A long time ago, in the small village of Sinthian in Senegal, where animals and humans lived in tandem, peace, and unity, there lived a rich farmer called Adamu Cissokho.
Adamu lived in a big white house that was built with blocks and roofed with hay. He had the grandest house in the village because he was very rich. Others built their houses with clay and hay.
Adamu worked very hard on his farm with his two very beautiful daughters: Rashida and Latifa. They planted eggplant, okra, onion, potato, they produced fonyo and also had a beehive and a big yam barn.
He owned two donkeys that transported his cart of farm produce. He had plenty of cows, goats, sheep, cats, dogs, fowls. Adamu had everything but a wife. His wife died while giving birth to Latifa. Adamu was so heartbroken that he refused to remarry. He put all his heart into his work and in raising his children.
Adamu was a man of great wisdom. He was revered and, in fact, outrightly, feared in the village. Only his two daughters knew that his brave poise was just a way of hiding his emotions for inside, he was as soft a slice of bread immersed in water.
It was Latifa’s duty to fetch water from the Gambian river, the purlieu of Sinthian. It was about ten kilometers, on foot, away from the village. It was in that river that Latifa met and fell in love with Ali Diallo, the fisherman.
Most of the time, Ali helped Latifa carry her big clay pot filled with water all the way back to the mouth of the village before he placed it on her head and returned to his village.
Rashida noticed the excitement with which Latifa always went to the river. She also noticed how Latifa took her time to look beautiful anytime she was going to the river. She would always ask her sister to help her pack her long brown hair stylishly. She practically always wore her best clothes to the river!
Curious, Rashida asked her what was going on and Latifa did not lie to her. She told her about her superfluously romantic Ali and how in love she was with him. She also confessed to having dated Ali for seven years. Rashida could not believe her ears for her sister was only fifteen. The best part, Ali was soon coming to meet their father to ask for her hand in marriage. Rashida was excited for her sister, but she was sad because she would miss Latifa. They were inseparable.
Two weeks later, Ali arrived in Adamu’s house with his kinsmen. They came with a big basket of fish and some gourds of wine. They met Adamu at home seated on his favorite wooden chair. No amount of warning, from Latifa of how intimidating her father could be, prepared Ali for the man he saw. Adamu had this aura of ostentation. His full white hair and beards contrasted sharply with his black face but that contrast was, funnily enough, what commanded the aura of respect.
“Walédiam! Good morning,” they greeted.
“Walédiam. No way?” he responded. Good morning, how are you?
“Diamtam, diarama,” Fine. Thank you.
He offered them seats. Five of them sat on the wooden chairs he provided. Ali had to bring down the big basket of fish from his head and drop it on the floor before sitting down. Adamu saw the content of the basket but decided to be silent. He called on his daughters who brought out gourds of drinks and bread for them. Ali winked at Latifa and she smiled shyly. When they returned to their room, Rashida and Latifa almost screamed for joy.
“Where did you find such a handsome man from?”
“The river,” beamed Latifa.
“I think I should start joining you to that river. Maybe I will find someone equally as handsome.”
Ali was a handsome man indeed. He was tall and slim (like most of them in that village were). He looked very humble and peaceful.
“He doesn’t look pompous. He will be easy to live with!” exclaimed Rashida.
“I know, right?” equally exclaimed Latifa.
They were sincerely happy.
“Let’s go and listen to the discussion.”
So, they tiptoed to the sitting room, hid behind the wooden window and listened.
“Indé am ko Ali Diallo,” Ali began. “Midi hidi huitadé Marima.” My name is Ali Diallo. I want to marry Latifa.
“Dako. Welcome,” replied Adamu.
They all smiled.
“It is a good thing that has brought you here, and I am very happy that of all the beautiful maidens in this village, it is my daughter who has found favor in your eyes. You know she has an elder sister, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” they all replied.
