In the North Western Region of South Africa where the land is starved for rain, there were once hunters and gatherers who knew the land and named the rare and precious rains: male names for the hard-pounding rains and female names for the soft, gentle rains. Seated around a fire, a /Xam mother tells her young son, /Han-hasso, about the rain’s courting of a young woman. She tells the story under the night sky, with stars so close, the /Xam said, you could hear their cry: Tsau, tsau.
The white colonists drive the /Xam from their land. /Han-hasso, now grown and married, is arrested for stealing cattle in a desperate attempt to feed his family. He is taken to the Breakwater Prison in Cape Town. Later, freed from prison, he spends time with Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd. He tells them the story his mother had told him, and they include it in their book SPECIMENS OF BUSHMAN FOLKLORE.
Melissa Heckler, a storyteller and librarian, reads this story in Specimens of Bushman Folklore. She travels to Namibia and works with the children of the Ju/’hoansi and the San and listens to their stories. She also travels to South Africa and is taken to /Han-hasso’s homeland, where she sleeps near the rock engraving of the Rain Bull. Strange dreams haunt her night. Therese Folkes Plair travels to Ghana on an ethnological field trip, where she, too, hears many stories. Upon their return to the United States, these two good friends exchange stories they had heard during their travels.
The Rain Bull story has been quiet for generations. Then, by the clear bubbling waters of a creek that empties into the Olifants River near Clan Williams, South Africa, Therese returns this story to the land of its origin. She tells the story to a gathering that includes American and South African storytellers and scholars and some descendants of /Han-hasso’s San community, evoking once again the sweet power of story and rain to refresh and honor the people and land that first gave this story life.
Therese Folkes Plair
The Rain Bull
The rain was coming!
Rain smelled the scent of a woman.
It smelled the scent of Sa, of breast milk, and of Bushman soup.
So the Rain, disguised in the skin of a bull, trotted off towards
The scent of a woman.
In a hut, there was a young woman.
She was a new mother. She cradled her newborn baby.
A mist arose and enveloped the hut; she smelled the scent of rain.
It was a sweet and fragrant scent; there is none sweeter.
So the woman wrapped her baby in springbok hide and placed it in a corner of her hut so her people could find the child if anything happened to her.
Then she went outside, where the Rain disguised as a bull was standing.
The woman rubbed his forehead with Sa and then climbed onto the bull’s back.
They rode off, going this way and that way. Up this hill and down that hill.
Passing that tree and then another one over there.
Along the way, the woman sang: Aiya, aiya ha, ha, kui ne ya—Saaaaa.
I’m weary! cried the woman.
The Bull trotted over to a kuerriten tree and knelt down.
The woman climbed down and rubbed more Sa on his forehead.
The Rain fell sleep and began to dream. He dreamed the young woman was still riding on his back, but she was up in the tree.
She crept softly to the far branch and jumped down, running back to her people as fast as she could.
She had saved her people from a dangerous rain. Just to make sure the Rain would not be angry when he awakened, the old women gathered horns from here and there and burned them to appease him.
As for Rain, he got up and drifted peacefully back into the river.
Aiya, Aiya, ha, ha, kui, ne ya—Saaaaa.
Published in Parabola “Water” Issue 2010