Why were his people dying? This was a question Kianda Mala needed to answer. Considered a god because he had a tail, accepted as a leader, Kianda emerges from the jungle to confront the modern world. What he discovers is a world beyond his comprehension where his people are deemed worthless and big business rules.
Deep in the Amazon rainforest
“Once I thought I was a god, but now I know I’m not and I am glad.”
The young man who said this looked at me and smiled. We were sitting so close together our bodies were almost touching. Below us was his village, hidden by the jungle. I returned his smile and reached for his hand. I could understand why the primitive people with whom he lived looked upon him as a god. He stood a good six inches taller than the tallest villager. His skin was a deep sun-baked bronze instead of the dusky brown of the Chachinka people. His hair, which reached almost to his waist, was a pale golden colour and his eyes were like amber. When he stepped out of the river after bathing the sun sparkled off the water droplets clinging to his body making him shimmer in the light as if he were cast in gold. How could they believe he was anything but a god – and that was without taking into account the prehensile tail which reached to the ground and could pick up the smallest stone as deftly as his fingers.
“I wish you could come back to England with us,” I said. “There is so much you could learn, so much we could learn from you.”
He shook his head.
“I must stay with my people. They need me. There will be much work to do. They need a leader. They listen to me, still.”
I could see the torment in his eyes. He had seen incredible things in the last few months. Things that must have whetted his appetite for more knowledge, yet he was willing to give up all that for these people even though he was not really one of them.
“What I do in Ingerland?” he asked. “I not happy in clothes. Where I put this?” He raised his tail. “I stay here.”
“But the people of the world should know about you,” I persisted. “They should know about what has happened here.”
“I not stupid,” he replied with a wry smile. “You mean people want to test me, ask questions, prick me with needles, just like you did. Maybe they want to cut off my tail. They no care about my people.”
“And what will happen if you outlive all your friends? How many of your people live to 60 or 70 years of age? If you live longer than the others, people will start to think you a god again.”
“They call me Chaka now. Only I know it not true. I no can leave jungle. You must tell world about me and about what has happened to my people.”
He stood up and raised his hands to the sky, wincing at the pain from the wound in his shoulder. On his back the scars of three vicious whip lashes stood out against his dark skin making the shape of a star. He tilted his head back and cried:
“Tell the world about the elder of Chachinka people, born of woman, fathered by Kianda Chaka. Tell the world about Kianda Mala, the Monkey Man.”
So now I will tell you his story as he told it to me.
The beat of the drum faltered for an instant as I tried to spin around between beats, my desire torn between dancing with the mass of heaving humanity and playing the rhythm which excited them. It was the height of the celebration. The people had given thanks to the Chakas for bringing us through the rainy times; they had praised the Kianda Chaka, who was deemed to be my father, for the years I had spent with them – four hands in total. Now the jungle clearing was filled with villagers dancing themselves into a frenzy, drunk on the strong kundrad prepared by the women and heady with the anticipation of what was to come. Kilts of trophy tails flew high around the waists of the men as they jumped and twisted. Firelight gleamed off the naked bodies of the women as they danced around their menfolk, alluring and inviting.
A full moon radiated its harsh light from a clear sky giving the circle an eerie glow. Added to that the spirits of the jungle had entered my body, sharpening my senses so that everything looked vivid and clear. I could hear the noises of the night creatures above the sound of the drums; smell the beaten earth of the clearing. My head was spinning, my passions aroused.
The spell was broken when Nauka appeared at my side. Nauka, who had nurtured me when I had no mother; Nauka, who, all that long day, had tended my wife at the delivery of our child.
“Is it a boy?” I asked. Every hunter wanted his first child to be a boy.
“Yes. A fine boy.”
I picked her up and swung her around until I was dizzy. She squealed to be put down as I staggered to a halt. Then I noticed her grave expression.
“Nauka, what is it? Baki! Is she well? What is it?”
Nauka took my hand and drew me out of the crowd into the jungle where we were alone.
“I said a boy but I think not your son,” she whispered.
“How so?” I asked.
“He has black hair.”
I could see no great problem with that.
“Maybe it will turn to gold later,” I said. “A baby always loses its hair. Maybe it will grow back like mine.”
“Yours was never black, not even when you were born.”
I could not see a problem. Baki had black hair, all Chachinkas had black hair. I shook my head and waved the matter aside.
“It is not important what colour hair he has,” I said.
“He has no tail,” Nauka added quietly.
I was instantly sober. It was like saying he had an arm or a leg missing. Everyone expected my child to have a tail, especially if a boy. A girl with no tail would have been accepted.
“Let me see.”
