Friday, 1 February 2019

How the Dead Shall Remain Dead (A Khoikhoi Nama Fable)


Heiseb said one day, “We are hungry. There is no food in this stricken region. We must move from this lean place.” He took his wife and son to a new country, where berries enriched the trees. He found them falling to the ground, red, ripe berries. His son ran forth eagerly to gather them; but Heiseb stayed him saying, “Ah no, these berries are for grown-up people only, and not for greedy children.”

Heiseb’s son said, “May I not eat them? See, I perish of hunger. Alas, I am dead!” And he fell down and feigned that he was dead. Then Heiseb said, “For the dead there is only burial”, and he buried him there.

In the morning Heiseb’s son, not being dead, arose secretly from his grave; but seeing his mother afar off he returned to his grave to lie down.

Now one day his sorrowing mother came to the grave, but her son was not in the grave. She sought him earnestly, for she would take him home. And she said, “Here, hidden behind this tree, will I await my son, for he lives and assuredly he comes again.” And her son, glancing around furtively and seeing no one, came slowly back to the grave. Then his mother, springing  from her hiding place, said, “My son, ah my son! I have found thee!” And with great gladness in her heart she embraced him. And when they arrived home she said, “In the grave there is life! Oh, the joy of it! See O Heiseb, our son yet lives!”

But Heiseb said, “I thought my son was dead, wherefore I buried him; but it appears he yet lives. Nevertheless, the dead shall remain dead.” And Heiseb arose and slew his son.

So it is that from that day men die and are dead; and in the grave is only death.

- From E.W. Thomas, Bushman Stories (Oxford University Press, 1949)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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