Posts Tagged ‘Berbers in the 6th Century’

“Tin Hinan”, Chapter Two: ‘Damaged Goods’

October 13, 2013

 "Tin Hinan", Chapter II,  "Damaged Goods" 

Warning: a bit of violence here…

 

Early the next morning, I rose from my pallet in the corner of my mother’s large tent. I knew my path.  During a sleepless night, I had time to refine it.

Sending Takama to gather dates, millet, barley and to fill two large water leathers,  I told her to pack for a journey, to roll up clothes for both of us, and to also pack blankets.  We were to go away, and with big eyes and trembling lips she listened in silence. I told her I would beat her to an inch of her worthless life if she slipped up and made anyone notice what she did.  Takama was a good girl,and she nodded in silence.  Although she was only two years younger, and a slave of my family, she was now my travelling companion.

When I listen to myself relate this story, so many years ago, I think I was what the Turks call “burnt kebobs”. A bit crazy, desert-mad–I had lost all my senses.  Perhaps I would do things differently if given another chance, but I was so young and the young are not known for their wisdom. 

I took a piece of wood used in the setting up of tents, smooth and about as long as my forearm, and walked far into the desert.  There, after prayers to Isis and Ifri, I threw off my gown, and placing the wood stake upright in the sand, I lowered my body over it and fell down in one fast drop.

With a scream, I cried out to Isis.  The pain was tremendous, this pain I would have felt on my wedding night.  I destroyed my value as a bride, for my life as a woman was over at that moment.  Now I was not marriageable, I was damaged goods.  I took my virginity so I would not be burdened with thoughts of marriage and happiness any longer.  No such dream fit with my plan for the future.  Now that I had dispensed with my value as a bride, I was freed in my mind.

I drew on my gown and walked back to my mother’s tent.  I bled down my legs and I almost fainted when I entered her side.  Takama had gathered the stuffs I had demanded and hid them under a blanket in my father’s side of the tent. 

No one was there, in either the east or west side, and even my little brothers and sisters were out running around the settlement.  Only my old great-grandmother,  but she was stricken by some elder disease.  Her eyes rolled in her head, but she could not speak.  She did watch me closely. Her face could not form an expression– it was frozen into a mask.

I took my hair down, dropping the bone pins on the carpet. Taking a large, sheep sheering knife, I cut off my two braids as close to my head as I could.  My crowning glory as a woman was now gone.  Great-grandmother Baba watched me, her eyes widening in alarm. 

“Do not worry, Mother Baba.  I know what I am doing.  I am shaping my destiny with my own two hands.”

The two black braids lay like snakes on the carpet.  All those years growing and oiling, pinning it up and brushing it out were now in the past.  I went and opened a cedar chest and drew out men’s clothes.  Putting on the loose pants and the tunic of cotton, I drew on the outer robe and walked to my father’s side of the tent where he kept his many weapons.  Picking a short curved sword, light enough for me to use, I also chose a dagger to wear in my girdle. I outfitted my feet with a good pair of sturdy men’s sandals.  The final part of my new costume was to wrap a dark indigo-blue cloth around my head many times and cover my nose and mouth with the tail.  It had a funny smell but I supposed I would get used to it, and I would be stained blue like the other men, even Hasim.  At the thought of his name, my stomach churned, but I can’t now remember if it was in anger or sorrow.

Takama came into the east side of the tent and stopped suddenly when she saw a man standing there.  Then she saw the two black braids on the carpet and her eyes grew wide. I took down the veil from my face and smiled at her.  She would have screamed but her shock made her silent.  All she could do was stare and shake. She knew I would beat her silly if she made noise to alarm others.

“Come, Takama, we have one more thing to do before we leave.  Saddle my white camel, and bring her to the tent.  Saddle yourself a donkey and get the boys to load both beasts. Meet me back here quickly.” 

Takama did as she was told.  My camel, named Niefa, kneeled and I mounted her, the saddle feeling strange to my buttocks for I was sitting like a man would on a camel.

“Coosh, coosh, Niefa”, I called out to her as she rose up with a groan.  Camels talk a lot, and my Niefa talked all the time.

We rode to the elder’s tent, an open-sided covering with large rugs laid on the sand.  There sat all the tribal elders, and the women of status, my mother prominent amongst them. They were drinking the sweet mint tea that Berbers can not live a day without. 

