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Two Hateful Brothers

(With Permission from book, Laughter of a Crazy Man)

Nothing could satisfy Zakpa. The great warrior Chief had conquered endless territory but still wanted to control more. He had many sons and daughters but worried they were all lazy and none had the fire and aggression to walk in his footsteps. His two sons ran away rather than go through the tough discipline he demanded. When his wives died, he refused to marry and spent all his time at war or planning the next war campaign. His most dedicated warriors grumbled secretly about the endless warpath.  Zakpa was restless and quickly decided to take his war north, to the Lorma people.

He called his medicine man and asked him to make a talisman so he can have children that follow his footsteps. The witch doctor smiled and asked, "How can you have children if you don't have a woman. The ones you had before are gone?"  Zakpa agreed and answered, "Yes, I know." The witch doctor scattered some cowrie shells on the floor and studied them forecasting the future using the shells and said, "I see that you will meet a woman and have children but I can't see beyond that. The future is a mist".

Zakpa insisted that his warriors not place extra men for his defense or protection during battle. He said, “I need men to fight, not protect me.” Today, he realized his mistake. The Lorma warriors discovered this and sent men to attack him. This desperate final act was a bold move to change the outcome of the battle. Three of the best enemy warriors suddenly broke ranks during the battle and attacked him. Zakpa was a capable fighter but these were excellent warriors. He feared all was lost but fought gallantly until two trusted warriors rushed to protect their leader. Kokolo got a big wound on his back when he left his opponent to help Zakpa. The fight was over in no time. The men searched the nearby trees collecting spider webs and some herbs that were crushed and placed in Kokolo's wound after it was cleaned and the bleeding stopped. They lost only two men and their bodies were placed in hammocks for transport home.

After the battle, Zakpa sat on a makeshift bench in a green grove under a tree. He reflected how life can change so fast. Few hours ago, he was fighting for precious life and in no time, he was resting and giving judgment on his prisoners. The first prisoners paraded were three men who had their head shaved. They were leaders of the three nearby towns that had rebelled against him. They came begging and saying sorry but he hardly listened to what they said. He was curious to know who incited a rebellion in his allies and thought, “When you pull opossum from the hole a lot of dirt comes out with it", knowing it was just a matter of time when he will get answers.  Zakpa did not have to say anything, his men knew that rebels paid a price for rebellion. If pardoned, they will organize another fight. A tall man strutted along later with a huge horn, assorted cowrie shells forming necklaces and armbands. He walked proudly and Zakpa noticed. Kokolo yelled, “We not looking for medicine man that let his people lose the war”. Zakpa was cynical and unsure if his magic amulets and war shirt could have protected him if his men had not come to his rescue. Later, the women were paraded. Most were tall and very shapely. One of the ladies came, made direct eye contact with him and sustained it for a moment, giving him a sensation deep in his belly and a feeling, he was destined to meet this woman but he shrugged it off. Later, iron and gold objects were put on display-The spoils of war. Kokolo was in charge of sharing the loot and made sure their allies left feeling satisfied. 

As they prepared for return, a long retinue of porters led the way back and Zakpa watched his men organizing the trip like they have done so many times. Kokolo barked orders to one of his soldiers to bring someone. He said, "She's going with my chief".  Zakpa looked at him stunned and said, "Only if she wants to go". Kokolo asked, she looked defiant, but answered, yes. It was the same lady that given him the look of challenge.

Kebeh changed Zakpa. This beautiful woman made him want to stay home and he was less willing to make wars. He joked Kokolo, his ablest warrior, that Kebeh was his scheme to run away from the warpath saying, “I know why you give me that woman”.  Not long after, Kebeh announced she was expecting a child and had twin boys but she died suddenly and strangely, a week after childbirth. The task of raising his sons fell on Zakpa and it was not easy. He did his best and was assisted by his mother, friends, and the entire community.

The people in the village joked that the boys started to fight in their mother's womb and it seemed true. Fight among sibling is not a new thing but this one was different and it seemingly never stopped and it was quite intense. Zakpa prayer for children that were hot like fire and not cold like ashes was answered. His sons were strong-willed and set in their ways. They fought like it was a fight to death. They battled until they were worn out and when they regained vitality, they went back to fighting. No amount of threats or whipping could stop them. Sanka and Kpanba had completely different personalities.