“Well, sadly, no one has come for her hand in marriage yet. And as a matter of personal policy, I cannot give out Latifa’s hand in marriage when Rashida is still in my house. No.”
Latifa gasped, but Rashida placed her hand on her mouth least she gave them away. Sadness descended on the big white house for even the breeze stood still.
“Is there no other way?” Ali’s father asked.
“No. Giving Latifa to you will mean that I have imbued on Rashida, who is, by the way, seven years older than Latifa, a scar of infertility. Who will marry her then?” Adamu argued.
They talked and talked in a bid to convince him but it all ended in a cul-de-sac. Disappointed, Ali lifted his heavy basket of fish on his head again and went back for Adamu rejected them.
Latifa cried to her father immediately their guests were out of sight, not minding what he would think of her eavesdropping. She begged him to please allow her to marry Ali. Rashida even put in a word or two on her behalf.
“Please, Papa, Latifa really loves Ali. Allow her to marry him. Don’t worry about me. I will get married surely.”
“Rashida,” he said, totally ignoring the crying Latifa, “there are only two options. It is either they wait for you to find someone to marry you first, or they get someone to marry you. But I will never give out Latifa’s hand in marriage before yours.” He left them kneeling there and retired to his room.
Latifa refused to join her father to the farm the next day. He didn’t say anything to her. He left for the farm with Rashida. When they left, she took her pot and went to the Gambian river where she knew she would see Ali. She could not be consoled when she cried in his arms.
“Don’t worry, Latifa. We will find someone to marry Rashida. I will ask some of my friends.”
So, Ali began scouting for anyone who would marry Rashida. On her part, seeing her sister gradually become skin and bones, Rashida started making advances on any man that looked at her twice hoping he’d come and marry her so that Latifa could get married. But it didn’t just work like that. Even Ali’s friends all either didn’t want to venture into that plan or they already had people they were interested in marrying.
After three frustrating months, Latifa got fed up with the wait. She confided in Rashida, one night at bedtime.
“Rashida, I have concluded plans to run away with Ali. I feel I should let you know because you are my sister and have been very understanding of things.”
“No please,” Rashida shook her head. “Don’t do that. Give it more time. Please.”
“No. His parents are begging to mount pressure on him to leave me and get married to anyone from their village. He is their first son.”
“Please, Latifa, don’t go. You know you will break Papa’s heart. Let me talk to him. Let me try one more time.”
Latifa agreed because Rashida had a very good rapport with their father.
The next morning, while they were working on the farm, Rashida spoke to her father about the situation again.
“Please, Papa. Allow her to marry who she wants to. If you don’t, you will be forcing me to marry just anybody, and I’d rather stay alone than marry a man who will not love and respect me. I saw the way Ali looked at Latifa the day he came here. I hear her talk about him all the time. I wish to have the same story, Papa. Please don’t do this to us. Let her marry Ali. If I don’t get married, so be it. I will stay at home and take care of you.”
“You think I cannot take care of myself?”
Rashida shook her head. Her father had not grasped the exigency of things.
“Latifa threatened to run away.”
“What!” he dropped his hoe and stood straight. Rashida looked at him but he was too tall and the sun was too bright so she faced the soil.
“Yes, Papa,” she dropped her hoe and stood too. “She will run away with him, Papa. She told me this in confidence. She asked me not to tell you. But I have to let you in. Please don’t tell her that I told you this.”
Adamu looked at Rashida. How he loved her! She had grown to become a mother to both he and Latifa. Why hadn’t anyone asked for her hand in marriage? She was even more beautiful than Latifa. Though of the same height, weight, small breasts, small hips and body, same black complexion, though they almost looked like twins, everyone could tell that Rashida was more beautiful. He exhaled loudly.
“All right. I accept.”
A night to Latifa’s wedding, three weeks later, she could hardly sleep. She couldn’t believe that by tomorrow night, she would be sleeping in Ali’s arms. She lay on her bamboo bed, but her eyes refused to close. She was awake before the cock crew. She had laid out the cloth she was going to wear for the wedding and had arranged her beads for her hair, waist, and co.
