Mbubu began to dance, the bones in his necklace jangling to its own tune. He got low to the ground and bounced on his heels, kicking up dust as the fire rose again. Within moments his clansmen joined him in his reveling, dancing about, chanting in their melodious voices. Brown hyenas wailed in the distance and the barking of the gecko announced the official start of darkness; a concerto of the South Africa wilderness serenaded the restless night.
The chanting inevitably slowed until it ceased completely. The clansmen, eyes glazed, once again knelt around Mbubu, who remained standing. His painted gaze was pinned to the distant huts on the western side of their ancestral land. The fire gave the shaman plenty of light with which to see, and he made out several people walking toward him.
Mbubu did not offer a welcoming smile. His eyes remained fixed on the approaching party. Once he saw what they were carrying, the shaman allowed himself a contemptuous smirk that slid across the left side of his mouth.
In the middle of the group, a strapping young tribesman with the build of a warrior came forward absently, holding a vuvuzela before him. He held his back straight as he walked toward the fire at the ring’s center, before the spot where Mbubu stood. Beyond the flames, he knelt in front of the shaman and gently deposited his tithe. He retreated silently and returned to anonymity.
A young girl stepped toward the firelight carrying a round wooden casket that was the length and twice the width of her torso. She, too, did not feel any weight in her arms as she walked with her head held high. Her bare feet were soundless upon the hot coals of the ritual fire, and she did not utter a syllable of pain. She walked toward Mbubu, and once in front of the shaman, she knelt and lifted the casket above her head in reverential offering.