The Song of the Rain

THE SONG OF THE RAIN                                                                           Eugène Marais

A Koranna Wander story                                                      Translated by Ilse Groenewald


It was the time when Krom Joggom Konterdans from Das-se-Kant made the first violin with four strings; it was when old Jakob Makding made himself Strongman of the Berry Trees.  He made trenches of trap holes around and laid the paths full of poison pricks and closed the Skuinswater with hook thorn (Accasia) branches; and the whole day he pranced around the yard and in the evenings and mornings, he blew the big trumpet.  And his little ones at the edge of the yard, mocked those that walked by.

            “A-we!” they say; “the grey Baboons dig roots in the hard earth, and at dawn, they suck the morning water from the grass leaves.”

            And it was a great shame.

            And no-one form Das-se-Kant or from the other yards were aloud to come near the water; and those that came close to the shadow of the Trees, had to say nice words and sprinkle bugu under the arms of Jakob Makding.[1]

            And the rain stayed away, and the rain stayed away.

            And everyone outside the yard of the Berry trees was pale, because the fat was done and the hunger big.  They looked for roots into the night and all that remained was sucking water.[2]

And when the rain stayed away, Tuit-Miershoop, the Foreman of Das-se-Kant, called the Big Council together.  And Krom Joggom Konterdans worked on the violin.  He had heard the elders at the fire telling how the Chief-noisemakers of old twisted fine strings of thread meat from the white back honey badger; and that every one was ironed for a month with eland’s root until every string was a spider web.

            And the horn wood that grew in the crevices, was rubbed with white sand stone until it buzzed in the wind, and then the holes were burnt over a tamboti wood fire, and that was the violin of the Master Player that trekked through the Grootrivier (Great river) with Jonkman Afrikaner.  And Little Joggom Konterdans took the badger sinew and looked in the mountains for a long time; and at night, when the little ones dug for uintjies[3], he took out eland’s root in the sandy plains; and he twisted the strings and ironed them until they looked like hail lines; and at night on the sleeping mat he rubbed the hornwood shell until it droned like the wind in a great cave.

            And the rain stayed away.

            And the Strong Council came together at the yard of Das-se-Kant, and everyone complained about Makding and the Berry Trees, and told about the great Skuinswater and the abundant food.  And the old maid Nasi-Tgam started to speak:

            “When I go to the Berry Trees in the dark of night, then I hear people walk under the wind.  It’s the dead of Heitsi-eibib that made the law of the Berry Trees: The Strongman is chosen and the Strongman must be careful; but when the rain stays away and the great hunger comes, then the food and water must be shared.  Ai! where are the hunters of the old days, and the man that could make the great song?  Where is the war man that could grab the pale lion by the tail and say: ‘Brother, I am here?’  Where the Master-Songmaker?  Because I hear it said that the one at the Berry Trees speaks big words that there aren’t any other players this side of the river.  Jakob Makding grew up amongst his people, because he could make lots of songs, and there was no-one that could play with him.  And he was the best hunter.  Ai! our hunters!  When Pylstert (Arrow tail) coughed, then they fought with the dassies (rock rabbits) at the crags to find a hiding place.  And the dead that walked under the wind at night, said that when the man comes, the best songmaker, that Jakob Makding will become limp under one blow.  The winter will move over him; his leaves will fall off.”

            And then Tonteldoos Vuurdop (Tinderbox Fire Shell), Ta of the yard Wienslig, started to speak.  (When it came to talking, he was never far away.)  And he said to the old maid Nasi-Tgam: “Of the grabbing of the lion’s tail, I can’t say, because the man has many people and defenses, and they also mention a hacking knife. But when it comes to playing and making the song, then your brother of Wienslig is still here.  Where is the thunder stick, and the song of the Kwagga that he made in the old days?  When he blew at Wienslig at night, then the male lion answered, down at the Berry pan, where the bush gets smaller.”

            Then the old maid Nasi-Tgam said: “My brother from Wienslig said the words.  It is he who, tonight at the Berry Trees, will blow inside the yard line.  It is he who will give us our water back.”

            And everyone said this is the true word, and they spoke nice things of Tonteldoos Vuurdop; and Tuit-Miershoop of Das-se-Kant called him his brother-in-law.  But Tonteldoos-Vuurdop only peered at the old maid Nasi-Tgam.

            And when the Council bustled inside, Krom Joggom Konterdans made a little fire of tamboti sticks behind the bush screen; and gave his strings a final ironing with the fresh sap of eland’s root, until they looked like the rain that shoots through the fire light; and he coloured the horn wood in the tamboti smoke, and he stretched his bow of kwagga tail, and he stretched the strings and tightened the pegs, and he softly drew the bow over the strings.

            And the ones in the tgorra listened.  And Tonteldoos said: “What do we hold council for and talk about blowing songs?  Here comes the rain!”

            And then the little ones laughed outside: “Narri!  Not one bolt of lightning!  It’s Joggom Konterdans that is making his violin.”  But when they went outside, the fire was dead and he was gone.

            And that night they listened at Das-se-Kant to the side of the Berry Trees to hear the thunder stick of Tonteldoos.  And the old maid Nasi-Tgam sang the songs of the Nightshade that disappeared when it was its turn to watch at the tiger’s hole.  And when the red dawn came, they heard Lion Makding blowing on his trumpet at the bottom of the yard of the Berry Trees.

