Akabengo Komukama The Royal Grindstone – Short Story

Akabengo Komukama The Royal Grindstone – Short Story


In Karambiland, that famous land of ironsmiths and herdsmen, lived a village chief called Kalisa Karuhinda, the great great grandson of Chief Kaihura Nkuba of the great Bahinda clan. Like his forefathers, Kalisa Karuhinda was a very famous man with great wealth in form of land and herds of cattle. He lived with his two wives. Kinobi, the Unlucky One, the first wife, who had managed only to produce one child. Kiganzi, the Loved One, who was the second. She had given the chief five boys and five girls. The chief lived in a large enclosure in the middle of the village, dispensing justice and carrying out other duties as may be required of a chief.

One morning, when his sons had attained manhood by virtue of reaching the age of eighteen and owning each fifty heads of cattle, Chief Kalisa Karuhinda summoned them together. They all gathered in front of the royal hut. Their father had watched them grow with much pride and had taken great care to instill in them indispensible qualities of physical strength, fortitude and valour. Now that they had become men, it was his duty to reveal to them a most important family secret just as his father had done to him when he had become a man himself. As he readied himself to reveal the family secret, he hoped that one of his son would be the one to bring great honor and glory to the family.

The family secret was an ancient prophecy only handed down to the male descendant. It concerned Akabengo Komukama, the royal grindstone, a sacred slab that had belonged to the famed Chief Kaihura Nkuba. Before the great chief left for the spirit world, he prophesied that one day a son would rise from the clan to rule over the whole Karambiland. But to become king of the land, he would first carry the royal grindstone to the top of the Great Mountain without looking back. Successive generations of male descendants had all been unworthy of the fit, the last to make the attempt being Kalisa Karuhinda himself. The time for the prophecy to come to pass was yet to come, each generation had consoled itself. Chief Kalisa Karuhinda hoped the great honor would fall on one of his sons. He had attained great wealth and honor among men. But could there be greater honour than being the father of the king of a great land?

Now after passing on to his six sons the precise instructions to be adhered to, the son to go first was chosen by casting a lot. Kinobi only son was called Maani. He did not take part picking the lot as it happened in the royal hut, the hut that the chief lived in with his favourite wife Kiganzi. Kiganzi had forbidden Maani to come inside the hut as he was not his son. Maani lived with his mother in a small hut across the compound. The chief had banished her from his presence because of her failure to give him more children. Now Maani watched from outside as the lots were cast, wishing to take part but fearful of his stepmother’s wrath were she to know he ignored her express command.

Inside the royal hut was a sacred room where only the chief entered. The chief disappeared inside and after a few seconds came out carrying a grindstone. Nobody had ever laid eyes on it. Not even his wives. It was not unlike other grindstone but this was, blacker and smaller. Its surface was worn and sparkly as though it was under constant use by the chief inside his sanctum. The chief carried it outside and when he reached the middle of the compound, he made the chosen son to face the west direction, facing the Great Mountain. It was morning and the sun had just peeped out. He placed the Akabengo komukama on his head. Patting him on the back, he bid him farewell, calling upon the gods to guide him on the way. His brothers accompanied him as far as the main gate of the enclosure. As soon as he stepped outside the enclosure, his father, still standing in the command, broke into an age-old mystic song:

He who carries the royal grindstone

To the top of the mountain

Never looks behind

Never look behind, my true blood. My brave one.

Never look behind my son

Till you return with the bride.

The chief continued to sing until his son disappeared beyond the first ridge. Then he returned to his favourite spot on the wide veranda of the hut. Here was a recliner made from wickers that had been given him as a gift by a chief of a neighbouring village. Hardly had he sat down than he had shouts from the villagers. Chief Kalisa Karuhinda’s heart sunk. He knew too well what such shouts meant. He closed his eyes and prayed that the next son to pick the lot brings his heart gladness rather than sadness. If the chief was not of strong character he would have probably suffered a cardiac arrest for all the four remaining sons of Kiganzi never reached the first mountain valley. They all were unworthy of the sacred task. They, for one reason or another looked back and thus failed in their task. Because they were forbidden to tell what had befallen them on the way, they kept mum. Each was to keep the secret until he passes it to his son or if he never sires one, takes the secret with him to the grave.  Their father knew for he had himself embarked on the adventure and was thwarted.

Now remained Maani, the son of the wife who had fallen out of favour with the chief. When Maani saw that each of his brothers had failed the task given and thus bringing great distress to their father, he resolved to confront his father inside the royal hut and beseech him to let him carry the Akabengo komukama to the top of the Great Mountain. Upon entering the hut, she found his father seated in his high seat with Kiganzi on his left side. Immediately Kiganzi leapt to her feet and demanded that Maani leave her presence before she unleashed her wrath on him. Shocked by her stepmother’s eruption of ire, Maani turned around but his father stopped him before he would walk out of the hut.

“My son shall speak his mind and then leave,” the chief declared.

Maani returned and stopped in front of his father. He bowed, saying, “I beseech you father to allow me carry the royal grindstone. I promise not to fail but bring honour to his house.”

“Shut up you good-for-nothing weakling. What could you possibly do that my sons have not done?” Kiganzi said.

Chief Kalisa Karuhinda gazed at his son for a long time. He seemed to be wrestling with some inner force. After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke up.

“The gods have been known to work in strange ways. I grant your request, my son.”

Early the next morning, Maani went to bid goodbye to his mother. When he came out of his mother’s hut, he found his father waiting for him. His brothers did not come to see him off. Neither did their mother. Like he had done to the others, his father made him face west and placed the royal grindstone on his head. As soon as he was out of the royal enclosure, his father broke into the mystic song:

He who carries the royal grindstone

To the top of the mountain

Never looks behind

Never look behind, my true blood. My brave one.

Never look behind my son

Till you return with the bride.

Maani crested the first ridge without breaking sweat. The grassy slopes were a favourite grazing area for the chief’s herds and so Maani was used to coming down and going up the ridge. A narrow goat path come down the hill and continued zigzagging through a broad valley. When he was half-way across the valley, the voice of his mother, loud and clear called him:

“Maani, wait! You’ve forgotten your gourd of milk. What will you take when you get hungry? Here take!”

It took Maani all his willpower not to turn around at the familiar, doting voice of his mother. His heart thumped against his chest. He compelled his mind to turn to thoughts of his mother back in the village lonely and worried to death about him. He thought of all the injustice she had suffered. And yet she had managed to raise him up to be strong and steadfast amidst constant mockery from his half brothers and their mean mother. Despite this, Maani felt no inclination to bear a grudge with them. He felt they were his family and felt forgiving. Probably one day they will all realise I was undeserving of their hatred and learn to love me as I loved them, he comforted himself. These and other thoughts preoccupied Maani’s mind until he left the valley and entered a forested mountainside. He never again heard his mother’s voice.

The forest was thick but he found a footpath. It was well worn as though used continually by people. But Maani knew village people hardly ventured this far. The Great Mountain was known as the abode of spirits, most of them malevolent. Everyone knew it was not safe to walk the mountain forests unless you were a medicine man or wore the right talisman. He felt terrified of what lay in wait in the forest. But one thing he was more frightened of was letting his father down. He had promised not to fail him. He plunged into the forbidding forest. As he went further up and deep in the forest, the light fizzled out as the sun was shut out by the canopy of trees above. Visibility was drastically reduced and Maani found himself stumbling over overgrown tree routes along the track. Several times he came near to throwing down the grindstone as he stumbled. But he held it firm on his head and trudged on. For a long time he followed the path that wound up the mountain. When he thought that he would not stand the dank and oppressive environment any longer, he reached at the top and strangely, the forest vegetation came to an end. He found himself staring at an open valley devoid of trees and any other vegetation. The valley was between low-laying mountains except to the east where the mountain rose higher, towering over all else. Its peak looked flat. Maani knew this was the mountain top the prophecy talked about.  He started down the open valley. In the middle of the valley ran a stream that come from the low mountain to his left. Maani had no trouble crossing stream as it was shallow. But as soon as he was on dry ground again, there erupted cheerful voices of young ladies and the splashing sound of bodies playing in water. The voices were familiar. They were those of the girls back in the village. So near were the voices that Maani thought that if he would stretch his arm backwards, he would touch one of the girls. But he chided himself for even thinking that. He had come too far to let his journey be thwarted by the sound of cheery company. He walked away determined to climb to the top of the mountain very quickly. He knew the earlier he crested the mountain the better for he had the return journey to contend with. He shuddered to think of darkness finding him out here.

At the foot of the mountain he found a ravine that run up to the top of the mountain. It was this passage that he followed. He was shocked to find that the passage looked trodden. And not necessary by animals for he did see any animal marks like prints, hair or dung. Neither did he see any footprints.  What people came this far, he wondered. The ravine was steep and covered by scree which made his progress slow. Nevertheless, he continued well knowing that his object was within reach. Panting and sweating profusely, he laboured to the top.

Maani crested the peak and stopped in wonder. Before him stretched the most beautiful field he had ever had the luck to set his eyes on. Right from the foot of the hill he stood on began the most lash field of tall grass interspersed with giant trees that bore edible fruits. A lone road run through this field and vanished from sight in the distance.

