Oral Literature: Wanjiru – Sacrificed By Her Family

The sun beat down mercilessly and there was no sign of any rain. This happened one year, and it happened again a second year, and even a third year, so that the crops died and the men, women and children found themselves close to starvation. Finally, the elders of the village called all the people together, and they assembled on the scorched grass at the foot of the hill where they had sung and danced in happier times.

Sick and weary of their miserable plight, they turned to each other and asked helplessly “Why is it that the rains do not come?” Not one among them could find an answer, and so they went to the house of the witch-doctor and put to him the same question, “Tell us why there is no rain”, they wept. “Our crops have failed for a third season and we shall soon die of hunger if things do not change”.

The witch-doctor took hold of his gourd, shook it hard, and poured its contents on the ground. After he had done this three times, he spoke gravely, “There is a young maiden called Wanjiru living among you. If you want the rain to fall, she must be bought by the people of the village. In two days time you should all return to this place, and everyone of you, from the eldest to the youngest, must bring with him a goat for the purchase of the maiden”.

And so, on the appointed day, the people gathered together again, each one of them leading a goat to the foot of the hill where the witch-doctor waited to receive them. He ordered the crowd to form a circle and called for Wanjiru to come forward and stand in the middle with her relations to one side of her.

One by one, the people began to move towards Wanjiru’s family, leading the goats in payment, and as they approached, the feet of the young girl began to sink into the ground. In an instant, she had sunk up to her knees and she screamed in terror as the soil tugged at her limbs, pulling her closer towards the earth. Her father and mother saw what was happening and they, too, cried out in fear “Our daughter is lost! Our daughter is lost! We must do something to save her”.

But the villagers continued to close in around them, each of them handing over their goat until Wanjiru sank deeper to her waist. “I am lost!” the girl called out, “but much rain will come”.

She sank to her breast and as she did, heavy black clouds began to gather overhead. She sank even lower, up to her neck, and now the rain started to fall from above in huge drops. Again, Wanjiru’s family attempted to move forward to save her, but yet more people came towards them, pressing them to take goats in payment, and so they stood still, watching as the girl wailed “My people have forsaken me! I am undone”.

Soon she had vanished from sight. The earth closed over her, the rain poured down in a great deluge and the villagers ran to their huts for shelter without pausing to look back. Now there was a particular young warrior of fearless reputation among the people, who had been in love with Wanjiru ever since childhood.

Several weeks had passed since her disappearance, but still he could not reconcile himself to her loss and repeated continually to himself “Wanjiru is gone from me and her own people have done this thing to her. But I will find her. I will go to the same place and bring her back”.

Taking up his shield and his spear, the young warrior departed his home in search of the girl he loved. For almost a year, he roamed the countryside, but still he could find no trace of her. Weary and dejected, he returned home to the village and stood on the spot where Wanjiru had vanished, allowing his tears to flow freely for the first time.

Suddenly, his feet began to sink into the soil and he sank lower and lower until the ground closed over him and he found himself standing in the middle of a long, winding road beneath the earth’s surface.

He did not hesitate to follow this road, and after a time, he spotted a figure up ahead of him. He ran towards the figure and saw that it was Wanjiru, even though she was scarcely recognizable in her filthy, tattered clothing.

“You were sacrificed to bring the rain”, he spoke tenderly to her, “but now that the rain has come, I shall take you back to where you belong”. And he lifted Wanjiru carefully onto his back and carried her along the road, as if she were his own beloved child. They suddenly rose through the open air, landing their feet on the ground. “You shall not return to the house of your people”, the warrior told Wanjiru, “they have treated you shamefully. I will look after you instead”.

They waited until nightfall and under the cover of darkness, the young warrior took Wanjiru to his mother’s house, instructing the old woman to tell no one that the girl had returned. The months passed by and Wanjiru lived happily with mother and son. Every day a goat was slaughtered, and the meat served to her. The old woman made clothes from the skins and hung beads in the girl’s hair until she had regained the healthy glow she once had. Harvest time was now fast approaching, and a great feast was to be held among the people of the village.
The young warrior was one of the first to arrive but Wanjiru waited until the rest of the guests had assembled before she came out of the house to join the festivities.

At first, she was not recognized by anyone, but after a time, one of her brothers approached her and cried out “Surely that is Wanjiru, the sister we lost when the rains came”. The girl hung her head and gave no answer. “You sold Wanjiru shamefully”, the young warrior intervened, “you do not deserve to have her back”. The young warrior beat off her relatives and took Wanjiru back to his mother’s house.

But the next day, her family knocked on his door asking to see the young girl. The warrior refused them once more, but still they came, again and again, until, on the fourth day, the young man relented and said to himself “Those are real tears her family shed. Surely now they have proven that they care”.

The young warrior invited her family into his home and sat down to fix the bride-price for Wanjiru. And when he had paid it, the young warrior married Wanjiru who had returned to him from the land of shadows beneath the earth.

– From The Kikuyu People, Kenya

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