Mupurwa versus Tsiga

by Dumisani Kufaruwenga

The final hunt

“Mupurwa” is the Shona name for a ‘monitor lizard’, and in Ndebele it is popularly referred to as “Uxamu.” It is a hideous animal which combines the characteristics of a snake, a dragon and a crocodile, all three in equal measure, but with none of their graces.

lt has sharp dangerous claws on all its four feet just like a dragon, it produces a flickering forked tongue and hisses just like a snake, and it is shaped and swims just like a crocodile, even though it is much smaller. My first encounter with Mupurwa was at St Bernard Chimvuri in rural Buhera where l did part of my primary skool. On a tranquil weekday noon, Mupurwa, with totally unexpected gratuitous violence, noisily ruffled the dry leaves at the edge of the narrow gravel road which led straight to Father Gandiya’s house. My heart stopped.

lt emerged from the dry leaves like a rocket, and raced accross the road in front of me, perched dangerously on its sharp claws with unnecessary aggression, while its flickering forked tongue lashed out ahead of it like the thunderous lightning of a destructive summer storm.

My heart rose from my chest and closed my wind pipe. Totally oblivious to the petrification it was leaving in its wake, Mupurwa slithered into an ant bear hole which was accross the road, while it stared at me with cold callous eyes, with its thin lips stretched tautly in a derisive sneer of spiteful mockery. A reciprocal revulsion towards Mupurwa welled up inside of me. lt is worse than hate. It is called fear. My nephew Rhodrick was a skilful hunter, whose alert reflexes matched the instincts of citizens in the animal kingdom. The hunting exploits of Rhodrick would require a whole book to do justice to his forest craft. He knew, with uncanny precision, where the rabbit which resided within the precincts of the Musumha tree which is adjacent to Mai Dhevison’s fields would most likely be hiding, whenever we took the cattle out for the dew filled early morning graze.

lt is Rhodrick’s long range knobkerry toss which broke the hind legs of “Ruvhunambwa” the rabbit, whose dog dribbling skills in Mai Skoli’s fields had become legendary. lt is Rhodrick who regaled us with tales of the exploits of Mupurwa the ‘monitor lizard,’ how, before sneaking away undetected, it uses its swishing tail to tie up the hind legs of a cow while suckling all the milk from its udder until it draws blood, and in the process, chews the cow’s teats for the heck of it, thereby leaving large wounds which we see while milking some of our cows in the morning. lt is Rhodrick who explained to us why Mupurwa the “monitor lizard” is the best pet friend of witches, as both the witch and Mupurwa are good at practicing dark arts in morbid secrecy.

As herdboys, we had a general idea where Mupurwa could be found. There is a tiny rivulet which runs from the dam wall which was constructed by my grandfather VaMasama the great, which he built for the white men who set up camp beyond our village across Mutorahuku River. The tiny rivulet links VaMasama’s dam wall and Mutorahuku river. ln the anthill thickets which are found alongside the banks of this tiny rivulet, Mupurwa found a natural habitat. But Mupurwa always succeeded in evading both us and our dogs. Mupurwa seemed to have endless tricks up its sleeve. lf you set dogs on it, Mupurwa would scale up a nearby tree with alarming speed. As you load your catapult to bring it down, Mupurwa would leap from the tree top with amazing acrobatic skill and land with a victorious splash into the tiny rivulet which connects VaMasama’s dam wall and Mutorahuku River, never to be seen again. We kept a hunting dog called “Tsiga,” which, depending on the context in which it is used, means “Be Faithful,” or “Be Steady.” Tsiga lacked the vicious characteristics associated with the typical village hunting dog, and whatever Tsiga lacked in agression and speed, Tsiga compensated with compassion and perseverence and obedience. The entire village loved Tsiga. Rhodrick finally devised a plan to handle the Mupurwa menace. The plan was simple. Myself and my young brother Fari The Furious would handle two dogs near the tiny rivulet that linked VaMasama’s dam wall and Mutorahuku River, while Rodrick, armed with a whip, ferreted the nearby anthill thickets in order to provoke and induce Mupurwa to race towards the tiny rivulet into the trap which Fari The Furious and myself had set with our restless dogs. l calmed Tsiga as best l could. The dog was sensing danger.

Directly opposite mine and Tsiga’s position, Fari The Furious and “Spider” the black dog crouched in unison, expert guerilla soldiers in a routine ambush. The composure of my hunting team mates failed to reassure me. Memories of my first encounter with Mupurwa on the lonely road to father Gandiya’s house in far off Buhera flooded back to me, making both dog and handler even more nervous. My heart pounded against the insides of my chest and l trembled involuntarily. l wished with all my might that l was somewhere else where l was not waylaying a ferocious predator. There was a sudden raucous behind the nearest anthill thicket, as Rhodrick emitted the signal whistle for us to hold our dogs tight; the devil had been unchained, and was heading our way! All at once Mupurwa appeared from behind the anthill thicket racing towards us at supersonic speed. Adrenaline pumped my veins as l held steadfastly to Tsiga, more out of fear than a conscious desire to stick to the ambush plan.

And as Mupurwa came upon us, Rhodrick whistled a second signal for us to release the dogs and get the hell out of harm’s way! Tsiga waded into the battle from the rear, while Spider did the frontal attack. Mupurwa screeched to a halt, hissing like a snake, and lashed out its tail like a herdboy’s whip. lt caught Tsiga on the head, and the dog wailed in anguish. Almost simulteneously, Mupurwa lashed out with its front paw and caught Spider on the brow, drawing blood. Both dogs drew backwards, circling the hissing dragon, undecided on whether to attack or flee.

But Rhodrick was a swift hunter. He had raced to the scene from behind the anthill thicket, and from a safe distance hit Mupurwa accross the back with his whip. Rhodrick’s opportune blow, which took Mupurwa by complete surprise, turned the tide of battle and gave Spider a chance to attack Mupurwa’s belly and toss it accross the vlei. Both dogs waded in and between them, tore open Mupurwa belly and exposed its insides.

It was over. To wade off the evil spirits associated with Mupurwa, Rhodrick rubbed the strong smooth smelling leaves of the Mzimbane plant on his hands, before holding Mupurwa by its tail and throwing it into an ant bear hole, this time without the mocking grimace on its face, but only much uglier in death than in life.

But Tsiga’s health from that day henceforth, started to deteriorate. lt grew thin and miserable each day, until a decision was taken to hire Mudhakera to do the necessary deed to bring to an end the poor dog’s agony, as Rhodrick continued to say that the dog was not going to survive the curse of killing the village witch’s pet friend. And with full military honours, we buried Tsiga near the ant bear hole where Mupurwa was interred, the hero next to the villain.

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