“It’s sunrise… Get up now son. We have a long day ahead of us. And fix the roof before you do anything else. The heavy rains are about to start any time from today.”
“Juma! Get up!”
The deep loud voice echoed across the circular mud hut into Juma’s small ears who was dead asleep.
In his dreams, he was standing on top of the largest mountain in all the land. He looked around and saw the breathtaking view of the land: the exotic birds flying into the sunset, the green trees swaying as the wind plucked away the brown and tired leaves from their home and they slowly placed them onto the moving stream nearby.
The view was to die for. He watched as the sun set, slowly turning the daylight brightness into dark orange. He continued observing the horizon, and he soon spotted his village. He looked closely and saw his mud hut, which was at the edge of the village.
He looked towards the left side of the mountain and saw it.
He saw what he had been told endless stories about.
A place where people went poor and suddenly emerged rich. The place where only adults were allowed to go into.
He glanced closer and saw a group of men tirelessly hitting the ground.
He heard his father’s voice calling for him. He looked around and noticed he was all alone at the edge of the mountain.
The voice called again ad he turned fearfully, trying to locate the source of the sound. The sound hit him from all corners as it echoed across the mountain and the trees, making birds scanter away from their nests.
He felt dizzy.
His legs became lighter and lighter.
He looked down and his ankle left the ground, followed by his toes. He wiggled them in amazement as the wind blew him away from the rocky edge of the mountain. He looked at the view and it was more breathtaking than before. He stretched his hands and felt the wind lifting him towards the clouds. Dry leaves tagged along beneath him as the wind made them dance around his feet. He let out a laughter, showing his well-arranged teeth. He could not believe it was happening. He was in the moment.
And then, just like that, the wind was gone.
The leaves that were dancing beneath him began shaking as they headed to the ground.
And so did he.
He felt his body getting heavier. He fearfully stretched his hands hoping to grab onto something, anything that would enable him escape the inevitable outcome which was seconds from happening.
But of course, nothing could save him.
His upward motion suddenly stopped and he started heading downwards. He was falling. And he knew it. His legs were now facing upwards and his head facing downwards. The same ground which was very far away from him was now patiently waiting for his triumphant return.
The fall got more intense as he saw the ground getting closer and closer to him. He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands. He closed his eyes and waited.
He waited. Hoping it would end very soon.
But instead it did not end. He slowly opened his eyes and he was still falling down. The ground which was near him was surprisingly far away.
He was falling for the second time.
And this time the fall was faster. Unexplainably faster. This time round he decided not to close his eyes. He felt the need to witness the phenomena unfolding before his eyes. He saw the trees getting closer to him. He hit the trees as he fell down. The branches scratched his skin as he arrived at his destination: the brown ground.
He hit the ground, dispersing a significant amount of dust. He felt a sharp pain through his whole body.
And then he opened his eyes.
He jumped out of his cotton blanket and sat upright. He breathed heavily as he looked around his mud room. He touched his face and it was all sweaty and shivering. He took deep breaths as he looked around: confused as to why he is still alive.
Or maybe I am in heaven? H thought.
The morning sun struck his eyes as he faced the window. The sunlight miraculously restored his brain to factory settings and he finally realized he was in a dream.
One crazy dream.
He got out of his bed and stretched his arms up in the air, nearly piercing through the makuti roof. He lazily yawned and stretched his skinny body like a wet sponge being dried of its waters. He felt his backbone crackle, a sign of freedom from the endless curving and winding throughout the night.
“Juma!! Hurry up!!!”
His father’s deep voice echoed across his hut as he leaped into action.
He slowly walked out of his hut, and the sun was already out: something he was not used to seeing sinc3 he was an early riser. The sun’s rays blinded his sleepy eyes, making them shut repeatedly as he looked around. Everyone was awake, going about their daily activities. The whole village was booming with activities. The women were busy entering the village with firewood tied to their backs. They were dropped at the edge of the village which was the central cooking point for the whole village.
Everyone was up and about. Except him. His Royal Highness. The one who wakes up when he sees fit.
He saw his father staring fiercely at him, with his hands crossed on his chest.
He was one of the village elders: a highly respected position.
