Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tatsie, the thick skinned Bushman

One Bushman from the old generation caused a lot of problems in the community because of his ill temper and his unsocial behaviour. He showed very little respect to the rest of his people and abused his powers and standing amongst them. A strong and brave Bushman with extraordinary powers and access to magic, he had the potential to be a great leader and respected hunter. Unfortunately his laziness and bad habits made his fellow Bushmen resentful but they were scared to challenge him.

 The children were especially scared of him and the “daslat” that he carried with him. A “daslat” is a long straight shoot that grows from the Karee trees in summer. This new branch, as thick as a finger and about two meters long, often grew quite straight and was very flexible. Tatsie would strip the leaves off this young shoot, to reveal a sticky tip that was ideal for catching dassies, that like to hide deep down in their crevasses of the koppies. Tatsie would reach in and push the sticky part of the shoot onto the skin of the poor hyraxes.  The dassie's hair would stick to the tip of the shoot and by turning the stick; he wound the hair and then the skin around the tip of the “daslat”. This way the unlucky dassie found itself attached to the end of the branch and could be pulled from its hiding place kicking and screaming. He never shared any of this meat or skins of the dassies that he caught. This long thin straight branch is called a “lat” and a single hyrax is a “das”. That is why this straight young Karee shoot was called a “daslat”. No wonder the dassies hated Tatsie.

 Certain times of the year the “Watersnake” would move far away and the land of the Bushmen would get very dry. During those times the children have to walk long distances to fetch water for the household. The bigger and stronger of the children could carry a whole springbok stomach full of water but the younger ones only two ostrich eggs filled with water. Tatsie was too lazy to go and fetch water, for himself. He would wait for the children to come back and take one of the eggs and drink the water from it. If the child protested or cried he would simply break the egg on the ground and they would get into trouble with their parents. When he was very thirsty or wanted to wash his hands he would grab the springbok “pens” or stomach from one of the bigger children and use all of that water. If the child protested or tried to run away he would cut a hole in it with his knife and drink from the water pouring out of the hole.

 The children tried to avoid him and would run away when they saw him coming. He could run very fast for his size and would hit them over the head with his “daslat” until they stop. They complained to their parents about Tatsie's nasty habits but to no avail. The parents had their own problems with Tatsie and because he was so much bigger and stronger, they were afraid of him. On top of it all Tatsie also knew some very powerful magic and that was why most of the adults pretended to like him. They would smile at him and be friendly towards him but deep in their hearts they rather wished he was dead. He would pitch up unannounced at the most inconvenient times and it wouldn't bother him at all. His uncanny ability to know when the meat was almost ready amazed them the most. It didn't bother him in the least to walk in on a family and cut the juiciest piece of eland meat for himself .

Even when food was scarce, he would walk in and dish up most of the “Bushmen rice”. Women would gather thousands of termites and fry it on the fire to make “Bushmen rice”.  If they complained about him taking the “Bushmen rice” he would just say that there are still thousands of termites out there for them to gather tomorrow. When asked why he doesn't collect his own “Bushmen rice” he would say that he has better things to do. If the women try to take the food from him or start nagging him to give it back he would eat his fill and throw the rest into the fire to burn. This unsocial behaviour carried on for a long time and the Bushmen even tried to move away from the place where they were staying but he followed them wherever they went.

One year there were many tortoises in the veld and the Bushmen would just pick them up and take them home to eat. They noticed that Tatsie would never eat the heart or liver of the tortoise which were sought after morsels to the other Bushmen. One evening one of the wise old Bushmen women came across the owl and asked him what they could do to get the upper hand over Tatsie. The owl softly whispered into her ear (because even he was scared of Tatsie) to give him the heart and liver of a tortoise to eat. When she tried to do that, he just threw it into the fire and murmured to himself that it would make him dumb and slow like a tortoise. That gave her an idea, which she kept secret even from her own husband because she was scared of Tatsie's magic.

The next time the men brought some nice fat eland meat home, the wise lady took the heart and liver of a tortoise and hid it in the juiciest part of the meat before they started to “braai” the meat over the open fire. Lo and behold when the meat was almost perfectly cooked, Tatsie walked into the circle of light around the fire and asked what they were busy cooking for dinner. They just looked at him and put on their fake smiles as usual. He didn't wait for an answer and as usual proceeded to cut a large piece of the juiciest meat for himself, hardly leaving enough for the others to eat. Once he finished his meat the wise old lady noticed that he was moving much slower and asked him some questions.

“Why don't you eat the heart and liver of the tortoise?” she asked.

“Because - - it will - - make  - - me  -  - mmm - - dumb  - - and - -  slow  - - just like - -  my cousin - - er - -  the - - tortoise”, he answered in a slow and slurry voice without looking up from the fire.

That is what the wise old lady was waiting for and she called her husband aside and told him to shoot Tatsie with one of his poison arrows. Tatsie didn't even know what hit him and after a short while fell over backwards and died. All the Bushmen were shouting in celebration and were so happy to get the upper hand over Tatsie that they danced around the fire most of the night. They kicked sand into his eyes to stop him from recognizing them and even the children spat on him and laughed happily because he was dead! Later they pulled his body far away from the kraal and left him there for the wild animals to eat. When they heard his bones being crushed by the hyenas and the jackals fighting over the pieces, they didn't feel sorry at all and carried on sleeping with a smile on their faces.

Those smiles disappeared like darkness before the sun when they saw Tatsie walking towards them the next morning. He was healthy and happy without a scratch and said he was hungry from fighting with the hyenas the night before. The other Bushmen couldn't believe their eyes and got even more scared of him and the powerful magic that he had.  Tatsie was his mean old self and didn't seem to remember anything that happened to him the night before. He kept on scaring the children and abusing his powerful position to get whatever he wanted. Because the Bushmen were so scared of his magic they didn't even try and hide food from him and just smiled their fake smiles when he walked into their huts and drank their water. Not long after this the wise lady saw another chance to get rid of this troublesome thick-skinned character.

The hunters shot a fat Gemsbok (Kalahari Oryx) and again the wise lady put the heart and liver of a tortoise into the best part of the meat. When the meat was grilled to perfection Tatsie walked into the kraal and again without asking cut the best piece for himself. As with the previous time he started  moving slower and slower and when he just stared into the fire without eating, the wise woman got three of the hunters to shoot their poison arrows into Tatsie's neck. When he fell over and died, they took him down to the river and tied a big stone to his neck and another to his ankles. They threw him into the deepest part of the water. This way if he woke up again and started breathing he would be under water and drown. Back in their kraal there was already dancing and celebration because this time they were sure they would never see Tatsie again.

The happy mood in the kraal stopped in mid sentence when the children got to the river the next day. Out of the water walked Tatsie alive and well! He had such a nice swim he said and now he is feeling really hungry. He walked back to the kraal with the children a distance behind him. The grown-ups were even more surprised to see him and didn't budge when he ate all the “Bushmen rice” and most of the left-over meat from the night before. Now they were even more scared of him and all of them walked around with those silly fake smiles pretending to like Tatsie. He didn't seem to remember anything from the night before and for sure nobody was going to tell him what happened. The wise old woman kept her secret and patiently waited for another chance to kill this nightmare of a person.

When they shot another eland the wise woman knew exactly what to do and asked all the hunters to make sure that they put lots of poison on all their arrows. That night Tatsie pitched up as usual and again ate some of the tortoise infested meat with the same result as before. This time the wise lady asked the hunters to shoot all their arrows into Tatsie and when he keeled over, looked more like a porcupine than a Bushman. They dragged his body on top of a little hill nearby, slit his throat and watched in silence while his life blood drained out into the sand. A gust of wind came up later and Tatsie's body got carried up into the hollow belly of the sickle moon. There was a collective sigh of relief but nobody dared to celebrate and couldn't sleep as they waited for the next morning.

All day they looked around in different directions waiting for Tatsie to make another miraculous appearance but nothing happened. Towards the evening there was a lot of excitement building up and everybody was very happy that Tatsie stayed away. That night there was plenty of dancing and celebration when they saw that Tatsie was fighting with the other souls waiting on the moon. Every night the stomach of the sickle moon grew bigger and bigger leaving less space for the souls resting there. Every night they could see how Tatsie started the shoving and pushing and always claimed the best spot for himself. They saw the small children being pushed off first and how they changed into swallows as they fell down to earth. One night the other people ganged up against Tatsie and started pushing him off the moon which was now in its first quarter. Tatsie fought back as much as he could but he was outnumbered.

In the Kalahari the festivities had stopped because they were worried that Tatsie might be back amongst them sooner than they thought. When Tatsie was pushed off the edge of the moon he grabbed onto the tip of the sickle moon in a desperate attempt to save himself. Unfortunately for him the tip broke off and he tumbled to the ground, still holding tightly onto the sharp piece of the moon.  Unaware of what was going on in the night sky above him grandfather tortoise was snacking on some sweet bushes at the edge of a pond. Tatsie fell with such force on the tortoise that his shell cracked open and their two bodies merged into one. Completely out of breath, lying in the shallow muddy water was the first rhino with a sharp lip, similar to that of a tortoise. Even today if you compare the hind legs of the tortoise and a rhino you can see the remarkable similarity. On closer inspection one can still see where they cut his throat the night he bled to death. Most remarkable of all, Tatsie didn't let go of the tip of the moon and that ended up as a single horn attached to his nose. These rhinos also enjoy rolling in the mud to cool down their bodies and protect themselves against parasites.

Unfortunately his personality is still the same, thick-skinned and foul tempered with a tendency to charge at or break anything he doesn't like. The children are still scared of him and the adults avoid him too. Lucky for them Tatsie became a vegetarian after his big scare and the meat and “Bushmen rice” can finally be savoured by the rightful owners. Listen to the Bushmen next time you see a sharp lipped rhino and you will hear them say – “Kyk daar gaan Tatsie!”

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1 comment:

  1. If you have any "Bushmen Stories" like these that you want to share, send it to me at Soon there will be no real Bushmen left and they and their stories will be lost forever.


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