What’s In A Name?
‘What’s the matter young man?’
The young man in question grunted but offered no reply.
Tunika Mbeta nodded understandingly as if a full response had been forthcoming.
‘All the other boys your age are at the village square enjoying the Festival of Dresna. Why are you sitting here with an old man when you could be trying to impress one of the girls from Latkuki village?’
Tunika was rewarded with a brief sullen look before the boy returned his gaze to the dirt he was systematically grinding to dust with his toes.
‘If you are shy or tongue-tied I assure you that you have nothing to worry about, my boy. I may be a relic with dim eyes but my grand-daughters gossip. Sembla Teki’s son this, Sembla Teki’s son that! You, my boy, are a bit of an icon in this village, and my grand-daughters talk ……… a lot, so I am sure that the Latkuki village girls are by now wondering about the mysterious son of Sembla Tkeki!’
If Tunika had hoped to raise a smile from this too serious boy he had truly missed his mark. The boy’s lips thinned to a hard line, his frown deepened his eyes to dark shadows, the muscles under the left eye, twitching faintly, but at last he spoke.
‘Forgive me Elder, I know your words are kindly meant, to lift my dark spirit, but you can’t possibly know what it is like.’
Tunika was surprised by the gravity of the words, this boy was all of twelve years old but spoke like a man three times his age.
‘I have lived a very long time,’ Tunika replied, ‘You might be surprised by how much I understand. What is this “it” that is troubling you so much that you can’t enjoy the festival?’
‘Elder please forgive my insolence’ the boy’s voice trembled with emotion, his eyes fixed on the ground ‘but you spoke of me as Sembla Teki’s son and that is the problem. I am Sembla Teki’s son but that is all. I have no name of my own, only the name of my father.’
Tunika sighed deeply, moved by understanding. The youth glanced up at the sound and Tunika made “carry on” type gestures encouraging him to continue talking.
‘All the other boys my age have found their names. Dobram, Fonli, Ndobi even Lunega are at the festival talking about how they are soon to become men as they have their own names. They will be going through the naming ritual at the end of the festival so both villages will know their names.’ Pausing to wipe damp eyes the boy looked at Tunika imploringly ‘How can I impress the Latkuki girls if I have no name? Why would they be impressed with a stupid boy who can’t throw a spear or wrestle? A stupid boy who can’t even find his own name?’
Tunika sighed again. ‘Unfortunately for you, my boy, you are too young to realise that there is more to life than how well you can throw your spear. No, don’t get up tight! I was merely saying that not all men are born to be hunters or warriors. For some their paths are far more interesting. Will you permit an old man to tell you a story?’ The boy nodded glumly returning his gaze to the dirt and stones at his feet.
Shaking his head Tunika continued, ‘When I was your age, relax boy, this isn’t a “when I was your age the world was a better place” story, although in truth it was, this is my story to you so listen if it please you. When I was your age I lived in this village, in the home that I still have. I lived with my father and mother and my twin brother. When I was twelve my brother found his name by catching the largest fish during the rite of Freon. He was so pleased about it that he strutted around like a rooster for weeks. At first I was pleased for him, he had found his name and he would soon become a man. When I still had not found my own name months afterwards I was less pleased and found his strutting and preening around the girls from other villages annoying. Why hadn’t I found my name? Why was everyone still calling me Ganrit Ndur’s son? It was unfair, surely I was as good as the other boys even if I couldn’t hunt or fish as well. I became so preoccupied with searching for my name by being the best hunter, the best fisherman that I didn’t find it for three more years. Can you imagine that, 15 years old and without my own name? I was shamed. I felt I could not show my face in the village and spent days not leaving my home.’
The young mans shoulders had slumped further and he looked into the middle distance.
‘Do you know what my name means?’ Tunika asked, the boy’s focus returned causing him to start. ‘My name, Tunika Mbeta, do you know what it means?’
‘Of course,’ the boy replied sulkily ‘you are the shaman, your name means Holy Messenger, the whole village knows that. What does that have to do with me?’
Hiding a smile at the boy’s egocentricity Tunika said ‘Would you like to know how I found my name?’
A glum nod in response.
‘I stopped looking where everyone else was looking and looked inside myself. I couldn’t find my name in the village, the river or the forest so I had to search somewhere else. I sat in my home breathing deeply focusing on nothing but my own thoughts and my own body. I became so focused that I lost track of time. When my mother returned home she found me in the boar pen speaking in the holy language to a large healthy boar that had been diseased and dying that morning. That is how I found my name, by looking inward not seeking to better the deeds of others. Perhaps, like me, your name is hidden inside. Perhaps you need to change where you look. Would you like me to show you?’
Another slow nod.
‘Come, sit here. You need to make yourself comfortable you may be here some time. Yes like that. Now it will be easier if you close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and slowly let it out through your mouth. Try to breathe in by pulling out your stomach rather than your chest, this will help you breathe more deeply, excellent. Now imagine a tallow candle burning in your mind. Imagine the light of the candle, focus on that light. It is warm. Allow the light to flow into you, into your arms, your legs your heart. Imagine your heart pumping the light around your body, you are full of the warm white light, allow it to fill your mind, the light is you and you are light. Allow yourself to relax into the light, keep breathing and explore the light, explore your mind.’
Tunika sat in the late morning sun watching, light shone the un-named boy’s dark skin turning it blue black small creases of concentration formed around his eyes. Tunika closed his eyes and relaxed into the warmth of the day and his own internal light. He had been doing this simple meditation exercise for so many years now that the light filled him instantly allowing him a wholeness of being that was lacking in the external world. Tunika basked in the heat of his being, the depth of his soul and his mind. He was master of this internal world. Memories sparked by the story of his own naming flooded his mind and he almost laughed at the angry naïve boy he had been. He remembered the first time had approached the girl who would become his wife, pleasure suffusing his physical being as well as his mind. It was many years since he had felt a stir in that part of his body! Tunika was so absorbed in his memories and his unexpected physical response that he almost missed the strange itching sensation in his mind. He felt a gentle presence against the surface of his being, a flicker against the edges of his thinking. The presence grew stronger, pressing harder, it was an alien but not unpleasant feeling and Tunika felt no alarm. He imagined his mind bending under the pressure, allowing the presence to push deeper like pushing a ball into water. Suddenly, with what felt like an audible pop the presence was inside his mind. It was a part of him but separate, it was within him but outside, it was thinking about kissing his grand-daughter!
Tunika opened his eyes to see the boy, slacked jawed with eyes wild and wide. The youths face was ashen and every inch of him trembled. The moment the boy became aware of Tunika looking at him the presence fled from Tunika’s mind.
‘Elder, I am sorry’ the boy blurted ‘I do not know what happened. You grand daughter, I am sorry, I should not have thoughts ……’
Tunika stood slowly from his stool, bones creaking in protest. ‘Boy,’ he said seriously ‘We must go to see your father’
‘I am sorry Elder. I meant no disrespect. It’s just that she is so pretty’
The boy’s obvious discomfort made Tunika laugh out loud. ‘You misunderstand, we need not see your father about thoughts of you kissing my grand-daughter. We need to see him of a matter far more important. My boy, you have found your name and it is a name to be proud of! You are Coombral Ntakre’
The boy stood dumbfounded – Coombral Ntakre, Walker-in-the-Mind.