Long ago when we lived in Africa and far away on Manda Strait in the Lamu Archipelago, Captain Lali dreams. It is late afternoon, the day after Christmas Day, and we have been sailing in Mzee Lali’s small dhow, out exploring the reef and catching a fish or two for a seaboard lunch that will be cooked on a little jiko stove, and served with freshly chopped coleslaw. Even wide awake it seemed like a dream to us.
I’ve posted this photo several times before, as some of you will know. The way time is speeding up, it’s rapidly assuming vintage status. So here’s an ancient Swahili tale to go with it, also one I prepared earlier:
There came a time when Sendibada signed on with a strange sea captain. The next day, as dawn was breaking, the ship cast off, a strong breeze filling the lateen sails, and bearing them swiftly out to sea. But towards noon the wind died, and the boat drifted, becalmed, on still waters.
At this, the captain strode out on the bridge, and began to utter words that Sendibada could not fathom. He stared and stared for, to his astonishment, the ship began to rise, graceful as an egret taking flight. Sendibada grinned. He liked a good adventure, and now it seemed this strange captain of his was none other than the most powerful magician.
Up into the clouds they soared, flying, flying until at last they saw a faraway red spot. But little by little the spot grew, until at last Sendibada saw it was a city in the sky, and that every house there was made of copper. Soon they set down in the harbour and, as the crew made to go ashore, from every quarter, lovely girls came out to greet them, bearing on their heads copper trays laden with the most delicious fruits and sweetmeats and tender roasted morsels.
And so it was that much time passed, the ship’s crew enjoying month after month of this most gracious hospitality. Sendibada, though, was growing homesick, and said as much. Now the magician gave him a round mat and told him how to use it.
Sendibada followed the instructions, placing the mat on the ground and seating himself upon it so that he faced the direction of his home town. Then he spoke the foreign words that meant: Behold! We shall all return to it . And at once the mat rose into the clouds, and faster than a diving hawk, set Sendibada back on the beach just outside his home town.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
The Copper City retold from a translated text in Jan Knappert’s Myths and Legends of the Swahili
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