In leafing through some of my old Secondary School history notes, it occurred to me that there was a diabolical list of infamous despots who had been rightly condemned to history’s dust bins. Of the more notorious ones we have, Hitler, Lenin, Genghis Khan, Ivan The Terrible, Attila The Hun, Maximillien Robespierre, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, etc. It occurred to me with a yawn that none of them were Bekorseh. They could never be Bekorseh and now I think I know how come!
It turns out that at various times in their societies, these vicious men sat atop what was supposed to be elaborate, if sometimes curious, complex, even bizarre laws, customs and enforcement mechanisms. These mechanisms, intended to foster peace and order for society all failed at one time or another and the consequences, history records, were horrible.
In Ekosseh, it seems that Mother Nature herself handed us our law and order. The basis of our law and order was not some mysterious ten commandments handed down on stone tablets from foreigners and their definition of God. Our land, our laisez fair customs, family types, neighbors, all made it possible, nay, imposed a tried and tested system that enabled us to live in almost natural and perpetual peace, rendering the need for despots and the heavy hand of law and order just about useless.
Our Land: Ours is both a bountiful and beautiful land. It provides us a rich volcanic soil relatively easy to plow and crops grow in abundance on just about every square inch of it. There is plenty of land to go around. The forest, grassland and brushland provide abundance in a variety of fauna and animals some of which have, unfortunately, been hunted and poached to extinction over the years. They have also provided along with much needed livestock, enough food to sustain us easily over the centuries. The Bekorseh have never had to move en masse or fight amongst themselves over land, food or access to same. Our environment has made sure that upheavals and crimes related to land problems are just about unheard of in our land.
Our Customs: Our people have always been proud and have a rather low tolerance for cock and bull. We are almost naturally easy going but absolutely just hate being lorded over by any one. May be as a result, there has, over the years developed a low tolerance and aversion for the heavy hand of any authority. The position of Chief for instance is very weak. In some villages, there are no chiefs. Where there is one, folks almost pay him no mind. Unlike other tribes and societies where people bow down to their leaders and worship all manner of royalty, the Bekosseh have rarely seen any need for a strong central figure to whom all must bow down. When however the tribe has been threatened, folks have dutifully lined up behind a single leader so that the tribe may survive. In the sixties and seventies for instance when terrorists threatened the land, our people came under the able, educated, strong and usefully visible R.M. Ntoko as our Paramount Chief. No sooner however was the terrorist threat abated than the great man found himself without a following and the position disappeared. There seems to be an unwritten rule that since there is hardly a time when peace is threatened, we do not need the constant presence of a strong and visible law and order mechanism in place. People will do for themselves. In fact I have always held that if Ekorseh were some occupied territory like say Palestine or Kashmere, we would all be dead by now, rather than survive under occupation.
The Family Unit: The mostly monogamous family unit in Ekorseh was always the center for upbringing. The oldest male member of a given family held sway over everyone else. The extended family included in-laws as well as other complex entanglements of near and far relatives. When a young man wanted to marry, older family members would have to lead and approve young lady candidates as the case would be. It was not unusual for what would be an otherwise safe choice to be explained away as being prohibited due to this or that family blood relation. Once a girl was chosen and went to another village or even the same village to marry, expectations were the same. Everyone knew their place in the family. Roles were not confused so the chances of fights and recriminations born out of conflicts in marriage were reduced. Our people do not have an equal title for “Mrs.”, but usually that woman would almost loose her name to her first or subsequent kids. She would proudly bear the title of “Mother of so and so” the rest of her life usually; or till she was a grandma and then she would regain her name along with the adoring title of grandma or “nimba”. These common expectations helped ensure peace in the land all by themselves for in this setting, each family and then the whole tribe brought forth citizens who knew the value of moral rectitude and decorum. This in turn led to less need for repressive or any type of predatory law and order.
Self Preservation: Our people love their ways, skills, customs and traditions. They wanted their way of life passed down the generations. Where there was wanton crime, war, violence, brigandage and routine dislocation of the social order, it was impossible for these traits to survive through the generations. In peace and tranquility, Bekorseh saw themselves into old age, saw their progeny survive into adulthood, and so the generations perpetuated themselves. This penchant for self preservation also helped preserve the tribe as a whole, usually in peace, with little need for the heavy hand of any law enforcement.
Our Neighbors: Our tribe shares boundaries with the Bafaws, Mbohs, Balung, and Abohs. These tribes are not just our neighbors; they claim an identical ancestral father with us. They are indeed our blood relatives, however distant. As Mother Nature would have it, their cultures very much mirror ours and that includes a disdain for harried ways. They also have their own abundant and endowed natural environment. This ensures that they have never had to fight us for land claims as has been the case even today in many other parts of the world where inter tribal wars and related bloodletting rage seemingly endlessly displacing many in droves and hurting many others. The last intertribal tiff any one remembers here appears to have occurred at the tail end of last century. It was alleged to have been over trade routes or access to them with our Bafaw brothers. The matter was settled back then, no bad blood carried forward and peace has reigned since. Our neighbors and their similarity with our customs and traditions have helped ensure a natural peace that Bekosseh enjoyed.
No matter how a people are endowed with the natural blessings of peace, every society has its intractable problems and persons who invariably threaten the peace. The Bekorseh were no different. You could not commit murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, adultery, or any number of high crimes and misdemeanors, what was called “eben”and get away with it. If aggrieved parties, elders and other villagers could not negotiate settlement of an issue, the village was left no other choice put pull out the ultimate big gun, Mwankum.
