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Paul Atanya: Bloodshed in Mana

This novel takes a theme that can be found in other African novels, namely that, before the coming of the white man, the people lived in a land of milk and honey (albeit with a few minor problems, such as local skirmishes) but that this all changed, very much for the worse, when the white man came. In this novel, we are concerned with the Mana people (possibly these people). They live in an area that they merely call The Land, which seems to be very fertile and good for cattle breeding, the main part of their economy. They are also tough warriors. Indeed, we see evidence of this at the beginning. Namala, mother of Lojore, is visiting her parents, with the baby Lojore. Her father was a great warrior, as is her husband and her son is a quasi-Christ figure, the hope of the Mana, son and grandson of great warriors. However, the compound seems to be under attack by the neighbouring Turkana, who are treacherously attacking at night. Namala manages to flee with Lojore into the bushes. Unfortunately for the Turkana, the Mana were expecting the attack and easily capture them. They do not consider them worth killing, merely taking their weapons and sending them back to Amunyangimoi, their chief.

However, the Mana are well aware that these attacks are getting more frequent and are likely to occur more often. In particular, they are now getting afraid of the redmen, i.e. white people, called redmen as their skin turns red when they get sunburnt. So far, they have been immune to the redmen’s diseases, which have affected others and have not suffered attacks from them, not least because they have kept them at bay by poisoning their water. The redmen, under Jacob Marshall, seem to be active around Mount Morungole, currently in Uganda near the border with South Sudan. It is at this point we get an anthropological description of the Mana and their traditions and practices, from their warrior status to the role of cows (which are the main indicators of wealth) in their culture. We follow the marriage between Namala and Lomoi, including the specific courtship ritual and wedding, as well as the special tradition of naming the baby when he is born. We also follow their complex bureaucracy and legal system, both of which seem to match those of modern states in their complexity. They rely heavily on divination and when Mother Napuli forecasts more raids and the death of one of their leading warriors, they are concerned.

We learn that Amunyangimoi plans to kill Lotaparimoi, father of Namala, himself and, indeed, he does, using a rifle. The Mana now realise that their neighbours have what they call elephant-roaring machines, i.e. guns, which very much changes the rules of the game. A hurried council meeting decides that the only solution is to retreat from their land into their hinterland, which they technically own but which is occupied by another tribe. The other tribe is not happy but has to accept the incursion of the Mana. Many of the Mana are very bitter about moving. Meanwhile, young Lojore is growing up and being educated by his father to become a great leader or, perhaps a chief justice. It is clear, at least to us, that while he goes along with this, Lojore is not happy about it, particularly when he has to work as a clerk to the current chief justice and one of his tasks is to regularly shave all the body hair off the chief justice. Mother Napuli warns that there will be more raids and disruption and that another Mana warrior will be killed. This duly comes to pass when one warrior, Lorith, kills another warrior, Aporu, in a dispute over a debt. This is unprecedented. There is a great case on the matter, with lots of legal discussion and Lorith’s family are heavily fined, while he is sent into exile for five years, a terrible punishment for a Manan. However, the decision has the effect of making Lojore even more disinclined to be a great leader. When he learns that his cousin, Luka, is going to Moroto to study with the redmen, he joins him, sneaking away when his father is absent.

Inevitably, Lojore has initial difficulties with everything from the role of clothing and beds to cars and churches (How can God live in a house?, he asks) However, he adapts and learns and realises that this is the way of the future. However, when he goes home after nearly two years, while his mother welcomes him, his father does not and forbids all of the family from having anything to do with him. Times are changing, however, and even the Great Lomoi must adapt.

This is fairly straightforward book but, unlike, some of the other African books with a similar theme, it does not just take the point of view that the old ways were uniformly good and the coming of the white man and his ways uniformly bad. Atanya himself lives in Canada so he has clearly accepted, at least to some degree, these changes and it is clear that if Lojore is to lead his people, it cannot be in the traditional warrior way.

Publishing history

First published by Spirit Seekers Publishing in 2012