Adapted from the joy-filled narrations of the late Jali Alagie Mbye. May his soul continue to Rest In Peace. May he be rewarded for the wisdom and joy he had shared with us and left behind for us.
A stranger rode into the village of Busumbala, many many years ago. His clothing and the few possessions he carried, thickly layered by dust, were testimony to the many lands he had crossed on his journey. His skin was dark like the earth beneath the mangroves. And when he climbed down from his horse, he stood tall and straight. His body spoke of youthful grit, his words were measured, his gestures, genteel.
In those days, people traveled freely and widely. The borders did not exist as they do now. Some travelled in search of forests, others, in search of the sea. Some travelled in search of nice swamp waters to grow their rice, others, for grazing ground for their animals. Some travelled in search of wisdom, others, in search of God. All travelled in search of their fortune, some looked for a place to begin anew.
Koriang Musa Susso was of the latter, a man in his youth, seeking a place to begin his life. He was taken to the Alkalo’s compound, and welcomed with a cup of cool water from the clay jar, as was the way of our people. Then he was given a room and bedding and provided with a meal. When he had eaten his fill and rested, the Alkalo summoned Koriang before him.
“Where do you come from?”
“I come all the way from Mali, looking for a place to start a life and build a family. My search has been long, my journey wearying, but I believe that my search is over for I have felt at home from the very moment that I rode into this village.”
“Very well. You’re welcome here. Your arrival will be made known to the villagers.”
The following morning, the Alkalo gathered the members of his household and told them of Koriang’s arrival. Hands were shaken, blessings exchanged and Koriang was overwhelmed with gestures of kindness. Such were the ways of our people.
Then the Alkalo gathered some Kola Nuts and made his way to the Bantaba, with Koriang in tow. There, the kola nuts were shared and broken, the elders approved and Koriang became a member of the community of Busumbala..
He was a very hardworking man, and certainly a very good looking man. Many months passed in Busumbala, and finally, Koriang felt it was time he completed his pursuit. So he paid a visit to the Alkalo, taking with him a calabash of Kola nuts.
“You have been kind to be, and I couldn’t repay you in a thousand years. But there is one more thing I must ask of you. I wish to marry a wife and start a family. I bring these kola nuts so you may ask on my behalf, if anyone in this village is willing to give me their daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“Very well. Your request will be made known to the villagers.”
Again, the people of Busumbala met at the Bantaba to discuss the matter of Koriang, and to listen to the varying reactions to his request. The first man stood up and said “Koriang is very hard working, he is very good looking and he is a very respectful young man…”
Another elder interrupted, cackling, “Yes he is very respectful and all that. But he will only marry our daughters and take them away to Mali where he came from, and we will never see them again.”
Yet another elder exclaimed, “Maybe his search is not over yet. He doesn’t even seem to know what he’s looking for.”
And so, although Koriang was respectful, hardworking and certainly very good looking, no one in Busumbala was willing to give him their daughter’s hand in marriage. To be given a wife amongst a people, you must be known, your family known, and your ancestry known. Such was the way of our people.
Some more time passed in Busumbala, and it seemed that Koriang would go without a wife. But one day, one of the elders declared, “I have a daughter of marriageable age, and if Koriang will accept her, she will be his wife.” When this was told to Koriang, he was elated. “Of course, of course, I will marry her, and take good care of her!” And so they built a hut for Koriang on a piece of land, where he may live with his wife. What Koriang didn’t know was that this young woman to whom he was to be married was an albino. In those times, to be born albino was an unfortunate, unfortunate thing. An albino was a subject of awe, ridicule and fear. To some, a curse, incomprehensible and shunned. To others, a tool, hunted and sacrificed for wealth. The chances of finding a husband or a wife when you’re an Albino were very low. It was for this reason that this one elder was willing to marry his daughter off to Koriang.
And so they prepared for the wedding, and so they held the ceremony. The whole village came together to sing and dance and clap for Koriang Musa Susso and his new bride. The Jali of course were there, playing their instruments and singing. The villagers danced all the way to Koriang’s little hut, where he sat happily waiting for his bride. The bride was led to Koriang’s house, covered from head to foot in layers of fabric such that not even the tiniest area of her skin was exposed. The people danced and danced, and finally they all left, leaving Koriang alone with his wife.
The moment came for Koriang to take a look at his wife for the very first time. Gently, he lifted the clothes away from her face, revealing her white skin and a pair of frightened eyes. Eyes which knew very well, the faces of rejection, disdain and pity. Eyes which now dared hold a tiny glimmer of hope, smothered by dread.
Koriang smiled and ran his thumb against her cheek.
“You shouldn’t be scared at all. You’re special to me. I will love you just as you are.”
Relief flooded her eyes and she smiled. “Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for accepting me. I was born in this village, but I’ve never felt the comfort of belonging. I have never known home. Children run from me. I cannot eat from the same bowl as my parents. They think I am a spirit from another planet and that I do not belong to them.” She chuckled at this, her amusement laced with hurt.
“What do you call yourself?”
“I’m called Kanku”
“Kanku. That is my mother’s name. I have not seen her in many months and I don’t know if I ever will. I miss her dearly. You remind me of her, Kanku.”
Kanku’s smile widened but quickly diminished into a frown.
“There is something I must ask of you.”
“What is it?”
“I want us to go far away from this village, to a place where I can be free, where I will no longer live as a curse. Somewhere we can begin a new life.”
“Of course, Kanku! I thought I had found my home in this village and that this is where my bones will rest. But we will do as you ask if it means your happiness. There are many beautiful places we can go to…”
The night passed along quickly, as Koriang narrated tales to Kanku about the places he had been to and the things he had seen during his long journey from Mali.
A week later, they told the Alkalo of their plan to go away, and although he was saddened by the thought, he gave them his blessing.
Kanku and Koriang set out on horseback. And just as Koriang had said, they came across many beautiful places – streams with colourful fishes, dense forests and bustling villages, fields of millet and flowering corn. Some nights they took shelter where they could, other nights they slept under the stars.
After many days of traveling, they came to a place called Brufut. They could smell the sea, and feel it’s breeze upon their skin. There, in the forest of Brufut, they stopped and climbed off the horse. They both knew at once, that they had found the place where they would settle. There was something about the place, which enticed them. Something unspoken.
What Koriang and Kanku did not know was that this place they had found was a settlement of spirits. They had found Sanimentereng, the greatest spiritual site in the Gambian region. It was on this very site that Koriang and Kanku built their hut.
To be continued.
You can find more of the author’s work on her blog, Of Womanness And Wild Dreams.