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September 21st 2009

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    Okanya and I were awed by the termite hunter.  He was peculiar in shape.  His eyes never still.  His voice high pitched.  His movements threaded with unnatural gestures that suggested a form of insanity until he was hunting termite, and then he became like an antelope.  He belonged to the world of magic, and now that I am older I know why.

    When a European wife became pregnant, a European husband would have built for her a Banda.  This was a multi-posted, round structure with a grass roof, set in a cleared space.  It provided shade and fresh air for newly born and caretakers during the first years of a new European life.  But if a Banda was built within a hundred yards of a termite mound, it would last for perhaps a month.  

    Unlike a modern termite man who arrives in a pickup truck makes a few seasonal remarks and then leaves, the termite hunter had to be collected amongst ceremony soon after a good rain.  His first act, after approaching the termite mound, was to completely disrobe, which for young minds living amongst a clothes wearing people was in and of itself unnerving.

    His audience was advised to keep their distance, which we quickly did.  Having placed his ear to the termite mound for what seemed like an hour or two, the termite hunter then directed Okanya's mother to hack out a small portion of the termite mound near the ground, which she did.  And I recall a smile of amusement on her face, because he was so peculiar and so naked and she was so tall, and we were all watching.

 

    

    There were no incantations, no smoke, no unnecessary movements, just the quiet of listening.  Then with slow precision the termite hunter reached his thin arm into the mound and produced a big white fat queen, which he promptly popped into his mouth and swallowed.

    Okanya's mother beamed down at him a smile reserved for perfect things.  The termite hunter himself shrugged in that way professionals have.  And without its queen the termite mound, for a few years at least, would enter a period of dormancy.

     In the world where I live now the termite hunter would most likely have endured a frightful childhood of mockery.  He would as a grown person have adopted a reclusive and lonely lifestyle, emerging from behind his gates to shuffle and twitch his way through the grocery aisles.  Round eyed children would point at him and their elders would avert their eyes.  He would eat vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and sometimes he would be arrested for indecency.  In his life there would be no magic skill that sung his praise for miles around and on into time.

    When the termite hunter was gone, Okanya and I hurried toward the termite mound, expecting to see a swarm of soldier termites searching out their queen while worker termites repaired damaged termite halls.  But there was nothing to be seen of termites. 

    Okanya's mother explained that their heart had been stolen, and even though years have built between now and then, and even though memory can be deceitful, I can still hear a wistfulness in her voice.      

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tim candler

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(termite mounds)