“Where I’m from, in Kengai, we eat everything what move and many
things what don’t. I’m telling you,” he said, then he started
counting off from his pinky. “I’ve eaten lion, donkey, dog, goat,
rabbit, krokodilia, snakes, monkeys and many many insects.”
“Lenatu,” I said. “That’s gross. Monkeys?”
He sucked his teeth. Dismissed my comment with a wave of his stubby hand.
“You don’t know good things, you. You and your two three animals.
You’re just like those stupid villagers in Kengai. They were jealous
because they couldn’t eat many things like we did,” he said laughing. “Their fathers couldn’t shoot straight,” he slapped his thigh and
I just shook my head. He was sitting on the beige sofa in his living
room, empty beer bottles on the table in front of him. His pot belly
shook as he laughed. He wore flip flops, gray pleated slacks and this
shiny blue shirt that stood out against his dark complexion. Only the
Lord knew where he got those clothes from, because when I asked him he
told me not to worry.
“You know the one I want to try?” he asked me, sitting up straight.
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“I want to try the manatee, when I see it on TV it looks so
delicious,” he said, rubbing his hands together.
“Lenatu! You can’t eat a manatee! It’s endangered!”
“You mean if I eat I’ll be in danger with police,” he said with a broad smile.
“Yes. Please promise me you will never eat a manatee.”
“I won’t kill it. I’ll wait until it die of old age.”
“No. Don’t do it. It’s wrong.”
He looked at me, his small round eyes blank and expressionless. One
time he told me that when he was in college he couldn’t afford a meal
plan. Said he started hunting squirrels on campus. Said he ate so
many the administration had to import some from the next county to
repopulate the school. I never knew when he was pulling my leg.
“But the animal must be nice to eat I’m telling you. It will
probably taste like a pork fish or fish pork. And it’s so juicy,” he
said, rubbing his belly.
“Have you had anything like a manatee before?”
“No. But when my grandfather was young people used to eat
hippopotamus. He said it was very nice.”
“Hippopotamus? Come on. Hippos aren’t edible.”
“No. Not now. But they used to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a big story. You want to hear it?”
“Yeah. Tell me about it.”
“I told you I grew up by the Sympopo river. It’s a big river,” he
threw his hands out far to either side.
“My grandfather said there used to be many hippopotamus in the river
when he was a boy. He said on some occasions people would kill and
“What occasions?” I asked.
“I don’t remember. But the he said one hippo would feed all the
people for maybe three months, it was just too much meat. He said it
was veeeery good and everybody liked it too much.”
He had been trying to get me to try the goat meat he got from the
Arab store. When he said it was genetically almost identical to lamb
I decided to give it a try. I knew human genes were only a few points
off from chimp genes, so a few points could make a world of
difference. But I figured what the hell. It couldn’t kill me. I
could see the pots on his stove from the living room and the onions
and spices smelled good. Seeing me look at his pots, he went to check
He uncovered the big pot, steam rising to his face, and took in the
aroma. Then he took a spoon and dipped a little of the broth onto his
palm to taste.
“Very good,” he said quietly to himself before he covered the pot
gently, turned the flame down a little, and came back to the living
“What was I saying?” he asked.
“Hippo meat fed everybody,” I said, trying hard to keep a straight face.
“Oh yes. So then Chikolwe became chief. He liked hippo too much and
he said he wanted to eat it every time. My grandfather was a young
man that time. Chikolwe told the people there was to be hippo in his
pot every day,” he said as he slapped the back of his right hand into
his left palm.
“So every six months or so he sent them to kill another.”
“Why six months? I thought you said three?” I asked.
“No. He started to eat it just in his household. He would kill but
he wouldn’t distribute like the other chiefs used to do. He only gave
His expression became serious. He shook his head, sucked his teeth. “Chief Chikolwe was a fat man. A real useless. He like food too
much. In those days he would drink hippo fat everyday.”
“What? How do you drink hippo fat?”
“You. Listen. Am I going to talk or are you going to question me
every time? He did drink hippo fat everyday and all his wives and
children were also fat. Now the elders told him it’s not good to eat
hippo every time like that because it would bring bad luck to his
family and the people. But he didn’t listen.”
“Why is it bad luck?”
