Land of Majitu

Growing up, I heard ogre stories in school, at home, and on VoK from a show called Land of Majitu (Land of Ogres). The show would start with ogres dancing around a homestead singing– Sisi majitu, sisi majitu / aah sisi majitu… Ogre stories are a common genre in African orature. They have a simple formula that makes for short elementary storylines or lengthy intricate epics.

The ogre is an outsider, comes from a mysterious land or from the forest off the forbidden path, away from the safety of familiar civilization. An ogre is a shape-shifting being, could appear in the form of an irresistible young man wishing to marry the village beauty; a generous old lady bearing gifts for the unsuspecting; a kind stranger offering a lost traveler shelter and promises to show them the way home.

Before they shape-shift into the big ugly creatures they really are, they lure you into a trap and swallow you whole– made my little head spin in horror all the time. As a listener, you want to jump into that parallel universe and shout at the gullible characters– don’t follow him! She’s not a real human! But even if you could, just like in real life, they won’t listen.

Their endgame was always to devour you. My most memorable ogre stories had the lured person swallowed, then the search party gets swallowed too, and before you know it the entire village has been swallowed by this one ogre. There’s always a remnant, you know that.

Salvation could either come from the inside if one of those swallowed somehow cut open the ogre’s stomach, or from the outside if one of the remnants used their wits to fell the ogre, cut him up and release the captives.

I believe in ogres.

They are the shape-shifting politicians that swallow us with their lures to sudden riches, promises of power and positions, protection against imaginary enemies, and tales of making us an exclusive people. They are the one-eyed monstrosities that control global economies, filling their bottomless bellies with stolen resources while impoverishing others into perpetual indignity.

They are the beasts of belief systems that entice us with spiritual comfort while digging into our pockets, promise us an afterlife with streets of gold and an endless banquet while poisoning us with guilt whenever we revolt and demand our humanity in the Now.

Ogres come offering a solution to a crisis and capture the imagination of the people. The people are attracted to their gift of gab, piety, swag and savior mentality. We have known the ogre story since childhood, but we still get suckered into their bellies with astonishing gullibility.

Perhaps we get so lost — we meander so far off into the land of majitu while hunting for our daily sustenance, we become so terribly fearful of never finding our way home to safety, to love, to the sweet joy of dignifying labor — that we’re willing to take a chance on an ogre. Here’s the best part. The ogre story is always a tale of hope. Eventually, it will be cut up from within or felled from the outside, and new civilizations will emerge.

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