An entry in the Cleland Award for Heritage Literature
There was no doubt Gege Gori was the most beautiful girl in the village and all the girls envied her beauty.
She was tall and slender in build, had long, shiny, wavy hair the colour of midnight. Her soft fair skin always smelled of freshly perfumed coconut oil. Her eyes were magnificent. They were the darkest of browns and when she smiled they came alive with twinkles.
Gege probably never noticed Vele Vala the village musician’s son watching her every day. Vele would creep behind tall bushes just so he could listen to Gege’s voice when she talked with her friends as they went to fetch water from the nearby river.
He would climb the tallest mango tree that grew beside Gege’s bedroom window to watch her sing and comb her long hair. Vele knew what Gege did in a day; from the moment she woke to the minute she closed her eyes.
But the one thing Vele never did though he wanted to so much was, he never watched Gege when she went to take her bath or when she did things which were forbidden for boys to even know about.
For if he ever did that the spirits of the ancestors would report him to the elders and he would be disowned by his family and be made an orphan. It was the custom of the village that young boys and girls were not allowed to explore their sexuality- it was one of those tabooed things that one was made never to question. It was just seen as sacred.
To everyone in the village, Vele was just an average looking young man. He was of average build and had a tanned complexion. He had a broad forehead with wide set eyes that were always very expressive and deep in thought. He had soft curly black hair and dimples in both cheeks.
However, everyone in the village would agree that the most attractive thing about Vele was his ability to make people laugh which earned him the nickname, ‘Village Clown’.
Vele knew that if he wanted Gege to take notice of him as a potential husband, he would have to make sure that when the next village feast was held, he would be the most outstanding of all the young men and be in the forefront of the traditional courtship dance called the ‘Kitoro’ that was performed during every ceremonial activity so that young men and women would choose their dance partners and in doing so choose their future husbands and wives.
Vele wasted no time. He got busy by asking his father to teach him how to dance the ‘Kitoro’. He learned the art of the dance with passion and fire. His father told him the beauty of the dance was not in how one performed but, what was in the heart of the performer as he danced.
The ‘Kitoro’ was a dance of pure and unconditional love and if performed well could only win the heart of the one you truly love. If the performer had pure intentions, he would achieve his goal. Vele took to heart the words of his father and committed to performing the sacred love dance with his heart and soul.
Meanwhile, Gege was also preparing for the upcoming feast and with it the prospect of dancing with a young man and not just any young man but the Chief’s handsome son Renagi Raga.
She had admired him greatly at the last feast and had planned to choose him to be her partner when Dago Dabu had beaten her to it. Well this time no one was going to stand in her way of getting to Renagi since Dago had left him for the neighbouring Chief’s son.
When the day of the feast arrived, every young person was excited and full of anticipation. Dressed in their finest traditional gear they waited for the Chief to formally open the feast and welcome everyone in the village and those visiting from neighbouring villages.
Vele looked very handsome in his beautiful headdress and traditional dress. He felt proud that his father had taken the time to teach him and had given him his grandfather’s Kundu drum to use. He thought Gege looked more beautiful than ever before and just to think that after today she could be his future bride.
Finally, for what seemed like ages, the Chief welcomed the people and opened the feast. The young men were called to take their positions. Renagi and Vele were chosen to take the leading positions. Vele was beside himself with excitement, part of his dream was coming true. Now was his chance to show-off his dancing skill to Gege if she was watching.
As the young men danced enthusiastically towards the young women, Vele’s heart began to beat wildly with anticipation and excitement. When the young women saw the young men approaching, they started to sing and swing their grass-skirts to show-off their beautifully tattooed thighs and legs.
As the young men approached, one by one the girls went off swinging their grass-skirts and at the same time grabbing hold of the Kundu drum that belonged to the boy who captured her attention the most.
Gege was truly confused now whom she would choose, for during the course of the dance, she had noticed Vele Vala the village musician’s son was dancing exceptionally well and looked very handsome indeed. She had to admit he somehow was dancing so much better than Renagi and those dimples.
Oh! But she still wanted Renagi. She was so confused- What was she going to do? She had never before realised that Vele even existed and now here he was dancing like a Chief. She had to decide quickly or else they too would be taken and she would be left without a partner. As she swung her grass skirt and moved towards the young men in front of her, she quickly made up her mind.
Vele watched from the corner of his eyes as Gege and another girl he did not recognise swung their grass skirts gracefully towards Renagi and himself. They seemed to be racing towards him and he quickly prayed that Gege would grab his Kundu drum first.
As Vele turned around to complete the dance pattern, he felt a tug on his Kundu drum and he slowly turned his head side ways to see which one of the girls had grabbed his Kundu drum and to his great delight, he saw Gege Gori.
There she was holding onto his Kundu drum and swinging her grass skirt with a smile that could stop a heartbeat. His hard work and determination had paid off. He silently thanked the ancestors for being with him on this magical night.
When the love dance or the ‘Kitoro’ was over, the newly formed young couples paired off hand in hand and walked towards the feast. Vele and Gege with their hands intertwined gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes with wonder and awe. Then they slowly strolled out of the dancing arena towards the festivities.
Sheena Simelolo is a 29-year old teacher from Rigo in Central Province, but working in Goroka. She writes of herself: “I come from the Rigo inland district of Central Province. Writing short stories is like a hobby for me. I wrote this particular piece while a student at the University of Goroka”.