There was once a tribe that lived in their own ways as tribes usually do. They lived deep in a forest, dark green with big leaves that could cover an entire family from the rains that frequented the land. Exotic flowers of bright colours and all shapes peeked out. It was dark and deep and green in the forest. The tribe people had made their home in the middle of this beautiful forest. Their huts near each other, streams of pure cool water gurgling by. The tribes people were beautiful creatures, skin the colour of caramel, long black hair, features that made you look again.
Our story is not about the forest or the tribe it’s about a child born in the tribe,her name Ekya. Ekya was born in the early morning, she’d clawed out of the womb of a mother, who did not want a child, definitely not a girl child. Her mother cried as she pressed her to her breast. Tears running as fast as the milk down Ekyas throat.
Maybe it was the feeling of being unwanted in the womb. They say a baby can sense that resentment in the womb and they rebel against it, the feeling of isolation seeping into the womb. Ekya was one of the naughtiest in the tribe. Ekya rebelled against everything, questioned everything. Her father and mother beat her, with the thin needle like sticks from the coconut leaves to the well oiled canes from bamboo trees. He cries were silent but her rebelliousness grew louder in her heart.
Ekya didn’t get along with any of the other children. She hurt them or bossed then around. The only time she sat quietly was to hear the old women’s old tales. Tales of the olden times, tales of battles fought of the dangers that lay outside. Tales of great men.
Once when the old woman was telling her tales in a hushed whisper surrounded by a group of children. Ekya asked her why there were no tales of women? The old woman looked at her and said why there are child. She then told her the story of Kaya. Kaya belonged to the tribe chief of the olden times. She was beautiful and gentle and kind, her woven mats and baskets were incomparable. One day an outsider came and he desired her. He desired her so much he kidnapped her. The battle that waged between the tribe chief and the outsider lasted several years. Finally the tribe chief destroyed the outsider and brought Kaya home. But the tribe cast doubt on her purity, they doubted if she had not been spoiled by the outsider. They built a huge fire and asked her to walk through it. If she was pure then she would not be burnt they said. Kaya was pure and untouched, she spoke to the gods and walked through fire proving her purity.
Ekya was disturbed by this, she asked the old lady what about the chief? Did he walk through the fire?
The old lady laughed and said, ” no Ekya, men don’t need to prove anything. They are warriors and strong, it is the women who are weak”
Ekya immediately stood up and said, “I’m strong” the old woman irritably asked Ekya not to speak like that. Women should always speak only when spoken to. Else they would be spit on, some rebellious ones even burnt.
This was wrong, thought Ekya.
As Ekya grew up the injustice of it all, hurt and confused her/ women could only eat after the men, women had to always look at their feet a mark of humility and beauty when spoken to or when speaking to the opposite sex. When women came of age, they were assigned to a man, to be their protector. Ekya didn’t need protecting, but she had learned to squash down her rebelliousness over time. The only sign of the loud rebelliousness was if you looked deep into her eyes.
Men were scared of Ekya, she spoke her mind, she wasn’t like the other women of the tribe. Her parents found it hard to find her a protector, but they finally did. He was a tradesman, one who travelled. He didn’t know much about Ekya. He was also not very good looking so Ekya with her dark caramel skin, slender frame, long black hair, wide hips, curvy figure, was a great catch.
Ekya’s protector penetrated her the very first night as all men do to mark his claim on her. The blood stained woven mat hung outside his hut as proof to the world that he had claimed his woman. Ekya was innocent and believed that her protector would take care of her, love her, consider her, his equal.
The first time he struck her was when she fell asleep waiting for him. She was surprised at his anger and quietly blamed herself, after all she was a wild child. The beatings became constant after that. The verbal abuse equally bad. Soon she started hiding her face from shame. Her body riddled with darkening bruises.
Her laughter dwindled down. There were times when her protector was kind, loving even. He’d hold her tight in the confines of their home and take her roughly. But mostly theirs was an unhappy life, until, her belly grew with his child and she rejoiced in the life growing in her. Hope grew with the child, she hummed to herself as she cooked and cleaned. Life was almost bearable.
The fight started over a spilt calabash of water. The calabash had broken, this was a gift from his mother. He started hitting her, she protested and that made something in him snap. He hit her till she fell down and then kicked her swollen belly, till she fainted with the pain. When she woke up her broken body full of pain, she woke up in a pool of blood. Wailing she ran to the river, blood gushing from her loins, the child she longed for gone in a stream of blood and flesh. She spent the night by the river clutching the bloody remains, sobbing inconsolably, alone in the forest.
She blamed herself and she lost all hope and life, she became like a lotus leaf, shrugging away the rain of abuse. Detached and silent. Nothing seemed to evoke any feelings in her anymore. She started to wither, her hair lanky and unkempt, her skin ageing prematurely. This went on for a few years, till, her protector had to work in the outside world. The work would take him some years. He had to cross the seas. He took Ekya with him, more like a mule to carry their measly belongings. She meekly followed him.
The new country was beautiful, the people were very different. The protectors and their women were very different here. The women were taken care of, they were treasured and loved and treated as equals if not in higher regard. She was so surprised. This new land with its new ways created the first stirrings of longing in Ekyas broken heart.