#16 Africa – Erik and Tarzan

“Why did you kill Tarzan?” Asked a man, who strikingly resembled colonel sanders. If it wasn’t for his top-hat; his white beard and moustache would make him indistinguishable from the king of fried chicken.

“You don’t understand. It was always Tarzan this, and Tarzan that. What about Erik?  Nobody ever talked about Erik. Nobody cares about Erik. But Erik knows, he knows what the real Tarzan is like.” Replied Erik. This man, in contrast, had no facial hair. If you were to ask him why he had none, he would probably tell you that he had just shaved earlier today. In reality, he couldn’t grow any. His name was Erik. Erik was a very shy and insecure man. Never being able to grow a good moustache made him even more insecure. Even now, sitting in front of an interrogator, all he could think about, was the fact, that he would never be able to grow a beard, like this gray-haired man in front of him.

“Could you please start from the beginning,” Sander’s look-alike pleaded. He took out a notebook and began to jot down some notes.

Erik is tall, but not in a good way. He was always awkwardly tall, not too tall, but just tall enough to get noticed. That, coupled with his thinning blond hair, small mouth, enormous nose, and darting eyes gave him a somewhat bird-like appearance. The worst part about it, was that he was quite aware of the fact.

“Okay, I will tell you my story… Tarzan was not the only one that was abandoned in the jungle to fend for himself. There was also another baby left behind, me. I am his brother. Don’t look at me like that. You see, when our parents were killed by that stupid ape, “Kerchak” (the ape) took us in and taught us the way of the jungle. Tarzan was good at jungle stuff, he quickly learned how to climb trees and swing from branches. I was not as good. Through the years, the apes would only laugh at me and my inability to become an ape. All the ape girls, of the jungle, loved Tarzan and I would never get invited to their lice parties.

Don’t get me started on Tarzan, he was the worst. When we went out swinging from branches, he would always swing ahead of me and chop mine down, making me plummet to the ground below. Then they would all laugh. I would get so bruised up on the way down, that sometimes I could not get back up for days. Then they would all swing around me and throw, you know what, at me while I was immobilized on the ground. They were horrible. I was a joke to them. So, when I got old enough I left and went to explore Africa for myself. I realized then that it was with the people that I belonged, not with these dumb apes.

First thing is first, I decided to learn the language. I kept to the outskirts of the villages and listened to the people talk and picked up things here and there. I would also creep into the people’s shacks at night and gather as much materials as I could. They started calling me “nyeupe tumbili”, which means white monkey in Swahili. I learned a lot about Africa from their stories that I overheard…”

Erik paused. “I want you to imagine Africa like I do. Close your eyes and imagine drums; wooden drums playing softly. Imagine that it is the early morning, just before the sun rises. It is still cool out, and there is morning dew in the air. As the sun rises the drums begin to play louder and with more passion. Then more drums chime in. Later human voices join in, echoing in the background, telling you a story of an ancient land in an ancient tongue. Finally, the drums and the voices seem to merge into one, and you can’t even tell anymore whether it is the drum or the voice telling you the story, or maybe both. As the sun rises even farther, more voices and more drums join in this lyrical, musical conversation. The song becomes almost unbearable to listen to; so menacing and overpowering it seems. You can feel the sun bearing down on you with unprecedented intensity. You then start to realize that you can’t take it anymore, it’s too much. Just then, as if on cue, the world starts to cool with the setting sun, the music slows down and becomes soft and calming. Now all the voices seem friendly and reassuring, and the drum beats are synced with the beats of your heart and body, like gears in a mechanical watch. You finally feel at ease; a feeling of home and freedom envelops you.

That is what Africa is for me. Let’s get back to the story, though:

I listened, and I learned.  Very little of African history was written down. So, I learned of the African people from the African people. I Learned that Egypt was not the only African civilization, like most of you would like to believe. There is much more to Africa than that which meets the eye. Did you know that the continent of Africa is more than 30 million kilometers squared compared to north America which is 25 million? There is no way to relay all of the immense human history that the continent harbours.”

“Oh really? why don’t you enlighten us.” said the top hat man, he has long ago put his notepad down and is now, with a bored expression, playing with the spinning cylinder of his decorated revolver.

“For starters, there is Nubia: the kingdom of Kush. This civilization was located just south of Egypt along the Nile. It lasted for a long, long time and was very influential. Just like the Egyptians, the Nubians built pyramids, only much smaller. Unlike the Egyptians though, they had plenty of good soil and did not have to rely on the mischievous flooding of the Nile river to bring the soil nutrients. It was a rich land, full of resources and everybody wanted a piece of it. The word “Nubia” itself, seems to come from the Egyptian word for gold. So naturally, Egypt turned its powerful gaze on this land and sought to conquer it. Egypt did eventually conquer it, and made Nubia it’s colony. Due to instability in Egypt though, the Nubians managed to launch a campaign against Egypt and instate a Kushite ruler, to rule both over Egypt and over Nubia. The Kushite dynasty didn’t last long: Assyrians invaded egypt and pushed Nubia out.”

“Nubia is still basically Egypt though.” Said the witty gun wielding gentleman.

“Sure, it’s true, the Nubians were very similar to the Egyptians, in their beliefs and lifestyle. There were other kingdoms in Africa though, which were quite different. One of the oldest was the Nok Civilization. Not much is known about them, except for their magnificent terracotta sculptures and that they were a very advance iron age civilization.”

“If not much is known about them, then why talk about them at all?” laughed the grey bearded man.

“Idiot,” mumbled Erik.

“What was that?” asked the man.

“Ghana!” Replied Erik loudly, “Ghana is another great civilization, this one is in west Africa. The proper name is Wagadugu. It was formed by the Soninke people who came together under their first king. The Wagadugu land was also rich with iron and gold, it was a great kingdom and a major player in the sub-Saharan trade. The one thing they didn’t have, was salt, which they traded their gold and ivory for.”

“Can’t live without salt,” added the interrogator.

“That’s true! Have you heard of the Benin Empire? No? The story goes that the people of Benin, Edo people, were ruled by the Ogiso, the sky kings. The people rebelled and a new ruler came into power calling himself the “Oba”. During the 16th century the Benin empire was at its peak, trading with Europeans for guns in exchange for slave and ivory. These weapons allowed them to hold dominance over the region. They also created marvelous bronze plaques that showcase their wealth and history.”

“What happened to Benin?” asked the man in front of Erik.

“You did! The British happened to them, and they became a colony,” replied Erik.

“Who said I was British?” the man asked, astonished.

“Either way, Africa is a magical and wonderful place. A place like no other, and to attest its glory is the great Zimbabwe. This was the capital of the kingdom of Zimbabwe, which by the way, also traded in gold. It consisted of “the great enclosure”, “hill complex” and the “valley complex”. They were magnificent structures built of stone with narrow passages which purpose eludes historians today. Check it out some day, the architecture is unbelievable.

Speaking of architecture have you seen the churches in Lalibela, there are eleven of them. They are all carved out of the ground. I know, unbelievable, right? They were not built up, they were dug out from rock. This brings me to the kingdom of Axum, it came after the decline of Kush, and is now part of Ethiopia. The people of Ethiopia believe that their rulers are descendants of Solomon himself, son of David. The tradition goes that the queen of Sheba and king Solomon had a son: Menelik I, who was the emperor of Ethiopia. They believe that he began the Solomonic dynasty that ruled Ethiopia and gave the rulers their authority. Ethiopia is now a converted Christian country and they believe that in the city of Axum is where the ark of the covenant is stored and guarded. Too bad nobody is allowed to see it.”

