Okumu And His Magical Drum

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Okumu was a very bright boy. Yet Okumu did not have any friends. The boy had a very big head.

[Short Story]
Chapter One: The Ugly Boy  
Okumu's parents and five siblings perished during the Great Famine in Palabek and that's how the poor boy ended up with his Grandmother, Min Akello in Rwot Obilo village.  Min Akello's husband, Tung Dyang, had passed away long ago.

Min Akello was still strong. She took care of young Okumu. She cooked for him. She washed his clothes. She nursed him when he was sick. She walked with him to school. It was only once in a while that her grown daughter, Okumu's aunt, came from town to check on them.
 Okumu was a very bright boy. Yet Okumu did not have any friends. No one to play with. No one to laugh with. No one to make up with after a fight.

The boy had a very big head. It was deformed. It was almost as large as the rest of his upper body. The other boys and girls did not want to be around Okumu, unless they were making fun of him. They mocked and teased him every day. He would always end up in tears.

Min Akello did not keep a mirror at home. But the boy felt the weight of his head and the deformity of his skull.
The other children called him names such as "lababa" which meant "idiot." Yet he was the smartest student in his class.

Today, Okumu sat at the very back of the class, as always.

The boy used to sit all the way up front. He was quick to raise his hands back in the day; and he always answered the questions correctly. But then the other children started throwing peanuts and pieces of chalk at the back of his head. The boy shifted to the back of the class.

Now, whenever the teacher turned to write on the blackboard, the other boys and girls turned around and made fun of Okumu.
Ojara opened his mouth as wide as possible and grabbed each cheek with each hand and pulled them out as far as they could stretch, to show how ugly he thought Okumu was.

The other children laughed.

"Ouiet children," Lapwony Achan, the soft-spoken English teacher said.
 Then, as soon as Lapwony Achan turned to face the black board, another boy, Omona, stuck a finger in his nostril and stretched out the skin as far as he could, to show how ugly he thought Okumu was.

The other children laughed.

"Quiet children," Lapwony Achan said.

Then as soon as Lapwony Achan turned back to face the black board again, Anena, the girl from Kitgum Town went, "Oink! Oink! Oink!" like a pig, to show how ugly she thought Okumu was.

The other children laughed. Some laughed so hard that tears came streaming down their face.

"Quiet children," Lapwony Achan said.

This was all too much for Okumu. The boy ran from the back of the class and out the door.
"Come back Okumu. Do not mind them," Lapwony Achan pleaded.

Okumu did not slow down. He ran even faster. Behind him, he could hear the loud laughter and the "Oink, oink, oink," from the other children.

Okumu cried, and cried and did not stop crying even when he arrived home.

The boy ran into the small house he shared with Min Akello.
Min Akello begged the boy to stop crying.

"Come out my son," Min Akello pleaded. "I have cooked your favorite food, kwon-kal and bor. Come out, my handsome boy."

Kwon-kal, millet bread, and bor vegetables were indeed the boy's favorite food; but today, Okumu was too upset to eat.

"No! I am ugly like Obibi, the monster with 10 eyes," Okumu wailed.

Min Akello sat outside by the door. Tears rolled down her wrinkled and aged cheeks.

The taunts and abuses at school were becoming too much. She knew she could no longer sooth the boy with words.  She had noticed that recently, the boy's large head had grown even bigger.

Could it soon grow so large that the boy would no longer be able to stand on his feet? Could it grow so large that the boy would not be able to emerge from the house one day?

These were the thoughts that tormented Min Akello. When Okumu was not around, she cried for the boy.

All night, she sat by the door. What could make the boy stop crying?

Chapter Two: The Little Man With The Drum
Early the next morning, when the roosters began to crow, Min Akello heard a strange voice greeting her from outside.

"Amoti do, Min Akello," the stranger declared, meaning "I greet you, Min Akello."

Min Akello wondered. She had never heard this voice before. She knew everyone in Rwot Obilo. She even knew the people who lived over the hills towards Katikati. Who was this man? How did he know her name? "Amoti do, Min Akello," the stranger repeated. Should she reply? Min Akello was reluctant. How could she greet someone whom she could not even see since she was inside the house? Who would come so early and unannounced? Did he bring bad tidings of some calamity? These were troubling questions.
The boy was still crying. "It is not good for a young boy to cry without stopping," the stranger declared. "This must stop." Who was this man? What did he know about Okumu? What did he mean when he said the crying must stop? Did he mean to harm the boy?  "Who are you?" Min Akello demanded, sternly. "I tell you that I am not alone. I will cry uduro and all of Rwot Obilo will tear your limbs to pieces if you try to harm the boy." Uduro was a piercing, shrill sound of distress that women made when faced with danger, in this part of the world. "Mmmm!! Since when do people in Acholi speak words without showing themselves?" the stranger asked. "Why not come out? I come in peace. If I meant harm, could I not have set fire to your house while you were asleep and ran away?"  These words spoken by the stranger made sense. Min Akello opened the door. She looked out and was surprised to find no one standing in front of her.
"Amoti do, Min Akello," the stranger said.
When Min Akello looked down, she was so startled that she almost fell to the ground. There, before her, stood the tiniest man she had ever seen in all the many years of her life. The little man barely reached Min Akello's own knees.
Next to the little man, on the ground, was a beautiful drum whose surface was made of tanned crocodile skin.,The man himself was barely taller than the drum.
"Amoti do," the little man repeated.
"Amoti do, bene," Min Akello responded.
The stranger lifted the drum gently. He pressed it against his chest with his left hand and pounded ,on it with his right hand three times. The most beautiful melodious music emanated from the drum.
"This is for the boy," the stranger said, placing the drum back on the ground. "No one but the boy is allowed to beat this drum. Otherwise calamity shall visit those who defy my command."

