Posts Tagged ‘Kzars’

“Tin Hinan” Chapter 6 (part of it)

January 13, 2009

(This chapter is almost 5,000 words, so I have broken it up into segments.

N.B: Ksars are the settlements of Mountainous Berbers. They construct single story stone houses, with flat roofs. Since there is only seasonal rain, they don’t need pitched roofs. Their graneries and storage rooms are made from mud, adobe. A ksar refers to the wall that  undulates around a mountain village, earlier constructed for defense, but also refers to the stacked stone houses.

Djellaba: Each Berber tribe/clan has it’s own recognizable

tribal robe, woven from the local herd of goats. Tin’s is red and white striped robe, like a hooded cowl. With a general knowledge of the colors and style of a tribe, one could see at a distance whether the rider was friend or foe of your own tribe.

Chapter Six

The next morning the men rose even earlier. They were excited to be going home, proud of the booty they carried. Joking and calling out to each other, they scurried to break camp. Camels bellowed, and horses shied from being mounted. Only the pack mules waited patiently for their burdens.

“Takama”, I called, looking around for the girl. Usually underfoot, this morning she was talking to a man. Ah! I will whip her soundly for her immodesty!

“I am here, Mistress. I was only trying to find out when we would be in the mountains.”

“You will be there fast enough. Have you no fear? These men are not our tribe. You could still be plunder.”

I scowled at her and her face showed renewed fear. Good. Let her think before she talks to men again.

Takama and I dressed in our tribe’s red and white striped djellaba while I carefully secured the scarf around my shorn head. Takama unpacked some of my jewelry, and I placed a silver coined circlet on my forehead. She insisted I wear more of my jewelry to appear noble. I might be a prisoner, but I was not a slave.

Immel Uzmir bullied and cajoled his tribesmen into some sort of readiness. He rode to where Takama and I were mounted, she on her donkey, and I on Niefa. His horse was a fine large beast, and pranced and bucked with spirit. Immel Uzmir slapped his neck to quiet him, and looked at us appraisingly. His horse twisted around and tried to break into a run. Immel Uzim smiled a great, toothy grin, his veil not yet secured over his mouth, as his eyes swept us both. Then, with a hard kick to the horse’s flanks, he flew to the front of the caravan. The camels were bellowing, complaining loudly, and the men were using their sticks to beat the mules into a walk.

We plodded for a couple of hours across that lush valley, where groves of walnuts and apricots grew. Some shepherds with flocks of goats and sheep waved and shouted, recognizing the tribe. We came to a river about half way across the valley, and had to forge its waters, though it wasn’t deep. Water came to the breasts of the camels, though the smaller mules had to swim, helped along by men on the larger horses. There were a couple of packs lost in the river, but they were retrieved with the efforts of a few men.

Although we were in a wide valley, it was placed between two mountain ranges. The weather was cold at this altitude. I wished I had unpacked my heavier wool robe. I looked back behind Niefa, at Takama on her donkey. She was a slave, but she rode with dignity, her head held high, her nose disdainfully up in the air. I wondered how long she would hold that position. We had a long way across the valley.

After we crossed the river collected on its wide banks, we continued onward, for no one wanted to stop for a midday meal in their haste to get home. A scout had been sent ahead early that morning. He would arrive well ahead of the caravan. Then the tribe, warned of our approach, would have slaughtered goats and sheep for a welcomed feast. I was hungry, for breakfast was, again, a handful of dates and a gourd of water. No one had time to milk a camel.

We crossed to the second half of the valley, and although far away, I could see structures on the side of the mountain. They were mountain ksars as Immel Uzmir explained. His tribe did not live in the rough, woven goat hair tents as desert Berbers did, but built stone one-story houses and mud granaries. This would be a very different from what we were used to. Although I tried to maintain an aloof manner, conscious I would appear no more than a part of the plunder, I was excited. I did not know the measure of my fate but I was curious and fearful at the same time.

