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Monday, 30 May 2011


Witch doctor throwing the bones for purposes of divination.

Stephanus Erasmus knew who Mosiko was, of course. But I wasn't sure if Mosiko knew Stephanus. So I introduced them. On another day people would have laughed at the way I did it. But at the moment it didn't seem so funny, somehow.
"Mosiko," I said, "this is *Baas Prophet Stephanus Erasmus."
"And, *Oom Stephanus," I said, "this is Witch-Docter Mosiko."

Mosiko raised his eyes slightly and glanced at Erasmus. Erasmus looked straight back at Mosiko and tried to stare him out of countenance. I knew the power with which Stephanus Erasmus could look at you. So I wondered what was going to happen. But Mosiko looked down again, and kept his eyes down on the sand.

Now I remembered how I felt that day when Stephanus Erasmus had looked at me and I was ready to believe that I was a cut open springbok. But at the same moment I realised tha Mosiko looked down in a way that seemed to mean that he didn't think that Stephanus was a man of enough importance for him to stare out of countenance. It was as though he thought there were other things for him to do but look at Stephanus.

The Mosiko spoke.

"Tell me what you want to know, *Baas Stephanus," he said, "and I will prophesy for you."

I saw the grass, and the veld and the stones. I saw a long splash of sunlight on Mosiko's naked back. But for a little while I neither saw nor heard anything else. For it was a deadly thing and the *kaffir had said it to a white man. And I knew that the others also felt it to be a deadly thing. We stood there, waiting. I was not sure whether to be glad or sorry that I had come. The time seemed so very long in passing.

"Kaffir," Stephanus said at last, "you have no right here on a white mans *outspan. We have come to throw you off it. I am going to kick you. You'll see what a white man's boot is like."

Mosiko did not move. It seemed as though he had heard nothing Stephanus had said to him. He appeared to be thinking of something else - something very old and very far away.

Then Stephanus took a step forward. He paused for a moment. We all looked down.

Frans Steyn was the first to laugh. It was strange and unnatural at first to hear Frans Steyn's laughter. Everything up till then had been tense and even frightening. But immediately afterwards we all burst out laughing together. We laughed loudly and uproariously. You could have heard us at the other side of the *bult.

I have told you about Stephanus Erasmus's *veldskoens, and that the were broken on top. Well now in walking to the outspan, the last *riem had burst lose, and Stephanus Erasmus stood there with his right foot raised from the ground and a broken shoe dangling from the instep.

Stephanus never kicked Mosiko. When we had finished laughing we got him to come back home. Stephanus walked slowly, carrying the broken shoe in his hand and picking the soft places to walk on, where the burnt grass wouldn't stick into his bare foot.

Stephaus Erasmus had lost his power.

But I knew that even if his shoe hadn't been broken, Stephanus would never have kicked Mosiko. I could see by the look in his eyes that when he took the step forward and Mosiko didn't move, that Stephanus had been beaten for always.

The Prophet, short story by Herman Charles Bosman.

*Baas - Boss, not so long ago, in South Africa, Blacks were expected to address every white man as Boss, even those younger than them.

*Oom - Uncle, a honorific title given to all older males in the Afrikaans comunity.

*Kaffir - derogatory term for a black man similar to nigger in America.

*Outspan - where oxen were unyoked to rest and graze before continuing.

Among the Afrikaner "backvelder's" (Hilly billies) so called prophets held a special attraction for these superstitious people. They were all a bunch of frauds but they miss-lead many people.

1 comment:

Kay L. Davies said...

Intriguing and compelling, Phillip. There is something about my reaction to this story that is very hard to put into words.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel