On Sunday, William and I went to a village almost 150 kilometers away. There, they were having a celebration for a member of the organization who had been advanced in his career. To get to that village, we crossed a torrid zone of the Rift Valley. It seemed that all the vegetation had been destroyed by a wildfire. The trees were without leaves. William told me to be careful not to be stung by tsetse flies, because I would sleep for a long time or forever if one of those flies stung me. Even the cows sometimes died from a sting of a tsetse fly. I laughed to myself. How could I avoid coming across a tsetse fly? For sure, I couldn’t travel inside a mosquito net! However, we passed that arid zone unharmed. Once in a while, we saw some monkeys and guinea hens.
In the village, there was bustle and a festive air. There were many street vendors. I purchased a flashlight, which can be very useful in Africa.
Walking in the street, I saw something that seemed to be a very old rite, but nobody was able to explain its meaning to me. On one side in a small square, three men were beating
their drums. On the opposite side, there was a big porcupine inside a cage made of reeds on a table. I had never seen such a big porcupine before. The animal was terrified and hook its posterior part, which seemed to be a tail. At almost two meters from the cage of the porcupine, a white circle with a diameter of about one meter was drawn on the round. Inside the circle, there were some quills of the porcupine, a metal tray, and other objects that I couldn’t make out. Two women alternated in dances. The rhythm of the drums was continuous. A man wearing a sharp tail made of cloth danced.
I wanted to know the symbolic meaning of that old dance and of the white circle drawn on the ground. I tried to analyze the symbols, but I couldn’t make out any meaning. Later, I asked a member of the organization to solve the mystery about those symbols. He was an anthropologist and an authority on African lore.
“African dances,” he said, “are just dances of joy and are performed to celebrate something. They are not rites and don’t have any symbolic meaning. Here in Africa, people dance only for enjoyment. In past times, the Africans danced to welcome the warriors who returned from battle. Here, the dances have no other meaning but expressions of joy, love, and peace.”
“What is the meaning of the porcupine, the white circle, the dances of those women, and that man who danced with a tail made of cloth?”
“Porcupine meat has an exquisite taste. This animal is a protected species in Tanzania, but sometimes poachers catch it. The porcupine you saw will be killed to be eaten. The ones who danced are not women, but men disguised as women. The white circle was drawn just for fun to give the impression that they were witch doctors. That dance was just a joke, fun, and nothing else.”
This is an excerpt from Travels of the Mind
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind