The Curse of the Forgotten

Once upon a time, there were two young men: Ocen who was a good herdsman and Opio who disdained anything to do with herding.

One day as they were with the cattle still in the pasture, a great storm began to brew in the deep of the savannah. Gusts of wind blew into the sky and came down to the earth in terrific fury. Ocen began to blow a tune on his flute because he had lost the direction to his homestead; he hoped that somebody would hear him and come to his rescue, and that they would know it was him by recognising his tune. Ocen looked at the white blooming tips of the ubiya pasture and in the confusion caused by the fury of the storm, thought that those were the white spots of his cattle. Opio abandoned his brother, and headed home.

A few days later when Opio was going to collect water with his mother, he heard a familiar tune. So he paused and turned to his mother.

“Ama, who could be playing that tune? Could it be Ocen who’s been away for a while now?”

His mother just kept to the road and was so lost in her thoughts that she did not hear what he said. By the time the two reached the well and fetched large pots of water, there was nothing more to talk about. They walked back home and forgot about the tune that they had heard in the bushes.

When they reached home, they found one of the step-children waiting for them. Because his skin was mottled with scars and boils from an affliction with scabies, he had been banished from his homestead. Lonely and dejected, he sat in a clearing and a tune floated by:

Tii ginya
Tii ginya ginya

Tii ginya
Tii ginya ginya

The sickly child had been looking out for passersby when his two relatives from the well appeared in the distance. He pricked up his ears in order to catch what they were saying, but he heard nothing except the sounds of life. He thought about Ocen and wondered why no one was bothered about him.

“Hey there!” he said to Opio and his mother as they passed him by, but they took no notice of him. He sighed. “That tune coming from the distance must be Ocen’s,” he said to himself. He looked at the direction of the pastureland and thought: Opio has been forgotten just like I have. I too was abandoned by those who I thought cared for me.

It was then that the sickly boy made up his mind to set off on a quest to find the lost herdsman. He listened and heard the familiar tune weave its way out of the bushes.

A couple of days later a meeting was called and Opio stood in the middle of a congregation. After deliberating for many hours, the homestead decided that he was to be sent away from home, for he had abandoned his brother in the bushes. They demanded that he go forth to the pasture and find his brother. But if he was unsuccessful at that, at least the cows should be brought back home safely. The party then followed behind him.

In the wilderness, as Ocen was trying to trace his way back home, he came across the sick child who was looking for him. He begged the child to find some water.

The sick boy walked back until he was at the outer limits of their homestead. There he found one of his sisters and asked her for a drink of water.

“Oh it’s you!” she scoffed, “I thought we’d sent you away.”

“Please give me water,” the boy pleaded.

“Eh, why have you come back to our homestead? You and your scab-covered hands, we won’t give you anything. We don’t even want you to reach any of our houses.”

“Please give us water, I’m with Ocen.”

“You say that you are with Ocen, but where on earth is he?”

With that she started hitting the little boy. “You never tell the truth,” she said.

“If you say that I never tell the truth, do come with me and see for yourself,” the boy replied.

“Get lost.”

“The least you can do for me is give me a calabash to collect some water. Ocen is over there with the cows and is very exhausted.”

A party soon joined the girl and started beating the little boy. He tore away from them and limped away crying. When he reached the spot where Ocen was waiting, he said: “They hate me in my own house. Look at me, I was beaten up so badly that there is nothing I can do for you or for me.”

After his tears had dried, though, he had an idea. “I’ve got a plan,” he said. “Let us pick some leaves and make some cups to collect milk for you to drink.”

After they had made cups and drunk the milk, Ocen regained his strength and began to play a tune on his flute. The cows followed and the two walked home until they reached a yard near their kraal. Ocen continued to play his flute whose music sailed to the ears of two relatives who were sitting nearby.

“We beat this boy for no reason at all,” said one of the relatives, “Listen to that sound, it is Ocen coming back. Listen to his tune.”

They sent a little girl to go and see who was there and report back. The girl left the group and walked as far as the yard. When Ocen saw her in the distance he shouted, “Little girl, don’t come any closer. I asked for water and you all refused to give me any. Turn back for we have arrived.”

The little girl ran back to report what she’d seen to her relatives and soon a little crowd formed around her. In the meantime a welcome feast was laid out in expectation of the two returnees. When the two young men arrived with the cows, they were given seats and asked where they had been.

“I was far away in the wilderness,” said Ocen, “yesterday and the day before that and the day before, there was a terrific rainstorm and I lost my way. All the cows scattered away to take shelter. And after the rain I parted all the pathways in the tallest grass to get to each and every one of them. I was dying of thirst and sent for water but nobody gave me even a tiny drop. We’ve been milking the cows and drinking the milk to survive. Why did you people reject us like this?”

In the meantime Ocen’s brother who hated herding had moved away to live with relatives and the homestead had been deeply divided about what to do about him. When Ocen noted this, one of the elders stood up. “A lot happened when you were away, even your brother is no longer living here,” he said. “Please forgive us.”

The people gathered around and offered their apologies one by one until one person stood up and asked Ocen, “But how did you survive for all those days without water?”

“On milk, we milked a cow and that is what kept us going.” He took a deep breath and asked the gathering, “Why did you banish this sick boy?”

There were murmurs from the crowd. “He is diseased and all that,” somebody said.

After the reconciliation Opio was sent for and Ocen was requested to keep all the cows out of respect for bringing all of them back safely. They also elevated his status above the elders of the village and sought his counsel on all important matters.

When Opio returned, he was overcome with guilt and became a recluse. His family and his work gave him no pleasure at all. One day he was found hanged. Fear spread in the homestead until they remembered that their actions had brought a curse on the homestead. They gathered everybody together and performed a cleansing ceremony to take away all their misfortune, but the dead brother was gone and nothing could be done about it.