 Sanka was friendly, jovial and always scheming to outsmart others. His friends joked that you had to count your fingers after shaking his hands. He was attracted to magic and wizardry. He was wiry and active and full of energy. His brother, Kpanba was reserved, witty and had a sense of wisdom and capacity to see through complex things that were rarely found in his age. He was more muscular and looked strong. However, the only trait Kpanba's friends noted of him was his extreme tendency not to share or give. In fact, his friends as kids made a riddle of him saying, "Who goes to stool but there is no odor? Kpanba.” They claimed he was so stingy and selfish and unwilling to even share the stinky odor from his shit. It was a delicate act for their friends since the brothers did not readily accept anyone viewed as a close friend of his rival. 

The enmity and battles continued even as the boys became older. One day, Zakpa's mother confronted him. "Don't you think something is wrong with your sons? I have seen children grow up and fight but this one looks different." She was only voicing out a feeling Zakpa had. Zakpa went the next day to his old friend, Koko, the soothsayer and asked if something was wrong. Koko invited Zakpa into a small hut in his backyard. There were strange writings on the wall and the room smelled smoky with strange aromas. Tortoise shells, snake skins and hides of animals, Zakpa could not recognize, lined the walls. Koko sat on a stool and asked Zakpa to sit on a mat. He took a handful of shells from a calabash and threw them like dices. Koko started smiling after reading the message from the shells. "You should be worried about yourself and not your sons. If you don't get rid of them, one of them will get rid of you and take over. That's what I see in the future."  Zakpa retorted, “If you really mean what you're saying, I will kill them today". Koko reassured Zakpa that he could wait until his sons are initiated and that he did not need to kill anyone. He then advised that Zakpa send the boys to distant friends or vassals to live.

As the initiation ceremony drew near, Zakpa sent a message to an old friend, Chief Sao Boso Kamara, that he needed two good horses. Two days after initiation, he informed his mother and she had bags of food and personal items ready for both sons. Kpanba and Sanka knew something was happening but they were too busy with the initiation ceremony to pay attention to anything else. Their Grandmother was crying and Zakpa was impatient as she advised them before leaving, “I don’t know what you two are angry about. Whatever it is, we need to forget it, ‘If you keep water in your mouth too long, it turns into spit’ and if you guys don’t stop this feud, even the ground will not be able to separate you.” The brothers were silent as they followed their father and Kokolo on the road leading from the town. Zakpa fed the horses a special kind of grain and hay that made them gallop for days without tiring. He ordered his sons to ride in opposite directions after they made solemn oath not to return except after his death. "If you come here before you hear I’m dead," he said, "I will kill you".

Twenty years passed and the brothers were famous. Everyone marveled about the wealth of Kpanba but even more about his stinginess. On days of veneration to the spirits, he would slaughter a fowl or sheep, roast the meat and refuse to share, claiming that the smoke from the meat was enough to allay the appetite of the deities and keep the meat for himself. Sanka, the famous wizard of Kakata, whose ability to solve the riddles of life, was the word in every mouth as he did one marvel after another. When a mystical dwarf got the habit of coming down the Gibi Mountain to harm farmers nearby, Sanka used his magic power to force the dwarf back to never come back down again.  For some reason, the brothers avoided each other; that was until Kpanba started having strange dreams.

Every night, Kpanba woke up in a cold sweat. The dream recurred nightly. In the dream, a black cow was being slaughtered and as the knife severed its neck, Kpanba felt as if he was being cut on the neck and then saw his body with a large neck wound, lying in a pool of blood. He sought the help of wizards and magicians who told him the dream foretold his imminent death. One juju man told him to make a large feast and he did. He even shared with the villagers but the dreams did not stop. It did not stop but one night, he had a vision of his mother telling him to go and see his brother. The years had not lessened the hatred. In fact, Kpanba thought his brother, the wizard, was the one causing him this problem.

