Friday, January 9, 2009

Curious Rituals of the Valley People (Part 2)

Honouring our ancestors

Uncle A decided to take to take us on the river. This is always a treat, not just because Uncle A has a fine aluminium flat-bottomed boat, perfect for this hippo-studded river, but also because he is simply a fine person to be in the bush with. Safe, experienced, deeply in knowing with the place, its rhythms and warning signals. Just like his father, Norman Joseph Carr.

We all have different levels of literacy in landscapes. When I am at the ocean, I always feel a slight tip and swell of strangeness. I love it, but I am not literate in oceanscape, not like I am in the bush. I can't read a shorebreak like my other half can. And when we are in the bush, and we wake in the night to a strange belly roar echoing across the dambo, it is he who will sit upright and say, 'wha wazzat?' and I will mutter in my semi sleep 'hippo' or 'elephant', depending on the exact timbre of the roar, trumpet or bellow. [elephant stood on a thorn. elephant shouting at lion. elephant shouting at human. indignant hippo.]

Well, Miranda has written about the role that our grandfather, Norman Joseph Carr played in developing this kind of literacy, and so have I. Somewhere.

But the gals, the young revolutionaries, are too small to remember him. So they learn from their Papa, and its the same lessons of course.

What a treat when Uncle A takes us to Bonkar's memorial stone in the National Park, by boat! In the dry season you can go by road, but not now. So we pack some water, and apply lashings of sunscreen. We drive to the river though its not far to walk, skip off the side of the landcruiser and tramp over soft ankle hugging grass to where the boat is moored. Past the trichelia where I sat and sulked, dreamed or smoked as a teenager. Now strewn with the ex-coals of a fisherman's fire. Clamber down into the boat.

I'm telling my youngest cuz, the one who was born hours before her grandfather left this world, what she said to me when she was barely two years old.
"My Bonkar is under a stone," she said to me, eyes big and serious.
"He's in the sky. He's under the stone, he's in the sky." she'd repeat this over and over, like a mantra, anchoring the concept of having had a grandfather, then letting it slip away again like a kite and hauling it back again. Sweet thing. She giggles and says, I don't remember. Uh. I'm not suprised.

I can't believe how crowded that riverfront has become in the last 11 years.

You see, the National Park is on the 'other side' of the river - untouched and just for the animals. Historically there were only ever a few permanent structures in the NP itself. Most of the other camps and the majority of the residents live in the Game Management Area (GMA). On 'this' side of the river.

At first, there was only Chinzombo, sweet little whitewashed chalets on the rivers' edge, with the flood marks of '76 painted half way up the wall, like a warning. Few kilometres upstream - a little thatched studio on the corner, then nothing til the bridge, which is also the main entrance into the park. Directly after the bridge, the house of Jemz Shuz (James Schulz, RIP) and then, the Croc Farm - built circa 1987 or 8. A major milestone in civilization, at the time. Concrete snake pens, a teahouse where you could buy lime milkshakes, how that rocked my adolescent world.

If you trace that riverfront now, its all different.
Chinzombo has been swallowed by the river. The pretty little camp where we played Marco Polo in the tiny pool on hot Christmas days of quite a long time ago. That pool is in the river now. The Luangwa ate her.

But upstream from there, especially beyond the bridge - Oooh, its starting to be like a Zanzibar beachfront I tell you. Squish squash no elbow room and [shock! horror!] sandbags tessellating the side of the river bank! Hmmm. Will that protect your camp when the river really rises to the occasion? Will it stop the steady lick of that persistent tongue? Hmm. Someone should do a socio-economic history of this stretch of river. Of land claims still contested, ruined walls of houses still occupied by tenacious ghosts. Deals are forged, fought and abandoned and everybody wants a piece of it and everybody is aghast at the development but of course they're not budging either.

Before the old benign patriarch (aka my grandfather) passed away he said that there was 'a gentleman's agreement' that there would be no development on the stretch of habitat between the lodge he built (inland, away from the Luangwa's licking tongue - he'd learned) and the Luangwa bridge, the entrance to the National Park. Keep it as an intact game corridor. A conservation area, even though its in the GMA, you can do nature walks and its still forested. A gentleman's agreement. Ah, but the age of gentlemen, bwana, it is passing us by. Reed walls are replaced by concrete, thatch with tiles. And where the mzungu settle, they bring their plants, their cats, their dogs...

To be sure, though, there are elephant aplenty and they still cross there, and there was an old gruff-looking buffalo hanging out the past few weeks. An elderly kakuli haunting the peninsular.

I digress. Again.

We got there, and moored the boat. We clambered out. Always a hush under those mighty ebony trees.

We talked a little. Not much. We nudged some msikili seeds into the ground so that they might grow there.

For company.

We examined the big msikili tree by where we moored the boat and Uncle showed his daughters how to tell that it had been inhabited by a leopard. The girls each got a leopard hair, unmistakeable, gleaned from the folds of the bark. Mimes kept hers the whole way home where she stuck it in her book. RoobyRu kept hers pinched between her fingers but then forgot as we were mounting the land cruiser, and released it into the wind.


Miranda said...

such a lekker post Tam, but you didn't leave it up long enough for anyone to notice it!

tam said...

haha. I know. ah well.

Tessa said...

I've noticed it. And, gawd, it is totally lekker. Ah, the memories. Beautifully written, Tam, as always. What an absolute pleasure it is to visit.

family affairs said...

I forwarded your post to my father because he knew your grandfather who you mentioned in this post and now he wants to get in touch with your uncle who presumably would be son of cecily? She was v good friends with my grandmother and my father spent lots of time in the UK with her when she stayed with them in Brighton in '57 - he also has photos of her at my grandmother's wedding....don't publish this comment, but can you email me? Maybe with just a contact email for your uncle? I can't find an email address for you on your blog...isn't it a ridiculously small world?? Lx My whole family want to come over and join in your ridiculous Christmas party games!