We do not choose to be born, and if we did each of us would choose to be born into a beautiful, rich family or a happy, peaceful one. We may know how to bear children but we don’t know how to bear parents. Many of us find ourselves in a family that doesn’t meet our requirements, with parents who don’t satisfy our needs, but we accept the situation. There are even times when a person born into a poor family is rich, but their wealth comes from them alone and drives the family into misery. There are poor families that may lack many things, but the family members live together in peace and harmony. And there are families with ill-fated histories. We may have known such cases among neighbors, relatives, or even in our own family: families with bad luck, families that are cursed, rumors of witchcraft, family conflicts resulting in relatives who do not get along or even kill each other.
Knowing one such ill-fated family moved me to write this story, in the hope that readers will take courage from it and take the necessary steps to remedy their family situation. If we do not change the world, then the world will not change us either. Many years ago, there lived a family in a far away land, in a small town called Moabi. Villagers came from far and near to buy and sell goods in Moabi every Tuesday, when the big market was held.
The population of Moabi lived from fishing, hunting, and farming. These occupations were mostly done by men. The history of the town was bound up with that of the Matondo family. The family had lived in Moabi for more than four generations, spanning one hundred years. They were well-respected and their ancestors had helped to found the town. Our story begins when the only grandson in the Matondo family, Saidi Matondo, fell victim to his family’s curse.
One day, Saidi’s mother, Misala, got ready to go to the fields. She told her son to take food from the cupboard when he woke up. His father, Kwibe, had stayed in bed because he had no work to do that day. It was a day like any other, but for the Matondo family it would prove to be a dark day in their history.
Later that morning, Saidi got out of bed to eat the food his mother had left in the cupboard. The father was still in bed. Saidi went to eat in the living room. Suddenly his father heard him shout, “Mamaaaaaan, they have come to take me!”
Saidi fell to the ground half dead. His father rushed out of the bedroom and found him on the floor. He held him tightly in his arms, shouting, “Saidiiiiiii, Saidiiiiii!” He did not know what to do. He cried and held his unconscious son. Liquid was coming from Saidi’s mouth, his eyes were raised upwards, all white, and his legs and arms were flailing as though he were possessed. His father rushed outside to call the neighbors for help.
He found some men who advised him to bring his son to a prayer room because this kind of incident was considered witchcraft. The woman who was in the prayer room came out to see the men, who were all crying for the unconscious boy. The woman was the town’s oracle. People went to her prayer room to seek help for their problems. She told them without hesitation that Saidi was being targeted by almost all of the sorcerers in the city and its surroundings. While she was praying for the boy, he suddenly came to his senses.
Kwibe returned with his son after thanking the woman and the men who had helped him carry Saidi to the prayer room. Kwibe took care of his son while waiting for his wife to come home. In the afternoon, Misala returned from the fields, unaware of what had happened in the morning. The house was unusually silent. She was used to finding her son outside, playing alone or with his friends. She knocked on the door, and her husband opened it with a disappointed look on his face.
Misala, noticing immediately something was wrong, asked him, “What’s wrong, dear?”
Her husband replied, “Come in, dear, I need to talk to you.” She entered the house but was not reassured and begged him to tell her what had happened. Kwibe told his wife to sit down. He told her what had happened to their son, but she did not even hear the end of the story.
She immediately asked, “Where is my child now?”
Her husband said, “Calm down, darling, our son is fine now. He is just resting a little because he had to fight. He is tired.”
She said, “But where is he?”
He eventually told her, “He is in his room.”
Misala rushed into her son’s room and found him lying on the bed, exhausted. She started to cry bitterly for her only child. Kwibe entered the room and consoled her that their son would be all right and that everything would be fine. Misala did not take the situation lightly, and deep down she was concerned for her family. But the days went by, and the family began to forget about what had happened.
One evening, the Moabites lit a fire and some of the families gathered to tell each other stories from their lives. One of Kwibe and Misala’s neighbors, a woman, began by recounting a fact: “Our town is not the same as it was for our fathers and their fathers before them. I have never heard of anyone who has met a gorilla.”
The woman’s husband asked her, “What happened to you, and why don’t I know about it?
The woman said to her husband, “I didn’t tell you because you are always busy fishing. Please forgive me for that.”
The husband: “I understand. Tell us what happened.”
Raising her voice, the neighbor told them, “One day, I was going to the fields at dawn. I saw a troop of gorillas ransacking a banana field, and when I saw them I was shocked by their presence since gorillas live far away from here, in the mountains. I screamed, and when the gorillas started coming towards me, I fell to the ground. When I woke up, I didn’t see them anymore.”
An old man said, “What this woman has just told us is a bad sign for our town. If our ancestors don’t intervene as soon as possible, a misfortune will befall us.”
Fear spread among the people around the fire. No one spoke, and when the fire went out they wished each other good night. They all went home and went to bed.
That night, Misala had a dream. She saw her son playing, and an owl came out of nowhere and took him away by the arms. The child cried out to his parents for help, but they were unable to save their only son.
Misala woke up and woke her husband. She told him her dream, and they were both afraid, remembering what the old man had said. They decided to check in on their son in his room to make sure he was all right. Their son was fine, and they went back to their room, but neither of them could shut their eyes until the early morning. The days went by, and the parents began to forget about the worries of the past. One night, as the family was going to bed, Kwibe heard an owl hooting on the roof of their house.
The cries of birds in the night are a bad omen. Kwibe rashly grabbed his shotgun and opened the door, intending to shoot the owl. Misala heard the door open and rushed to prevent her husband from going outside, but it was already too late. She called to him to come inside. The hooting owl had flown away. When she realized this, Misala shouted, “The owl has left with the soul of our son.”
