Photo by Father Albert Herold http://www.design-africa.com
This is a fiction story of the tragic yet miraculous life of Bié, an Angolan boy with a very special talent. Along the way, we learn something about the roots of Brazil’s fascination with and excellence in the art of football.
Early in the morning, before the sun made it too hot to move, three young boys tiptoed out of their straw house. They were on a special mission after hearing their fathers talk around the fire after dinner the night before.
“If we don’t catch him, he will kill all our goats.
We will have no milk, no meat, and nothing to trade for salt,” one man said.
“Why don’t we just go out there and kill him?” the youngest man asked.
“He hides in the dark and disappears with the sun,”the oldest man told them. “He can be caught only during the few moments between the darkness and the light.”
So, the boys decided they would surprise their fathers by bringing the body of the black-eyed jackal to the breakfast fire.
Bié was the smallest boy in the village. He wanted to do this even more than the others. He was a fast runner, but that never stopped the other kids from teasing him. They called him “Bié the Bunny.” They said he had to run so fast because he was too small to stand and fight.
“This time it will be different. I am faster than the black-eyed jackal. When I kill him, they will call me “Bié the Jackal Killer,” he swore to himself.
The goats were in the small corral behind the houses. They were sleeping and didn’t make a sound. Anything the boys heard could be the nightly stalker.
“Crack!” The tiny sound of a twig breaking under foot. Abasi, the oldest boy, tapped Bié with his stick, the signal to move forward.
Bié took not more than two steps into the darkness when he bumped into a tree and felt a sharp pain in his right arm. His stick dropped with a dull thud. His arm started burning.
“A snake bite!” he thought. “No arm. No stick. No jackal!”
He took another step and felt a sharp stone under his foot. Then, when he was almost ready to fall from the pain in his arm, the very first sliver of morning light showed the outline of a small dog-like creature in front of him.
He had no stick, but he had to kill the jackal. He swung his right foot back and with all his might he kicked the sharp stone in the direction of the outlined jackal.
Immediately he heard a horrible cry come from the animal. He echoed the howls with a victory yell, “I got him! I got him!” Abasi and Yasini came running in the direction of the cries.
By now the early dawn light was bright enough for them to see the goat killer lying on the ground just behind the corral. He was down but struggling. The two boys whacked him again and again with their heavy sticks. The jackal’s cries got softer as the goats’ bleats got louder.
They dragged the dead jackal into the center of the village just as their mothers were lighting the morning fire.
“Look! Look! They got him. The boys killed the black-eyed jackal,” the women all began chanting.
The men now began to appear. Manjo, the old chief, stepped ahead of the others and asked in front of the entire village, “Abasi, How did you kill this beast?”
“We beat him to death with our sticks, sir.”
“But how did you get close enough to him to do that?”
“Bié crushed his skull with a stone.”
“Little Bié the Bunny?” a teenage boy shouted in disbelief.
“Bié, is this true?” the chief asked, glaring at him, expecting to hear a fairy tale.
Just as all eyes turned on Bié, his mother screamed out, “Look at his arm!
The bite of the snake! My boy is dying!”
Hearing his mother’s voice, little Bié dropped to the ground like a fallen leaf.
When he woke up he could see everyone standing above him, his parents, Abasi, Yasini and the chief. He told them how he was bitten, how he kicked the stone, and how its sharp point cut into the head of the jackal.
From that day on he was known to all as “Bié the lion foot.”
Everyday Bié practiced kicking stones until he could control the direction and the speed. At first his right foot bled all the time, but with each day of training his sole hardened until it became like a rhino’s hoof.
The boys of his village and even some from across the river came to Bié to learn the deadly art of stone kicking.
Bié was more than a hero, he was a teacher. He was coaching his brothers in the skills that could make their lives stronger, safer and a lot more fun. Bié might have grown to be a great leader in his tribe, but something terrible brought his world to an end.
One day, Bié was out in the bush with six young boys. He was teaching them how to kick a stone in a high arc so that it could hit a bird in a tree. Putting all his energy, and attention, into his coaching, he forgot to watch out for danger coming from the bush.