Then, with that warning, the stranger turned and walked away.
"Who are you?" Min Akello demanded, still puzzled. "What do they call you? Where is your village? Who are your relatives? How do you know me?"

The little man ignored all these questions. He walked pass the chickens who did not even run away or move out of his way. He was so tiny they were not sure whether to be afraid or not. He walked along the narrow path leading to the main road from Min Akello's home. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone.
Min Akello shook her head. She did not know what to make of this strange encounter with the little man.
Then she realized that Okumu was now standing right next to her. The boy was no longer crying. The boy lifted the drum and held it up high. He wore a huge smile; from ear to ear.
This was something that Min Akello had not seen in a very long time and it warmed her heart. She wiped away her tears before the boy looked up at her.
The boy sat down and placed the drum between his legs. Then he started pounding on the drum with the palm of both hands.This time, Min Akello was so amazed that she actually did collapse.
The boy had never pounded on a drum before. Yet the most melodious sounds now flowed from the drum and enveloped the surroundings. The drumbeat traveled across all of Rwot Obilo.
It was a sound that even the best drummers in all of Acholi had never summoned from their drums.
Some of the best drummers in the country came from Rwot Obilo. There was Onen, who was born in Katikati, but who grew up in Rwot Obilo. There was Kilama whose parents moved to Rwot Obilo from Custom, Corner. Then there was Kidega, who was so good, they called him "lapwony," or the "teacher."
Finally, there was Otoo, who was called "bwul" or "drum."
When any of these men pounded on their drums, grown men stopped tilling their land and began dancing at once. Women removed the loads they were carrying on their head and began to shake their waist back and forth.
But none of these great Acholi drummers had ever been able to produce the kind of beautiful music that came from Okumu's drum today. Within a short time, men and women began to appear at Min Akello's home to marvel at the sound coming from the boy's drum.
Suddenly, no one was talking about the boy's head or calling him names such as "lababa" or "obibi" anymore.
The boy stood up and placed the drum atop his head. He started walking along the path leading to the main road.

"My son. Where are you going?" Min Akello asked.,

"I am going to school," Okumu said.

Min Akello marveled. The boy did not like going to school because of the ugly names the other children called him.

This was a very confusing morning for Min Akello.

Chapter Three: Ojara's Big Lips

When the boy started pounding on the drum again men and women emerged from their homesteads and rushed to the road. Even the birds hovered overhead and sang. Wild animals, including gazelles, leapt, as if following the drumbeat, by the road side.

The men and women broke out in dance. Rwot Obilo had not seen such festivity for many years.

The men, women and children accompanied Okumu all the way to Rwot Obilo primary.

Hearing the commotion, the headmaster, Lapwony Odong, came and stood in front of the school's gate. He marveled at the huge crowd following Okumu. The boy stopped playing the drum when he saw Odong.

"Man gin ango?" headmaster Odong inquired, meaning, "What is this?"

In response, the boy pounded on the drum. "Dung, dung, dung. Dung, dung, dung."

To his great surprise, headmaster Odong, who was no longer young, found himself shuffling his legs while thrusting his chest rythmically, back and forth, while moving in a circle. This was the dance preferred by Acholi men.

"Okumu, who taught you to beat the drum like that?" headmaster Odong asked. 
"Lapwony Odong, who taught you to dance like that?" one of the teachers asked.

Okumu laughed. He had a new confidence today. He told the headmaster about the mysterious visitor who had delivered the gift that morning before disappearing without explanation.

"I am the only one allowed to play the drum. Anybody else will bring calamity," Okumu explained.
The crowd that had followed him was waiting for the boy to beat  the drum.

"No more drum beating for now," Odong said. "This is now time for our children to learn from books. Go back to your homes if you are not a pupil in this school."

There was some grumbling. But the men and women left. They wanted their children to be taught by the teachers.  
In class, Lapwony Chuchana had a hard time teaching geography today.

"N-I-L-E..." she said, spelling out the great river. "What is the name of the river?"

She drew on the blackboard, the long, bending river, winding up Africa's neck, starting from its beginning in Lake Victoria. 
All the children were distracted. All eyes rested on Okumu's lovely drum.  

"Pay attention children!" Chuchana commanded. 
But every time she turned her back from the class to draw maps on the  blackboard, all the children turned their attention to Okumu.  

Today, the children were not making ugly faces. They were not calling Okumu an "Obibi" or "lababa" or "ukwan."  
This time they admired the drum.  

Before midday lunch, Lapwony Odong entered the classroom.  
The children all stood up to hear what the headmaster had to say. He whispered some words to Lapwony Chuchana and then walked out.  

"Okumu let me see you outside," Lapwony Chuchana said.
This could not be good. Whenever Lapwong Odong came to summon a  student it meant the boy or girl was going to be caned as punishment for some offense he or she had committed. 

When Okumu and Lapwony Chuchana joined Lapwony Odong outside, they found him wearing a huge smile  

"You have been blessed with a great gift Okumu, you hear?" the headmaster said. 
"Yes, I hear," the boy said.

"You must obey the warning that came with it, you hear?" 
"Yes, I hear," the boy responded.

"Do not allow any other student to even hold the drum, you hear?" 
"Yes, I hear," Okumu said, firmly nodding his head, up and down.

Then one of the older boys started hitting on the rusty iron rim-of-a-wheel, tied to a tree branch, which served as the school's bell. The children ran out of the open classroom doors to play on the soccer field. 

Okumu liked to read. So he went and sat under the shades of a mango tree and read a book that Lapwong Chuchana had given him.
Soon, he was surrounded by children from his class and from other classes. 

"Beat the drum for us," Ojara, a very mean boy from Okumu's class, ordered. 
"I shall not play," Okumu said. "Lapwony Odong said I must not."

"Beat the drum!" Ojara demanded. 
"No, I shall not," Okumu said. 

Suddenly, Ojara tried to grab the drum. Okumu held on tight to it. The two boys struggled. Then Ojara pushed Okumu back and his friend, Bosco, tripped him. Okumu fell on his back and the drum came free of his grip.  

Ojara grabbed the drum.
"Give it back to me! Give it back to me!" Okumu begged. 

The other children laughed at Okumu and started taunting him again.
"Everyone in Rwot Obilo can fit inside Okumu's big head," Ojara said. 

The boys and girls laughed at Okumu. 

"Okumu is so ugly even a baboon would run away from him," said an older girl called Amwa, from a primary six class.
The boys and girls laughed at Okumu. 

"Okumu is so ugly, his father and his mother abandoned him," Bosco said.  
The boys and girls laughed.

"Okumu is so ugly, I would rather marry obibi," Angelina said.  
The boys and girls laughed. 

This was just too much for Okumu. He covered his eyes with his hands and burst into tears. The boys and girls  
formed a circle and surrounded him. Okumu was pushed back into the center of the circle. The children jeered at  
him. Okumu tried to run away. Bosco tripped him again and he fell flat on his face.

The boys and girls laughed. 

Then Ojara asked everyone to follow him and he led the boys and girls to the middle of the soccer field.
"If this ugly boy can play the drum, I can do it 10 times better," Ojara said.

Ojara started pounding on the drum. The sound produced was not melodious at all. It sounded like the crash of thunder. Indeed the clouds began to darken ominously and lightning flashed. 

One of the girls screamed and pointed at Ojara. All the boys and girls started laughing. Right before their eyes, Ojara's lips were beginning to swell. His lips stretched so quickly that they were soon resting on the soccer field. They continued to grow. They started approaching the children, like a snake.

Another girl screamed.  

The children turned towards Bosco. The boy's feet were now huge and still growing quickly.  

Then someone else screamed.  

The children turned towards Amwa. Her ears were huge. They grew so quickly that they soon reached the ground.

All this was too much for the children. The cruel taunts and laughter had disappeared from their lips. They started running for their lives instead.  

When the teachers came to see what all the commotion was about, they also started running for the gates. Some teachers even ran and left children behind them.

Ojara tried to run but he kept tripping on his own lips. He started  crying for his mother. "Ma konya! Ma konya! Ma konya!" Ojara cried, meaning "My mother, save me!" 

Bosco tried to run but fell flat on his face. He started crying for his father. "Ba konya! Ba konya! Ba konya!" Bosco cried, meaning "My father, save me!"

Amwa tried to run but fell flat on her face because her feet got tangled with her ears. She started crying for any one to help her. "Ujone ukonya! Ujone ukonya! Ujone ukonya!" Amwa cried, meaning "Someone, save me!" 

Okumu was the only one left with Ojara and Bosco and Amwa. He did not laugh at Ojara and Bosco and Amwa. He  did not taunt Ojara and Bosco and Amwa. 

Okumu approached the drum slowly. He stepped over Ojara's lips, and over Bosco's feet, and over Amwa's ears. He did not want to trip over them.  

The boy lifted the drum and started pounding. "Dung, dung, dung! Dung, dung, dung!"

Suddenly the melodious music was back. Suddenly, Ojara's lips, and Bosco's feet, and Amwa's ears returned to their normal size.
Ojara stood and ran. Bosco stood and ran. Amwa stood and ran. They did not look back.  


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