The trek to Kakata, where Sanka lived, felt painfully long and he counted every step since he had to face his brother, something he did not relish in the position of inferiority. It was a face off not as equals but as a supplicant and that really hurt him. He anticipated this and went against his usual stinginess and got expensive clothes, good horses and other exquisite things for his entourage; knowing his dignity was in question. When they reached the dusty little town, he sought the compound of his brother and was given a small hut for rest while a messenger was sent to his brother. Sanka kept Kpanba waiting a day before seeing him, giving excuse that he was out of the city on his farm. Kpanba knew it was a power play to show control but remained silent.

It seems Sanka had not aged a day except for being a little taller and Kpanba could not help thinking that the witch doctor had a snake licking his skin to keep him young. Kpanba looked muscular and strong and Sanka said, "brother, I'm happy to see you. God's really been blessing you, you are very famous." Kpanba wittingly remarked that things were not as good as they looked, "I’m just like a fish, nobody know the fish is sweating because the fish lives in water". "You still look strong and young," said Sanka smiling as he led his brother along a pathway to a courtyard and a hut at the back of his compound.

Next, he called his wife and family to meet his brother. After the exchange of greetings and pleasantries, Sanka was direct and asked, "What brings you here, brother?” Kpanba answered, "When you see a frog hopping fast, it’s either running after something or something’s chasing it. Something is running after this frog." He then explained his dreams and solution he had tried but reported still feeling foreboding of death. Sanka had the ability to read the future using cowrie shells; He took his cowrie shells and scattered them. All ten were face up. Sanka soberly murmured, “brother, this is a bad sign" as he pointed to the shells and had his brother look. “You got to go back and open the door with more sacrifices, so we can see what will work. Go and have another feast and invite three villages.” He saw the glint of pride and disdain on his brother’s face, it was great pleasure for him to have Kpanba needy and begging his help. Kpanba hated this but realized, he had no way out and asked what to do after the feast. Sanka replied, “Come back with a black cow and we will slaughter the cow and the blood will open the way then we can know what to do."

Kpanba hated sharing anything with his neighbors. He felt the medicine men including his brother could easily help him but wanted to punish him for not sharing. He detested the villagers, they were lazy and did nothing; he worked hard and used his brains to get rich so why should he support these leeches and drones. He could not understand why these people despite being poor were willing to spend whatever little they had for some stupid ceremony. He prayed to get this trouble off his back: it really pained him to give anything to lazy people.

In a few weeks, Kpanba was back in Kakata, with a black bull in tow. The cow was slaughtered and the blood was spilled on the ground. Sanka took the moist blood-soaked soil in his hands. His brother followed him and they walked to the Gibi Mountain. When they reached, he entered a cave, sat on the floor and commanded his brother to do the same. Sanka took some cowrie shells and rolled. He suddenly burst into a bout of laughter and ended saying, "I didn't know this thing was so easy". Kpanba was bewildered and asked, “what do you mean". He murmured, “the answer to your problem is simple" chanting some strange words and casting a spell on the cowrie shells.  Sanka ordered his brother to touch the Cowrie shells; he did, they felt hot. Sanka explained, when you leave here, find someone and tap that person on the shoulder or back jokingly and say, "it's on you”. Make sure that person don't pat you or return that touch; that person will die instead of you. Repeating, with a glint of mischief in his eyes, Sanka warned, “When you touch that person, they will still look strong but will become weak, so make sure he or she does not come back to touch you."  Sanka then slowly stood up and turned to pack his belongings and leave the cave for home.

 He was shocked and surprised when his brother, Kpanba, said, "I don't have to go far" and tapped Sanka on the back saying, "It’s on you". Sanka chased Kpanba and hit him back saying, "It's on you". The people living at the foot of the mountain thought it strange to see adults playing the tag game. The men scuffled towards the forest and after several episodes of "it’s on you"; the two got into a fight. It was an epic clash, a duel of life and a fight to death and this conflict seemed to last forever. They fought and they fought and the fight took them deeper into the forest.

No one knows what happened but neither Kpanba nor Sanka was seen again. A number of people have visited the area and reported seeing two sweaty, panting men, playing tag, chasing one another saying, "it’s on you" and others saw two men engaged in a bitter battle but the men appeared to be ghosts or spirits. Time and the years have not yet diminished the hatred or stopped this epic battle. The local people say, “if you got good head" which means you have the capacity to see or sense the supernatural, you will see two men still fighting if you visit the Gibi mountain.

©Michel Dioubate2019, Laughter of a Crazy Man