“Well, I am a Christian myself, and if the Ark is there I would like to see proof,” said the man pulling out a gold cross pendent from underneath his shirt,

“Whether the Ark is there, or not, it does give legitimacy to the Ethiopian rulers. On the other side of the continent there was a different kind of ruler, though, he was almost a legend. His name was Mansa (king) Musa. He ruled the rich Mali Empire. The Mali empire came right after the Ghana empire, just so you know. Musa was a Muslim and he became famous after his pilgrimage to mecca. He was reported to have traveled with 60000 men, 12000 slaves that carried gold bars, and 80 camels who carried 300 pounds of gold each. It was said that he gave gold to the poor that he passed on the way to mecca. Which actually ruined the economy of the regions and devalued the gold for a long time to come. This shows you the immense wealth that the empires of Africa had. The bad thing was that this pilgrimage did turn a lot of heads toward Africa, as a place ripe for the picking.

There were so many influential civilizations in Africa, too many to count. The Swahili culture at the coast was one. The wealthy and powerful Songhai empire who dominated over Mali, was another. The Kongo Kingdom and their Portugal connections, another still. Who could forget the Ashanti kingdom with its magical golden stool that legitimised the royal dynasty. These are just a few of the many kingdoms and people that lived and created history all over Africa. Africa is a continent that is rich in resources and history…”

“Wait a second,” interrupted the interrogator, “I have heard enough for today, I see what you are doing here. I didn’t see it before, but now I see it. You are trying to confuse me with all your history jibber jabber, so that I forget the real question here. I will ask you one more time and I better get a clear answer this time. Why did you kill Tarzan?”

Erik mumbled something inaudible.

“What? Repeat! I can’t hear your mumbling!” said the interrogator authoritatively.

“Jane!” screamed Erik and in a cracking high pitched voice proceeded to hurriedly explain. “You see, I came back home much later, after my travels. I came back and met with Tarzan. Tarzan has not changed, he was the same arrogant ape that I left behind. We did manage to find common ground though, and resolve our difference, mainly using grunts and chest bumps. Then one day, swinging through the jungle, we saw Jane. I told Tarzan that I had interest in this girl, and so he edged me on to interact with her. I, being the intelligent and literate person that I was now, left to go to a nearby village to make her a gift basket of fruits, gold and ivory.” He paused.

“What do you think I found, when I returned the next day?” Erik screamed, his voice cracking and his hands flailing. He was sweating, his face and bald spot were reflecting the electric light bulb above his head. “Me Jane, You Tarzan. You Tarzan, Me Jane. Me Jane, You Tarzan.” He continued to imitated over and over again and with each time he was getting louder and louder.

“Okay, that is enough,” the interrogator stopped him, “Please continue with what happened.”

“What do you think happened? Tarzan got the looks, Tarzan got the strength, Tarzan got the girl. He took everything from me: my family, my friends, my apes and my girl,” he started to sob, “he even took the gift basket I made.” He was now crying uncontrollable.

“Idiot, it was all because of a girl?” asked the interrogator.

Suddenly Erik stopped crying, as if on cue. With a completely blank and controlled face he looked at the man in front of him and said. “Actually no, I just didn’t like the guy. So, I choked him to death” Then he smiled. One thing that Erik did have going for him was his great set of teeth that allowed for a picture-perfect smile.

“Get this psycho out of here,” The interrogator screamed. Two man ran into the room and each grabbed Erik by one of his armpits. “Send him back to the jungle. What’s that monkeys name? The one that took care of Tarzan?”

“Kerchak, Sir!” Replied one of the men.

“Right, find the ape and bring this psycho to him. Let the primate deal with him.” Said the interrogator. With a perfect grin on his unfortunate face, Erik was pulled through the door and was on his way back home.

When they were gone, the interrogator opened a diet coke. Then slowly sipped it. One thought kept bouncing around in his mind as he looked at the bottle:

“What was the secret ingredient in coke? Was it Kola nuts? Then it wouldn’t be so secret, would it? Hmm… interesting…”













One thought on “#16 Africa – Erik and Tarzan

  1. I’ve only read a little bit of the history of ancient African kingdoms, so this post is really refreshing! I was wondering how the capital of Burkina Faso got its name, thanks to your post now I do. Apparently Ouagadougou is the French spelling for Wagadugu.


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