The Lore Of The Drum

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, “Wild Dog”.

The context: Our heroes have just retrieved a powerful rainmaking drum from a person that stole it, but one of them is acting all weird. Her friend asks the most knowledgeable member of the group, a priest named Chenzira, what the big deal is. The other characters in the scene are Yasuka, a young warrior; Dzugudini, a huntress; and Luba, Dzugudini’s best friend and fellow huntress. The story takes place in a fantasy African setting that is based on the Mwene Mutapa Empire of the 15th century South Eastern Africa.


They were now going through tall clumps of grass, and gravelly soil crunched beneath their horses hooves. Luba was riding ahead of Chenzira in a single file. The mountain path wasn’t wide enough to allow them to ride abreast. She deliberately slowed down her horse, allowing a distance to build up between herself and Yasuka, who was riding ahead of her. When she was several paces behind him, she slowed down even further and drew level with Chenzira.
“I wanted to ask you something,” she said.
“This drum. Why is it so important?”
Chenzira gave her a surprised look.
“It’s the ngomalungundu,” he said. “What could be more important than that.”
“I’m not trying to start a fight. I respect people’s beliefs, even though I don’t hold them myself. But when you look around at the drought that we’re in, and when you think of how many times the Mutapas have beaten that drum…”
“It makes you wonder why people would be so superstitious?” Chenzira asked, finishing her sentence for her.
“Exactly. I would have stopped believing a long time ago.”
“The drum can only work under the right circumstances.”
“Which are?”
“When the prophecy is fulfilled.”
“What prophecy?”
“The prophecy about Shabaka’s true heir.”
“Who is Shabaka.”
“You really don’t know anything about this?”
“I’m not from around here, remember?”
“Shabaka was a king who ruled an empire far in the North.”
“How far north.”
“Really far north. Ever heard of Misri?”
“Yes, that’s beyond Nubia. The land near the great river?”
“That’s where Shabaka was from. He was the last of his dynasty. When he saw that his generals and nobles were bent on bringing the entire world under their dominion, he decided he wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted freedom, not bondage. He set sail and traveled south, coming to these lands, where he established a new dynasty and brought with him enough people to begin a new nation. Just before he was gathered up to his fathers, he called his sons together and prophesied a great drought that would destroy everything they had worked to achieve and would force them to leave that land. But he had obtained a great favor from the gods. If they took his bones and encased them in a drum made of the shoe tree, then every time they beat it, the rain would come. That was how his descendants were able to prosper and build a great nation, even in times of great drought and famine. Soon, people from the neighboring nations heard of the power of the drum and would travel great distances, bearing great gifts, with the request of the drum being beaten on their behalf and bringing rain to their lands. The descendants of Shabaka grew greedy, seeing this as a chance to spread their dominion. But greed begets greed, and ambition destroys. It wasn’t long before the line of Shabaka had been all but destroyed, and a new king, who claimed to be descended from Shabaka but was not, assumed the throne, as well as the drum that came along with it. The empire grew, and Mutapa succeeded Mutapa. But the rains also grew less and less. When the Mutapas discovered that gold was needed in vast amounts across the sea to the east, they enslaved thousands and got them to work in the gold mines, reducing the reliance on rain because they could now buy food from far away. But that arrangement only suited the nobility and wealthy. The poor and the enslaved wept and wailed daily for deliverance. It was around this time that the prophecy of Shabaka’s heir was made.”
“I’ve heard about that prophecy.”
“What did you hear?”
“That Shabaka’s heir would return and beat the drum and make it rain again.”
“Yes, that’s the gist of it.”
“But are there none that have Shabaka’s blood left? Isn’t it just a straightforward matter of finding someone that’s descended from him and getting that person to beat the drum?”
“I wish it were that simple. There are a few conditions that have to be met. The prophecy can only be fulfilled when Shabaka’s comet appears in the sky. And that only happens once every ten harvests.”
Luba glanced at the sky involuntarily.
“That’s now, right.”
“Correct. Which is why the thief stole the drum now. He knows that the time is right for the drum to be beaten. But there are other conditions also. They were not revealed by the prophecy, but an oracle is said to have transmitted them from the lips of the ancestors to us.”
“And what are these conditions?”
“The drum must be beaten at noon on the day of the summer solstice.”
‘What’s that?”
“The longest day of the summer. That’s in about a week’s time. Also, whoever beats the drum must pour the blood of the one that they love the most on the altar and on the drum.”
“What altar.”
“Oh, sorry. The altar in Shabaka’s Temple. The problem is that its location has been forgotten, and the only map to it is rumored to be hidden in Inzalo Ye Langa.”
“Which is why the thief is heading there. He wants to find the map to Shabaka’s temple so that he can carry out the sacrifice with the drum on the day of the summer solstice.”
“But isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t the thief merely trying to end this drought and usher in a new era? Why would anyone want to stop him?”
“Because of the last part of the prophecy. If anyone unworthy were to try to usurp the power of the rain from Shabaka’s true heir, then they would call down punishment on themselves and on the land as well. The drum would be destroyed, along with its power to make rain, and the drought would last forever. Ever heard of the great desert in the north?”
Luba nodded. She had heard tales of oceans of sand in the north, near the borders of Misri, a land where nothing grew and few people settled. She wondered why anyone in their right mind would want to live in a desert.
“That would be terrible,” she said, looking around at the trees and grasslands surrounding them. “You mean all of this could become a desert?”
Chenzira nodded.
“That is why it’s better that we wait another ten years for the comet to appear again and for Shabaka’s true heir to emerge rather than have someone unworthy plunge us all into unending misery.”
Luba nodded. She understood.
“You said that the map to Shabaka’s temple is said to be hidden in Inzalo Ye Langa?”
“Yes. Unless I’m quite mistaken, I think that that is where our thief is heading and where we will eventually get to if we keep following his tracks.”
“Are you absolutely sure about that? That we are heading to Inzalo Ye Langa?”
“Yes,” Chenzira nodded, wondering what Luba was getting at.
“You should have told me about that earlier. This whole secrecy policy is going to make us all waste a lot of time and lead to us failing.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I know these mountains like the back of my hand. It’s better than Dzugudini and better than most people. If this thief is going to Inzalo Ye Langa, then he’s going by the long route. It’s the route that people know. But I know a far shorter route that will get us there before he will.”
“Are you sure of this?”
“I told you, I know this mountain like the back of my hand.”

They caught up to Yasuka and Dzugudini, who were riding ahead of them, and explained their plan. Dzugudini confirmed that Luba did indeed know those mountain paths better than most people. When she had first arrived in those lands from her homeland in Sao, she had spent a few years apprenticed to a healer who lived in the mountains. The healer’s life didn’t quite agree with her, and she moved on. The knowledge she picked up about herbs and animals, as well as the geography of the land, remained with her. That is what she brought to bear as she led them off the rugged mountain path and straight through the low tufts of grass that grew in between the rocks dotting the foothills of the Mountains of Mwari. They twisted their way through crevices in the middle of high bluffs. The wind was stronger now and had a slight chill to it as they ascended higher and higher into the mountains. They came to an alpine forest consisting of proteas and pine trees. The forest came to an abrupt halt as a ring of stone pillars loomed up ahead of them.

“That’s Inzalo Ye Langa,” Luba announced. “I think we shaved off four hours from the trip.”

The ancient stones of Inzalo Ye Langa stood grey and imposing against the sky. Wind whispered ancient tales as it blew past them. Far to the left, they caught the silver glint of a tiny river that ran off the edge of a cliff.
“That goes to the Zamebezi,” Luba said. “There’s a waterfall near here. You can hear it from up here.” Sure enough, they caught the distant roar of water plummetting down from a cliff to a canyon far below.
“It’s on the other side of this clearing.” Behind them, there was a clear view of the undulating grasslands with patches of forest in between. In the distance, a river ran down to the base of the mountains, widening out before it snaked away towards the sea. Birds soared above, occasionally perching on the monoliths.
Chenzira got off his horse and examined the ground.
“Do you see anything?” he asked. “Has the Thief been here?”
“There’s no sign of anyone coming here,” Dzugudini said, peering at the ground.
“If he came,” Luba said, “he would have come through there.” She pointed at a narrow crag between the ring of rocks. “That’s the usual path.”
They examined the ground around the crag, but all they found were some animal droppings and hoofprints. They were the first people there in a long time.
“We need to lie in wait for our man,” Chenzira said. He glanced at the sun in the sky. It was late afternoon.
“So you expect our man to get here in about four hours.”
“Yes. If he wants to get here while it’s still day,” Luba said. “He could decide to come at night, of course.”
“I don’t think he will,” Chenzira said, scanning the horizon. “He’d need the light to find what he is seeking. If what I read all those years ago in the library of Zvongombe is correct, the map is buried beneath one of these pillars. Which one, I don’t know. But our man will need the sun to help him.”
“Then I suggest that we lie in wait,” Yasuka said, “and surprise him when he comes.”