The words of a rural farmer to his young son. To have understanding of the current climate and a mastery of the prevailing season. Not as in the indispensable knowledge required for the planting of tubers and drying of grains. Aren’t those engraved the young son’s DNA, an inheritance from an endless ancestry of tillers of this patch of arable valley? Rather, this farmer teaches his son concerning the fruiting of fear, of the death harvest and about the growing supremacy of The Cow:
“My son. Listen unto my words, and turn your ears to the sound of my voice. Keep them in the secret place of your heart. So shall your days be long, and your household kept away from the death that flows from the barrel of the rearer.
“The fear of cattle is the beginning of your wisdom.
Offend them not, that the great evil may not be visited on your children, and that your children’s children shall not die by the gun. Treat them with reverence, and no mass graves shall the young and the old of our village fill.
Teach these to your neighbours. Lest the reward of their indiscretion be visited on your young daughters and your pregnant females be delivered by the sword.
“Keep the peace, my child, whenever cows come calling. Let them graze on the fruits of your field. Welcome them with the best of your budding corn and prepare a table before them with the kings of your fattened yams. Not that you have a choice, anyway, little child. For The (ruthless) Cow takes whatever it hungers for. Resist it not. By this, your heart shall beat for long in the cavity of your chest, and your neck shall rest awhile on the crest of your shoulder.
“Deny not The Cow his God-given rights of this animal kingdom. Always remember that. Check the good book, my little one. Man and cattle were born on the sixth day. That makes them both equals, you might think. But you err, little child. You err because the cattle was first created – in the early morning hours, all ready to graze. You see, my jewel, man has cheated cattle for too long, against the order at creation. Now is the Age of The Cow, the ascendancy of their anointed one. It is time to reclaim the entire land, to dip the hooves of the herd beyond the borders of the southern seas.
“When you sight the herd on the road to school, give it a wide berth, as much gap as between a ruler and his slave. Look no cattle in the eye. Remain on your toes nevertheless, in case The Cow loses his command of sanity.
“At school, it will be no different, my child. Grazing is a lot of hardwork, you must know. So, having fed on the grasses of your school field, having tired with trampling the beds of your school flowers, there follows a need to take refuge from the scorching sun and to chew the cud in-between books of arithmetic. Whenever they saunter into your classroom therefore, respect their rights to shelter. Exit through the nearest window. Carry no books and pocket no pens. Is your life not worth more than these?
“Treat their calves with the milk of human kindness. Let them feed on the young shoots of your crops. Let your flowering millet be their toys of comfort.
“One more thing, son. Never sleep with your eyes closed, that you may not be fuel for the bonfire by the ungodly. Remember this. All other things are replaceable, but only when you remain alive.
“Teach these sayings to your neighbours, so the fruit of their indiscretion may not be visited on your own household. Only then shall the dignity of your mother be ensured and the chastity of your daughters preserved.
“This house may be made of mud, and its raffia sheets flapping for change, but it is our castle. Has been and should always be.
But as I say these words, I know not what the future holds, neither do I perceive how close that future might be, for we live in fast unfolding times. It may well be that by the next planting season, this village on where rests our palace will be renamed under occupation by cows from foreign lands.
There are rumours already, rumours from high and low, places that we must make space for the cattle altogether. We must vacate this land, our castle, the farm, our history and our roots. Better to live landless and homeless. That is the big grandfather’s wise counsel.
“I know that you are thinking: ‘The fear of cows amounts to cowardice.’ Yes, my son. And cowardice is the ultimate act of bravery in these times. By it, even those to whom we entrust our voices remain muted. Through it, their seats are retained and their selections ensured.
“We are on our own now. It’s our land or our lives. The choice is simple, son. My land or your life!”
Babalola, writer and satirist, writes from Ibadan.