First Fruits
Mary M. Munro

Hayward Fault Line Winner

A t no-moon, the Incwala or Festival of the First Fruits begins. The ritual starts with the water people trekking to the Indian Ocean off Mozambique to gather the foam of the waves, which they use to prepare special food for the king.

Mswati watched the king chew the food and spit it out. In two weeks, he knew his father would send him to fetch the Luskewane shrub.

He recalled his father saying, "This is our most sacred ceremony in which we call on our ancestors to sanctify the king, who will bring fertility to our lands. The branches from the Lusekwane shrub are holy and they are used to build a sacred enclosure for the king. If you have slept with a maiden and made her pregnant or cohabited with a married woman, the leaves will wither. These branches are used as a symbol of the branches the ancient Queen Mother used to quiet her son, when she had fled her home and was roaming the veld."

That was last year and four full moons ago, he had gone to South Africa and saw a girl so lovely that the fire she lit in his body would not go out. Her eyes were as gold as the Golden Orb spider's web and her breasts, full blossoms.

He found excuses to visit her again and again and they made love several times in the forest of the tall Fever Trees. He would never forget the first night he made love to her. The mountains were like high walls surrounding them and they seemed to be in a big garden beneath an endless blue sky.

Two weeks would soon pass--he could run away or refuse, but he was his father's favorite son. Would the leaves really wither? The maiden, who was now pregnant, said no.

Then the moon turned full and he traveled several miles to bring the Lusekwane branches for the festival.

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The young boys' branches looked fresh, but the leaves on his branches were withered. His father stared at the branch in his hand, his face red as the blood of a slaughtered ox. He did not speak; he only turned away.

Was this the punishment--never to be spoken to again?

On the third day of the ritual, an ox was slaughtered. The king emerged from his enclosure, after being begged by the warriors, dancing around it.

Then he heard his father shout, pointing to him. "He has defiled the king's sacred enclosure, slaughter him too."

The young warriors fell on him like black rain.

First published: February 2001
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