By Elizabeth Wayua Ndinda
Davis College Akilah Campus, Akilah, Rwanda
In a sleepy hilly village in Nyanza lies the home of Biage (her name means a granary). It is a compound of low roofed houses for each of his sons and grandsons. Each son also has a little grass thatched hut for all of their daughters. By the standards of Randani, (which is corrupted from London; maybe most of the villagers who live abroad end up in London and not Texas or Minnesota as I have always believed) this is a prosperous compound. There are cars parked in four of the compounds, motorcycles in some and even terrazzo pavements in one compound. The number of compounds in Biage’s homestead cannot be counted. It is a taboo to give a number to one’s children. This compound is fenced by the most prestigious plant in the region; bananas.
This is actually the banana republic. Welcome to Kisii County where bananas reign supreme. We do not only eat the sweet bananas but sell them for a living. Bananas are some of the county’s cash crops. Tea and avocado are the others. So too is sugarcane. These bananas are not only exported to Nairobi, but also to other countries of the world. Curiously, we never eat plantains. It is food for the weak. We, the people who call the banana county home, prefer millet ugali or the maize one if millet is scarce. West Africans call our ugali fufu.
Bananas also serve as a transport system for our famous night runners. They are believed to fly with the leaves at night. There are very potent concoctions on clumps of bananas. One is advised not to spend too long a lingering moment near any. The village rises and falls with the health of banana plants. That is why Biage made reference to this plant when she paid a rather surprise call to the home of his first born son one Friday morning.
You see, Biage had heard that his great grandson had been brought home from another Nyanza looking place called Rwanda. As was the tradition, the child had to get a ride on her back to be accepted into the clan. The little boy, unaware of the tradition, declined the offer. The confusion that ensued cannot be explained in words. Biage had left her warm bed at the crack of dawn to brace the dew and drizzle on a motorcycle to fulfill this tradition. She had travelled all the way from Randani to Magena (which can mean eggs or stones depending on the context). She had stilled her cracking bones with each bump on the ride. Her face had been beaming with a smile on this journey despite her circumstances, as this was a chance to bless the third generation of the great Nyatangi clan.
On inquiring why the boy had refused to climb on her back, “She is an old woman, it is disrespectful to make her carry a load as heavy as me.” Any persuasion did not dissuade him.
Now was Biage’s turn to take matters in her own hands literally. Her time was running out.
There is a banana tree outside this gate (pointing at the nearest one) Can that tree bear any bananas without the other lifeless tree supporting it?
The boy’s older siblings replied
Which of these is alive, the banana tree or the other stick supporting it.
The banana tree of course.
While this story was being narrated, the little boy was resting easy on Biage’s back. He had no idea how he got there. Who in this great family had surprised the boy in to obedience without resistance?