Before the first Wodaabe man painted his face
and brightened his teeth and danced in place,
before the first Himba woman wore butterfat and ocher
and collared herself in beads and a copper choker,
before the first Maasai man tamed cattle for his own good
and the first Maasai girl was cut along her womanhood,
before the first Dinka child was inscribed on his head
with the scars of maturity, silent as he bled,
before the Mursi and the Suri extended their lips
with plates to ward off slavers and their slave ships
there was a young girl, Amina, whom her tribe named
“Plain Bird” since she was so plain, and, so, ashamed
since her older sister was both beautiful and envied
attracting a man that was handsome and of a rare breed;
a man not a man, a carnal creature of two appetites,
a kishi, a hyena-man, a man who loves with bites.
Amina’s older sister.
Amina saw his true face beneath the mask he wore,
yet no one believed her; not even her parents, anymore.
So she left her tribe, trying to follow her sister abroad,
traveling far from her home, and her tribal god.
But she became lost, losing sight of the hyena-man
as he sprinted on all fours, losing her behindhand.
A kishi in his true form.
In the jungle she found herself, alone and weeping,
sitting down in the heart of the trees, tired then sleeping
and dreaming of a horrible creature that was huge and green
and towered above her, its body pudgy and obscene.
The creature was the Jungle, known as the Fanged Womb,
the Many-Mouthed Mother, the Birthing Tomb,
and the Jungle told Amina the means of her reckoning
that awaited her in the mountains, thereafter beckoning
her to wake up and to venture forth to find her Fate
in the Sky Lands, where even Death must wait.
The Fanged Womb, The Many-Mouthed Mother, The Jungle
Feeling hopeless, Amina traveled across the African plains,
and was joined by a man who seemed addled in his brains.
He was tall and slender and had hair split in two—
one side red, one side black; his name, he said, was Eshu,
and he spoke to Amina as he would have a long lost friend,
teasing her with secrets about the world, and its End.
“I am a god of words,” he said, “of quarrels, and of Crossroads.
I am a messenger for the gods, of myriad names and many molds.”
Eshu, the messenger god; god of words, quarrels, and Crossroads
He escorted her to the gigantic mountain’s base
while above them little pygmy cherubim flew, keeping apace.
No animals bothered, or even seemed to see them, as they went;
neither lion or hyena or cheetah or rhino or elephant.
When they reached the mountain, Eshu bowed very low,
his strangely long sleeves swishing to and fro.
“I will see you again, my love,” he said with a mischievous smile,
then danced away as the wind—across the savanna, mile to mile.
Turning to the mountain, Amina climbed for days to the summit,
all the while trying not to think of how she might fall and plummet.
At length, she found an old woman sitting by a little fire—
she was bald, long-limbed, like Amina, and judging by her
scars and tattoos she was a witch of immense power.
She said, “What brings you here, my little savanna flower?”
“I want revenge,” Amina said, “against the kishi creatures
that come to beautiful women while wearing the features
of handsome men, seducing and devouring innocence.”
The witch laughed. “But whose fault is it if women lack the sense
to know a bloody trick being played upon them, my dear?
Do you blame the lion because gazelles do not heed fear?”
Amina became angry and blew out the woman’s flame,
and the witch grinned like the Jungle, baring fangs just the same;
only her skin was not green, but was instead darkly browned—
brown like the rocks of the mountain, strewn all around.
She grew tall, and vast, as big as a mountain peak
and she looked down upon Amina, and thus did she speak:
“You are bold,” she said, “but you will need to be bolder still
if you wish to kill the kishi in their faraway hill.
But I will teach you, dearest, since you have a great destiny,
though I fear it will be bloody—very bloody— and not bless many.”
The Hag Of the Mountain
And so the Hag of the Mountain taught Amina spells
and, more importantly, told her many of the Creation Tales,
and, unlike her tribe, Amina did not adorn herself in any way,
for that attracted the Hyena Men, the kishi, to their prey.
Amina learned to dance along the scales of a crocodile’s back
and to run on all fours, barking, among a wild dog pack,
and to sneak, unseen, amidst a flock of flighty flamingo birds
and to run headlong against stampeding wildebeest herds.
She learned blood magic, too, and how to listen to the wind,
and how to make fetishes so death would not be the end,
for she died many times in her trials and during each test
and the clay figures died in her stead so she could continue her quest.
And then there came a day when she went out upon the plains
and dressed herself up, ringing her neck with copper chains
and painting her face and looping the lobe of each ear
and dancing in the moonlight, shaking her hips with a leer.
A kishi came, as expected, and Amina invited him to dance
then wounded him with her spear, taking that lucky chance
to follow him as he fled back to his clan’s den,
running too swiftly now to ever lose her way again.
She came to the hill where women were enslaved
and killed all of the kishi, so that the women were saved,
but her sister was not among them; having died in childbirth
to give rise to another kishi to defile the earth.
In her rage, Amina also killed many a kishi son,
mercilessly erasing each and every generation.
But the blood fury had gotten hold of her that day
and with it the notion that gods, themselves, had to pay.
For, she thought, who allowed the cruel kishi to continue?
The gods deserved to answer for their irresponsibility, too.
Thus, Amina dedicated herself to slaying the Powers That Be
and taking their fetish masks to transform herself freely
between gazelle and lion and croc and various birds,
whereupon she was visited by Eshu, the god of words
and of Crossroads, for she had lost sense of direction and place
now that she had lost herself, and her own human face.
He frowned at her and he said, in a tone as if numb,
“You hate the gods, my love, but what have you become?
You are now a god against gods, the goddess of Death.”
Amina staggered as if struck, unable to catch her breath,
for she realized it was true: she had become a primordial beast
and had offered to the Fanged Womb a glorious feast;
The Jungle is pleased by Amina’s feast.
a feast of the gods, cloyed on the creatures of Order
now slain, destroyed, their realms in unrest, border to border,
whereas Eshu, being a god of Chaos and of Change
looked upon the devastation and gauged its range
and he said, “It is fine. You have done no better or worse
than any other creature born to Life’s blood curse.”
He took her away, then, to let her rest and recover
and, in time, she loved him deeply, though she took no lover.
The above is an outline for a graphic novel I wish I had the time and money to pursue (albeit an outline in rhyming verse, probably because I am a masochist). Anyway, it is based on various African myths and the artwork consists of a bunch of concept designs I have been playing with throughout the years. Will it ever be made into an actual graphic novel— or, at least, an illustrated novel? I dunno. It is just another dream on the backburner right now.