The sun was still high in the sky, beating hot where he stood but in the field below, it looked cool. He dropped to his knees to catch his breath. He continued gazing at the fantastic land to which his journey had led him to. He thought he remembered hearing of a land beyond the Great Mountains where the sun never produced heat. He wondered if it was this land he had come to. He suddenly felt too tired. Even kneeling seemed such a task. He sat down, relieving his sore feet. Suddenly, a shadow fell over him. The sun had slide under a cloud. The air became cool and soothing on his face. This made him feel drowsy. He slide down and lay on his side. Soon he fell asleep. A deep exhausted sleep. He dreamt he was a young boy, sitting on his mother’s laps.

“One day you’ll become a man. Every man has a destiny. Never allow anything to divert you from your destiny, Maani.”

“Not even sleep mama?” he asked.

“Not even sleep, my son.”

He snapped his eyes open and leapt up to his feet as though stung by a fire ant. Dusk was setting. The air cooler.  I must have sleep for more than five hours, he thought. Heavens! How am I going to get home? Down in the field a low hazy had settled on the grass. His gaze travelled along the straight road and he was shocked to see that it ended in a cleared area on which was a structure that looked like a house. He was certain it was not there before he slept. It was a fairly large building. Though it was about four hundred yards away he was able to see that it was round with a single red door. Two tall palm trees stood either side of the door. Both trees were heavy with ripe fruit. He thought it strange that he was able to see the big succulent yellow fruits at this distance. But stranger was the fact that someone- a woman going by the clothes- was up one of the palm. Her legs were wrapped around the tree stem-that was all the hold she had on the tree. Her hands were busy collecting the fruits. She was using a curved knife to cut the fruits which she dropped in a basket tied at her back. As she cut one fruit, another replaced it on the cluster such that the cluster seemed not to reduce. When her basket was full, she began coming down the tree. Half way down, she stopped.

Maani felt the hairs at the back of his neck stir and his bowels turn cold. The woman was staring straight at him, her gaze boring into him. Right there, her face changed into that of a grizzly old hag with sunken cheeks. She smiled at her, revealing toothless gums. Maani thought he was still asleep and dreaming. But then he remembered he had awoken a moment ago. To settle the question of his state, he pinched himself hard on his forearm. It hurt. I guess nobody does that in a dream, he told himself. He looked again at the palm tree. Nothing! Where the hell had the woman – no – the old hag, gone? He looked on the ground. She was not there. Then he saw the red door was slightly ajar. She must have gone inside, he thought. But how she could have come down so quickly and disappear inside was beyond him.

Now darkness proper had settled over the mountains up to where he stood. As he looked, the darkness seemed to rise over him and begin stretching towards the house. A house where he believed the transforming woman lived. Even as he thought of her, his skin crawled. But inside there could be a fire, food and a warm bed. A night out of the cold. A night with a witch-who else would have the ability to mutate other than a witch? Heaven forbid! I would rather lie with rattle snakes in my bed, he thought at the god-awful prospect. But then I cannot spend the night in the open, would I? Being gobbled up by the red-eyed night monsters was not a pleasant thought either. He found that he was caught between Scylla and Charybdis.

Night covered the field and a full moon appeared. It stood directly under the house and oddly, it seemed nearer than usual. The moonlight shone over the house bathing the compound in yellowish light. Maani remained rooted on the hill. But a loud groan that seemed to emanate from the pits of hell sounded from the dark mountains behind him. It made the decision for him. He broke into a run down the field, trembling like a reed in a breeze. Soon he was racing through the tall grass. Then he realised his feet were not touching the ground but that he was hurtling on top of the grass, over the tree tops and that the field seemed to stretch endlessly. Meanwhile the menacing groan was growing louder and nearer no matter how fast he moved. He dared not look back lest he slowed down. His heart beat drummed in his ears like the sound of a conga drum. His lungs were stretched to the limit. He prayed he would reach the house before his heart shattered into pieces against his throat or his lungs bursts with the effort of breathing.

Maani seemed to run for ever and each time he thought he was nearing the house; it dissolved from sight and reappeared miles away. And when he seemed he would not run anymore and was about to stop and give in to the hideous monster that seemed to be on his heels, he suddenly burst into the yellow-light compound of the witch’s house. He landed outside the red door with a thud. Behind him came the most hideous laughter that chilled maani’s bones. He buried his head in his hands waiting for whatever was going to happen, happen. After several heartbeats, he realised the laughter was receding. Soon it dissolved in the darkness beyond.

Maani had a door opening and he raised his face up.

“See what the night had brought us!”