I was an object of immediate curiosity, for although I was not recognized, my Niefa was.  I came up to the tent, and stopped a respectful distance from them.  Niefa moaned and kneeled, and I toppled off her, and saw some of the older men smile at this young man who did not gracefully descend from his beast.

I walked up to them and bowed, and drew aside my indigo veil.  Immediately I was recognized, and my mother gave up such a wail that my stomach shivered.  My father stared and stared and said nothing.  My presence for a few minutes threw them all into confusion.

“I stand before you, no longer Aicha.  Aicha is dead and dead to this tribe.  I know satisfaction is demanded for the behavior of Hasim Ghanim Iher and his family and tribe.

I know you meet to discuss what is to be done.  But I would not have the blood of my tribesmen on my head.  I will seek my own revenge in time on Hasim Ghanim Iher and his tribe, but Amon and Isis will lead me to that moment.  Now I will leave our oasis and my family and with Takama as my companion, I will go through the desert until I can find peace.”

Those words were the most I ever uttered in public.  A girl of eighteen does not presume to address her elders. But of course, in my mind, I was no longer Aicha, a member of my family nor my tribe.  I was now a stranger to both, and I could see the doubts as to my sanity in my parent’s eyes.

“Ah, Aicha has lost her senses! A Zar must be commanding her. Whoever would believe that this child could cast off her name and do such a thing?”  My mother’s voice rang out in agony, and I winced at her pain. 

There was a general hubbub, a confused mingling of voices, when I heard my father cut through all of them with his own low voice.  Immediately, everyone stopped talking out of respect for this shocked father.  He stood up, drew himself to his full height, (which was not much) and addressed me.

“My daughter, I know your grief.  I saw you former happiness and I know how oppressed your liver is now. Do you understand what you do?  It is heresy in the face of your tribe to appear in men’s clothing.  Do you understand the weight of your actions?”

With tears in my eyes that I shook from my head, I spoke to him, the daughter of his old age and his favorite.

“My father and mother, I do this for the great love I have for my tribe.  I know bloodshed will follow the breaking of the contract by Hasim and his parents.  Our people will die because of this man and his family. Leave them to their shame.  I have my own. But I am born anew and I left Aicha in the desert when I prayed to Isis and Tanit.   She is dead, but I am alive and I go to meet my destiny.”

I did not tell him what else I had done. That was for me only, for that revealed would have me stoned to death.  Such a violation would not be tolerated by the traditions of our tribe. 

My father came forward to embrace me, and turning to the others, with tears running down his face, he addressed them.

“My daughter Aicha, for she will always remain my daughter, has consulted our Ammon and the Goddesses.  If they spoke to her, she is bound to obey.  Aicha is a good girl, and would not lie to me.  I will bless her with my deepest blessings and let her find her destiny.  Anyone who would move against her now, moves against me first.”

I mounted Niefa and with the indigo veil wrapped tightly around my face catching my tears, I turned my camel and Takama and I walked out of our oasis.  I did not dare look back, for I knew if I did so, I would not be able to leave my tribe and my family.

The desert spread out before me at the edge of our oasis, like a vast, white ocean. I turned my eyes to the east where I knew my future was waiting. What I would find, not even the God and Goddesses would tell me.  I was, with the exception of a slave girl, on my own.

 

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2013

 

A Thank You, and a beginning to Chapter 3, “Tin Hinan”.

August 18, 2009

I want to thank people who read this blog yesterday and either wrote or called me about that surprising royalty check for “A Seasoning of Lust”.

Writing seems like a solitary venture, but really, the formulation of this book  was a long slog through a couple of years and a lot of friendships.  I was guided by many people, and some actually remained as friends! Actually, the majority of them have.  And besides their congratulations, there is also the fact that this book was born in a cauldron of a lot of doubt and angst.  That came about because of a particular situation I entered freely.  But that has its  legitimacy as to the development of some of the works of the period and some them  made it into the book.  These mental and emotional ‘spurs’ were as viable as all the other influences. They should be acknowledged.

I believe  good lessons, strong lessons can come  from adversity and also, can come some special creativity.  It might take a while to sort out the lessons and the people, but one should,…..ultimately, be grateful in some important way.

To them, the friends and the irritants, I am.  They were all part of the mix that made this book, and it wouldn’t necessarily exist without their presence.