He steadily walked to where Juma was standing and placed his hands firmly on his shoulder. He towered of little Juma, who raised his head upwards to look at his father.
“Why did you wake up late. You know what we are supposed to do today.”
His father’s deep voice vibrated into his ears as he swallowed a lump of saliva into his throat.
“I…I… I… I…”
He stammered as words refused to come out of his mouth.
He remembered hearing his father’s endless calls while he was in dreamland.
“I… I… I was asleep,” he finally uttered the short sentence.
His father looked at him and faintly smiled.
“It seems it was quite an interesting dream. Do you mind telling me?”
Juma dug deep into his memory to collect the remaining fragments of the dream. He was about to narrate to his father the greatest dream ever.
But it was not there. He tried remembering the dream but it there was nothing to be remembered.
His father began walking and he swiftly followed along.
“Good morning mzee.”
Everyone who passed him greeted him: a sign of respect for an elder member of community. Juma and his father headed into his mother’s hut for some breakfast. They entered the hut and his mother and two sisters were patiently seated on the ground waiting for them to join in eating breakfast.
“Finally, the king awakes from his beautiful sleep!” one of his sisters teased loudly while laughing. They giggled as they pointed at Juma who sat next to his father. His mother got up and bent down next to the large clay pot at the edge of the hut. She opened the pot and began serving them a cup of hot porridge each. She carried the five cups of porridge using a wooden frame and placed them between them. As usual, the father was the first to take the porridge, followed by the mother, and finally the children began scrambling for the largest porridge.
“I’ll take this one,” Juma said as he grabbed the cup which was being held by one of his sisters.
“No, it’s mine. take the other one,” She pulled the cup back towards her, making a lump of porridge to fly off the cup, landing on the father’s shoulder.
The children watched as the porridge tricked slowly from their father’s shoulder.
He looked at the mess. And then looked at the children with the fiery eyes.
They immediately stopped arguing and silently began sipping their porridge; with a slight giggle from the girls.
“So you are taking Juma beyond the fields today,” Juma’s mother asked the father.
“Yes, I think he is now old enough to see what happens beyond the farms. He might choose between working in the farms or beyond.
“Wow Juma, you are going to see the place which is forbidden to adults only! Congratulations on becoming an adult. although you are still our little brother. Remember that…” One of the sisters said as the whole family burst into laughter.
Juma’s father let out a faint smile as he sipped his last remaining porridge.
“Nikuongezee baba Juma” Juma’s mother asked as she took the cup from him, preparing to stand and fetch more porridge for her husband.
“ No… Asante nimeshiba,” he responded as he took a deep breath.
“I want more porridge!” One of his sisters said as she gave her cup to her mother. She got up and walked to the pot, scooped the porridge and walked back. She handed the porridge to her daughter, who happily took it and began gulping it down, savoring every drop of sweetness.
Juma finished his porridge and waited for his father to get up. It was customary after eating the father would always be the first to stand. His father got up and stretched. He took his long wooden cane, which he used to walk with it since Juma was a child.
“Come son, let’s go,” He said as he walked out of the hut.
“Bye brother, don’t get eaten by lions out there,” one of his sisters teased him as he walked out of the hut.
His stomach was now full for the day. He walked alongside his father towards the main entrance of the village.
“Where are we going by the way?” He asked curiously.
His father looked at him and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything along the journey.”
Juma was confused. “The journey? How far is it?” He asked.
“Its past the farms and into the forest where……”
Before he could finish explaining to his son, a group of community warriors came towards Juma’s father. They confidently walked towards them and stood in front of them. Juma looked at them in shock as he had never seen a warrior before. They wore leopard skins around their bodies and wore sandals crafted out of cow hide. Their heads were covered with ostrich feathers, which are known as the Warrior’s Head. They were heavily built, with muscles bulging out of their arms and legs. They had a long, shiny spear in one of their hands, while the other hand held a sharp, shiny machete.
Juma was bewildered: he had never seen a weapon so shiny and magnificent.
They greeted Juma’s father and whispered something in his ear. His cool facial expression was suddenly transformed into a face of shock and surprise. His eyes opened widely and he looked at his son.
