Even although Headman Chimumvuri was a well respected Elder, the rumours had started to circulate -- furtively -- among the good people of Chimumvuri Kraal, soon after Lindiwe Hove had first gone missing.
The fact that much more than normal curiosity had attended the disappearance of Lindiwe Hove, was probably because Lindiwe Hove was a quite extraordinarily beautiful young woman, and very many young men in the Mtoko area -- and even as far as the Lowveld (and Mocambique, even) -- had dreamed dreams of Lindiwe Hove, the precise details of which dreams they would have been afraid to disclose to Tenderai Hove (Lindiwe Hove's father); at least until after the last instalment of the agreed lobola had been paid.
Even after the young herdboys leading their goats to Umhloti Dam had discovered the bones at the base of the haunted Umhloti Mountain, many of the people of Chimumvuri village -- and most of the members of Lindiwe's family -- had refused to accept that those bones had belonged to Lindiwe Hove, even although one of the ankle bones had been adorned with the inchala bracelet that Tenderai Hove had given to his beautiful young daughter after she had danced for the people, at the party that Tenderai Hove had given in her honour, after her first blood moon.
And the mystery deepened when some people began to whisper that Headman Chimumvuri's senior wife, Msisi, had hinted that Headman Chimumvuri had not been attending -- in any of the various matrimonial huts -- either to her, or to any of his other three other wives on the night when Lindiwe Hove had disappeared: or for many nights before or after that, even.
And that was when the cruel finger of suspicion first began to paint grey streaks in the hair and beard of Headman Godson Chimumvuri, and to make his joints ache on cold mornings, and other things to be not what they used to be, when he went at night, to one of the huts of his wives.
And the whispers became louder when some people also said that Headman Godson Chimumvuri's senior wife Msisi had also repeatedly mentioned that Headman Chimumvuri had donated five chickens and three calabashes of herbed rice to the celebrations when Lindiwe Hove's elder sister, Suliku, had married Tokwe Muzorewa: even though Suliku Hove was in no way directly related to Headman Chimumvuri.
Nobody knew -- senior wife Msisi had also hinted -- what had happened to Lindiwe Hove's sister, Suliko Hove, as well -- which had caused Suliko's husband Tokwe Muzorewa to became a widower.
And Suliku Hove was another very pretty woman, senior wife Msisi insisted upon telling everyone.
Headman Chimumvuri had shaved his head and fasted for three days, as was demanded by custom, when a member of the clan had disappeared, upon both occasions when a beautiful Hove daughter had gone missing -- and had been presumed dead.
But although the rumours had not stopped, some people had -- quietly -- begun to whisper that the bones left by the hyenas and the wild dogs at the bottom of the haunted Umhloti Mountain were too old to have belonged to Suliku Hove, and even more so, to her younger sister Lindiwe.
Those bones, some people said, were more likely to have come from one of the graves that had been violated by the huge grave robber, wearing an hideously painted mask, and whom some of the people had seen -- on dimly moonlit nights, drifting beneath the Msasa trees -- as those people had rapidly departed the general area of the communal burial ground by the Shiri River.
That is not to say that any such romantic travellers by the Shiri River lacked courage.
(Importantly, one must understand that African custom demands certain standards of pre-matrimonial self control, and that such standards are more positively enforced when a timidly courting couple is confronted, in eerie moonlight -- by a bend in the river next to the traditional burial ground -- by a very tall person, wearing an unnaturally glowing mask, and carrying arms full of bones.)
As time passed, the rumours about a Grave robber began to be whispered ever more loudly, because the people knew that all those graves could not have all have been robbed by hyenas or wild dogs, because hyenas and wild dogs could not have rolled away the heavy stones protecting many of those graves ... and everyone knew that hyenas and wild dogs did not have feet big enough to wear the shoes that had left those huge tracks in the soft sand by the river.
But no young lovers ever stayed to confirm the universal suspicion, and although it may be tempting -- when confronted by such circumstances -- to blame any resultant lack of extended pre-matrimonial libido upon the prospective 'bone carrying' husband, I do not believe that is fair.
Blame, rather, should fall upon a very tall 'armful' grave robber, with huge feet and wild eyes, as she moved stealthily along the riverbank between the cemetery and the lower reaches of the forbidden Umhloti mountain on dark, moonless nights, wearing a glowing mask.
But let us be less primitively superstitious and consider, rather, the more factual evidence surrounding the mystery of the disappearing Chimumvuri maidens.
Obviously, in this matter, you will need more facts: more detail, before you will be able to arrive at an informed conclusion.
And therein lies another problem.
Because the surviving tribesfolk who might have held such information, are very few; and those who still exist are often unwilling to speak for the fear of the smoke from Umhloti Mountain.
Nevertheless, please permit me to present to you these few facts that I have been able to uncover,
1. Headman Chimumvuri was -- tragically -- drowned in the flash flood of November 14th 1998, as he attempted to return from the haunted Umhloti Mountain, where he and his senior wife Msisi had fearlessly ventured, in order to investigate frequent rumours concerning the missing maidens, and the unexplained smoke high up upon the north side of the mountain.
2. Headman Chimumvuri's senior wife Msisi -- an huge and handsome woman -- never forgave herself for failing to pull her husband from the raging torrent, and thereafter, immediately condemned herself to eternal damnation upon the haunted mountain, demanding that none should ever come to console her.
3. Umhloti Mountain has always fiercely guarded its secrets, and at least three separate expeditions of which I am aware, have met similarly unfortunate fates -- as I suppose was to be expected -- when they attempted to explore the secrets of the smoke coming from the northern heights of the forbidden Umhloti Mountain.
4. From the first three expeditions, twelve hyena-mutilated bodies were discovered amongst the boulders upon the lower levels of the Eastern side of Umhloti Mountain, and this caused great sadness amongst the people of Chimumvuri village.
But it is the fate of the most recent expedition, that has raised the most serious enquiry amongst those of us who have been so intrigued by the continuing smoke that still rises from the ghostly Umhloti Mountain.
Because, although the hyena-mutilated bodies of another three young men were found on the lower slopes of the mountain, no sign was ever found of young Tuli Hove, who had accompanied them, and who was even prettier than her two elder sisters, Sukilo and Lindiwe.
And although -- as I have said -- smoke is still regularly seen drifting lazily from the northern heights of the forbidden Umhloti Mountain, no sign has ever again been seen of Headman Chimumvuri's First Wife, Msisi (which means 'Big Foot'), who had always said that her husband had coveted the lovely Hove daughters.
Lobola -- Bride price
Inchala -- Achieved womanhood
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