The Bruises of the Civil War: A life without a Leg: The striking case of Ajah Majhok Kweeric
By Kur Wel Kur, Adelaide, Australia
February 18, 2017 (SSB) — “A wife for her son.” “A grandson.” An heir.” Nyankoot Bolek kept pacing around the cow-dung heap, talking aloud to herself. She had yearned to hear good news from her son’s family. Announcing the birth. At that point, she had given up her ego of desiring a male child. “Any child would be a huge blessing,” she would tell herself. An idiom that goes, “no news is good news,” knocked her unconscious. It numbed her mind. She longed for any news even the hint of her son committing adultery to “sire” a child would console her aching soul.
However, none of the news swirled into her ears. So, Nyankoot rooted for an idea of making a seventeen year old daughter of one of the akɔr waal, a pasture-hunter, her son’s wife. Ajah Majhok Kweeric was beautiful, brown-skinned and tall young woman. Her father, Majhok Kweeric was a wealthy and respectful 40-year-old. Nyankoot sent three young men, her nephews to court her.
“Listen to her, talk and don’t forget any of her words; I will gauge every word myself; I can’t afford a stupid woman for my son,” she said.
Courting girls for suitors in absentia was a norm in Nhials’ culture; it’s what’s called in other cultures as an arranged-marriage. Nhials’ culture goes beyond an arranged-marriage when girls are courted and married in the names of the dead. Ajah Majhok Kweeric met with Nyankoot’s nephews and she turned them down so they couldn’t even sit on their first day of visit.
“Who do you think you’re? One of the nephews asked. “I am who you think I am,” Ajah fired back as she was leaving.
They stood, watching her strutting away. They knew better to accuse her of being rude. So, they strolled away, glancing over their shoulders for a shred of hope for Ajah’s change of mind to come back for them. But she didn’t even back!
They told their aunt how unlucky they were on that day, but Nyankoot counselled them. “Don’t worry, you have made your mark” because “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” she reminded them.
Nyankoot Bolek reminded her nephews that they were looking for her son, a lieutenant commander’ wife so they shouldn’t settle with some easy-going girl. “Healthy stubbornness in a lady is a beauty,” she said.
A day later, her nephews matched to Ajah Majhok’s shelter, a bushy tree where Ajah and her cousins (girls) gathered under for a shade every day. She gave herself an hour, performing tasks that needed not her labour. But she enforced herself on doing them just to test the seriousness of Nyankoot Bolek’s nephews. The young men knew about this game. So, patiently, they waited. They shifted their standing positions, swapping their bodies’ weights one knee after another. Their knees couldn’t take it any longer.
To stop them from collapsing, she raced to them, ushering them to a mat laid down under a tree with a low- lying branches. Its branches would sweep the dried leaves off the ground when there was wind. They sat while she paced back for a jug of cold water. They drank out of one jug. A normal habit for cattle herders. Ajah definitely knew her suitor wasn’t among the three young men because [in most cases] a suitor would introduce himself first before he mobilised his cousins or brothers to visit.
Nyankoot Bolek’s nephews began pulling Ajah into a formal conversation. They talked. One after another. Ajah proved to them how sensible and knowledgeable she was. The oldest of the three nephews broke the news about whom they came to her on his behalf. They described Nhials’ physique, height, manners, intelligence and his position in the army.
“Ee beny cieng nguan, (loosely translated: he’s a lieutenant commander)”, the youngest said.
“Please don’t waste your time and your words; I can’t marry the invisible man,” she said with every possible seriousness in her voice.
“Do you mean you don’t want to marry an invincible man?” The second nephew asked.
The three- nephews groomed her with nice words, but the fact that they couldn’t show her their nephew, Nhials in a tangible manner, made every word they uttered lame and as empty as sterilised seed.
“Is he dead?”
“No!” the second nephew yelled with the fear of death in his throat.
“Maybe Nhials is a one-legged man, hobbling on crutches somewhere in disabled soldiers’ camps,” she said.
The three nephews left at 3pm and within one week, Majhok Kweeric told Nyankoot not to worry about what Ajah was saying. Being the head of his family gave him an override button. He gave Nyankoot a permission of going ahead with the marriage arrangements.
Nyankoot Bolek with the help of her brothers and cousins, paid the negotiated amount of dowry. She had two brothers, one of the brothers had two sons and other had one son. Those were the three nephews who courted Ajah, Nyankoot’s second daughter-in law, Nhials’ second wife.
As a widow and Nhials in the guerrilla army, Nyankoot had lived with her brothers on the other side of the Nile since early 1980s. She had a fond of saying to her marital members, “none is like my beautiful people of Aliab.” Her family cattle multiplied. With her fortune, Nyankoot managed to pay 40 cows by herself so when her sons-in-laws, brothers’ and sisters’ shares (Nhials’ brothers-in-laws, paternal uncles’ and aunties’ shares) were added, the grand total was 60 cows and two scores of goats and sheep.
And none came from her brothers-in-laws. They didn’t even know; and even if they knew, none of them would have contributed a lamb. Their relationship corroded and eroded before the elephant injured her husband that caused his death in 1975. So, without her brothers-in-laws the dowry negotiation went ahead.
Both sides: Majhok Kweeric, Ajah’s father and his relatives and Nyankoot Bolek with her relatives concluded the marriage. Nyankoot sealed the ties of her son’s marriage by offering two bullocks for slaughtering, one for the elders and other for the women of Majhok’s side. Majhok tendered his daughter, Ajah to Nyankoot, which made Ajah officially Nhials’ wife.
Two weeks later, Akuol Manguak shouldn’t have done it. She cried herself into sleep…
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