“Wait for me here. I’ll be back in a minute,” He said as he walked a few with the warriors a few meters away from him.
Juma looked at them curiously as they conversed, preparing all sorts of questions he would ask his father when his brief meeting with the warriors was over.
“So tell me where did you hear this news?” Juma’s father asked one of the warriors.
“We have heard tales of villages being torched to the ground along the Great Ocean. A new tribe has entered our land from the ocean with large white floating things. They have been described as having strange physical appearance. We came down the mountain as soon as we received this information. It is a matter of time before they attack our village.”
Juma’s father listened to the warrior’s words as he finished speaking. He looked down and scratched his head, a sign that he was in deep thinking.
“Go to the other elders and tell them what you told me. And then when you are done head to the rest of the villages and warn them of an impending attack from an intruder. I’m taking my son beyond the farms and I will be back before bats come out of their caves.”
“Sawa,” They responded as they walked towards the elder’s hut which was located between the village.
The whole village watched as the warriors entered the elders hut.
Juma watched as his father walked towards him.
“Let’s go son. We need to be back soon,” He said as he led Juma out of the village. Juma walked alongside his father, beaming with excitement.
“Why are the warriors here father. And why are their weapons very shiny?”
“Umm…. They are here because they need to talk to the elders about recruiting more warriors,” his father responded.
“Wow! I want to be a warrior father! I’ll be big and strong and…”
“I’m sure you will son.”
Juma and his father were now approaching the farms. It was a familiar place to Juma since he spent most of his time here, digging and looking after cattle. The farms were a busy place where each member of the village took turns in ploughing the land in preparation for the coming rains.
But the farms were the only place he knew. He had been told repeatedly that going beyond the farms was forbidden by the elders. only few people were allowed to go there.
But today was the day he was about to find out.
They walked towards the edge of the farm and reached the end of the ploughed land. Juma looked back at the large tract of land in which he spent all his life in. He looked in front and they were now approaching the forest.
He was about to enter the forest for the first time.
His first time into the unknown.
He looked at his father who was facing straight ahead. His fearlessness was astonishing to him since he was narrated endless stories of how dangerous the forest was and it being haunted by spirits of dead warriors who died fighting the forest beasts.
He slowly walked behind his father, making taking every step he takes. They had now entered the forest and the bright daylight sunlight became dimmer. He looked up, and instead of being burned in the eyes by the brutal rays of the sun, the tall trees above him made a canopy that plunged the surrounding into darkness. He carefully walked as his bare feet squashed the dried leaves beneath him. the silence he was used to at the farm was now replaced with hooting and hissing and buzzing of various animals around him: it was a marvelous concoction of animal sounds which filled his tiny ears with curiosity.
The forest was alive.
Alive with sounds he had never heard before.
He walked closely behind his father, who used his long sharp machete to slash through the bushes and twigs, creating a small path for both of them to pass. The slashing also helped scare away any animal that may be lurking under the dense grass. they were now deep in the jungle. Juma looked back and saw the endless bushes behind him while trying to figure out which way they came from. But there was no path behind him: only bushes and squirrels jumping from tree to tree.
He was scared. The kind of scared where you don’t know where you are coming from and going to. You are but a mere follower of your parent’s footsteps.
But the tree of trust built in you by your parent gives you a sense hope and positivity that all will be well.
The duo continued venturing deep into the forest. His father was focused on clearing the heavy bushes ahead of them: Juma’s eyes were wide open with curiosity written all over his face.
“Look!” he shouted as he pointed at a large porcupine coming towards him. He beamed with excitement as the shy animal slowly walked towards his feet, smelling his toes. It walked around sniffed his ankles. He knelt down and touched its pointy spines.
“Ouch!” He shrieked loudly as the spine pierced through his palm. The animal quickly retracted from him and ran away into the bushes, vanishing as quickly as it appeared. His father looked behind and smiled.
“Well that’s what you get for messing with a porcupine,” He said as he took his hand and smeared some soil into the area.
“A porcu what?” Juma asked confused.
“It’s called a porcupine. Luckily it is not poisonous. Let’s go now. The soil will ease the pain. We are almost there.”
