THE DEAD HAD A FACE


 

In many societies, sexually transmitted diseases afflicted the most sexually active members, the youth. Not so among my people. Gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) affected all age groups, more so men than women. Perhaps polygamy was to blame; perhaps our men were created to spread their progeny even into their sunset years. So when the New Disease visited my people, it spread across all age groups. The youth were hard hit, and so were men and women in their middle age; and the polygamous elder was not spared. The New Disease robbed us of both wisdom and vigor. One woman, Gina was in the middle of  the tragedy, but she was being blamed for the wrong reasons.

This story, Gina’s story, would be incomplete without an illumination of the circumstances of some of her victims, and the tragedy that befell a community caught between modernity, tradition and corrupted religious beliefs.

Listen to this roll call for the dead.

David was a retired police officer; he was fifty-five years of age. With his retirement perks to spend, he became an earlier a target of Gina. His fifty-year-old wife had died barely a month before his death. His secret affair with Gina would never be discovered. David had five other female contacts in-and-out of the clan. Officially, Malaria was the cause of his death. Being an informed man with his ears always on the national pulse, he knew better. But he died in silence, and took a few innocent souls with him. David belonged to the category of the malicious disease agent. He was like some carriers of the New Disease, who took cooperative loans for the sole purpose of ensnaring new victims; some carriers even had the audacity to leave behind a long roster of their living victims— effectively a roster for the condemned living dead because no cure of the disease was then in sight.

Lawi: Indeed, Lawi had adopted some ways of the Church, and had ignored others. He likewise ignored some of his people’s traditions, which he considered repugnant to his modern lifestyle, while embracing others. Thus, in matters of religion and morality, Lawi walked both worlds, cherry-picking as it were—embracing a potent mix of religious indulgences. Without any discretion, Lawi had planted his fields before his parent’s fields were planted citing his newfound freedom under the Church. But this act was taboo  (in the eyes of my people)  and had prompted much public talk in the village.

But Lawi wasn’t at peace with his Church either: Several years later, he would ignore the teachings of his Church and become bigamous as he consummated the affair with the multiply widowed beauty, Gina. As he entered Gina’s bed, there was much angst inflicted upon his mother and father for a different reason than the Church’s position on polygamy. They believed that the beautiful woman bore chira(a curse of death).

“Mama,” he told his mother, “in matters of your tradition, I am like a little baby. The woman is perfectly normal; she bears no curse.”

“Lawi!”

“Mama, in your world, I am a walking dead man.”

“Lawi! No more word from you!”

“Haven’t I planted my field before yours; haven’t I been marked for death by your traditions? I will walk into Gina’s house tonight. How many times can a man die?””

“I don’t want to know! No more, Lawi!”

And though he violated Church norms in becoming bigamous, he would turn around and use Biblical teachings to justify why he lived outside some of his people’s traditional beliefs and practices. These adulterated forms of diverse religions permeated the whole land, and would provide a deadly mix of beliefs and moral standards, which would nurture the propagation of the New Disease. The New Disease claimed its victims while the people blamed Gina’s chira (curse), and a host of other arcane acts of the victims, for the scourge that emptied homes daily.

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