Lady Nyo

TIN HINAN

CHAPTER 3

As I think back to those times, so long buried in memory, I wonder what I was doing.  Only eighteen years old, such a tender age, and Takama even younger.  We were two maidens driven by Zar-induced madness. There was no other accounting for what I did. Vigorously consulting the goddesses every night I never got an answer.  False goddesses they were, or silent to my pleas.  Safi. (enough)

The first few nights in the desert were sleepless with grief and anger.  I didn’t think of the future danger.  I didn’t dare.  If I did, I would have turned back and then what face would I have?  Our men were known warriors, but our women were just as strong.

Takama made the fire each night, bending over the fire bow and feeding our tiny blazes with twigs and dried camel dung from a sack. She drew precious water from the skins, threw in millet, salt, and we ate some of the dates.  There was no variety in our diet, but I made sure Takama had packed my jewelry.  Sold in a market town or oasis, this silver would bring a different food for our bellies.

Niefa and the donkey fed sparsely on the brush and wild grasses that pockmarked the desert.  We had to be careful with our water, but Niefa was afterall, a camel and she could manage without much water.  Takama’s donkey was another problem.

The first few days had the nature of adventure, and except some expeditions with my father and mother over the mountains, I had never been on my own.  Takama, being a slave, had not even that knowledge. She never left the oasis.

I followed the sun to the east as it rose, and the desert still stretched out before us, endless and unbroken to the horizon.  Some days I wondered if we would die here, the four of us, bleached bones in the desert.  There was little shade except for crouching beside Niefa when we stopped to stretch our legs and squat in the desert.  Takama laughed at me, for I still carried the behaviors of a woman.  I squatted down to pass water, instead of standing.  I would have to remember when we came close to an encampment.

Since we expected to meet others, Takama would be my ‘wife’, and I her young husband.  That would give us at least some sort of story.  But our biggest problem would be explaining why we were out in the desert away from our tribe, and traveling alone.  This was foolhardy at best and dangerous in any case.  A young couple travelling without the cover and protection of at least a small caravan could be runaway slaves. If we were perceived to be such, we would be slaves fast enough.

We talked around our pitiful fire at night, when the stars stretched from horizon to horizon, a blanket of diamonds over us. There was only the sound of the desert wind moaning in the nighttime air.  It got cool as soon as the sun dropped to the horizon and cold when the stars and moon rose into the dark bowl of heaven.

“Aicha, do you think we will soon fine an oasis?”  I heard the worry in her voice.

“Do I look like one of those old, smelly fortune women? Do I look like even a Sheikha? How do I know?”  I was cross with her, for I was fearful myself.  I hide me fear with my fierce words to my slave.

“What if the Arab raiders catch up with us here in the desert?  What will we do?”  Her eyes were wide with her thoughts.

“Ah, Takama, you can dance for them and I will hold them off with my sword.”

Stupid girl, I thought.

“A quick slash of a takouba (sword) and all our problems will be over.  But I would bet even the hated Arabs aren’t stupid enough to kill women. If they guess at my sex I will be raped along with you and sold as a slave.  In fact, from what I hear, even if they didn’t know my sex for sure, they would still rape me.”

Takama’s lip started quivering, and soon her childish tears would fall.

“Takama”, I said in a softer voice, “Soon we will find an oasis and good bread and salt will be offered.  You know our traditions.  The desert tribes are the most generous on earth! We will find a safe haven around their fire and protection from all else.”

Suddenly, Takama screamed and jumped up.  A big desert scorpion, as big as a clay bowl, was crossing towards the fire.  I took my takouba from my girdle and sliced it in half.  It was a lucky blow for these creatures were fast.

After a week, the indigo-blue dye had stained my face, and I had the look of a young man.  Takama tried to line my veil with white cotton, for she did not want to see her mistress degraded in such a way.  I fought with her over this, and threatened to pummel her with my fists like a man would, but we only ended up laughing and rolling in the sand.  I was glad for company, but felt guilty I had taken her from everything she had known for my own selfish reasons. She was a slave, and bound to follow my whims, but she now was also a friend.  Throwing destinies together out in the desert is a great equalizer.