True to his words, Juma felt the sharp pain gradually reduce.
A life hack learned.
Courtesy of his father’s ingenuity.
“How far is it?” Juma asked his father, who was busy clearing the bushes.
“Shh. Can you hear it?”
Juma stood still and listened keenly. He only heard the sound of birds flying above him.
“I… I… I don’t hear anything.”
“Listen carefully,” His father responded.
He ‘listened carefully’ as his father instructed, not knowing what listening carefully meant.
But he tried anyway.
The sound of insects buzzing was all over his ears.
And then he heard it.
He listened and heard the sound again.
He looked at his father in shock, who nodded at him with a smile.
“Aah yes, now you hear it. We are almost there. “
Juma heard loud bangs coming from somewhere in the middle of the forest.
His father kept walking and he quickly waked behind him. he wondered where the loud bangs were coming from in the middle of nowhere. He knew nobody lived in this dangerous forest. The bangs became louder as they kept walking.
“Where is that noise coming from,” Juma finally asked his father.
“I will explain it to you when we get there. Don’t worry.”
His father was the epitome of suspense. No matter your level of curiosity, you needed to be patient with him or else you will be left wandering into the darkness, completely clueless.
The bang was now becoming deafening, and it reverberated across the forest after every countable number of seconds. Sunlight was now becoming brighter as they drew closer to the place.
The place which Juma had no idea of.
“We are here.” His father said as he stopped clearing the bushes. They emerged from the forest and Juma felt the sun soothing his skin after a long time.
“Come son,” his father said as he let Juma walk in front of him. slowly, he walked past his father and then stopped.
He saw it.
And it was astonishing.
He around and saw a large portion of cleared land, similar to the farm at his village. At the center of the cleared land was a huge hole which went deep into the ground. Around the hole were large heaps of soil and stones: so huge that they seemed like small hills. He looked at his father in shock: and then looked at the huge hole on the ground.
A loud bang came from the hole that made his feet vibrate. The sound echoed from the hole and travelled throughout the forest.
“Welcome to the mine field son,” His father said. He looked around the place, and then behind them.
Then he spoke.
“This is the place that is forbidden to the villagers except the elders.
“What is a mine field?” Juma asked in surprise as the loud bang was heard again from the hole: now given a new name by his father as mine pit.
“Our ancestors blessed this part of the forest and it possesses immense wealth. When our warriors attack and raid our enemies on the other side of the Great Mountain, they take them here where they work for the rest of their lives in the mine pits below. This place is only known to the elders and the warriors of the village. Women and children are only told vague rumors about the place to avoid spilling the secret to the rest of the village.”
Juma listened as his father explained to him the intricate details of the place.
“So what is this immense wealth that is in the ground?” Juma asked, bewildered.
His father knelt down and placed his hands behind his left leg. He took out a shiny knife which he always placed on the back of his leg and tied it with a piece of cloth. The sun’s rays reflected on the knife, making it shine in front of their eyes.
“You see this knife son, it’s made of silver,” He said as handed the knife to him. Juma took the knife and looked at it: amazed at its beauty.”
“Juma spoke as he turned the knife around to have a closer look. He was completely fascinated by it.”
“Yes it is. Silver is a very rare item. We are blessed to have it in our land that’s why we guard it with our lives. We use it to make weapons among other farming tools. We also trade the commodity with the neighboring community in exchange of animals and crops. Silver is the backbone of our village my son. And it needs to be protected at all costs.
Juma immediately recalled seeing the warriors in at his village with shiny weapons.
It hit him; He was able to connect the dots seamlessly.
“And what is that noise coming from down there?”
“That is the sound of workers hitting the ground using chisels and hammers.”
His father responded as the loud bang echoed from the mine pit.
“Where are the workers?” Juma asked curiously.
His father did not respond. He moved closer to the mine pit and looked down. Juma carefully followed his father and peeped down the mine pit.
It was one deep mine. There were ropes dangling from all corners of the mine, all leading to the bottom.
“I see one person down there,” Juma said as he pointed down.
His father looked in that direction and saw him. he was in a system of confusion as to why he was alone yet when he last visited the mine there were almost one hundred captured enemies working at the pit.
