22 - 08
Wealth corrupts, and even the most humble and weakest in society start misbehaving the minute it gets to their heads. Legends offered by several communities, separated by vast deserts and mighty rivers, show that this was, and still is, a problem in modern society.
Among the Luo, a Nilotic people found in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania around Lake Victoria, the story of Mahe & Nyar Mgondho was narrated to children to provide moral instructions that I will let you figure out.
The tale goes thus:
Mahe, a poor fisherman scraping a living on Nam Lolwe (what many now call L. Victoria), moved to the town of Gwasi to see if his fortunes would improve.
For many days, his fortune did not get any better. Sometimes he spent two consecutive days without catching anything meaning, meaning those days were spent in hunger.
One day, just when things seemed particularly horrible, his fortunes changed, though he did not immediately know it. A full morning spent and there wasn’t a single catch to take to the market, Mahe consoled himself that tomorrow could present better opportunities.
And just as he was about to pull in his net and head for the shore, he felt something caught in the net. Thankful for what could possibly be a very large catch, Mahe dug in and pulled the net with all his might.
Imagine his disappointment when instead of a huge haul, he found himself staring at a woman (some versions say an old woman). He helped her to the beach, where she wanted to leave it being that he was too ashamed to invite him to his place because just a poor fisherman.
But the lady convinced him, promising to be his wife and making him very rich; her only requirement was that he should never reveal where he had found her.
From that day, everything became bountiful; his catches were huge and whenever she tilled the land the harvests were astounding. Steadily their homestead acquired livestock, and was soon stocked with goats, chickens and cows.
Mahe could now afford some comforts, and he married more wives. He stopped fishing all together, opting instead to spend his days drinking. Longer drinking hours saw him arrive home late, and it was not long before the man who previously nothing had started beating up and insulting his wives. Tired of ill treatment, the wives decided to teach him a lesson by forcing him to sleep outside.
So one day, when he was more drunk than usual, he found himself knocking on all his wives’ door without anyone opening up the door.
Frustrated, he found himself uttering:
“This is me Mahe, the richest man in Gwasi, having to sleep outside because all my wives will not open for me. Not even the one whom I fished out of Nam Lolwe!”
That caught the attention of Nyar Mgondho, who could not believe that he had revealed her origin. She asked him what he had said, to which he responded:
“Listen to her. I hooked her out of the water like a fish. I gave her a home, and now she is so big headed she will not open for me.”
She had had enough. Her pact violated, she headed off to the lake. Mahe, ever unrepentant, thought this was good riddance, but a nasty surprise awaited her.
As she headed off, every living thing in the Mahe’s homestead followed her; chickens, goats, sheep, cattle, wives and children all trailed behind her. Mahe watched in disbelief as all his wealth was swallowed up by Nam Lolwe. He called her but she would not hear him.
At this point, he realized that he had been reduced to the poor miserable fisherman that he once was, and he wept.
When his tears reached the ground, his feet were turned into roots, and he slowly transformed into a tree with many branches, standing guard just outside his desolate homestead.
Is there any evidence of this ever happening?
Well, if you go to the place known as Nyandiwa on Suba mainland along the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, you be greeted by the site of a very old tree that is believed to have previously been Mahe, and when the tide is low, the rocks on the beach below have impressions that are believed to have been left by the animals as they went into L. Victoria.
By Matengo Chwanya