peace trees (warning-graphic)

**warning-this post contains photos of a slaughtered calf-consider yourself warned**

elders gathered under the tree

recently i was given the opportunity to attend the re-activation of a peace-in a nearby village. i, of course, took the opportunity to attend this gathering of elders and to be able to see first hand some karimajong tradition.

as portrayed in the first photo, the elders of this village came together under this impressively large tree to pray/divine, listen to/give speeches and sacrifice/roast a calf.

the sacrificed calf

an important part of the the traditional gathering of the elders in karamoja is for the most important/oldest of the elders to consume the blood of the sacrificed calf. the following picture shows something that i had never seen before: the blood being consumed directly from the calf’s body. (the other experiences i have in such gatherings i have witnessed the blood being drunk from a calabash and often also mixed with milk.)

drinking from the calf

the meeting/gathering lasted for many hours–there were many speakers and a lot of history told about the tree and the raiding of cattle and the violence that people tend to fear karamoja for. the elders were crying out to each other to end the violence, to stop the killing and the raiding.

they were crying for peace.

a speech maker and the gathered elders

toward the end of the afternoon a woman made her way to the center of the circle and began to speak–my knowledge of the ngikarimajong language is minimal, so i was only able to understand a little of what she was saying. from her words i understood i knew that someone had died, and that she wanted something… from her tone and body language i knew that she was upset. she was angry and sad. she was frustrated and felt unheard.

as my housemate and i sat puzzling over what she was truly saying some men came forward and tried to lead her out of the circle–but she had not said all that she wanted to say and she resisted. the men were kind in their physical attempts to remove her from the circle (i cannot speak for their words, i could neither understand nor hear them well) but she was quite forceful in her attempt to remain in the spot of the speaker–repeating herself over and over again.

something was said to her that broke the chant and her attempts to push forward and she allowed the ever-growing group of elders around her to lead her from the circle, where a smaller circle gathered around her where she was allowed to continue to speak her mind.

our curiosity had grown exponentially and so housemate went over to see what was going on. upon her arrival back to our seats she told me what she had learned: the woman who was speaking had lost a child to raiding–and she wanted to know when she was going to get to body of her child so she could give a proper burial.

this woman, this mother was crying for her child. she wanted to bury the child. but she also wanted revenge. “if they kill my child, why are we not killing them?!” she demanded. we learned that the circle of elders around her, especially my housemate’s boss–a co-founder of a local peace initiative–were trying to speak of the importance of peace, and of not taking anothers life.

(i don’t know what the outcome of that conversation was–i suspect that her pain was still raw and vivid–and her anger true and valid.)

the meeting continued, and soon ended–the elders shifted themselves out from under the tree to await their roasted meat, sitting in a formation of superiority that has probably been the same for hundreds of years. certain parts of the calf are given to certain elders of certain status.

usually i find myself pondering this set up–and playing rogue anthropologist (since i have zero training in anthropology OR sociology) but this time my mind and heart were stuck with the woman who just wanted to be heard–my train of thought took a turn–much like this post has–and focused elsewhere.

i was strongly convicted of my poor language skills, i could not just go and talk to the woman myself, i had to have help. but, perhaps even worse i couldn’t remember any distinguishing features of the woman to even go and find her among all the other women. the familiar tug of “just go and be” was strong.

in that slightly panicked-excited-yet-peaceful state i find myself in when pulled in this way, i looked around for this woman. i had every intention to seek her out and at least sit with her and see where my minimal language could get us. but if nothing else, listen. listen to her words. and to her heart.

but i couldn’t find her. and i could find ramano to help me find her.

as it dawned on me that i probably was not going to find her today, i turned to watch the group of dancers who had gathered around the tree. they were singing and jumping–pounding their feet on the ground so that the bells at their knees would ring loud and well. and i wondered about the peace tree.

peace for whom?

not for me that day.

and not for the unnamed woman.
and certainly not for her lost child.

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