“Wewe!” His father shouted. His echo bounced from the pit and vibrated throughout the forest.
It seemed like a middle-aged man was hitting the ground with a chisel. He stopped hitting and looked up towards them. He stared at them, not uttering a word.
“where are the rest,” Juma’s father shouted.
The man kept staring at both of them. He turned back towards the ground and then hit the ground thrice, making three loud bangs. The bangs were louder than before and they made Juma’s body vibrate continuously.
His father looked around the mine pit confused. He walked away from the hole and went a few steps towards the large heap of sand. Juma followed him curiously behind him.
His father stopped walking. Juma walked towards him and saw his father’s hands tightly clench the machete. He looked toward the heap of sand.
There was a dead body lying next to the heap of sand. He had a leopard skin covering his body and ostrich feathers around his head. Juma was shocked.
He had never seen a dead warrior before. Until now.
His father looked closely and saw a deep circular wound on his left side of the chest. He looked closer and saw a shiny thing underneath the wound. Juma watched as his father placed his fingers inside the wound. He dug deep into the wound with his two fingers and they came out holding a small spherical ball. Juma’s father looked at it in surprise.
For the first time, Juma saw his all-knowing father confused.
He keenly observed the ball, wondering what it was.
“What is that,” Juma asked curiously.
“I… I… I don’t know. And it’s made of silver,” his father responded.
There was a loud bang that made birds scamper for safety. Juma looked behind and watched as the birds flew away from their nests into the deeper part of the forest. The noise was louder than usual. He looked at the mine pit, which was few meters from him.
“He must have hit a large rock, right father,” Juma spoke as he turned back to face his father.
He stood there looking directly at him. He slowly opened his mouth to speak to his son.
Blood began coming out of his mouth. His eyes became wider and he knelt down. He placed his hands on his chin and looked at the blood that was oozing from his mouth.
“Father!” Juma screamed as he ran towards his father: confused.
He fell on the ground in pain as his son knelt beside him. Juma was confused, not knowing what to do.
“Help!! Anybody!!” He shouted.
But there was nobody there. Only trees. And birds. And insects.
“Umepiga wapi… Kwa mgongo.”
Juma heard slurred and indistinct chatters from the thick bushes. He watched as his father struggled to breath. They looked at each other in the eyes, with Juma shedding tears.
“Father! Wake up!” He shouted.
His father eyes became weaker and they slowly shut down, never to be opened again.
He had already slipped into the never-ending slumber.
Juma heard footsteps coming from the bushes.
“finally, someone Help!!” He shouted as he held his father’s lifeless body on his hands. The footsteps grew stronger and he eagerly waited for someone to rush to his help.
Two people emerged from the thicket. His wide smile on his face turned into a frown. He looked at the two people and none of them was familiar to him.
They were not from his village.
Not at all.
He watched them in surprise: particularly one of them.
He was unusual; he had not seen such a human being before.
One of them wore a cow skin around his body, with eagle feathers surrounding his clean shaven head; an indication he was a warrior from the neighboring community.
But the other one was one of a kind.
He gracefully walked along the other person; each step carefully calculated before leaving and hitting the ground. His skin was astonishing. It was white; the kind of white Juma saw when milk was being milked from cows by his mother.
His skin was white: unlike the other guy.
He looked at the man’s dressing and he even got more confused. He was wearing strange looking attire all over his body and instead of feathers on his head which was common. His eyes were blue and white, instead of the usual brown and white.
He was a white man:
Rumors had been going around the village about strange-looking people who had come to their land using ships with white sails.
Juma immediately realized that the rumors were indeed true.
And he was in the presence of one of them. He looked at his hands and he had a strange looking weapon. It was a long black metal thing with a large hole at the end. He held it using a curved handle and placed his finger on small piece of metal. The hole at the end of the weapon was red, and white smoke was coming out.
“Shika huyo mtoto!” The white man spoke using the local dialect as he pointed the weapon at Juma. He stood up and looked behind. He looked back and the white man pointed his weapon at him.
He had to make a run for it.
Before he could even run, the man from the neighboring community pounced on him and grabbed his tiny arm.
“Handcuff him!” the white man commanded as he lowered his weapon.