The words spoken with the smoothest of voices Maani had ever heard.  She was standing in the middle of the door looking at him with the most beautiful eyes he had ever laid his eyes on. Her face was of Hima shape, the skin the colour of chocolate. She was regarding him with a bemused look. Maani guessed she was not more than twenty five years though the plaid gomesi she wore made her look older. He wondered whether she was the same person he had seen up the palm minutes ago.

Maani was yet to regain his breath. He felt small being on his knees in front of a woman no matter how much beautiful. He struggled to his feet.

“Young lady, I’ve travelled from afar and my journey still continues. But night has fallen and the mountains are not a good place to be at night. Would you be kind and allow me spend the night in your home?”

The young woman smiled at him revealing impossibly white even teeth. “If it is no offense, I would like to inquire of the name of the stranger I must admit in my home.”

“I am Maani descendant of the famous Kaihura Nkuba of the Bahinda Clan. My father is Chief Kalisa Karuhinda. He decreed that if anyone carries the royal grindstone to the mountain top without looking back, he shall slaughter him the royal cow Rukaigo and make him king. Of the six sons, it is I who succeeded in reaching the peak. But I was too tired I fell asleep and when I woke up it was dark and ….dangerous…I saw this house and sought sanctuary.”

He was ashamed to admit that the mountain had emitted a terrifying sound that made him run for it. Nor did he talk of the inexplicable bolt across the field or the strange laughter. He feared the woman could not believe her.

“Then you’re a man and not a woman. Aren’t you?” the woman asked.

Maani stared at her, incomprehension etched on his face. Wasn’t it obvious that I am a man, he inwardly asked himself. And what had his gender have anything to do with his request, he wondered.

“I can see that my question has disturbed you so much,” the woman said as if reading his mind. “You’ll have to forgive me but I’ve never seen a man before. We live here by ourselves. All women.”

If Maani was surprised by the lady’s question, now he was mystified by her assertion. How would it be that one has never seen a man? Or was she alluding to never having had carnal knowledge? Where are the other women she was talking about?

“I’ve heard of Chief Kaihura Nkuba. A famed warrior and leader. I am humbled to offer his kinsman sanctuary. Please do come in.”

As she spoke Maani heard a great rambling sound behind him. The sky was suddenly streaked by lightning. Then thunder that seemed to originate from deep in the belly of the sky. Another snarl of thunder. Then he had the familiar roaring sound of approaching rain. A wet wind buffeted his back. The young woman was holding the red door for him. He stepped inside and was immediately enveloped in warmth. The woman made the hush gesture.

Cold fear travelled down from his chest to his groin as he was led along a quiet dimly-lit corridor. Why had the young woman gestured him to move quietly? What was she afraid of? He had not seen another soul or heard anything since they entered the house.  Only doors on either side of the corridor. What were all those doors for? What was behind those doors? He remembered. We live here by ourselves. All women. They were red in colour as the entrance door and marked from one to eight. So they were eight ladies inside the house, each residing in her room. The woman stopped at the eighth door. She turned a silver knob and pushed the door open. She led him inside. Maani stepped inside after her and was instantly stunned into immobility.

If Maani needed attestation that he was in a dream, it was all around him for it was impossible that such a well-furnished room as he found himself in would be found in this world. He definitely had never seen or heard of one. The room was rotunda in shape, a creation of polished wood from the finest trees in the world. But the floor was of ice blue terrazzo, the polished chips in the floor forming little starbursts where the light touched them. A large framed glass covered the right wall. But it was the bed in the middle of the room that was the centerpiece. It was a big bed. Maani thought it could hold three people. It had a headboard curved out of a head of a wild animal and its surface was covered in snow-white linen.  A russet eiderdown was folded on one side of the bed. She lives like a queen, Maani thought as he tore his eyes away from the impressive bed to explore more of the room that belonged more to the glitterati than to a home in the middle of nowhere.  Frankincense burned in a silver urn placed on a glass-cut tall stool in the left corner of the room.  White light came from candles in two crystal candelabra hanging low from metal stands.

“Come. Enough sight-seeing.  A warm bath and food wait,” the woman said. She walked to one side of the room. To Maani, she seemed to float across the terrazzo.  He saw that she had stopped to a small door and beckoned him over. “You’ll find the towel and spare clothes inside.”

Maani entered the bathroom. It was not ornately decorated as the bedroom. The gleaming white floor tiles were the only ostentation. A metal basin held steaming water in the corner of the bathroom. Beside the basin was a soap dish with a pink oval soap. He saw the towel the woman had talked about and the spare clothes. They were laid on a shelf in the corner of the room. He removed his soiled clothes and dropped them in a heap in a corner. I guess I am not meant to put them on again, he thought as he bent and put his hand in the water. It was warm. The pink soap gave off a powerful fragrant smell like that of jasmine.