“You don’t know hippo is king of the river? No one can challenge
him. Not the krokodilia. Not man. Nobody. So if the hippos are
happy the river is good. Otherwise there’s chaos. But Chikolwe
didn’t care, he wanted his hippo every time. One year like that the
fishermen started catching less fish. The next year the krokos
started attacking people. Still Chikolwe didn’t care. He sent men to
kill krokos and he continued eating his hippo.”
“That’s now when my grandfather said Dugulonanda became angry. There are–.”
“Wait,” I said as I raised my hand. “Who is D u g u l o –.”
“Dugulonanada was the king of the river. A very great and big
hippopotamus,” he said, raising his arms like he was putting them
around a giant beach ball.
“There are two stories. One says he was born extraordinary because he
was black like coal and not gray like the other hippos. Another says
he was given power to protect the river because of how Chikolwe was
behaving. In any case the river became dangerous because of him.
Dugulo started attacking the fishermen himself and the krokos also
didn’t stop. My grandfather rode Dugulo one time when he was a
“No, man. People don’t ride hippos, man.” I laughed. “What the hell
is this? A movie?”
“Hey!” he said, making his eyes big at me. “You know nothing, you.
Listen. During those days, Chikolwe sent my grandfather and others to
kill one particular kroko that had eaten three people now. So they
did tie a goat to a tree close to the water so the krokos would come
to get it. When the kroko came to eat they readied their poison
spears and arrows. But before they reached him they said Dugulo did
rise from the river in a big fury. He made a big sound and charged on
my grandfather who was in the front. The other men threw spears and
shot arrows but Dugulo didn’t stop. My grandfather thought he was
going to die. He fell to the ground like a prayer. Dugulo stopped.
Just for a short time. He smelled my grandfather, then he chased the
other man and bit his leg like a twig. Krra. Just like that,” he
said as he made his hands like someone breaking a twig.
He saw me get ready to say something.
“You can go to Kengai right now, you will see him. He’s an old man
and he can tell you himself. Now when the word reached the chief he
got angry. He flogged my grandfather and the other men. Even the man
minus leg was flogged. Chikolwe was embarress. He told the local
representative that the hippos in Kengai killed twenty people.”
“What do you mean representative?” I asked.
“The representative was there on authority of the Queen of Negland.
So the representative sent a message to the capital and the capital
sent one famous hunter. Lester Gillian,” he said in a mock Stritish
accent putting his hands on his hips and looking at me with his lips
pursed. I chuckled. Then he continued.
“Now Lester came with his big gun and again my grandfather was sent
with two other men to help on the mission. They arrived by the river
early in the morning and waited because Dugulo liked to come up at a
certain place to sit in the sun. And they didn’t wait long until he
came. It’s like he knew because he walked straight towards them.
Lester Gillian put his whole vision in the small space of the scope.
He narrowed onto the hippo's humongous black head and shot one loud
bullet between Dugulo’s eyes. TOH!
His body fell to the ground. His yell reached further than the sound
of the gun.Lester smiled. And after Dugulo laid there for some time they walked
slowly to go look at him.”
“What did they see?”
“A small whistle was coming from deep in his throat. And he was
trembling.” Lenatu started shaking like epilepsy to illustrate.
“When they came to his body, they saw blood coming from the wound in
his head and his eyes looked scared. My grandfather said he almost
cried. They all watched his last breath go out and the whistling
“So Lester Gillian said: ‘You see. There is no problem that can’t be
solved with firepower,’ and he stuck his chest out.
And then he told the photographer to take pictures. He took a few
poses, then on one pose he put the butt of his rifle by the
hippopotamus’s nose and put his boot on his head.
My grandfather said that he saw Dugulo’s nose twitch. In an instant he
took Lester’s rifle in his mouth and jumped up.”
“Whatever. You saw that on Disney,” I said, waving his story away with
“Can I watch Disney, me? He took the man’s rifle, jumped up and
charged on the party. Of course everybody ran like hell. They
scattered quick. The cameraman threw his camera, the other men threw
away their spears and Lester left his hat in the mud. Dugulo ran
towards the village.”
“What happened to the men?”
“The men gathered themselves after they retrieved their items. They
panicked because they knew Chikolwe would punish them if they failed
again. They decided to try to stop him even though they doubted
because they didn’t have a gun.
“They ran after him and my grandfather and the other men saw he was
headed to Chief’s house.