The caravan made its way towards the forest at the foot of the mountain. As we cleared an orchard of walnut trees, I could see the mass of buildings dotting the face of the mountain. Arranged up the side, they were like beehives, plastered mud structures. These were the granaries and storage rooms. People lived in one story stone houses, built wherever there was flat ground, but farther up the mountain amongst walnut and olive trees.

As we came closer, I saw young boys run out to greet and bedevil the men as young boys do. They hung on the mules and pulled on the packs and dodged the whips of their fathers and uncles. They yelled and chortled and danced in excitement. Then, floating over the valley, that fierce ululation of Berber women made the hair of my arms stand up. They were welcoming home their men, each hoping her beloved was amongst the returning.

We pulled into a large courtyard, a great cacophony of sound from the camels, men, women and children. There was a line of elders standing apart from the general milling chaos. These were the men who would pass judgement on our future. Niefa, to her honor, stood quietly, while I sat stiffly on her back. I was not a part of the welcome, for these people were strangers and most probably my masters now. Whether I would be seen as a spoil of a raid and therefore just a slave, was up to the gods. I hoped desperately that Takama and I would not be separated. She was the only touchstone I had to my past.

Amongst the noise and confusion, I saw men and women come to where Immel Uzmir had slipped off his horse. He was embraced by an older woman, probably his mother, and several younger ones, possibly his kinswomen. I did not know if he had any wives for we had never discussed this. The line of elders moved to embrace him and welcome him home. Clearly he was an important man.

I looked around at Takama and smiled weakly in encouragement. She looked scared. She was unsure of her future and had no reason for optimism. She was a slave, but had only known kindness from our tribe. Although we were treated fairly during the caravan, coming into the ksar could prove a different fate.

“Aicha…Aicha”, whispered Takama as she drew close to Niefa. “What do you think will happen to us? Did you see how their dwellings cling to the mountain side? Aeeeiiii! How will we ever walk those hills?”

“Do I look like a smelly, old fortune teller, girl? You keep asking questions I have no answers. Just be patient. Perhaps you will find a husband by some fire, eh?”

“Oh, Mistress! Don’t scare me. These men are not our people. They just look like our tribe. They could be very cruel, what do we know yet?”

“Yes, stupid girl. What do we know? They haven’t roasted us at their fires, they haven’t fed us to mountain wolves and we still have our fingers and toes. Be patient, Takama, or I will  beat you.”

I was anxious myself, and just wanted quiet. My liver was uneasy, for I had not only led myself into uncertainty, but another soul. I was responsible for Takama, even though she was but a slave. I would still account to the gods for her keeping.

We were in the hot sun, no different than the pack animals with their rolls of cloth and bags of spices. We could be considered plunder by any casual observer. Immel Uzmir walked up and commanded Niefa to kneel, helping me to dismount. He led me to the group of elders who had moved back into the shade. I stood there, my veil half hiding my face, and looked down as was proper. Takama slipped off her donkey and came behind me. Her presence was a comfort in this strange environment. I felt her tugging at my robes.

“Welcome daughters, to our village.” I heard the voice of an old man, and looked up at the speaker. He was a grizzled old man, his veil loose around his face. His eyes were like two black coals, but the expression was warm, kind.

“Do not be afraid for your lives. You and your woman will be welcome at our fire and share our meat. We have need of women for wives to our men. We don’t need more slaves. We are growing old and need the comfort of the young. We want grandchildren on our knees.”

I felt tears form in my eyes and I quickly dropped my face to the ground, hoping to hide my weakness. Overcome by emotion, I faintly heard him speak through the pounding of my blood in my ears.

“My wife Leila will take you to our house and help you and your woman settle. My son Immel, tells me you are from a desert tribe a long way from our mountain. You and your woman will find our life different, but the Gods are fair and give us their gifts.”

I bowed my head, afraid to look up. Now my tears would stain my face, perhaps the salt would run furrows in the last of the indigo dye fading from my face. I had not expected any kindness, and my heart had been bitter so long. Fear had vanquished any hope.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2007, 2009

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