Peasant Autonomy
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Story 75

Savanna region, Nigeria – about 1925

Sokugo, the wandering disease

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(Photo: Pietro Zoccola)


As soon as she sees her mother coming, Sheibe leaps to her feet and runs to her. “Mama, Mama,” the dark girl with the small braids shouts, and wraps her arms around her, “Daddy has run away.” Then she starts sobbing. Shaitu, a lanky Fula woman of about 40 years old, looks, astonished, at her daughter. “What's going on?” she asks herself. That morning she had walked with some calabashes of milk to the nearby town to sell it door-to-door. Mai Sunsaye, her somewhat older husband, was at that moment sitting in front of his hut, reading the Qur'an.

“Be quiet, my girl,” Shaitu tries to calm down her daughter, and together with her she walks to the hut of Sunsaye. To her surprise, she sees that the books have been slammed closed hastily, and that the inkwell has fallen down. There is no trace to be found of her husband.
In fits and starts Sheibe tells what has happened. Toward the end of the morning a man had come. He was carrying a cage with a dove in it. Stealthily he had crept to the bushes behind the huts and released the dove there. The dove had something white on its leg. A few moments later, her father became restless, and without saying a word, he followed after the bird, further and further away. Sheibe had called him again and again, but her father didn't even look back. Once again, Sheibe sobs.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Dotun55)


Shaitu moans. That man, about whom Sheibe is talking, is Ardo, a nasty fellow who cannot accept that Sunsaye was chosen as village head. And Sunsaye has, as she realises now, the Sokugo, the wandering disease. That 'something white' on the dove’s leg was a piece of parchment with a dangerous spell written on it. It causes a usually tranquil man to start wandering restlessly through the savanna. At night it is dangerous there, with wild cattle, cobras, panthers, and sometimes even a lion.

What should she do? Shaitu doesn't know. She needs to find her husband, to take him to a sorcerer who can free him from the spell with an herbal decoction or something else. At sunset, when Rikku, her son, returns with the herd, she will speak with him how to rescue Sunsaye.


Burning Grass (1962) from the Nigerian writer Cyprian Ekwensi is a short but thrilling adventure novel about the nomadic way of life.

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= the next page: Moving - a mountain village in Peru – 1926 (2), story 76.
= the Table of contents, story 75.