            The Tuit-Miershoop said:  “Now I know!  My old brother-in-law is dead!”  And they left for Wienslig to say their sorry words to the family.  And when they got there, they saw Tonteldoos sitting in the sun in the corner of the screen, and he rubbed his legs with legguaan fat.  And he sighed deeply.  Then Miershoop said: “Now I know!  The support beam of my house is broken!  The egg shell of my brother-in-law’s thunder stick is broken!”  And Tonteldoos sighed again.  And he said: “My old brother, to tell you the honest truth, the egg shell is whole and the thunder stick still obtainable – but to tell you the real truth, it’s of my old uncle – you all know that my old uncle has been hanging between life and death for a long time; and when I finished everything in the dark, my old uncle suddenly got the black cramp in his stomach.  I see that it is a heavy disease, and the master stuff is scarce; my heart yearns for Jakob Makding, but who can leave their first family with great illness alone at night?  Now there is health again in the yard.”  And everyone said it was the true word.

            And the old maid Nasi-Tgam sang softly: “Ai! the black cramp! the black cramp!”  And Tonteldoos Vuurdop peered at her.

            That was the time when one of the little ones of the fat maid from Putkuil swallowed the arrow head, and she invited all the people to come and cry.  It was the biggest cry of that drought.  They cut up the thin sheep that was caught by the jackal and everyone got a joint of tail fat.  And Little Short Joggom Konterdans walked through the veld to look for uintjies, and his violin was in his hand.

            And when the old ones were crying in front of the reed house, the little ones shouted: “Here comes something!  It goes like a snake in the dry grass.”  And they heard the playing of the violin, and they start with the feet, and the old ones got up, and they said: “Arrie! is there a wedding in the land?”  And when he got near, everyone was stamping with their feet on the ground.

            And inside the little one lay dead from the arrow head.

            And the old maid Nasi-Tgam went to meet him, and she swung the big black kaross, and she went to meet him with a calabash of maas[4] and a hand full of tail fat.  And from afar she said: “Heitse! the Bent One!  The Little Yellow Baboon that looks back and makes the tiger stop!  It is he that will show Makding the road to move away and that will save the Berry Trees!”  And she gave him the little mirror that she had rubbed out of black harnoster[5] horn in the old days; and also the big copper neck ring of Heitse-eibib.

            And that morning with the becoming of the day, Konterdans sat on the Spitsklip inside the yard line of the Berry Trees; it was at the end of the Skuinswater; and he turned his back to the yard.  And before him lay the harnoster mirror of Nasi-Tgam, so that he could see everything behind; and it was rubbed shiny with tail fat.  And around his neck hung three meerkat skin tassels; and around his neck was the big copper ring of Heitse-eibib.

            And he made the Song of the Rain.

            And when Jakob Makding took his trumpet and opened his mouth to blow, he just stood there.  And his little ones stormed from the direction of the yard and they shouted: “Our Ta, our Ta, there is one on the beacon stone at the Skuinswater that is only showing his back.  And the people are dancing in the shelters.”

            And Jakob Makding grabbed his hacking knife, and he called the war people, but there was no answer.  He heard them say: “Klips! but that is the master player that one.”

            And Makding hit the big tambourine, and he called: “Today I invite all the vultures out!  Today there will be the great battle at the Berry Trees!”  And he stalked Konterdans from behind the thorn shelter of the Skuinswater.

            And Konterdans sang the Song of the Rain, and he played his violin.

            And Makding saw his own people go and meet him, and they danced and said nice words of Joggom Konterdans.  And on top of the hill he saw the old maid Nasi-Tgam and she spread he black kaross wide, and behind her the people came from the other yards, with calabashes and egg shells ready for water, and he felt how his heart went weak.

            And Krom Joggom Konterdans played the Song of the Rain, and he peered at them while he played.

            And the Jakob Makding threw his hacking knife in the Skuinswater, and sat down in the dust, and he called: “My little ones, my little ones, your old Ta’s riding horse is dead!”

            And this day the old maid Nasi-Tgam told the Law of the Berry Trees again, and it was Krom Joggom Konterdans that handed out the water.



(Of Krom Joggom Konterdans)


Oh the dance of our Sister!

First, over the mountaintop she furtively peers,

            and her eyes are shy;

                        and she laughs softly.

And from afar she beckons with her one hand.


Her bangles gleam and beads glisten;

                        softly she calls.

She tells the winds of the dance

and she invites them, because the yard is wide and the wedding large.


The big game hurries from the plain,

            they collect on the hilltop,

wide their nostrils flare

            and they swallow the wind;

and they bow, to see her fine footprints in the sand.


The tiny creatures deep under ground hear the drag of her feet,

            and they creep nearer and sing softly:

                        “Our Sister! Our Sister! You have come! You have come!”


And her beads shake,

and her copper rings glint in the disappering sun.

            On her forehead is the fire plume of the mountain eagle;

                        she steps down from the height;

            she spreads the grey kaross[6] with both her arms;

                        the breath of the wind disappears.

                        Oh, the dance of our Sister!


[1] It was a formal greeting to sprinkle bugu under the arms.  It was usually done by a subordinate to a superior.

[2] Water from a small, closed source, that is sucked out with a reed and then spit into egg shells, usually ostrich.

[3] Nut-grass

[4] Sour porridge or calabash milk.

[5] Possibly Rhino.

[6] Kaross is a skin rug or cloak