She grabbed her sticks. Strapped on her sandals and leapt towards the door. Upon reaching it, she realised she hadn’t yet put on her armour. Adorned with a striking bronze choker she began the process of wrapping herself in itibire, a striking ochre, brown, yellow and black fabric. 30 minutes later, she resumed the dramatic exit of her hut, springing out of her door - ready for battle.
‘Ayyiyiyi’ the ululations of her mothers and grandmothers was the wave she and her fellow musicians rode on as they played the beat to which the brave men riding into Karamojong territory marched, in a bid to seize what surely was theirs- cattle. Her whole life was spent preparing for this day and she knew it. The thought catapulted her into a trance. She raised her arms to the sky and dropped them on to her drums. Du, du, du. The chord reverberated through her, summoning the rhythm of those who came before her and together the sound of victory echoed throughout the valley. They had to know the Itesot’s were coming.
One may have thought Amooti would be emboldened by the silence of the enemy, instead the deafening silence in the valley amplified the notions of doubt within her. Did they hear her sound? Did they play the sound right?
‘Oweeeeeeee’. Her doubts were quashed by the battle cries of the Karamojong. She felt the earth shake a little and soon witnessed a flash from a gold necklace in the sun coming from near an unmistakable scarlet blanket clothing deep ebony skin- the Karamojong. A jitter spread through her body. One of trembling excitement. Cattle and Karamojong are akin to her and her drum- inseparable. Knowing the lengths, she would go to keep her drum, she shuddered at what a man would do to protect his cattle.
As the Karamojong army made their advance, she locked eyes with one of their soldiers and knew in an instant that he indeed was her match. His slender ebony physique paralleled by his long iron spear. He, like his fellow soldiers, appeared to be in a trance. Fighting for a higher cause- cattle. It was midday, and the sun was piercing the skin of each and every soul beneath it in the valley. The glares shot from warrior to warrior intensified with each step towards the cattle. In a quiet crescendo all players in the raid took their places behind bushes, on trees, next to rocks. Ready, set, fight!
As expected, it was such a display of skill and finesse. A beautiful canvas painted with blood. Like a punch thrown in a fight, it was a battle in which Amooti partook as a release of her pent up patriotism, yet it was a battle that took her conscience as a prisoner of war. As she played the drum according to the tempo of the hostilities she couldn’t help but tremble. This was the day she had been practicing for, everyone seemed so proud of what they had set out to accomplish- the entire entourage rode out on the ululations of the totos and the beating sticks of the tatas- yet the only echo she could hear was one of shame. The raids were as frequent as the seasons- it was an endless cycle of violence, bloodshed and victory. Though Amooti enjoyed the thrill of fulfilling in her duty as a young Teso girl, she continued to ponder, at what cost?
The morning after the raid Toto wouldn’t stop singing Amooti’s praises. ‘Amooti, I heard the men successfully got back what is rightfully ours! I’m so proud of you my girl, they wouldn’t have been able to do it without you. Malinga was extremely impressed by your drumming, he mentioned that he could sense the trembling of the Karamojong soldiers when you led the initial song.’ Meanwhile Amooti’s mind flashed back to the Karamojong soldier who she had locked eyes with. Her heart slowly began to beat faster, picturing their future together, the huge celebration of both of their peoples. She had to find him but there were going to be multiple barriers on her path. ‘Amooti. Amooti.’ Toto sensed that she had zoned out ‘okay, pick up the hoe and let’s go dig.’
On the way to the garden, Amooti decided to pass by Apio’s hut. She knocked on the door in the timid fashion of a little child asking her friends mom if she can come over for a sleepover and toto Apio let her in, showering her with praises about her drumming. ‘Oh ekokuyen, you made us so proud, last night as we were having ajon the elders wouldn’t stop talking about how well you and your team drummed.’ Smiling with gratitude Amooti thanked toto Apio and sprang to Apio’s mat. She found Apio still as a spear on her mat and started shaking her awake. ‘Apio you lazy girl’ she admonished ‘must I always be the one to wake you up to go dig’. You see, Apio cared very much for her appearance, not in a vain way, more so out of self respect, and sleep was a core part of that. Once Amooti had shook her awake, they spent 30 minutes tying her itibire. Of course.
Since, by an act of God alone, Apio had in her entire lifetime (four rainy seasons) managed to avoid going to the garden and had stayed at home making mats and smelting iron Amooti had to spend another hour promising her that the mud would be good for her skin and the digging great for her physique. Eventually, they proceeded to the garden.
The sun was high in the sky and sweat was pouring from their skin as they swung their hoes up and down, labouring in the hot wet mud. Needless to say, Apio did not feel cute. Keen to distract herself from Amooti’s false promises she decided to pester her about the Karamojong warrior she locked eyes with.
‘Amooti, the look you gave that Karamojong warrior yesterday was dangerous.’
‘Speaking of that, I want to go find him. We have to meet again’
‘Ekokuyen, you never listen do you. Do you understand how risky it would be for you to be found in their land? Let alone to meet with one of their soldiers.’
‘Yes Apio. Yes. But I just have to meet him again. Our future together is worth the risk. Please help me…’
‘Help you?! Are you mad?! All that drumming must still be shaking your brain. You want me to come with you to Moroto?’ Apio’s tone shifted from one of shock to bouts of ab making laughter.
‘Yes Apio. How many times have I helped you in the past? Remember that time you snuck out to drink ajon after akembe last week and I had to carry you home and cook up a story for your parents to believe?’
‘But that wasn’t a potentially life threatening journey.’
Amooti shot her one of those did-you-just-hear-yourself-speak looks.
‘Fine, I’ll help you. What’s the plan?’