When Maani finished bathing, he scrubbed himself with the cotton towel that smelled of whiffs of frangipani. He put on the clothes. The clothes fit snuggly. He walked back to the bedroom. A small table was already set across the room. Large silver bowls of steaming food of every variety was arranged across the table. A single chair was set at the end of the table. The woman gestured him to take it. Maani obliged. He tackled the bowl of food, wondering when she must have prepared them. But he did not care because he was famished.

The food was so tasty that Maani ate until all the bowls were empty. He could have asked for more if he did not think that it could cast him as ungrateful and gluttonous. The woman cleared the bowls and replaced them with a large gourd of palm wine. It was sweet wine and it took Maani four gourds before he would begin to feel tipsy. He thought it strange that the woman kept replacing empty gourd with a full one but she did not take any. At the seventh gourd, he passed out.

When he woke up, he was in the queen-size bed. Bright morning rays bathed the room in glorious light. The sun poured in from a large window. Through the window he would see a grove of every kind of fruit tree he knew and those he had never seen. Birds chirped, cooed, trilled and screeched among their leaves filling the morning with a medley of bird songs. But his mind did not linger much on that for he suddenly realized he was naked under the eiderdown! He wildly looked around; searching for his clothes. The woman was out and therefore he would not inquire the whereabouts of his clothes. He sat up in bed. As he did so, he felt a profound weariness. He remembered yesterday’s ordeals and sighed loudly. At the foot lay a silky gown. I guess that is for me. As he stretched to pick it up, the eiderdown fell away revealing creases on the sheet besides him. Someone had slept in the bed with him. There was no prize for guessing who it was. Then he noticed something else. Something that baffled him. The linen had some traces of blood stains! He scratched his head trying to find out how and from whom the blood was from. Could I have hurt the poor woman in the night without knowing it? He remembered the palm wine. I must have passed out and therefore was in no position to hurt anyone, he reasoned.

The source of blood on the sheets soon ceased to be his major concern as he suddenly realized the woman had locked himself inside. No amount of banging the door and shouting brought anybody to his aid and he soon resigned himself to staying put until the woman returned from wherever he had gone. Thankfully, the table had been left laid with enough food to last him a week.


When the lady returned, it was late evening. The sun had set and light in the grove had dimmed into darkness. She was bearing in her hands a sizeable calabash which she placed on the table. Maani recognized the calabash as the special container used for keeping milk. After the lady had greeted him, he asked him what had been on his mind all day.

“Why did you lock me inside?”

“Because I don’t want anybody to steal you from me,” she answered promptly, matter-of-factly.

“Now I am your slave?”

”No. You’re my husband,” she answered delightfully.

Maani had not forgotten about the blood on the sheet. After some thought, he had suspected where it might have come from. The woman calling him her husband now confirmed his earlier suspicion.

“What did you do to be last night?”

“You were my first man last night and it felt good.”

Maani came to learn that the lady’s name was Kakyo which meant Flower. He continued to stay inside the Kakyo’s room without venturing outside. Everything he needed was in the room; food, milk and wine. He occasionally heard voices which he guessed belonged to the Kakyo’s sisters. Oddly they never ventured inside the room if when their sister was at home, which was only in the evening. He learnt from her that they owned gardens and herds of cattle which they jointly took care of. He would hear the sound of cattle returning home and he would know the house owners had returned. He came to enjoy his stay indoors, the easy life; of eating and sleeping and gazing at the birds in the grove all day through the window. As days passed, the memories of home began to fade.


One sunny morning, when the sisters were gathering wild berries in the field, one of them, Karungi, Beautiful One, noticed three things on her sister Kakyo. Firstly, she was spitting now and again. Secondly, her breasts were unusually large. Thirdly, her tummy as seen through her dress had grown a noticeable bulge. She was tempted to confront her and ask her what the matter was: her sister could be ailing from some strange malady. But since Kakyo was not complaining of any illness, she decided to keep her suspicions to herself.

After a few days, Karungi noticed that Kakyo’s condition had not changed. The breasts grew bigger and bigger. She went on spitting albeit surreptitiously. And the bulge stayed. Suddenly, it hit Karungi and she smiled knowingly. In their house was a library that they made use of whenever they were free of outdoor work. It was stocked with every kind of book on any subject. Karungi remembered reading a book PREGNANCY AND CHILD CARE by some writer whose name she could not remember. That evening as they were milking, she drawer closer to Kakyo and taking care that the rest were not nearer to eavesdrop, she asked her.

“By all the gods, tell me sister. How did you come by that pregnancy seeing that no man lives in this land?”

