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The Alo Man: Stories from the Congo

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
Mpoko the boy and Nkunda the girl were squatting in the firelight just outside their mother’s hut, where they could smell the smells from the cooking pots the women were tending so carefully. Their father, the chief of the tiny village, had gone with his men two days before on a trading journey to one of the great markets. They should have been at home before this. Mpoko was busy winding a precious piece of brass wire round the handle of his pet hunting spear, and Nkunda was watching him. Each man or boy of the village had his favorite spear with its leaf-shaped iron blade, and the wire on the handle was useful as well as ornamental, for it gave a good grip. Iron is found almost everywhere in Africa, and the native blacksmiths made not only spear heads but knife blades and little axes. They could not make brass, which is a mixture of copper and zinc, but all traders had brass rods in their stores, and these could be hammered into all sorts of shapes. When these rods were first brought into the country, they were made about thirty inches long; but there was so much demand for smaller pieces to use in trading like small change, that they were now made only six or seven inches in length. Nkunda had a piece of brass wire almost as long as Mpoko’s, but hers was coiled round her slender brown wrist as a bracelet. In Central Africa, supper time is about six o’clock all the year round. From one season to another, night and day are nearly equal and the time of sunrise and of sunset changes hardly more than fifteen minutes throughout the year. The year begins with the first heavy rain of the wet season, and when the new green shoots come out on the spurge thickets the people know that the new year is at hand. The evening meal is the most important one of the day, sometimes the only regular meal. Soon after sunrise on this particular day the women, as usual, had picked up their hoes, their baskets, and their babies and had gone out to work on the farms outside the village. They had come back in the middle of the afternoon to begin preparing supper, which was a matter of some hours’ work, because there were so many different things to be done. Grain for bread or mush had to be ground on heavy stone slabs, vegetables must be made ready for cooking, water, fetched from the spring, wood brought, and fires made. Mpoko and Nkunda had helped a little, and they knew where, in a heap of hot ashes, the sweet potatoes from their own corner of the field were baking. There would be boiled fowl and cassava bread, and maybe some stewed fruit.