“The burning sun beat down on my back as I intertwined the two pieces of golden straw. I worked intently, biting my chapped lips as the straw began to blend in with the rest of my basket. My masterpiece was halfway done, and I had been working on it for already half of the day, twisting and turning, while the sun burnt my bare back.”
The burning sun beat down on my back as I intertwined the two pieces of golden straw. I worked intently, biting my chapped lips as the straw began to blend in with the rest of my basket. My masterpiece was halfway done, and I had been working on it for already half of the day, twisting and turning, while the sun burnt my bare back.
I looked up, setting my basket down onto the sand below my feet. In the distance, the sun was already starting to melt down the horizon, bursting with bright oranges, subtle yellows, majestic reds, and even tints of a soft green. It would be half an hour before the sun set, before Mama and Papa called me in for the nighttime meal. I still had time to finish my basket, which would surely please my Mama. But I had been working on my basket for much of the day. I deserve a chance to have time to myself, I thought.
I stood up, brushing off dirt and sand from my clothes made of antelope-hide, and then began to walk over to the swimming hole. Clumps of sand crunched underneath my bare feet, as the sweet tune of the native sunbird carried out in musical waves in the beautiful sky above me.
It was a lovely day, perfect for exploring, running, and relaxing in the African savannah. Yet I was not permitted to do any of that. On this wonderful day, all I could do was weave a basket, and do all of the other womanly work that girls must do.
I whirled around. Imamu, one of the most daring boys of the tribe, was hanging off of the branch of an acacia tree, his long, strong legs dangling. He smiled at me.
“Look at me, Ebele! I am like the white monkey who swings atop the trees!”
His friends laughed around him, as Imamu let go of the tree, and fell towards the ground– only to land perfectly on the sand below him. I ran over to the tree.
“I would like to try!” I exclaimed.
I had just begun to place my foot onto a low branch, when suddenly, Imamu grabbed my arm, and pulled me down. He looked surprised at me, as did all of his friends.
“You are a girl, Ebele. The one who works around the home. Girls do not climb acacia trees.”
I did not reply. Instead, I looked down, and kicked a small, round pebble across the ground.
“Now, come, Ebele. It is almost time for supper.”
“But I was going to go to the swimming hole,” I began, but Imamu cut me off.
“There is no time.”
I sighed, and followed the group of boys back to the huts. I longed to climb the acacia tree. But Imamu was right. I could not. It was my job to weave baskets, to cook food, to clean up the huts. Men were the ones who hunted, explored, and climbed. Who did all of the things that I longed to do, but could not.
At dinner that night, all members of our tribe, which was known as Massai, gathered around a large fire. My Mama and I helped to serve everybody the meat from a fallow deer, before we were able to eat ourselves. When everybody was served, Mama, me, and all of the other women sat down to eat. As I munched on the juicy meat, I kept thinking back to today’s events.
“Mama?” I finally asked.
“Why must it be that men get to do adventurous activities while women must stay around the huts?”
Mama looked surprised at me.
“Ebele, men and women have their own jobs. We all help in our own ways.”
“I understand that, Mama. But why couldn’t the men cook and clean, and the women could hunt and explore?” I asked.
Mama cocked her head at me.
“This is just the way things work, Ebele. Now, finish your food. We would not want it to go to waste.”
Mama turned to talk to the woman next to her, and I turned back to my food. I gazed into the roaring fire, thinking. I needed to show Imamu and the rest of the men of our tribe that women were also capable of doing men’s jobs. But how?
The next morning, I woke up early to begin my chores. As I tidied up the tiny hut where I lived and collected wood for making a fire, I watched the men as they set off with their bows and arrows to hunt. Papa led the troop at the front. And suddenly, I had an idea.
Quickly, I swept the last bit of dust off of the floor of the hut, and ran over to Mama and Papa’s sleeping mat. Mama slept peacefully, but there was an empty space next to her where Papa usually slept.
“Mama,” I whispered.
Her black eyes fluttered open, and gazed up at me.
“I am going to go collect supplies to make a basket. I will come back in the afternoon.”
Mama nodded her head sleepily, and her eyes fluttered shut. I smiled. My idea was working.
Quickly, I slipped on my pair of moccasins, and took one of Papa’s bows and arrows from the shelf he had carved out when building our hut. Then I rushed out of the hut. I was a strong girl, so I ran quite quickly as I rushed to catch up with the men. I stayed back, waiting for them to fully disappear into the woods, and then, quiet as an elephant shrew, I went in after them.
I had never before been in the woods, so the surroundings were new to me. I gazed around myself in awe, at the tall, broad trees that ran along the sides of the path that the men always used. It was dark and cool in the forest, but very noisy, too. The forest was teeming with life. Although I could not see them, I could hear the sounds of animals everywhere – the chattering of baboons, the running of deer, the calls of albatrosses, the slithering of snakes. It was so different from the life I always lived at home, so much more exciting. I smiled, and then quickly crept along the trees, to catch up with the hunters.