Kwibe angrily turned to his wife, “The damn owl escaped. It’s your fault, you should have let me shoot it. I was only two feet away from killing it.” Just then Saidi shouted from his room, “Maman, they are here! They have come to take me again!” The parents stopped arguing and ran to their son. They found him out of his bed, on the floor, struggling as if he were fighting with someone.
The mother asked Saidi, “What’s wrong, my son? What’s wrong?”
Saidi, who still had some strength, told his parents, “I saw men and women who wanted to take me with them, and I used my strength to defend myself, but they were very strong.”
His mother asked him, “Are they still here?”
Saidi: “Yes, they are still here. Mom, I see them in the corners of the house, they are calling me.”
When Kwibe heard this, he went to get some people from the neighborhood so that they could witness what his child was saying. When he returned, he found his wife screaming and crying for her son. Those who entered the house did not dare to ask the reason for her crying. The child was dead. Everyone present immediately began to cry for Saidi. After a night of sorrow and condolences, Kwibe called the members of his family who were not in town, Saidi’s maternal and paternal uncles.
They all soon arrived in Moabi, except for one relative who lived a hundred kilometers away. The family held an emergency meeting during which they decided to take Saidi to the marabout who lived a few kilometers from town. The next day they set off for the marabout. The seven men carried Saidi’s body on a stretcher, and after a day’s walk, they came to a river. There was no way around the river. They had to cross it.
Two of the men crossed the river first, to test the current. They reached the other side of the river without too much difficulty. That left five men to take the corpse across. Four men carried the stretcher with Saidi’s body, and the fifth man followed. When they got to the middle of the river, one of the men slipped on a stone underwater and the corpse fell into the river. Kwibe’s younger brother, who was already on the other bank, went back to help the others, but he slipped when he stepped into the water, and the current carried him away.
The others searched for the corpse and Saidi’s uncle. They eventually found Saidi’s body, but they did not find any trace of Kwibe’s younger brother. Six out of the seven men who had left Moabi remained. They had no time to waste. After following the river for fifteen minutes, they came across two crocodiles tearing apart the body of Kwibe’s younger brother. When they saw this, some of the men suggested going back, but the others refused. Later that afternoon, they arrived at the marabout’s house. When the marabout saw them, he told them that they were already too late. The child would not come back to life. He added that the child had been bewitched by a great number of sorcerers who practiced a powerful form of black magic.
The six men were astonished by the marabout’s words. Kwibe asked, “What should we do for my son?”
The marabout answered, “You have no time to lose. We must all go back to your town and catch the sorcerers who have bewitched your family, to prevent them from harming any more people. All of your family members are in danger, Kwibe, as you saw with your younger brother, who came with you but is no longer with us.”
The next morning they set off for Moabi, still with the child’s corpse. A day and a half later, they were back in the town, accompanied by the marabout. That afternoon, the marabout set about catching the sorcerers who had bewitched the Matondo family. He put a pot on the fire and asked everyone present to put their hands in the boiling water. He told them that if their hands did not burn, it meant they were holy. If their hands did burn, however, it meant they were a sorcerer.
The people present put their hands in boiling water one by one. A dozen people passed the test. Then an old woman of about sixty years put her hands in the boiling water and burned them. The marabout said that she was a witch and that there were other witch doctors here. In total, the marabout caught a dozen people who were considered witches in the town. They had killed the child, he said. The inhabitants of the city locked them up, intending to stone them the next day.
That night, a group of sorcerers came to where Saidi’s remains were being kept. The marabout was awake and watching over the child. The marabout cast a spell on the sorcerers and caught them all. He woke up the villagers and revealed to them the real sorcerers. “Untie the people who are locked up,” he said. “They are not real sorcerers. I set a trap because I knew the real sorcerers would not come to do the test.”
Among the captured sorcerers were close relatives of the Matondo family. The Moabites decided to stone the sorcerers so that they would no longer pose a threat to the community.
The next morning, the Moabites made preparations for the executions. Before the sorcerers were executed, one of them told the Matondo family, “We will leave with the whole family. That has been our goal for a long time and more people will die even after we are gone.” They were executed before Saidi was even buried.
Afterwards, the Matondo family arranged for the burial of their child. When the day arrived, the youths transported the body to the cemetery. Before the funerary ceremonies began, a strong wind blew and the mourners had to flee the cemetery. After a while the wind stopped blowing, and the mourners returned. The burial took place, not without difficulties. When the mother of the deceased saw her only son buried, she cried, “Our ancestors have allowed wicked people to deprive me of my only son. So let them also take my womb and all of my dearest belongings!”
After Misala had said these words, her husband fell to the ground and died instantly. The mourners were distressed by what had just taken place. They buried Kwibe next to his son.
The inhabitants of Moabi mourned the members of the Matondo family who had died, and the marabout left not long after the sorcerers were executed, but the curse on the Matondo family had not been lifted. There was only one person from the male Matondo line still alive, and he came to see his brother’s widow. He came by train, and when he arrived at the station he was run over by a train. As was the custom in the Matondo family, they buried Kwibe’s last brother next to Kwibe and Saidi.
Misala was now the only one who bore the Matondo name. The blood of the Matondo family had been erased from the town. Misala’s relatives, who had come to Saidi’s funeral, eventually decided to leave Moabi with her. With that, the story of the Matondo family came to an end. But the inhabitants of Moabi continue to live in fear, even though they have lived in peace for a while now. They have declared that they will burn alive anyone found guilty of practicing witchcraft. This is how Moabi got the name “the city of the damned.”
7 July, 2023