mountain and tells this story of Mkomenfa to passers-by and wayfarers. As ridiculous as the story sounds, people believe it – yes, because Afroso is well able to make them believe it. And most of his listeners do notice that the beauty in how Afroso strings his words better suits a song than a story, a persuasion. Beside Afroso sits a bulky man who sulks and weeps about another brother who is buried under the mountain.
In the end, Akoto did get the charm and awe in Afroso’s voice. Afroso got to be able to convince even a mother to flay and eat the child she just birthed. Adama had a troop entranced by the charm in his brother’s voice defeated, without expending any strength of his own.
Thus, the wishes of the three brothers were fulfilled.
The gods were appeased. Greediness now has no place in Mkomenfa.
This humped mountain stands as a memorial to this story.
In Ga, Mkomenfa means selfishness. It is an idiom, actually, and when ‘broken down’ into “Mi kome mifa”, can be loosely translated as “As far as ONLY I am concerned, it is enough”. If a person suddenly opts out of a pursuit for a common good/goal after the person’s end of the need is met, it can be said that the person’s is an Mkomenfa character.
Earlier versions of this story were published under the title,‘The Mkomenfa Riddle’ in The Mirror (pg. 7) on 30th October, 2004; and in The Weekend Globe (pg. 8) on 25th October, 2012 and 2nd November, 2012