We rose early with the sun, and plodded slowly to the east. After a week, we began to see a change in the dunes.  Off far to the east and north were mountains, and although our steps seemed not to bring us closer, we knew that it was just a matter of time before we would reach some oasis.  Our water was low, and we rationed it out carefully, making sure that the donkey first, then Niefa, had a drink.  Soon we saw shrubs, and more and more grasses.  We pulled up the tough grasses to bite at the tender stalks where they joined the roots, but there was little moisture in this desert grass.

Finally we saw the faint glimpse of palm trees and we knew soon we would arrive at an oasis.  We were coming up to the foot of the mountains and like our own oasis back home, the runoff from the mountains would give some water and pasture.  That was where tribes would gather, and not all of the tribes were nomadic. Most were sheepherders, tied to the land until it was used up by the herds of goats, sheep and camels. Then they would move on, over the mountain passes until they found more pasture.  This was the life of herders back into history.  This was our history.

Winter was coming on, and already the nights were colder.  Takama had brought enough heavy blankets for us, and we had the heat of Niefa to warm us as we huddled together under the covers. A stop at an oasis where we could obtain food, water and shelter was becoming urgent.

I don’t remember all the events of this journey, but I do recall the strong urge to keep running away from the scene of my shame.  Hasim had found me wanting in some way, or had found another more desirable.  Each time I thought of this, my heart overflowed and bitterness and shame rose up like a ghost before me.  I could not quell my liver.  I was single purpose in my need to put as far a distance from my memories as possible.  Running was the only way I knew to change what had happened back there.

As we came closer to the oasis, we saw green grass and date palms.  It was a big oasis, and soon we could see the black tents of nomads.  Niefa bellowed as she smelled fresh water, and even Takama’s donkey picked up his hooves.

It was early evening, the star called Venus had risen when we plodded into the encampment.  They saw us off in the distance, but since we were only two, no general alarm was sounded.  Children ran out, curious as children are, and shyly made a ring around our beasts.  They wanted to know where we came from, but knew those questions would be rude from children, and anyway, desert tribes did not ask.  Hospitality was given first, and what a man wanted to reveal was all that was expected.

We proceeded to the middle of the camp, where men were assembled, and the women behind them.  Now several boys came and grabbed the bridles of both Niefa and the donkey, and I slipped off her back and stood there, my good ‘wife’ Takama coming up behind me.

“Welcome, welcome, come and eat and drink with us”.  A tall man, obviously a chieftain, came up to me, and touching the tips of my outstretched fingers to his, he then clasped together his hands in the traditional desert greeting.

I remembered to keep my veil around my face.  No man would remove his veil from across his mouth in the presence of authority, and this man looked like he was fully invested with the leadership of the tribe.  He carried a dagger in his girdle and the takouba, at his side.

Bowing to him, placing my hands crossed over my chest I answered.

“We have come a long way over the desert, and seek water and supplies.  We have need of rest and a safe place to recover our spirits, praise the Gods and Goddesses.” I remembered to pitch my voice low, and tried to make my eyes look fierce.

“My wife is in need of sleep. The desert is hard on one so young and this is the first time she crosses it.”

I caught a slight flicker of a smile in the eyes of the man before me.  We nomadic people are versed in reading the eyes, for they are the gateways of the soul. The soul resides in the liver, but the eyes are the portals.

“We welcome you to our camp. Come and sit with us, and tell us how you found the desert, the mother of us all.  Your wife will be refreshed by the women.”

I didn’t look at Takama, for to do so would give too much regard for her welfare.  Only if she were sick or breeding would a man publicly show his concern, and then in a very small way before strangers.

I sat and ate good mutton stew, and was grateful that darkness was falling fast, for when I lowered my veil to eat, perhaps my features would appear as that of a woman.  But the blue dye had soaked into my face, and I thought I passed for a young man.  Young I would appear to all, and there was nothing I could do about it.

There would be no questions, for this is not our way, and I offered little about our journey, except to say the desert was a wide sea indeed, and we had come from afar.  What I didn’t then realize was anything I said about the journey, these nomads would already know. If I said we had been journeying for two weeks, they could probably pinpoint our tribe’s oasis.    If I said a month, they would know I was lying, for there was only this oasis and we would have passed by two weeks ago. Stuffing my mouth with mutton and washing it down with goat’s milk, I was grateful for the hospitality and the few questions.

(END OF PART ONE, CHAPTER 3 OF TIN HINAN)

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009


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