You might have heard the saying “bu nit bugeh dakharr, jineh buga dakharr, ku aek danu”. It is a wolof proverb. If we were to translate that, it would sound something like this: “when a djinn wants some tamarind and some random human wants some’o that too, if they try to climb that tree to pluck some they will fall down for sure”. Does that make much sense? No, unless you’re from Jollof… and familiar with the myth that the djinn, our powerful, invisible(mostly), co-dwellers of the earth, love their dakhar. That brown, tangy legume, known to go well with kani and jumbo, made into nyekh, known to be sprinkled on Chebu Jenn or Chebu Ganarr, known to be accompanied by bissap, making the young and the old smack their tongues and irritatingly suck in air through their teeth. It is also made into juice, mixed with a heap of sugar and chilled, but most importantly (to our protagonist at least), it is soaked and eaten with cherreh. In ehn… imperialist terms, the proverb would translate: if the settler desires and the indigene desires, surely, the indigene must forfeit their desire (in this case, land and identity). This, obviously, because of the imbalance of power between the two.
Now, Pa Jarrgah had just moved to Kerr Ngoyane from a smaller hermit a bit further east (in his words). He had stumbled into the village on a hot Tuesday afternoon, hungry and parched, covered from head to foot in the red dust which is distinctive of Kerr Ngoyane and the land many kilometers around it. Two eyes, a tongue and a row of teeth resting on a canvas of reddish-brown demanded to see the village-head.
After many hours spent with Bai Sakhim the village-head in his hut (from which sounds of muffled sobbing occasionally escaped), Jarrgah was given a piece of land to build his very own hut upon.
No one is certain to this day why Pa Jarrgah came to Ngoyane. Neither is it known where exactly he came from. But of course, there were rumors, and juicy speculations. One of these was that Pa Jarrgah had had a little “incident” with another man’s young wife in his village and was driven out by shame, or a mob, or a man with a cutlass. The narration always changed depending on who was whispering it, as these things are wont to do.
Like in any proper Wolof settlement, Cherreh was an indispensable part of the diet in Ngoyane. One would have, for example, Cherreh with cow’s milk in the morning, Cherreh with Mboom in the afternoon, and some other dish, possibly involving more Cherreh, in the evening. Pa Jarrgah, loved him some Cherreh, and he loved even more, some Chereh with dakharr juice and seeds floating abundantly over it. He would sit under his adopted cassia tree and proclaim the mightiness of his creator between mouthfuls, all the while humming, purring and twiddling his ashy, mangled toes in bliss.
Jarrgah spent many happy months in Ngoyane, under the cassia tree, fiddling with his praying beads, mumbling pretentious nonsense and eyeing passing women through his eyelashes. It so happened that that year, it rained very little. The crops were rescued, painstakingly, with water from the wells, but the trees suffered and didn’t flourish as they usually did. The baobab pods were few, the moringa was meager, the mangoes were quick to disappear and the tamarind trees, to Jarrgah’s dismay, produced little – all but one tree.
This one tree, the biggest of the dakharr trees spread branches riddled with lush green leaves. Fat pods peek out from amidst the branches, making promises, flirting, moving suggestively with each breeze. This tree remained untouched, as it always has, no matter how much it produced, for good reason too.
You know of the myth that the djinn love tamarind, and you know how we all like to be close to those we love? It is even suggested that the long lifespan of the djinn folk is due to their excessive consumption of dakharr, which is healthy and prolongs life. Long story short, the village had long resolved that the djinn who hangs out on that particular dakharr tree was clingier than a koala and stingy too, judging from numerous calamities which had befallen persons who had dared respond to the advances of those pods, those succulent, mouth-watering, beautiful brown pods.
Jarrgah was warned quite early about this tree, as soon as his dakharr and cherreh obsession was discovered by the villagers. He nursed a tiny speck of resentment against the people for this, because somewhere in his heart he suspected that it was all a scheme to keep him away from the fruits because he was an outsider. He never saw anybody pluck the fruits, but maybe they did when he wasn’t looking or when he was taking one of his many naps. Jarrgah didn’t fully appreciate the warnings because he hadn’t been in Ngoyane long enough to directly witness the jineh’s handy work. So he nursed some skepticism, despite the evidence. The evidence – a pre-middle aged man called Pateh who had a habit of squatting under the mid-afternoon sun emitting loud vibration noises for many hours every day. It went like this, “brrrrrrr, kundagen, brrrrrrrrr kundagen, brrrrrrrrrrr”. This daily noise had become synonymous with life in Ngoyane and no one batted an eye or complained anymore. Heck, did anyone even notice anymore? It was said that Pateh had climbed the tree during Njolorr, the hottest time of the day, usually before “tisbarr” (midday prayers) to early evening. During which time most villagers stayed in their homes and found refuge from the fierce heat under trees and other structures intended for that purpose. There was a belief that during the hottest hours of the day, spirits roamed free in the streets because there were few people walking about and therefore no disturbance. It was considered unwise for individuals to walk about too much at these times. Pateh, a hot-blooded youth at the time, thought that the villagers were overly superstitious and made too much of the whole jineh nonsense. He thought that Njendeh, the girl he fancied at the time, would appreciate some dakharr and love him for his bravery. Let’s just say it didn’t work out well for him and when he finally was able to get off his bed, he was never the same again.
