Wild life

I saw my future in the entrails of a butchered sheep

6 October 2018

9:00 AM

6 October 2018

9:00 AM

Laikipia, Kenya

The Turkana cowhands are on Facebook and they spend a lot of time on their cell phones, but they are also superb trackers and one of them, called Ekuwom, can divine the future by ‘reading’ the entrails of a butchered animal like the Etruscans.

After the confusion of a heavy thunderstorm before dusk one evening we lost a flock of sheep; we searched all night and rescued dozens. In my experience with lion, leopard, jackal and hyena, a sheep left outside the boma overnight has a 50–50 chance of living until morning.

At dawn, beneath low cloud, we found 12 carcasses scattered white and red across the grasslands. The hyenas had only half eaten a single one, leaving the rest with skulls crushed and balls and guts ripped away from the arse ends. Suddenly the clouds lifted and the morning light slanted on to the dewy grass. I saw every detail with ultra-clarity, even single juniper trees cresting hilltops many miles away.

The week before, I had dismissed a shepherd for drunkenness. As we loaded the dead sheep into my vehicle, the men said that the dismissed shepherd had taken revenge against me by bewitching the flocks — and that was why they had been lost. Despite all the sorcery contaminating the dead animals, the men deemed the mutton edible, and back home we cut up the meat for everybody to have a share.

As they butchered one carcass, the men spread out the entrails on beds of bright orange croton leaves to study them. These stringy-framed men with their Egyptian pharaoh faces bellowed in wonder while pointing to a line of black dots on the intestines, on either side of a large blue central vein, which curled in a semi-circle along a ridge of white fat.

‘Here is the gate to our farm,’ Ekuwom said, pointing for me.

‘Each of these black marks is a life.’ There were columns of dots.

The vein coiled out in an anti-clockwise direction. On the right side of it the black dots referred to an enemy. The black dots on the left side of the vessel represented ‘us’.

‘Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them,’ I murmured. The problem was that the men were vague about who was fighting who — and what it might all be about.

‘Is it about the farm?’ I asked.

‘No,’ the pharaohs replied.

‘Is it about Brexit?’ The pharaohs regarded me as if I was an idiot.

‘No,’ they said.

‘Then who will fight?’ Ekuwom was reading the entrails as if it were an augury of the future — but also as if it were a map. He declared that the way the large vein coiled suggested events taking place all around us.

‘We are seeing the same things in our boma,’ said one cowhand ominously. ‘It’s politics.’

I thought all of this was a bit of fun and nonsense, but in various ways Ekuwom and the pharaohs turned out to be right about the future. After that divination of entrails misfortune piled upon misfortune for us on the farm until I honestly began to suspect there was a metaphysical side to this. I wondered which gods I had offended and what I must do to placate them.

I do not want to jinx it but I am hoping that since then the gods just lost interest in beating us up because the cancer, raids and ambushes, vexatious allegations and betrayals went quiet for a bit. The only residue of several bad years is hypertension.

A few weeks ago I was standing on the high earth wall of a new dam we are building on the farm and I became aware of smoke coming towards me in the distance from the west. As the mist got closer, it reminded me of confetti. The low, fluttering cloud made no noise. And then I saw that it was a multitude of butterflies. They were all flying slightly south-east, all moving on exactly the same bearing. Some colourful but mostly white. Over the next few days, butterflies migrated in never-ending millions from dawn until dusk, when the migrating paused — until the following morning. This went on and then quite suddenly it ceased. I take this natural phenomenon as a sign of good hope.

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