Nkiqui – myth (The Orphan girl and her lover)

Once upon a time there was a girl, an orphan, who got herself into trouble with one of the young men of the village. Her guardians were furious and constantly abused her, and told her to go alone to the jhums, which was very dangerous as there were headhunters about.

That evening she went as usual to the dekachang and her lover Nkiqui came to her. (Original: That evening she took her bedding and went to the dekachang to sleep.) She told him all her troubles and what her guardians had said.

“Don’t go,” said Nkiqui. (The lovers are lying in the dark on the long communal bed, whispering to one another.) “You will be killed. No-one else is going. Don’t go.”

“No,” said the girl. “If I don’t go my guardians will be very angry. Whether I die or not, I am going.”

“Very well,” said Nkiqui. “I shall go too.”

“Why?” said the girl. “If one dies, it is no great loss; if two die, then it’s a great pity.” But Nkiqui insisted.

Nkiqui went back to the dekachang in the morning and began sharpening his dao. The others there asked him: “Why are you sharpening your dao?”

“Oh,” he said, “just for work. If it isn’t sharp it will be no good.”

That same morning the girl left for the furthest jhum, which she had been told to light. Nkiqui watched, and followed her, and they met in the path and went on together. She first and he following her.

As soon as they saw the girl the ambushing headhunters leapt out of the jungle, but Nkiqui went between her and them, and so formidable did he look that they dared not come nearer, but kept their distance. In this way Nkiqui and the girl went right down to the furthest jhum.

When they reached it, Nkiqui said: “Light the fire.” The girl tried to light it, but it would not start; and Nkiqui kept on guard with his spear and shield the whole time, shouting and threatening.

“Come,” he said to the girl at last. “You take the spear and shield and the enemy will take you for me; I’ll light the fire.” Nkiqui went to light the fire, but the enemy rushed, cut down the girl, and took her head. Then Nkiqui, weeping, took up her body and carried it back to the village, and went to her guardians’ house.

“Apao, anai,” (He addressed his sweetheart’s guardians as “Apao, anai”, the address used for wife’s parents.) he said. “Did you want to see her like this? Look now at your daughter. Is it pleasant?” He left the body and went away.

After her funeral, he went to her grave and said: “You have died like this, at the hands of the enemy. Look up, and think of me and help me. I will get a girl’s head from their village.”

Next day he went to the enemy village and hung about, but he was seen prowling like a tiger, and the people were greatly frightened and none of them would leave the village for fear of him. He went home again and slept on his sweetheart’s grave, but before he slept he called on her, saying: “Have pity on me and help me. I have had much sweat and trouble and done nothing. Tell me in my dreams what to do.”

In his dream the girl spoke: “Take my little brother with you, and you will succeed.”

In the morning Nkiqui went off carrying the little boy and went to the enemy village, where he was well received, as the villagers did not know him by sight and he told them he came from elsewhere, and he had the little boy with him. (Nkiqui sat in the house and the little boy was playing all the time.) He asked the man who gave him food where the house of the man who had taken the girl’s head was, but an old man said; “Don’t say! If you tell, Nkiqui will come and kill him.”

Then Nkiqui asked where the man drew water.

“Oh,” they said. “He doesn’t take it from the same place as we do for fear of Nkiqui. He goes elsewhere,” and they told him the place.

“When do they fetch water?” said Nkiqui.

“His daughter doesn’t go in the early morning for fear of Nkiqui, nor at noon, but in between.”

The next day Nkiqui left the village and went to that spring with the little boy, and waited. Then the girl came for water. Now Nkiqui had made a little spear of bamboo for the boy, and he told him to strike first. Then Nkiqui killed her, and cut off her head and shoulders as far as the breasts, as the others had done to his girl.

Then Nkiqui screeched (A ghastly noise; I’ve heard it, but not for a head.) with triumph, and shouted to the village: “I am Nkiqui, and I have killed your girl. Be afraid of me!”

All the villagers turned out in great anger and excitement and pursued him, but Nkiqui, carrying the head and little boy, evaded them in the jungle and came safely home.

He took the head to the girl’s guardians, and said: “Look! I have brought a head from that village which took your daughter’s.”

Ever afterwards Nkiqui’s thoughts were only of his dead sweetheart, and he used often to sleep on her grave and talk with her in his dreams. In the daytime he used to eat there, and afterwards sleep. One day when he did this a hen came and ate out of his chunga. An old woman hurried to stop it but only scared the hen, which upset the cup with a clatter. Nkiqui woke and was very angry, because he had been talking with the girl and had been interrupted; so he abused the old woman, threatening to kill her.

(Noted practically verbatim from N.I. , Asalu, 16/7/40).  Extracted from Note Book- UG Bower

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