Kakyo gave her a look that could have frozen the Sahara. “What business is it of yours that you should ask?”

With that cold reply Kakyo stomped away to her room. But Karungi was not one to be easily put away. She was determined to solve the mystery of her sister’s pregnancy.  And slowly it began to dawn on her. Kakyo had a few months back begun closeting herself in her room every evening.  She remembered now that it had been a long time since they ate a meal with her. She always preferred to eat her supper inside her room. She realised that the answer she sought lay inside her sister’s room. She vowed to gain access to her room and find out.

A week later, Karungi feigned sickness and excused herself from going out to the field. When all the rest had left she went to Kakyo’s room. As usual it was locked from outside. She opened the door and let herself inside. And ah! There, sitting on Kakyo’s bed was a person he had never seen. She quickly realised that he was a man. She was stunned by his handsomeness. Karungi was immediately struck by envy.


When the sisters returned from the field, Kakyo, as usual carried the calabash of fresh milk towards her room, her heart brimming with anticipation, his mind preoccupied with nothing else other than setting her eyes to her lover she had not seen since sunrise. Now you can imagine her shock when she found an open door and empty room, devoid of the Maani’s smile that always lit the room and took her breath away.

Kakyo felt like a red hot dagger had been plunged in the middle of her heart as she suddenly realised that she had lost her husband to her covetous sister Karungi. She flung herself on top of the bed and burst into tears. She cried for a long time, pulling the pillow on which Maani always rested his head and hugging it. She crawled about the bed, sniffing the scent of him, the thought of never sharing his bed with him again tearing at her heart.

Kakyo regretted why he never revealed Maani to her sisters. Maybe they would have understood that he was hers only, to love and cherish. Now it was too late. How could she claim him when they did not know he was hers in the first place? She held the pillow to her now large tummy and took solace in the developing life inside her. As long as she had part of Maani, she had him forever, she consoled herself.

Meanwhile Karungi poured her charm on Maani, making him quickly banish all thoughts of Kakyo from his mind. But she made the same mistake like her sister. She did not divulge Maani’s presence in her room to the other six sisters. And her monopoly over Maani ended as soon another sister realised she was pregnant. Though she was shocked to return home one day and find him gone, she did not raise the issue with the rest. But then the third sister also stayed with Maani until she became pregnant. The remaining five sisters had by now known the source of their other sisters’ pregnancy and children. By tacit agreement, they took turns stealing Maani until all had conceived and had children.

The last sister to take Maani for herself was called Kengonzi, Fruit of Love. When Kengonzi delivered, she did what all others had failed to do. She revealed she was staying with a man, safe in the knowledge that nobody would claim him as her own. Thus Maani, after eight years, was able to step out of the house. Though later the other sisters would come to reveal that Maani was the father of their children, Kengonzi remained adamant that she was his only wife and therefore Maani would sleep only in her room. She only begrudgingly recognized the other children as Maani’s children. Because of this, the rest developed ill-feelings towards Kengonzi. Soon they ganged against her and began hatching evil schemes against her.

Now Maani had begun partaking in the duties of the home. He would rise up early and go to the farmland and return with the women in the evening. But it was in taking care of cattle that he took much delight. He felt great affinity to the cows because he had grown up in a cattle-keeping community back home. The women recognized this and soon left the chores like herding and milking to him. Years went by, the children grew and Kengonzi bore more children. You would think that the other sisters’ antipathy would diminish with the passage of time. To the contrary, their envy and vindictiveness grew by leaps and bounds. Like a spreading cancer, it poisoned their whole being, smothering all affection towards their sister and father of their children.

Among the herd was a particular cow Maani loved so much. It was called Kisa Kya Kibogo, a brown cow mothered by a dark-skinned one. Kisa Kya Kibogo, a gentle beast, was a greater giver of milk. One evening when he was milking it, the beast spoke to him as animals of old did.

“Their gloom shall turn into glee when the laced bowl is served.”

Though he knew of the raging conflict between Kengonzi and the rest of her sister and that he was the source of antagonism, Maani was stunned that the mothers of his children would plot to end is life.That evening, Maani went home with a heavy heart, the terrifying warning from his beloved cow bouncing in his head. That night he declined to eat anything. When the next day he could not eat the food served by Kengonzi, she got worried and asked him what was the matter. He feigned sickness. But unbeknownst to Kengonzi, Maani was taking milk from Kisa Kya Kibogo.

Meanwhile, the seven sisters were befuddled by the fact that Maani had not succumbed to death after taking the bowl of food which had been laced with poison. After lacing his food daily for a fortnight they abandoned the attempt to kill him, fearing that the gods were on his side and had somehow revealed their wicked deed to him. Now they lived in dread of what he may do to them.