There was a knock on her door. She rushed to open it thinking it was Rashida, but it was her father. She smiled brightly at him, knelt at his feet and hugged his legs. His father touched her hair.
“How are you today?”
Their relationship had strengthened since he allowed her to marry Ali.
“Excited about your big day?”
“Couldn’t sleep all night long!”
“I hope you remember that today is the day you go to Tamba,” he switched to his normal slow voice.
Latifa sighed. It was true. How could she have forgotten? She always went to Tambacounda once a month to deliver eggs to her father’s customers. It was a big source of income for them.
“But Rashida should go. She should get used to going.”
“True. But you should go since it is your last time and inform them that Rashida will take over. Besides, it is not like you are needed during the ceremony until the tail end. That means that you have enough time to go and come back.”
Latifa sighed. She had always hated the bizarre marriage ceremony they had in Sinthian. The bride and any female in her house were supposed to leave. They would cook, carry the pots of food to the venue, keep plates, cups, water, drinks, everything that would be needed and then go to the nearest compound and wait. The ceremony was just for men. They sit, eat, drink, discuss, exchange dowry. In the end, the youngest of the men from the bride’s side would go and call the bride. She will be handed over to her husband covered with a cloth from head to toe like a parcel. He was only to remove the cloth when he was in his bedroom. It was a taboo to even peep into the covering. If anyone dared, one of them, the bride or groom, would die painfully in three market days. It has happened so many times. Whenever the couple liked, if they could afford it, they would then call a party, in the house of the groom, to celebrate their marriage. That celebration was a sign of affluence.
“When you come back, wait in the home of the Kante’s. I will send for you when it is time for you to go.”
“Okay,” she replied readily. It wasn’t a bad idea.
She got into the sleigh, where her father had already carefully arranged a thousand eggs, as usual, and left for Tamba. As soon as she left, Adamu went to Rashida’s room, knocked, entered and closed the wooden door.
Soon, the guests started arriving. It was usually a small gathering between the kinsmen of the bride and those of the groom. The discussions went smoothly. Ali was very happy. They came with the required items: go’o pouthio danedio, mbewa ndidi, gertogal tati, naggué mbaledio go’o. One white horse, two goats, three fowls, and one black cow. Ali added one basket of fish.
At the end of the ceremony, the eating and drinking, it was time to finally leave. Adamu got their parcel ready and handed her over to Ali fully covered up as usual. He brought out her bags which her in-laws carried for her because she was not allowed to carry anything.
Her husband was just to hold her hand so that he could lead her like a blind person to his room where he would restore her sight. As they passed by, people waved at them and congratulated them. The bride was not to utter a word or respond to their congratulations. The groom would do all those on their behalf.
Later in the evening, they arrived at their home. Her in-laws carried her bag into Ali’s hut before leaving them. Ali was so excited to finally have Latifa in his house. He held her hand, while she was still covered up and said:
“Latifa, my love. I am so happy that we have finally become man and wife. I promise to be the husband of your dreams. I promise to make you the happiest woman alive. I promise to love even more than your father loved your mother. Even death is not to separate us, for if you leave this earth before me, like your father, I will remain unmarried. For no woman can replace you. I welcome you to my home and to my life.”
He heard her sniffing. He knew she was crying. He also wanted to hear her reply. He proceeded to remove the covering and wipe her tears first before listening to her love epistle. He pulled the cloth off, screamed his head off and ran out of the hut.
His parents who were outside the hut, waiting for when they would be invited in and welcome their bride, saw him run out. His father ran after him, caught him, and pinned him to the ground for his father was a huge man.
Ali was very hysterical, and he busted into tears. No one thought of even going into the hut to know why he ran out because they thought he had gone completely mad. When they had subdued him, they entered his hut, and found, seated on the bed and crying also, Rashida.