Beyond sphere of the rain-maker

Author: Prof Timothy Wangusa is a poet and novelist. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • To our infant amazement, the rain always behaved as implored; not a drop fell on our village.    

It is a real case of cruel irony that the tragic and disastrous flash flood which deluged my home city of Mbale last Sunday prophetically coincided that same day with the publication of my occasional article in this esteemed paper – whose subject was drought, famine, and the return of “such rain upon the dry land as has never fallen before!”

My heartfelt condolences go to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones to that ugly act of the capriciousness of the elements of nature.

Such unpredictable demonstration of “the vagaries of nature” of course makes a laughing stock of the community’s traditional rain-makers who are reputed to have the powers of making and unmaking rain!

“Batikity’e’kulu” (rib-ticklers of heaven) is indeed what we onomatopoeically call them up there in the lofty mountain country of Masaabaland. They are perceived as the expert amusers of the awesome God who inhabits eternity, the clouds, and the rainbow.  

Through formulaic incantations, and ritual weaving of uprooted sacred herbs and grasses in the air, they are famed to so tickle the ribs of God that he laughs and laughs and laughs, till he sheds tears of extreme pleasure – that fall upon the earth as rain!

In my novel, Upon this Mountain, I fictionalise and recreate the atmosphere and feelings and occult powers that a young village boy in Masaabaland associated with “the influencer-of-rain” thus: “Just below the fountain there was a dark and fearsome grove. Children did not play near it. It was Mukiimba’s grove. Mukiimba was Kangala’s father, and Kangala became Mwambu’s friend. But Kangala was much taller and older than Mwambu.

“Mukiimba was a strange man. He was very tall and as black as the soot on a cooking pot.  His eyes were red like those of a cock. When there was no rain and the crops started turning brown, Mukiimba would go into his grove and make the rain fall. And when there was too much rain and the weeds were growing faster than the crops, Mukimba would go into his grove and the rain would stop.

“All the grown-up people respected him very much and called him Umutikity’e’kulu, he who tickles the heavens. If you did not behave well in his presence, he could tickle the sky and lightening would eat you up before you could blink again! And people said he could make the foreskin grow again on a freshly circumcised youth who said dirty things within his hearing!”

Additionally, in my autobiography, Lost in Wonder, I recreate my childhood experience of witnessing my father, though not of the rain-makers’ clan of Bakiimba or Bakhoontso, habitually influencing rain not to fall upon our locality!

Time and time again, when father saw rain heading in our direction from Masaaba’s Mountain, and there was, for example, millet grain drying in the sun – he would quickly withdraw up the slope just above our home, and one or both of us the youngest boys would follow him. 

Uprooting one particular type of herb and a tuft of one particular type of grass, he tied them together.

Then holding them in his right hand, with the roots pointing at the oncoming rain, he made a sweeping movement accompanied by a repeated incantatory utterance: “You rain, don’t come this way! Go fall there in Teso!”

To our infant amazement, the rain always behaved as implored; not a drop fell on our village, and it went on to fall elsewhere. And more amazing still was the fact that, while we were still of innocent years, whenever we two boys, or I on my own, privately imitated our father’s ritual action – the rain always behaved as we beseeched it to do!

So I should have grown into an adult “disperser-of-rain”. Or I should have become a latter-day meteorologist, a scientific interpreter of the skies – fully equipped to forewarn my country of impending drought disasters, flood devastations, and landslide calamities. 

Prof Timothy Wangusa is a poet and novelist.


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