“Dugulo ran through the thorn bush fence. A big alarm went up in the
compound. Chikolwe’s oldest son and another man shot arrows at him.
They were good shooters, some of the arrows were halfway into his
body, still he ran.”
“He didn’t bellow or make any noise?”
“No. The gun was in his mouth. But his feet shook the ground like
earthquakes. The men in the chief’s compound threw their bows to run
before Dugulo rampaged them. He broke the outer wall which was made
of big tree trunks. This one he also smashed. He did trample one man
to death that day. He went straight to Chikolwe’s room. This wall he
broke also and there in front of that hole he dropped the gun.”
“Well Chikolwe knew he had to come out. Even he knew how to read some
omens. He began questioning the animal. Asking why it
was here? Telling it that he is chief of the region.”
“Why would he talk to an animal? Is that normal?”
“He was scared. He didn’t know what else to do. As chief he had to
do something,” Lenatu dropped his shoulders and looked at his feet for
“So the hippo just stood there. When he asked and the animal didn’t
answer he started sweating and shaking in his bones. He started
apologizing for eating too much hippo meat. Then he became quiet.
The whole world became quiet. When Dugulo saw he was finished talking
he stepped forward and pushed the gun towards Chikolwe.
“Chikolwe looked at the gun. He knew how to use them, he had several.
Then the men from the excursion came and started yelling along with
the warriors that heard the alarm. Dugulo snorted and pushed the gun
again before stepping back.
“ Finally Chikolwe picked up the gun and at that moment Dugulo kneeled
with his front legs on the ground.”
At that time we were both under the fluorescent lights in the kitchen
of his apartment. Lenatu checked his pots, rinsed his hands under the
sink and cracked another beer for me. Then he grabbed one for himself
and motioned me to follow him into the living room.
“Chikolwe started laughing,” he said as he plopped himself on the
couch. “He loaded the gun and walked up to the animal and put the gun
on the wound that Lester Gillian made.
“ Oh. Now Dugulo’s back legs collapsed also and he shook his head and
yelled. Chikolwe pulled the trigger. His children started crying.”
Even though I found his story a little… fanciful this image was clear
as day. This image made me feel sad and silly because I knew there
was no way a real hippo would do that. Then I heard the sizzle of
burning fluid as the pot bubbled over the top, down the sides and onto
the blue flames of the stove.
“Damn,” Lenatu said as he jumped up. He took the lid off and turned
the fire down a little before he stirred it again and checked the
oven. Happy with everything, he took another swig of his beer and
leaned against the white counter. I followed him into the kitchen to
hear the rest of the story.
“Dugulo shook a long time. The blood from his head was flying and the
women started screaming like murder. Chikolwe shot him again and he
became still. And do you know what he said?”
I shrugged my shoulders like ‘How should I know?’
“He said, ‘Tateenda go call Seshwala.’ Tateenda was his son and
Seshwala was the only man who was allowed to butcher hippopotamus.”
“He ate Dugello?”
“Yes, he did eat him. But no one else in his house ate. His first
wife told all the children not to eat the meat or they would turn into
ugly animals and the hunters would have to come kill them. But
Chikolwe started showing abnormalities the next day.”
“Next day? What kind of abnormalities?”
“He wasn’t feeling well. His stomach looked puff more than usual.
Bumps on his body. End of the week he couldn’t leave his room. In
twelve days he died.“
“How did he die?”
“Aah. There are a lot of stories. Some say his body became so
swollen he exploded. Some say his bones started deforming. Some say
it was just his time. His youngest, who was four also ate. He stole
a few pieces when no one was looking.”
“Did he die also?”
“No. The man Feyowe cured him with him herbs.”
“Why didn’t he give some to Chikolwe?”
“No. He told him straight. He told Chikolwe that he was going to die
and that he could only give him medicine for pain.”
“Yes. Since those days no one in the region has eaten hippo meat.”
“We should go exhume Chikolwe’s grave and do radiometric analysis on
his skeleton. That would be so fascinating.”
“You dig graves, you?” he asked. It was obviously bad in his culture
to dig up graves, even for science.
“So how do people treat Chikolwe’s family today?” I asked.
“Now they are treated well. His third daughter went to become a great
chief in nearby Mareepa. But that’s another story.”
He turned the fire off completely. Opened the big pot and took
another taste. Nodded. “The food is ready,” he said. Let us eat.”