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Kande felt discouraged,
but she refused to let that stop her.
If she could not force open
a gate to the demons' realm,
then she would seek out a shaman
and ask his advice.
She would not let the demons
keep her little brother Atsú.
Kande mounted her war-elephant Ivory Hammer,
who stropped his four tusks on the trunk of a coconut tree
and then lumbered away in search of a shaman.
They came to a little village, still within Akaanye territory,
where an old man named Manu lived in a fine hut.
His children and grandchildren gathered around him
to run his errands and help him work magic.
"What brings you here?" Manu asked.
"I am Kande, and I need your help
to save my little brother Atsú.
He was kidnapped by demons,
and I must follow them somehow,"
the young warrior replied as she dismounted.
One of the children led Ivory Hammer
toward the river where he could bathe.
"If you simply follow the demons,
they will capture or kill you," said the shaman.
"You will need a disguise. Come.
You must help me make a mask."
Manu led Kande into his hut.
He showed her blocks of ebony
and bade her choose one of them.
Then he began to carve the mask,
and sent Kande out to collect
white clay and red clay and charcoal
for the paint, plus blue glass for the eyes.
Kande hurried back quickly
with the supplies that Manu requested.
"Now can I go to my brother?" she asked.
"No, not yet," the shaman said. "Be patient.
We have much work ahead of us still."
Indeed, the wooden face was only half finished.
Next Manu sent Kande to slay a demon,
for they needed its bone and blood
to provide the power of the mask.
Sometimes the demons hunted like spiders,
springing up from trapdoors in the ground;
other times they hunted like lions,
trailing behind their prey.
Kande stalked the demons
as she had stalked the lion
that killed her father's cows.
She singled out a demon and pounced,
striking hard, but it fought harder.
Then Ivory Hammer struck the demon
with his four heavy tusks and crushed it
in the powerful grip of his trunk.
Kande knelt to perform the gruesome task
of harvesting what the shaman needed,
telling herself it was no worse than butchering meat,
but the evil of the demon still stung against her skin.
Kande carried the grisly ingredients
back to Manu, who had finished carving the wood.
He fitted slivers of bone between the thin lips
to become the teeth of the demon mask.
He mixed the blood into the paint
of white and red and black, coloring in
the details of the unfamiliar face.
At last the shaman chanted the spells
that would make the mask come alive.
"It is done," Manu said heavily,
for a great weariness fell upon him
at the completion of his craft.
"Take up the mask and test it now."
Kande looked at the hideous thing
that would allow her to enshroud herself
in the seeming of a demon.
There was the blank white face
with its slitted eyes and sharp mouth,
a black knot of hair at the top.
Just seeing it made her shudder.
Kande pressed the mask into place
and felt the magic move through her,
thick and prickling like slow poison.
She looked into the shaman's bronze mirror
and saw not her familiar brown face
but the pale shape of a demon.
Gasping, Kande yanked the mask off.
"This thing is evil!" she said.
"Yes, of course," Manu replied.
"It is made with demon parts.
You must take great care in using it,
for the longer you wear their likeness,
the more like them you will become."
Kande stared down at the mask.
Its blue glass eyes stared coldly back.
"If that is what I must do to save my brother,"
the young warrior declared,
"then I will bear the danger."
* * *
Shamanism is widely practiced throughout Africa in many variations. A crucial trait of shamans is the ability to remain calm no matter what crazy stuff is going on. Know how to stay calm in a crisis, because that can save lives.
Masks come in many different styles. They have deep cultural significance all over Africa. Masks can have great power, but evil ones are dangerous to use.
[To be continued ...]