One moment that is etched in my mind is the day in Arbaminch when I accompanied Keffne, a student of class twelve who stayed with us and ran errands to the market. There was a crowd surrounding a young man laid on the ground, naked to all appearances. He had attempted to end his life. People prevented him from doing so and had pulled him down from the tree where he had hitched the rope that was looped around his neck. Peering over I looked at him, a child of no more than eight years and saw that in place of his manhood was a prosthetic organ, blue in colour, attached to his abdomen by a square shaped patch, tan in colour. It came as a surprise to see such an organ so alien in nature and it was in that moment that I was filled with a sense of sadness that even today seems to fill my heart with emotions that I can hardly explain! A specimen of the ideal young man, tall and well endowed, he had been brought down by the tragedy that had overtaken all possibilities in life!
Somehow I could sense how he felt, and wasn't surprised when Keffne told me that he had been a victim of an attack by one of the members of the tribe of Gujjis who were known to cut off the organs of males so as to display them as trophies to prove that they were man enough to be eligible to get married. I had come across numerous stories about some of the students of the Arbaminch comprehensive school who had strayed off the beaten path and had their manhood hacked off, left bleeding on the road to die or be discovered by other people who promptly took them to the hospital in Shecha run by Danish doctors. Unfortunately, their survival would lead to a life of frustration and a desire to die since their manhood had been hacked away by members of a tribe who believed in an ancient custom which although it proved their prowess and eligibility to find brides, left their unhappy victims completely wrecked! It would have been better for the Gujji men to have killed their victims so as to prevent them from living a life of ignominy and mental torture!
I remember the sight of Gujji tribesmen and women entering the town, tall handsome, hair braided in a shirubba, colourful beads threaded in their hair. They came to town to sell a rather rancid form of butter in boluses weighing roughly a kilo wrapped in banana leaves. They carried with them sharp spears and where often looked at without fear by the local residents in the off marriage season. But then that day when I looked at the young man lying on the ground with a prosthetic for his real organ, I felt really sad for him. For the robbing of one’s manhood does leave one totally devastated, the knowledge that one will never be able to propagate in the future is one great curse and punishment that one can never wish for. It is unfortunate that this practice existed in some of the ancient cultures of Africa! One custom that I remember is of the custom of the men of the Gala tribe that used to undertake task of jumping over the backs of a series of oxen to prove their manhood so as to prove their eligibility to get married to the bride of their choice.
I am sure that technological advancement and the fruits of education have surely brought an end to such customs that led to serious injuries to the contestants and victims that came in the way of proving the manhood of suitors and eligible bachelors. But then, my mind still goes back to the plight of that young man who had the bad luck of being at the wrong place in the wrong time! Yes, in the year 1978 people in Arbaminch were still backward enough to follow such savage customs. There were reprisals by the people of the town when such incidents of castration took place, and some of the probably innocent women of the Gujji tribe who came to sell milk and butter bore the brunt as a result of being lynched and beaten up. Unfortunately, the militia and the police that controlled Arbaminch did not have much control over what happened beyond the precincts of the town, especially a few kilometres into the jungle.
I remember sneaking out of the school precincts of the the Arbaminch Comprehensive School during my free periods to forage in the forest that pressed on all around the school, fearing little of the dangers that it presented in order collect some of the fruits of the jungle, beraha lomin, a sweet-sour fruit, and the seeds of a particular tree which tasted of creamy pistachios but when eaten in excess gave one the most horrible of hiccups! But then I guess that was another world, in any case I never told my parents who taught in the same school about my escapades otherwise I would surely have been given a sound thrashing! What made matters worse was that some of the most horrendous attacks by the Gujji Tribe had taken place just a few metres off the boundary of the Arbaminch Comprehensive Senior Secondary school. People to this day deny this practice of the Gujji Tribe of castrating young men and carrying off their trophies to prove their eligibility to claim brides, but then I know that it did take place because of what I had seen that day in the market place and what I had heard from my friends and teachers!
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