I AM THE MAU
‘Walk with me, son,’ my father said to me. And, without looking backwards, he set off.
I followed. It was the day I turned ten. We walked in silence along the path on the forest floor. Occasionally I would step off the path to allow others going in the opposite direction. My father, of course, did no such thing – nor was he expected to, unless we came across another elder. Then they would both stop and lift clasped hands to each other in respect, but no words would pass. He would also stop from time to time to examine a plant or to redirect a renegade vine.
Presently, he stopped by a yemdit tree, upon whose branches sat a log beehive. Father hadn’t uttered a single word since we left home. We sat on the log, me opposite him on a spot he pointed to, and I had my first formal lesson in beekeeping.
‘See that tree, the tongotwet, and that other one the kureyet? Both those trees are important to us. The honey from the nectar of both make for good medicine. They cure a lot of ailments. They cure: one, the chest,’ ticking off the list on his bent fingers, ‘two, the stomach …’
‘Three, the bones,’ I had heard this so many times.
‘Three, the bones.’ Father went on as though I hadn’t said a word. ‘There is a fourth cure too, though nothing to concern yourself with. Your mother will teach your sisters all about that – it is for … um … it works for women and their issues.’
‘But today is about you. Look around, and remember this spot.’ He stood up and beckoned me to do likewise. He pointed to the hive right above the spot I was sitting and said, ‘Now that is yours.’
I nodded. I knew what that meant.
‘Son, we are beekeepers. It is what our people do. It is what we have always done. This is the same tree of my first hive.’
‘Son, you never forget the taste of your first harvest. I was about the same age as you are now. My first one came
after the dry season. My father told me not to rush to harvest my new hive. He taught me to smoke bees. I did what he always did. I gathered dry grass, lit it and, when it was smoking, gently placed it in the hive and then waited for the bees to calm down. That first harvest had a taste of wild flowers that lingers on.’
‘Is that why you like eating flowers?’
‘Only certain types. They always take me back to my first harvest.’
When Father spoke of setting up hives and of blooming flowers, of bees bearding and bees swarming, of the whitish-grey of the dry season honey and the reddish-brown of the rainy season honey, I knew the words out of his mouth went beyond him to the generations of fathers before him. He was indeed the son of the Mau.
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Excerpt from I AM THE MAU AND OTHER STORIES published by Fremantle Press. Copyright © 2023 by Chemutai Glasheen.