Maani had come to get used to the life with his new family, even enjoy it. But now with the cloud of fear of death at the hands of the mothers of his children hanging over his head, he began thinking of home. Of his father Chief Kalisa Karuhinda and his mother Kinobi. But he thought mostly of his mother. He wondered if she still lived. Most likely she died of heartbreak at the loss of her only child, he wondered. Each evening he would turn his eyes eastwards at the great mountains. For a long time, he would gaze at the mute peaks and wonder what happened to the royal Akabengo. He would remember his father’s song:

He who carries the royal grindstone

To the top of the mountain

Never looks behind

Never look behind, my true blood. My brave one.

Never look behind my son

Till you return with the bride.

As his anxiety about his ordeal intensified, so did his thoughts of home. One day, a thought occurred to him: If I find the royal Akabengo, it will surely lead me home. That evening as he gazed at the darkening mountain, his father’s voice came to him again. The song of his father. The song that had accompanied him until he had move far deep in the mountain to hear it.

He who carries the royal grindstone

To the top of the mountain never looks behind.

Never look behind, my true blood. My brave one.

Never look behind my son

Till you return with the bride.

This time the mystic song was accompanied by drums. The royal drums he remembered so well. The sound seemed to be coming from up the mountain.

That night Maani never slept. At dawn the next morning, he called all the eight women together. He told them that his stay with them had come to an end. He was going back home.

“How can you possibly find your way after such a long time?” Kakyo asked him.

“The spirit of my father is with me. It will lead me home,” he replied.

Maani told them also that when he is leaving, he will be taking his children with him. They were his blood and he would never leave them in a foreign land. He now had ten children, three belonging Kengonzi.

“If you must take your child with you, then you must take me too!” all the women cried in unison.


On the day of departure all the women and children gathered outside the house. The women felt sad at leaving behind the only home they had ever known; Maani’s heart was throbbing with optimism while the children were filled with the thrill of anticipation of adventure. They had gathered all the belongings they would carry. It was going to be a long road and they had packed enough food and water to last them days and clothing to protect them from the cold mountain air. Maani had selected cattle to take with them, including his beloved Kisa Kya Kibogo.

They set off early and never rested until dusk. The next day at midday, they come to the crest of the mountain. And resting there at the foot of the tree, in the exact position Maani had last seen it, was the royal Akabengo. He rushed towards it and flung himself on his knees before it. With almost religious reverence, he picked it up and held it on his chest rocking it like a mother would hold her baby to calm it down. After a long time, he rose up and put it on his head.


In Karambiland, Chief Kalisa Karuhinda sat outside his hut, his rheumy eyes staring in the distance. The homestead was quiet like a graveyard. Not that he lived alone. Since the disappearance of his son Maani the chief had withdrawn into himself, preferring to be by himself as he mourned his son’s death. Yes, he had long given up hope of him ever returning. His wives and children had tried to console him but it had seemed like talking to a stone. He could not simply put Maani away from his mind. They had left him alone. But his unending grief had affected the whole family, snuffing out the life and happiness in the whole family.

Maani had done what his brother had failed to do. Carry the royal grindstone to the mountain top and fulfill his forefathers’ prophecy that the accomplisher of the feat shall become king of the land. Of all his sons, he was the least he had expected to even try. Oh, how I had been mistaken! He thought. And to think that he had allowed his dislike of Maani’s mother to repress his love for his son!  But inwardly he had always felt for the boy. Now you can’t really know how much you love something until you have lost it. Can you?

Was the prophecy flawed? Or had he interpreted it wrongly, thus condemning his son to wandering in the wild and certain death? Maybe I should have consulted the oracle first to get a clear interpretation? But these are thoughts of a distressed mind, he chided himself. He was certain he had not misunderstood the prophecy. Though the prophecy had passed down from his great great grandfather more than three hundred years ago, it was as unambiguous as his birthright of ascendency to the chieftainship. Before his grandfather had passed away, he had handed the royal grindstone to his father with precise instructions which instructions his father had passed to him. The royal grindstone was as old as his family line itself and was associated with great power.

Chief Kalisa Karuhinda often wondered whether his son had passed the test. That Maani had shut out the sweet songs of the village chiding him of leaving behind the idyllic life of the chief’s son. Overcame the temptation of glancing back when the river nymph offered him water when his throat was parched. And the voice of his mother calling him. He himself had failed the third test and glanced back at his mother’s gentle voice. If Maani had failed any of the tests, he would have surely returned, he often thought.