The warrior dug into his leather pouch and took out a large shiny chain. He made Juma stand upright and placed his hands together on his stomach. Juma watched as the chain was tightly wound around his hands. He looked at them closely and they were very shiny: similar to his father’s knife.
It was silver.
The chain was made from silver.
The white man walked towards Juma’s father and placed his hand on his neck.
“He’s dead.” He said as he rolled his body, making the backside face upwards. He Had a large wound on his back.
“Too bad, he would have made a very fine slave just like the rest of the miners.”
The white man walked towards Juma and looked at him from head to toe.
“This one looks healthy. He will grow up to become a strong one. Round him up with the others. We are behind schedule. One more village is remaining. The one in that direction.”
He pointed to the direction of Juma’s village: the same direction they had used to come to the mine.
“We need to capture as many slaves as possible.”
The warrior nodded in agreement as he lifted Juma and placed him on his shoulder.
He began walking towards the mine pit.
Juma’s heart raced with tension as he imagined being thrown into the dark abyss.
The warrior reached at the edge of the hole. He looked down and saw the middle aged man who was hitting the ground with the chisel.
“Keep hitting the ground. We need as many people to come here as possible.” He shouted to the man who nodded.
“I took out his tongue. He won’t spill a thing to anyone,” The warrior said to Juma as they walked away from the mine and into the forest.
Juma tried freeing himself but the chains were too strong for a mere child like him: and the strong arms of the warrior held his body like a piece of firewood. He was unable to do anything.
“Don’t worry kid, your new home awaits.”
Juma looked behind and saw the white man walking behind him. He took out a short straight thing and placed it on his mouth. He then lit a small fire using his hands and placed it on the short straight thing. He took a deep breath in and took it away from his mouth. He breathed out and smoke came out of his mouth.
Juma watched in amazement as he put the stick in his mouth and exhaled smoke.
This was not an ordinary human to him.
It was a supernatural spirit.
The white man looked at Juma and laughed hysterically.
They walked deep into the forest and emerged on the other side of the forest. The warrior dropped Juma on the ground like a sack of potatoes. He landed on the ground smoothly; not as he had expected.
The soil was unusually smooth: and white. He felt a cool breeze brushing through his body. He turned back and saw it.
There was plenty of water behind him. too much water that he could not see the end of it.
It was the ocean.
There were five large ships with white sails swaying as the ocean wind blew the water in all directions, making them slightly dance on the water.
He looked around and saw a large group of people standing in a long straight line at the shores of the ocean, boarding the ships one by one. They had silver chains around their necks and legs, with each one tied to the other person. On the ships there were men with long weapons pointed at the ones who were boarding.
“Faster!” One of the men shouted as he whipped one of the slave who was having difficulty boarding the ship. The whip landed on his back, peeling his black skin off.
“Hey, kuja uchukue huyu,” The white man shouted as one of the guards rushed towards him. He grabbed Juma and looked at him.
“Come along now.” He grabbed the silver chain on his hands and dragged him on the beach towards the large crowd.
“We will name you John,” The guard told him as he placed heavy silver chain on his neck.
“No my name is Ju….”
A heavy slap landed on his face before he could even complete his sentence. He rolled on the ground in pain as the other captives looked at him in pity; unable to do anything.
“What is your name?” The man asked Juma, staring at him with fiery eyes. He looked at the other captives and one of them who had a huge scar on his face nodded at him.
“My name. My name…my name is J…J… John.”
He uttered the name as instructed. The man smiled at him and placed him at the end of the line, awaiting to board the ship. He was about to be taken to an unknown place; away from his family and everything he knew.
“Yes. Good boy.” The guard patted Juma on his head.
“Your name is now John.”
The sun was now setting, making the ship cast large shadows on the beach. John felt the ocean’s waves on his small feet, making the silver chain on his feet tremble uniformly with the movement of the waves. He watched as the people in front of him got into the ship; and it was almost his turn. He looked behind and saw the vast jungle behind him; wishing for the tiniest of opportunity to avail itself do that he could scamper away to the safety of his village and his family.
But that was just wishful thinking.
Everything he knew was about to change completely.