“Watch this high kick, boys,” he was shouting when he tripped on something that fell out of the sky. It was a huge, hard spider web, he thought. He was covered in it. He tried to stand but the web held him down.
A knife sliced through the heavy web and a hand pulled him up. Six men stood around Bié and the boys. They had knives and spears and they were shouting something Bié could not understand.
The men marched Bié and the boys out into the bush. With every step they were going further away from their village and the life they knew.
After several days of marching in the dusty bush with little water and no food, Yoruba, the youngest boy, could walk no more. Bié picked him up and carried him on his back. Later that day they reached higher ground where they had to trek along a dry, rocky path. Bié felt the sharp stones cutting at his feet. Seeing the fat neck of the leader right there in front of him, he knew just what he had to do.
With what little strength he had left, he swung his foot back and kicked it forward to send the stone flying at the man. But this time his strength could not match his skill. The weight of Yoruba hung on his back like a sack of stones. His legs gave way and the two crashed in a cloud of dust. The men pulled the two apart and pushed Bié forward with the sharp points of their spears. Yoruba was left there in the bush for the hyaenas. There was no time to look back as they stumbled onward in their march to nowhere.
The march was long, but now the memories of those days are short. They were taken to a town where the men with spears handed them over to a band of tall bearded men in white robes. These men were even more cruel, but at least they handed out food and water.
Engraving from http://www.freerepublic.com
Five times a day the white robes allowed them to stop. They were given water and allowed to rest while their masters did the same strange thing everytime. They all sat on their legs and hit the ground with their heads while chanting strange words. When they stopped for the night, each boy was given a dried fig and some soggy grain wrapped in a dirty brown leaf.
That was the good part. The bad part was the cut of the whips on their backs and the heavy irons that chained their ankles and wrists together. The whips and the chains were too much for the two smallest boys and they too were left to die.
After many days of dragging the irons over the rugged trail, they came to a town next to the ocean. They were herded into a corral already filled with other young men and women who greeted them with the eyes of the dead.
They were each given a coconut shell filled with a liquid that had the smell of a cat. The white robes threw a soiled wet rag at them and motioned for them to wash the caked black blood from their ankles. That was the last they would see of these cruel, strange men, but other even stranger creatures waited for them on the huge, wooden fortresses they kept at the water’s edge.
The ship was a floating hell hole. They were locked into a narrow hold far below the deck. Fifty people pressed together in a space no larger than the goat barn in his village. But this hole smelled far worse than any goat barn. Little Obi, who never broke under the whip, gasped his last breath in the poisonous air.
When Bié awoke from this nightmare, he was standing with Ainran, Wekesa and about 300 other black people on a wharf in a strange port town. The buildings along the dusty street were falling apart, even though the wood they were made of was still young.
Illustration from The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online
Bié and the two boys were pushed onto a stage and tied to poles set in the center. Strange looking men with the skin of a white rhino swirled around them like bees. The “rhinos” used their knives to push open Bié’s mouth, looking carefully at his teeth. They took their riding sticks and poked and jabbed him in the gut. One skinny old man took out a short whip and thrashed the lower part of Bié’s legs.
When this shameful show was over, they were released from the poles. Ainran and Wekesa were locked into a shed at the side of the stage. Bié was taken alone to a wagon and thrown atop sacks of seeds where he lay next to a squealing pig.
That journey and all its horrors are now long over. He cannot forget, but he dare not remember.
Life is now getting a little better. Bié is a coach once more. During the day he works in the fields for his master. But each evening, back in their camp, he takes his three sons, and many of their friends, and teaches them the wondrous skill of rock kicking.
The Portuguese were the first to ship slaves from West Africa to Brazil in 1502. Over 300 years later, in 1815, all the major European countries agreed to end the shipment of slaves, but the ownership of slaves remained legal until 1863 in the U.S. and 1888 in Brazil. Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962.
(To be continued)