Today as on many occasions, his thoughts turned to the grim possibility that a wild animal had attacked his son. But then how could it be possible that the spirit of Kaihura Nkuba had deserted his son, he asked himself? He had often wanted to seek the answer about his son’s fate from the oracle. But he had stopped himself from undertaking the journey to the oracle for two reasons. Firstly, he feared to learn the truth if his son were really dead, preferring to keep the hope that he still lives. Secondly, the prophecy does not mention when whoever reaches the top of the Great Mountain shall return. Since the mystic song mentions the victorious son returning with the bride, it could be that Maani still searches for her. Eleven years had gone by and…

Suddenly, a servant who had been taking care of goats in the field came running through the gate of the enclosure, interrupting Chief Kalisa Karuhinda’s trail of thought.  The servant stopped a respectable distance from the chief and announce the reason for his sudden appearance, for it was still hours before the goats would return home.

“I thought you should know that there is sound of great drums coming from the Great Mountain my chief.”


In the valley of the Great Mountain, Maani marched in front of his family, the royal grindstone on his head. He had ordered the woman and children to bring out the drums. Now he sung and his voice carried clear and loud in the still mountain.

Father promised

That he who would successfully carry the royal grindstone

He shall slaughter Rukaigo for his feast

His mother shall don its beautiful skin

The slaves shall feast on its hocks

And the servants its offal

The beat of the drums vibrated around the valley but the strong pitch of Maani’s voice carried above them.

Back in the village, the chief cocked his head, as his ears picked the faint sound of drums. And he was not the only listening. His wife came out and so did her children. They came out of their huts across the compound like hens suddenly released from the coop in the morning. The compound quickly filled with their chatter as everyone wondered as to the source and meaning of the strange sound of drums they were hearing.

Across the compound, directly opposite from the chief’s hut was the hut of Kinobi, Maani’s mother. The loss of Maani, her only son had severely affected her, nearly driving her to insanity. She kept by herself inside her hut, talking to no one, rarely coming outside, only doing so when she needed to gaze at the mountain that had swallowed her son. She did not come out even when she heard the excitement outside or the sound of approaching drums. She had lost all interest in life.

As the drums drew nearer, the chief picked out another sound. A human voice. It rose above the drums and its resounding tenor filled the compound as if it was coming from next door. The chief listened more and as he did so, his heart quickened. Using his cane, he gingerly rose to his feet. As though in a trance, he walked to the centre of the compound.

Meanwhile the drums boomed and the voice sung.

Father promised

That he who would successfully carry the royal grindstone

He shall slaughter Rukaigo for his feast

His mother shall don its beautiful skin

The slaves shall feast on its hocks

And the servants its offal

It could be that eleven years had elapsed since he last heard the resounding voice but he could forget it. His grim aging face broke into a grin and tears filled his eyes. He broke into a song:

Come! Come! Come! My brave one.

Come! Come! Come! The chosen one

I will slaughter Rukaigo for your feast

Your mother shall don its beautiful skin

The slaves shall feast on its hocks

And the servants its offal


Come! Come! Come! Brave one

Take your crown your majesty

I will slaughter Rukaigo for your feast

Your mother shall don its beautiful skin

The slaves shall feast on its hocks

And the servants its offal


Maani was marching towards the last ridge facing the village when he heard the familiar voice of his father. His father’s rejoinder. He gave him his response:

Here I come! Here I come! Your brave son

Here I come! Here I come! My revered chief

Slaughter Rukaigo for my feast

My mother shall don its beautiful skin

The slaves shall feast on its hocks

And the servants its offal

A moment later, he crested the ridge and after more than a decade, he set eyes on his birthplace again. Tears of delight filled his eyes as he beheld the home he had thought he would never see again. His children and their mothers came to stand beside him, all awed at the existence of another inhabited land other than their own. They saw all the village had come out to welcome them at the foot of the hills, waving and singing with joy.

Maani brought down the Akabengo Komukama, the first time he had done so since they began their journey. Holding it on his chest, he turned it towards Karambiland, the land of great ironsmiths and herdsman. Immediately everything changed right in front of everyone’s eyes. The village disappeared and in its place appeared beautiful buildings, farms and a river of clear water. In the centre of all this was a magnificent palace. Maani came down and together with his ten children and their mothers made a grand entry into the palace. People danced and sang his praises, hailing him as king and lord of Karambiland. Amidst much pomp and ceremony, his father flanked by Kinobi, the queen mother, crowned king of Karambiland. On his father’s orders, Rukaigo, the finest bull in the herd was slaughtered. And great royal kegs were brought out to wash down the food.

At this point, I refilled my gourd of wine and excused myself, thankful to the gods for according me a long life. As I made my way home I reflected on all that had happened and realised that as a witness to these spectacular, yet extraordinary events I owned it to posterity to put down a true account.






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