post The Beautiful Gatherer

February 20th, 2011

Filed under: Literature Corner — Natty Mark Samuels @ 18:58

The Beautiful Gatherer
To the Hadza of Tanzania, amongst the last of the hunter-gatherers of Africa

I think of Amama as the Beautiful Gatherer. Although she could forage better than anyone else, she would still work at the task, longer than any other woman. But she could never eat it all. My Amama gathered to give. So everyone could eat baobab fruit and undushipi berries.

She made me dolls of clay. I saw them emerge from nothing. I thought she had sprinkled them with secret dust and chanted a special blessing. I’ve always treasured those dolls; hoping my children will value them also.

Amama, scarred by snakebite and thornbush. Scarred by the loss of Koku. Too old to climb; fell from a baobab tree, trying to bring her a gift of honey. In my culture, husbands and wives often come and go, but Amama and Koku stayed together. The Beautiful Gatherer and the Valiant Hunter.

She was there throughout the Mai-to-ko. I was covered in animal fat, bedecked in beads. She laughed with me, as I sang and danced. She was there at the cutting. Holding me after, as I wept, then smiled. Things never seemed so bad, when you were in Amamas embrace.

Animal fat again. Used this time, to soften antelope skin. My first skirt of impala, embellished by shells and beads. Beads chosen by me, sewn on by Amama. I walked around in radiant parade, shining like the Ishoko.

I still wear the necklace that she made for me, using zebra bones, Maasai beads and porcupine quills.

I remember the many times, weaker-muscled, helping her pound baobab seeds and marula nuts; then falling asleep in her arms.

Today, we laid her in her hut and set it on fire. Then we turned and walked away, leaving that place.

Over time, we have become experts of movement. To a place of berries or a colony of weaver birds. To a place over there where the tubers are. To a site we have settled before. But today, we moved because of Amama. My Amama, who remains my guiding star: throughout the Serengeti, along the shoreline of Lake Eyasi. My template for dignified womanhood.

People liked to be in her presence; they gathered around her. When they didn’t have enough, she would give fruit or a tuber. My Amama, the Beautiful Gatherer.

©Natty Mark Samuels, 2010.

Amama – grandmother
Koku/Akaye – grandfather
Mai-to-ko – female puberty ritual
Ishoko - Sun

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