We soon reached a clearing in the woods. Sunlight streamed through the trees, and I stayed back as the men stopped in front of me. Papa stood ahead of the group, looking around. Suddenly, one of the men, named Adebowale, let out a cry.
“The aardwolf! Men, I see an aardwolf!”
I gasped. An aardwolf! These very shy, nocturnal creatures were rarely seen by members of my tribe, yet they possessed some of the most juicy, delicious meat of all. I always heard men talking about how they longed to catch one of these animals, and now, here one was, for the first time.
I took a step forward out of the woods, my heart pounding. I watched as Papa’s eyes grew wide, and the hunters started whispering frantically to each other, as Adebowale pointed to a small, brown deer that was grazing in the shade of some trees. The men slowly affixed their arrows to their bows.
“Wait!” Papa whispered.
The men turned toward him.
“It is much too difficult to catch the aardwolf with a bow and arrow. It will be much easier to kill it using a dagger, yet we did not bring one. We must find another weapon to use.”
The men lowered their bows and arrows. The aardwolf had not spotted us yet, but it would soon. As the hunters looked around for something to use as a weapon, I did the same. Originally, I had only wanted to follow the men into the forest, and watch how they hunted. But now, I saw a chance to help, and I took it.
My eyes darted between the trees. A rock was too short and stubby to use as a dagger, and a piece of wood was not sharp enough. Suddenly, my eyes came to rest on a long, pointy stick that was resting against a tree. I looked up at the aardwolf. It was still grazing. Then, I glanced at the men. They were still searching. I smiled to myself, and I lifted up the stick. I took a step out from the trees, and held up the stick over my shoulder. I squeezed my eyes shut, and took careful aim at the aardwolf’s side. I knew that that was where I should be aiming, for I had listened many times to Papa’s conversations with his fellow hunters. Slowly, I walked farther out from the trees.
“Ebele!” I heard Papa shout.
I did not pay attention to his call. Instead, I drew back my arm, focused on the aardwolf….and released the stick.
I bit my lip as the stick shot forward. All of the hunters around me held their breaths… and the stick struck the aardwolf. I gasped, in shock at what I had just done. Around me, the men burst into shouts of cheer. I beamed, rushing over to kill the aardwolf, to put it out of its pain. As I tended to the creature, I heard running behind me.
“Ebele! Why are you in the woods? You should be at the hut, helping your Mama,” Papa exclaimed. The men around him nodded.
“I caught your aardwolf, Papa. I was the only one who saw the stick. I was a great help to you. If I had stayed home with Mama, the aardwolf might not have been caught.”
Papa gazed at me for a moment.
“You are right, Ebele. I am proud of you.”
He knelt down, and kissed me on the top of my head. Then, he helped me lift the aardwolf, and place it in a sling made of the strong hide of a fallow deer.
The other men gave me nods of appreciation as we began to walk out of the forest. I walked next to Papa, holding my head up high.
“I never thought that a girl could do such a wonderful thing,” Papa said, as we walked amongst the trees.
“Girls have the same abilities as men,” I said.
“I understand that now, Ebele. We will have a fine feast tonight, because of you.”
When we arrived back at the huts, everybody gathered around, while Papa told of what had happened. When he told of how I had killed the aardwolf, everyone gasped, and looked at me. And then, they all burst into applause. I even saw Mama at the front of the group, beaming up at me, her very own daughter.
“Ebele,” Papa said to me, when the clapping died down. “Will you join my hunting group? You are a fine hunter, and you will be a great help to my men.”
My eyes widened.
“Oh, yes, Papa! But only if the other women of Massai may join as well,”
Papa was quiet for a moment, but then he smiled.
“Yes. They may join if they would like.”
I looked out at the cheering women in front of me, and then at the men. Two equal genders, capable of doing the same things.
As I was walking back home, the sun setting behind me, I noticed a group of boys, in a huddle by the fire. They looked at me, their eyebrows narrowed, and I caught a glimpse of anger in their eyes. I walked slowly behind them, so that I could hear what came out of their mouths.
“How could Ebele’s father agree to this silly rule? Girls are not hunters. They are only made to clean the huts and cook us food.”
My eyes widened as Imamu said this.
“Ebele is sick in the head. She is a girl. I do not care if she caught the aardwolf, for that is not what she should have been doing,” Imamu’s brother snapped.
I walked on, for I had no longing to hear the rest of their words. Yes, people would not always agree that men and women were equal, despite all of our efforts to prove this. There would always be people who thought that women were only fit to work around the houses. Yet I knew that the women of Massai would prove themselves to be more than cleaners and cookers. Even if men such as Imamu did not agree.
Before I reached home, I made a final stop, at the acacia tree nearby. I let the wind play with my hair, as I placed my foot on a sturdy branch. I hesitated for just a moment. And then, I began to climb.