As Pa Jarrgah’s dakharr stock ran low, the number of errands he had to run around the vicinity of the tree increased. When his supply eventually finished, he panicked, then he got desperate. He started spending even more time around the dakharr tree, leering up at the pods and licking his crusty lips. It got so bad that he was summoned by Bai Sakhim and warned strictly not to touch the tree. After that, he laid off the tree for a few days, but you could hear him hiss and make contemptuous remarks under his breath when he walked past. He grew grouchy and stopped humming, purring and twiddling his ashy toes when he ate his cherreh in the morning. A few people would take pity on him and give him a handful now and then, but soon there was no more to give.
Jarrgah grew frustrated and his contempt grew. Now, to you and I, he’s plight might sound completely ridiculous. Tamarind withdrawals? Scoff! Ridiculous! But maybe that was his thing, just as yours might be cigarettes, or cocaine, or your phone, or jer… you get the point. And just like a crackhead would go to any length to get a sniff of crack, Pa Jarrgah was ready to risk it all for some dakharr. He had daydreams where he hopped nimbly up that tree, cool air blowing through his chaya, so soothing. He saw himself reach the top, eye to eye with those pods, ah those pods. He imagined tying his boubou to make a sac-like cocoon where he dropped dakharr, loads of it. And finally, eating it happily under his cassia tree.
On a Friday evening when it was cool and quiet, he left his hut and walked to the tree. He looked up at it, bit his index finger and snapped it against the other fingers, African style, which also means “oh it’s about to go down” or “you will know today!” He took off his raggedy moukass shoes and found a snug crag to keep them in. Then he gathered his voluminous chaya as best he could and began climbing the tree.
As he climbed, a breeze started blowing. He paused briefly and considered running for safety but the moment passed and he kept on climbing. Heck, he wasn’t about to quit now. He was anything but a quitter, how did they think he got to Ngoyane?
The breeze picked up and Jarrgah grasped the tree trunk harder. Then the tree started shaking, the branches trembled and the trunk groaned. He gripped harder with his knobby knees and clutched on with his lanky fingers. He was at the top, just like in all his daydreams. Tête-à-tête with the dakharr, finally! He could almost lick them if he wanted to… in fact, he was going to lick them, because he could, because the villagers were liars. But first he turned his face towards the huts and declared aloud, “ey y yena mhan fhen! ai yena siis teh ngott! wan jineh? ana jineh wi? tei gii makoii aji nak, macha kor, sen khol yi beurangu! sim!” I will attempt to translate, although much will be lost in translation. He yelled, ”Oh you folk can lie! Oh you stingy, begrudging people! What djinn? Where is the djinn? I will pluck them on this day, and I will suck on them, and your hearts will roll about and spasm!” Hilarious!
Then he proceeded to stick out his tongue and lick the pods. Sigh. This was absolutely unnecessary and certainly very stupid. It came from a sudden sense of invincibility at having “achieved the unachievable”. Quite premature, if you ask me, for there still was plenty room for something bad to happen, and happen it did.
There he was, a grown man in his mboubou and his cabral hat, perched awkwardly on a tree licking the pods and looking very silly. As his tongue left the pods, a strong wave passed across his face, almost sending him off his perch. The wave was akin to the type you feel when you’re standing stationary and a fast-moving body passes right in front of you. He scrambled for balance, panicked and began plucking the dakharr in frenzy. That might have been a good time to scramble off the tree but he didn’t.
Then it happened. The strike, loud and resonating, blood-chilling and hair raising, across the left side of his face. A splash of saliva flew out through the other side of his mouth in the company of several teeth. Jarrgah blacked out and went limp. His body tumbled to the ground and lay in a very sorry heap. But Jarrgah’s hand, it was still holding on tight to the mouth of the makeshift sack of his mboubou. His fingers held on even as the villagers carried him away, even as they undressed him. When the cloth was prised away, his fingers remained in that clutching position.
The villagers sent for a man gifted in the ways of spiritual healing. He spent two days and two nights in the hut with Jarrgah, chanting, rubbing, massaging and spitting. Finally, on the morning of the third day, he stirred and opened his eyes. He felt his face and realized that his mouth was now located on the right side instead of the center. But that didn’t bother him as much as the fact that he couldn’t see his dakharr. He rose from the bed and without so much as a thank you, demanded his dakharr. He was pointed to a sack in the corner and only got back into the bed once he confirmed that his dakharr was truly there and safe.
The dakharr lasted Jarrgah’s through the rest of the drought and if his lopsided mouth was a concern to him, it certainly didn’t show. He sat happily under his cassia tree and slurped cherreh dakharr in through the side of his face, spitting the seeds out the same way. He lived many long years in Ngoyane, telling and retelling the story of how he bested a great, powerful jineh and carried the scars to prove it. When he was too old and tired to tell the story, he watched with smiling eyes as it was told on his behalf, his lopsided lips twitching with pride.