The Brave Man – stories from the Karamojong
When we visited the Karamojong we were incredibly lucky in capturing two amazing stories. Stories which are told by the Karamojong on the long and dark evenings to entertain each other around the campfire.
This first story was told by Matthew Toyo from Kautakou and tells us about how being brave can save your life.
An old man with a wrinkled skin is sitting in the tall grass in the shade of a large tree. He looks up at the sky. The clouds are congregating in a thick blanket above him. “ Will it really rain?” he thinks to himself. It has been dry for so long. He looks around. His spear made out of wood, with a sharp, solid point, stands next to him against the trunk of the old tree. The tree which, just like him, has been around for a while now. This morning he led his cows out of the village and herded them to his favorite spot, a place where there always seems to be grass, at the old tree. He loves this tree. Normally one of his sons joins him, but today he is alone. His son went to town a few days ago to sell some things as he hasn’t returned yet. This is very common he knows, his son will not return before he gets a good price on the market and found himself transport back to the village.
He starts to count his cows: 1,2,3,…,16,17,…19,…28,…32…this is the last one he counts before his eyelids start to droop and he falls sound asleep. The moment he wakes up, he hears the raindrops fall on the leaves above him and onto the ground next to him. He wipes a drop from his face. “This was probably the drop that woke me up,” he thinks. He gets closer to the trunk of the tree to shelter himself from the sudden heavy rain. With every raindrop that falls on the dry soil he can see a little bit of dust blow up. “ About time,” he sighs, the rain is late this year.
In the distance he can see the familiar sight of his cows. They are taking shelter too and turn their backs into the storm of rain. “Ah good,” he thinks, “ This way, I don’t have to herd them all together again”. He lets himself slide down again and waits until the rain has stopped. Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long. The drops turn into little drops, and the little drops turn into minuscule drops before the rain completely stops as sudden as it had started.
He gets his spear which is still leaning against the old tree and starts to walk towards his cows. The grass is still wet and he enjoys the feeling of cold wetness between his toes. Sand sticks to his feet. He looks at the earth below. His father was a good shepherd and an even better tracker. His father learned it from his father. He never knew his grandfather, but he has heard the stories. He has tried to teach his sons,but they are more interested in women and trips to town. Maybe they will care to learn later, he secretly tells himself to keep his hopes up.
The old man gets on one knee in the wet sand. With his fingers he reaches to the ground. That is strange, he thinks to himself, while he looks at the print in the soil. That is a hyena print and it has been a very long time since I have seen a hyena in this area. He presses his palm against the print. It fits. It’s a front paw, a male alone, possibly pushed off by the rest, possibly wounded by fights with other males. Wounded animals are dangerous, everyone knows that. They look for easy prey and are constantly prepared to attack. They will not hesitate.
With a sudden jolt he looks up towards his cows. They are still grazing peacefully, close together. On hands and feet he crawls closer to the animals while taking in his surroundings. The cows will not react to him at all, he knows that, because they are used to having him around. Another fresh print on the ground, he knows he’s getting closer. He gazes over the tall grass, his hand tightly holding his spear and he looks at the sharp point. It’s still undamaged and razor-sharp. His heart is in his throat. This is not the first time, but he doesn’t have the strength of a young man anymore, he knows that, he has to be smart this time.
He looks around him, how would his father have solved this? Suddenly, he knows, the soft earth and he starts to dig in the soft soil. He digs deeper and deeper with his hands until he has dug out a narrow hole. He trusts his spear into it, backwards. He makes sure it is in a 90 degree angle with the sharp point facing upwards. He starts to fill the hole again with sand until the spear stands solid as a rock.
Now that the spear is in place, he starts to crawl further. Low to the ground as a predator, silent as a mouse, but wise, brave and unbeatable like an elephant. He spots the hyena in between the cows, exactly where he thought it would be. It is lurking around the mothers with young calfs, the easy prey. He crawls closer, closer, even closer. His heart is beating very loudly. He can almost smell the hyena by now. The grass gives him good coverage and the soft earth muffles his sounds.
Now, he is close enough. He grabs the grey tail of the hyena, gets up with all his speed and strength and starts pulling and walking backwards towards the spear in the ground. The hyena is totally surprised. His hind legs are partly suspended in the air and the front ones are not getting any grip on the wet grass. The speed with which he is being pulled completely surprises the animal. The sharp point of the spear is rapidly getting closer. Sweat streaks down the man’s face. With his bare hands he still holds the hairy tail. Just a little closer, he thinks to himself, the animal is roughly 60 kg he guesses. At that moment, the ground becomes harder, the hyena is getting his hind legs back on the ground and gets back his grip. The spear is only a few meters away. With all the power the man possesses he starts to pull again, he knows it is now or never, the hyena still hasn’t regained full grip. His hands and knees are hurting, back in the day this would’ve cost him no effort, but he doesn’t want to think about that right now. The hyena is not giving in at all.
He has to think of something and fast, his hands are hurting, but he can’t let go.The moment he will let go the hyena will definitely be after him, or worse, his cows. He needs these cows to be able to give a good brideprice for his sons future wives. Letting go is no option and the spear is too far away.
Suddenly, he sees someone walking in the distance. How lucky! “ Help me, help me!” he shouts as loud as his tired voice allows him. The young man has heard him and is coming closer. But the moment the other man sees the hyena he stops and flinches. The old man looks at him and says: “ there, two meters away from me, is a spear in the ground, take it and spear the hyena!” The man assesses the situation, thinks about it and answers:” No, that is way too dangerous! The hyena will eat me and then you.” “ Don’t be ridiculous”, the old man says, “ get that spear!”.
The other man walks backwards slowly and refuses to.
“ Allright” the old man says, “what if you take over the hyena’s tail and I get the spear and kill him?” The young man contemplates this offer for a few seconds and decides to help the shepherd. He walks over to the hyena and grabs hold of the tail, with fear still in his eyes and the hyena frantically trying to get loose.
The old man can finally let go and shakes his stiff and painful arms. He takes a few steps towards his spear and pulls it out of the ground before walking over to the hyena. But then he suddenly changes his mind. He looks at the man and the hyena and says: “ A lesson in life is to learn not to be a coward, I will give you this lesson and maybe you will have to pay a heavy price for it….You’re holding the hyena very well, though. Bye.”
He then herds his cows together and walks away.
The young man holds the hairy hyena tail tight with his sweaty hands. Now he is totally by himself. Afraid to let go of the tail he can see the sun slowly setting for the night. The moment he feels all the strength go out of his hands, the hyena gives one last pull. He cannot resist it and the tail slips through his fingers. The hyena, finally free, doesn’t think twice and runs as fast as his tired body can carry him. Away, far away to a quiet place for the night.
The young man falls down, exhausted, in the still damp grass. He’s tired, but relieved.
Moral of this story: when you are brave, you are able to safe yourself.