I followed Nauka along the path back to the village, through the wide open gate which gave access to the shelters in which we lived, to her elanto, her shelter, where she had tended to Baki. I stepped up onto the raised floor that provided a dry surface when the rains turned everything outside to mud. Baki lay in a hammock strung across the back of the elanto, her eyes closed, a fur skin covering her, protecting her from the chill of the night air. The marriage streak of blue paint which stretched across her eyes was smudged with the sweat and effort of her labour but she looked beautiful to me. I leant forward and stroked her forehead. She opened her eyes and seemed to start. I wondered at the moment of fear in her eyes then realized that my face was still decorated with the signs of Chief Elder.
“Where is he?” I asked.
She pulled back the fur to reveal the tiny figure curled safely between her breasts. He was asleep, eyes squeezed shut, chest moving rhythmically with each breath. Gently I touched him, picked him up and held him tenderly against my body. He was so small, so delicate, I was afraid I would harm him. He stirred, turning his head to my chest, seeking the breast I did not have. His little face creased up in protest but it seemed his hunger was not great for he sighed and continued to sleep.
“Leave us, Nauka,” I said and she ducked out of the elanto, pulling down the skins that hid us from the village, leaving the elanto lit by a single flickering lamp.
“You have a beautiful son,” I said picking my words carefully.
“We have a son,” Baki insisted.
“Do we? Baki look at me and tell me truly this is my son, that I am his father.”
She faltered for the briefest moment, but it was enough to reveal the truth.
“You are his father, my love. In that I love no other, wish for no other and will acknowledge no other, you are his father. Your seed was in me when he was conceived.”
“Mine and another’s,” I said. “Who was it Baki?” I held up the child in my hands, his back to Baki, my thumbs tucked under his arms, his head supported by my outstretched fingers. “He has no tail. How could you betray me?” I could feel a rage rising within me, fuelled by the intoxicating kundrad I had been drinking.
Baki slid from the hammock and knelt before me, wrapping her arms around my legs.
“Oh, Kianda, my love, I could not stand not having a child. We have been together for six years with no child. Forgive me.”
I pulled away from her. Anger filled my heart. A bitterness I had never felt before. Yes, we had been together for six years. The other women of our age all had children, many almost halfway to adulthood. It was not unusual for couples to take other lovers, even for children in a family group to have different fathers. But I was Chief Elder, leader of the tribe. How could she betray me?
“Am I not good enough for you?” I asked. “Would you prefer to go to another?”
“No! Kianda, I love no other, but it is obvious the Chakas do not wish another Kianda Koki to be born. It is for this reason, only, that I went with another.”
“Who was it?” I asked again.
Baki shook her head.
“I will not tell you. Please don’t ask again. But believe me when I say it was a man of honour and of good standing. We meant only good to come of our act. To please you.”
“To please me? How? By showing the whole village I cannot father my own child?”
“No one need know he is not yours.”
“But he has no tail,” I said. “How can he be mine?”
“Say it is the will of the Chakas,” Baki suggested.
The babe in my hands started to cry and I gently changed his position so that he was once again cradled against my chest. His stick-like arms pumped at the air. I put a finger to one of his tiny fists and he gripped it with a strength I had not expected. Baki’s words echoed in my head. I had never considered such an outcome, yet it was highly possible. There were many Chakas in the jungle and they had shown they tolerated me to please my father, but maybe they were against any more like me being born.
“I cannot be so free with the wishes of the Chakas,” I said.
“Why not? Who will know any different? How is this different to other times you have stated their will?”
“At other times it …” I paused. In the past, when I had declared things to be the will of the Chakas, had I been right or had I just used the idea to assert my authority? If Baki had not already confessed that the baby was not mine I might have believed what she suggested. Could I really say such a thing to the people, knowing that it was not the truth? “I don’t know Baki.”
I knelt down facing her, wanting to accept her, yet concerned that my duty to the village should come above our love.
“Kianda, you have done so much for the village, it has prospered in your years here. Since you have become Chief Elder only good things have happened. What harm is there in doing just one little thing for yourself? I love you. I want no other. Please accept your son.”
I drew Baki to me with my free arm, held her close, the baby cradled between us.
“There will always be one who knows,” I whispered. “Can he be trusted?”
“You are the father of my child and no one will know any different.”
I gave Baki one final hug then sat back on my heels. Gently I handed the baby back to her.
“What shall we call our son?” I asked. It was the custom to name the first born son in honour of his paternal great-grandfather, but I had no earthly family.
“How about Measha, the chosen one?”
“It will be a hard name to live with,” I said.
“He will have a good father to guide him.”
“Measha, it will be. Now rest with my child. I will come tomorrow to bring you home.”
I helped Baki back into the hammock then went back to the feast. I was still not certain I had made the right decision but I could not reject her. I loved her too much. I tried to convince myself of these things as I spent the night celebrating.