Sang Mwankum or Sang Mw’Ekallerh: The name translates into The Great One. It refers to The Man as well as the great secret and sacred order of our tribe. I cannot tell you that he stands 7″5” and weighs 300 Ibs. I would be telling lies if I would give you an address where he lives. I am only able to tell you that his abode is in the bowels of the farthest, deepest and darkest cave in our land. Half man and half beast, he towers over the tallest trees, and his tail is twenty times larger than that of the biggest alligator ever found.
Joining the order was one thing any Ekosseh boy dreamed of and looked forward to, soon after circumcision. This completed your initiation into manhood. You had no birth right to it and membership was voluntary, but open only to qualified males. Since its primary duty was enforcement of social order. those declared “nhuuh m’mod” essentially (a very bad/evil person), you could not join and if you were declared such while in, you were cast out but warned under penalty of death to take all known secrets to your grave. If you were a particularly disorderly youth, you were taught a lesson in temperance as you sought membership. Folks could pass muster that first try. An errant youth however, would try three maybe six times before they got inducted. Each one of those times they would suffer some new form of public humiliation and hopefully learn a lesson in humility. Once inducted members had a strict code of conduct to follow, complete with all kinds of secrets. If you were cast out for conduct unbecoming, you may as well declare yourself dead.
The ultimate duty then of enforcement of law and order fell to Sang Mwankum. Luckily instances that require the services of The Great One were few and far between. A man could live out his whole life and actually never be in his presence. Some villages more than others though, Sang Mwankum would come and come in deadly high drama.
When that special issue called for it, a local drummer who knew how to call him would play the drum asking him via the drum to make an appearance. The drum could play for three days, nine days, two weeks and he would not answer. He had a thousand matters to attend to in the tribe or anyplace in the world where our people lived, the caller must know. If and when available, he would answer from a long distance away, deep in the forest. Those who did not belong in the order, children, and “strangers” were not allowed to even look towards his direction. They were then ordered to lock all doors behind them, put out all fires and hide the rest. All light was bad for his eyes! Sang Mwankum would then approach the village closer and closer as the evening progressed into nigh fall. With each passing hour his voice would be ever louder and clearer. The louder he got, the greater the fear that gripped the particular village and others nearby. Once he entered the village, other than his bone shattering voice, you could hear a pin drop three villages over. It was a happening!
One must imagine Sang Mwankum as the Western equivalent of Big Foot, Superman, Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kanobi and Lord Sedious all rolled into one. He was loud, vicious, and carried out his sanctions with vehement and veritable shock and awe. His pronouncements were public, however insulting, humiliating or even seemingly unjust to anyone. His judgment however harsh or stern was final. Those who persisted in denial, hesitance, defiance or shifty non compliance paid dearly. You could easily forfeit five livestock if you wasted time turning over the initial fine of one or two. You could be made to walk back to your husband with only what you were wearing in pitch darkness immediately if having been given a chance to pack your stuff and go back in the day time drew an audible sigh. You could have your house demolished with one powerful slap from his enormous tail if it was not enough that you were fined three or five goats, and you persisted in nonsensical complaints. He was noted to be afraid of only newborns and heavily pregnant women. Indeed if he was chasing you and you sought refuge in homes that had either of those, you were safe, for just then. Everyone else was fair game.
As noted, Sang Mwankum did not come often. That was a good thing. His coming brought palpable fear in the village. Kids would hide under their beds and the next day, much as you would wish, the issue could not come up in conversation, lest he hears you and you would be the next one that heard from him. When he passed by your house, you heard the unnatural twittering of what seemed to be a thousand birds which he was said to carry everywhere he went. You felt the unnatural thuds of his heavy footsteps and it all sounded like your home would fall apart from the wind that seemed to accompany his booming voice. How would you know he had paid a visit or that his work was done? If you woke up in the morning and had somehow managed to miss the riotous clatter and clang of the previous night but saw the carcasses of swine or goats he had slaughtered, saw a house with a missing rooftop, or totally demolished or a lady who had suddenly switched residence, or of a sudden some one’s home is hurriedly being rebuilt by the whole village, then you knew The Man had been around for sure.
Possibly more than anything else in Ekorseh, this rare appearance of sang Mwankum struck enough fear into kids to set them on the straight and narrow the rest of their lives. Sang Mwankum would go to the ends of the earth to avenge our enemies. He would seek out the best medicine men in the land and put their names out for all to know so they could seek treatment. The cancerous effects of increasingly dubious Christianity, the modern state and its law and order apparatus, education and migration may have chipped, gnawed and even usurped his powers today, but Sang Mwankum lives and reigns in our land for all time. Those forewarned to cease and desist must comply, even today. Failure to abide by his edicts spells ill today just as it ever did. For in Sang Mwankum, Bekosseh sought the last refuge in keeping peace in our land. If in having peace our people were supposed to move to the next stage, that of security in economic development but failed to do so, let it at least be known that the basic institutions crafted by our forefathers to ensure our survival have stood the test of time. Even today much of Ekorseh enjoys great peace and though the mutterings of hunger pangs abound, ours remains a blessed land. We are forever thankful and beholden to our ancestors for that.
By Joel E. Kalle