“A reye go shaura”, Bashi beckoned us to go swim. Three inseparable boys. Bashi, Rantole and yours truly. Bashi was a little older while Rantole and I were seven. Like the three musketeers. Always up to some mission. We found Xani flooded with boys.
You see, Okavango River is given different names as it passes across different areas. In this particular place at the edge of the thick bushes in Qurube cattle post (15km from Gumare), it is called Xani River. Xani was the favourite for the boys. It had less reeds and open waters where boys would swim and fish while their cattle grazed.
Meanwhile, some distance away packed a tourist’s 4x4 vehicle. ‘Masafari’ as we called them occasionally passed by our lands. Always Whites, indifferent and in khakhis. History was poised to change. An old lady walked towards us.
She seemed smitten by the place and the people. Her eyes full of love. Teary with joy. Though we could not hear each other we communicated perfectly. She wanted to take a photo of us. All the boys rushed from the water. And so we sat on the dead motswere branch. Stomachs out. Teeth out. ‘Flash!!’
I always wondered about Masafaris. Whence they came? What is it that they found exciting about our river? Their convoy would stop spontaneously along the Shakawe road. They would walk about with satisfaction.
Take photos of grass, birds and even the ugly hippos. Wasted photos. Photos of nothing. At least this one was different. She took a real photo. A photo of people.
It was almost evening. Time to gather cattle home to their kraals. Bashi, Rantole and yours truly went along talking about the eventful day.
Rantole said he felt like he and the white lady somehow knew each other. For him, it felt like a grand reunion with his aunt who had gone to towns never to return. Bashi fantasised of what will become of us now. “We will be famous, heroes’! I imaged our photo in one of my sisters school books, with the caption; HAPPY QURUBE BOYS.
Whilst we walked, subdued voices called from the river. The boys were warning us about a mountain of elephants about to enshroud us. We were so captivated that we have not noticed a parade of elephants break through the bush. You see, Qurube’s topography could be classified into three. Thick bushes, grasslands and rivers. T
he grassland separated bushes from rivers. It was a flood plain where rivers occasionally spit during handsome years. Ordinarily one would see anything taller than the grass a kilometre away. But this was not an ordinary day.
The rest of the boys came out of the waters. “Away, away!!” we shouted.
Louder than Tarzan the barbarian. We made all kinds of noises. (Sometimes elephants got lost towards our homesteads. We would shout and beat drums. They would understand and change their route). Even now they retreated, reluctantly.
Sometimes foreign men would camp in the far away bushes of our cattle post. Towards the ends of the world. On the Xauxau road. Rumour had it that they were elephant hunters.
Once one of the hunters and an elephant faced off.
The strange occurrence caused pandemonium in our quite locale. Game rangers from Gumare took his body away. People from neighbouring settlements feasted on the meat. People of Qurube would not touch the meat.
We have been told that elephants had meats of other animals. In an elephant, there was a meat of a dog, monkey even humans. I would later learn that an elephant is actually our totem.
The momentous event left our young minds bewildered. ‘Why do people hunt elephants when there were lots of cattle for meat?’ Lots of antelopes. Buffalos were there for celebrated hunters like my grandfather. Even now my mouth salivates as I reminisce pounded soft buffalo meat (seswaa). True African delicacy. Passed golden years when meat and food were plenty.
Back then Botswana was counted amongst the poorest yet its people were happiest. Today Botswana is said to do well yet so many people go hungry. Puzzling! A conundrum of absurdity. Ooh! How things have changed.
Elephants have made an international alliance against us. They have formed a confederacy with BBC World, CITES, Elephant Without Borders; to roam without restrain and do as they please. We plough they cut the fence; mutilate our plants. The meagre cattle we keep are starved as the environment is aweary from elephant stampede.
Our movement is restricted.
Elephants have broken the truce. Baying for blood. On mission for total domination. The periodic elephant hunters have ceased to come. Killing an elephant attract nonnegotiable maximum jail term. International media blaze like deadly Californian wild fires at the death of an elephant.
And so my childhood friend Bashi became causality in this man orchestrated Darwinic conflict. In the company of some herdsmen they went out to gather cattle back to the kraals one Sunday afternoon. They met the great mammals. They retreated back home.
The mammals followed them. They shouted out loud like we used to. The elephants got infuriated. Charged. The herdsmen scattered. Few metres from home a proud bull caught up with Bashi. Smashed him.
Blew a trump of triumph. Urinated on the spot to mark its territory.
And now the Game Rangers have come to give Bashi’s family compensation. Payment for the life lost. Payment for us all to leave our livelihoods and lead a life of idleness. And now so many of our people’s lives have been smashed by elephants into hunger, into drunkenness and a life of crime. Before long the white lady will come with her camera. And her pictures may run on BBC world with the caption; STARVING QURUBE BOYS.
In memory of Bashi (not his real name) who was killed by an elephant in Qurube cattle post Sunday evening on 28 October 2018.
*Bonolo Sebadieta is a contributor to Mmegi