There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people's lips were five.
The illness, so claimed the first, was born of anger that once welled up inside him; and he was so conscious of the danger it posed to his well-being that he tried all he could to rid himself of it by belching after every meal, sometimes counting from one to ten, and other times chanting ka ke ki ko ku aloud. Why these particular syllables, nobody could tell. Still, they conceded that the Ruler had a point. Just as offensive gases of the constipated need to be expelled, thus easing the burden on the tummy, anger in a person also needs a way out to ease the burden on the heart. This Ruler's anger, however, would not go away, and it continued simmering inside till it consumed his heart. This is believed to be the source of the Aburirian saying that ire is more corrosive than fire, for it once eroded the soul of a Ruler.
But when did this anger take root? When snakes first appeared on the national scene? When water in the bowels of the earth turned bitter? Or when he visited America and failed to land an interview with Global Network News on its famous program Meet the Global Mighty? It is said that when he was told that he could not be granted even a minute on the air, he could hardly believe his ears or even understand what they were talking about, knowing that in his country he was always on TV; his every moment--eating, shitting, sneezing, or blowing his nose--captured on camera. Even his yawns were news because, whether triggered by boredom, fatigue, hunger, or thirst, they were often followed by some national drama: his enemies were lashed in the public square with a sjambok, whole villages were blown to bits or people were pierced to death by a bows-and-arrows squad, their carcasses left in the open as food for hyenas and vultures.
It is said that he was especially skillful in creating and nursing conflicts among Aburirian families, for scenes of sorrow were what assuaged him and made him sleep soundly. But nothing, it seemed, would now temper his anger.
Could anger, however deeply felt, cause a mystery illness that defied all logic and medical expertise?
The second theory was that the illness was a curse from the cry of a wronged he-goat. It is said that some elders, deeply troubled by the sight of blood flooding the land, decided to treat this evil as they had epidemics that threatened the survival of the community in the olden days: but instead of burying the evil inside the belly of a beast by inserting flies, standing for the epidemic, into its anus, they would insert the Ruler's hair, standing for the evil, into the belly of a he-goat through its mouth. The evil-carrying goat, standing for the Ruler, would then become an outcast in the land, to be driven out of any region where its cry announced its evil presence.
Led by a medicine man, they mixed the hair, obtained secretly from the Ruler's barber, with grass, salt, and magic potions and gave it to the goat to swallow. Needle and thread in hand, the medicine man started sewing the seven orifices of the body beginning with the anus. The struggling he-goat gave out a bloodcurdling cry and, before the medicine man could seal its mouth, it escaped. It is said that it cried grief across the land, until the Ruler heard the cry and, learning about the curse, which he imagined to be a call for a coup, sent soldiers to hunt down the he-goat and all involved. Rumor has it that the goat, the barber, the medicine man, the elders, and even the soldiers were given over to the crocodiles of the Red River to ensure eternal silence about the curse. And it was to mark this day of his deliverance that the Ruler had the picture of the Red River added to Buri notes, the only picture besides his own to honor the Aburirian currency.
Excerpted from Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o Copyright © 2006 by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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