By Tom Brown
Vinnig langs die paadjie trippel Mabalêl;
Vrolik klink die liedjie
Wat die klingilinge van haar enkelringe vergesel.
Op die voetpad sy alleen,
Met die skadu’s om haar heen
- Eugène Marais (1872 - 1936)
Trippling on happily stepping lightly her singing to the sound of her ankle bangles jingling on the footpath alone, high on her head the earthen jug balances while dims the light as slowly the sky drifts in waves of colour and from afar through shelter walls winking blinks the lighting of first fires.
Wide and lonely in desolate peace lies Rakwena’s² beautiful water serene, with a cord of coral red of sunset and white plumed reed that sings a sorrowful lullaby, bowing reed weave a silver border all around the deep mirrored sky.
Wait! Wait Mabalêl!! Don’t you fear? Does nothing warn you? Does nothing in the dark afraid and urgent whisper in your ears of the terrible company in your merry song? That keeps your path Mabalêl? Are you not afraid of threat of danger? Don’t you feel the chill and danger with your heart in the icy grip of death?
Far beneath the rushes’ stems in the dark blue lurks Lalele³, quintessence of cruelty and evil itself, merciless in endless patience unstirring. That triumphs time and chance and sure of the fate of the day as unsleeping in the deep waits his hours through winter’s bite and summer’s heat, the bleak of drought and swelling flood. In his deep once again waits Lalele.
In the sand as a trickle of water between its banks dull and grey barely reaches the rocks of Rakwena, reeds’ sheaves a mourning band of black grief surrounding green covered pools where there hides the last water. Around the pool the sighing wind longs and water yearns, a raging sun scorches, quiet and still where at the water drawing place Lalele hides.
And when in night’s darkness raging all forces of violent storm Rakwena is surrounded by screams of fear. Like a badly wounded lion’s vengeance flood is unleashed black and roaring through the trees break and crashing. Whirling blindly from the dark and cloud flinging a blazing dagger through thick storm and cloud a lush world destroyed. Unstirred by big crocodiles in the depth waits Lalele.
Mesmerised on the river edge until her heart of longing swells, in her thoughts in her dreams undisturbed stares she into the depths, stares she into the sky blue already bordered by dark. Till she dreaming self becomes part of a blissful dream from the world mirror her image laughing back at her.
Upwards through the reed brush strokes from the depth slowly rises Lalele.
Wake Mabalêl! Wake! Don’t you see the shadow that upward looms! To the high ground Mabalêl! Save your day dreams for later!
No wildflower nor willow in water had ever such companion, never an image of deathful fright in the pit of night where the dreamer begs for day. Never an unholy creature from the depth of hell was harsh as the shadow which from that rises. At your feet Mabalêl! By the dusk ignited where you carefree stare without heed deep in thought without even thought of danger in the current slowly drifts a half-drowned leaf.
Even had you a tiger’s strength or eagle’s wings, Oh young girl! In vain it would be for too long you tarried it is too late. Sudden from the mirror’s surface high breaks a foaming arc of water.
Over Rakwena calm and broad echoes a single cry of terror, and subsides and the quiet falls again softly.
Winking through the shelters’ walls brightly blinks the early fires, from the quiet dark shrill and harsh calls for Mabalêl and rocks reply, but return she shall nevermore.
Slowly through the brush and strokes of reeds sinks Lalele.
This story is prose for the original Afrikaans poem. It is not a direct translation but my intention rather was to do an accurate literal translation. In the original, the poem, there are some obscure, and archaic words Afrikaans circa 1900 as well as a few African indigenous words so that I believe that in fact the English should be much easier to understand.
Such little used words from the original poem are the Afrikaans, gier, tier, ceintuur, kil and snood,
as well as indigenous language, such as the words taf’rele, krakele, mabalêl rakwena and lalele.
³ Lalele is a name that often is given to a crocodile that always ambushes in a certain place such as a drift or crossing, or a specific game drinking hole or water drawing place. They are usually the oldest and biggest crocodiles. The great hippo pool in the Limpopo river was known long ago as ² Rakwena “father of the crocodile” and later as ¹ Mabalêl, her memory lives in the songs of young women. The history of this poem originates in a true story of a Chief Rasithlare’s daughter.
The half-drowned leaf spoken of is a submerged crocodile with only nostrils or eyes above water and camouflaged, the attack method described is a whiplash of the tail more used for larger prey. In the poem Marais does seem to have inaccuracies regarding nature.
Eugène Marais was a legend in his time, larger than life, and that which came to a tragic end. Amongst others he was an advocate, a journalist, scientist and philosopher, he had studied medicine and psychology and was an accomplished hypnotist, conjurer, writer and poet. He committed suicide at the age of 65. Throughout his life he became increasingly unhappy, depressed and cynical, and desperate, he suffered from bouts of Malaria and became incurably addicted to morphine.
As sources may be mentioned, poems, “Versamelde gedigte”, and the biography “Die groot verlange”.