Red Moon & High Summer

Herbert Kaufmann


Red Moon & High Summer

Herbert Kaufmann


This magical story, written for teenagers but enjoyed by all ages, tells the story of the young bard Mid-e-Mid, famed throughout the vast grazing lands of his Tuareg tribe for his mellifluous voice and quick- witted lyrics. A coming-of-age novel in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye, it follows Mid-e-Mid in his bid to find his own route to manhood in true Tuareg style. Overcoming poverty to win camels of his own, he avenges the death of his father and wins the heart of his beloved, only to find that the solitary life of the wandering minstrel is his destiny.

Written by Herbert Kaufmann, a German journalist who lived in Africa in the 1950s and ’60s, Red Moon & High Summer is a fast- paced adventure story saturated in Tuareg lore. Though fiction, it gives a truer and more vibrant picture of these mysterious, nomadic people than a whole shelf load of academic volumes.

‘This deeply satisfying novel, written as it is with a profound understanding of the subject, reveals the joy, the desert and its enigmatic inhabitants, the Tuareg.’ - Chris Stewart
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Red Moon & High Summer
ISBN: 978-0907871-34-7
Format: 208pp demi pb
Place: Sahara

Extract from Chapter One

MID-E-MID SANG in the North. There the mountains are black and purple and the plains are yellow with alemos.* But his songs travelled far and wide from mouth to mouth and from tent to tent. They hummed round the camp fires in the evening, while the millet cooked in its soot-blackened cauldron. They soared from the lips of sun-burnt shepherds, as they tarried with their flocks during the heat of the day in the meagre shade of the acacia trees. The women sang them as they pounded the brittle grey salt in wooden mortars, and it crumbled into fragments beneath the blows of their pestles.

Mid-e-Mid sang in the North. And the wind itself seemed to carry his songs into the green South, to the clans of the Kel Effele, to the Idnan on the borders of the Oued of Tilemsi, and to the great tribe of the Ibottenaten, whose camels grazed in the Tamesna Desert.

‘Sing us a song, Mid-e-Mid,’ said the men when they met the lad with his slanting green eyes, and his tousled hair sticking up on end like a hedgehog’s spikes. Mid-e-Mid scratched his snub nose, grinned from ear to ear, and asked for some tobacco first. The men bent down, and groped among the blankets spread out on the sand. They brought out little red pouches, and sprinkled tiny heaps of tobacco in Mid-e-Mid’s dirty hands. The boy smelt it and it made him sneeze. Then he stuffed the bone-dry wisps hastily into his mouth. He chewed and spat and coughed and felt very happy. Tobacco is scarce in the Iforas Mountains and much too dear for poor herdsmen to buy. But the Tamashek all love it, men, women, and children too. They chew it until the brown shreds are moist with saliva, and then gratefully spit a jet of pungent juice before the donor’s feet.

‘Iwillsingsomethingforyou,’saidMid-e-Mid,‘butitwillhave to be a little song, for I am thirsty. It is days since I had any tea to drink.’

The men looked at each other significantly. This lad, Mid-e- Mid, was a devil of a boy. He conjured presents out of people’s pockets as if they grew on thorn bushes in the nearest oued. But Mid-e-Mid took not the slightest notice of their reaction. Unconcerned he produced a knife and started carving his wooden staff, and he kept his mouth firmly closed, until someone wavered and fetched a leather bag from his saddle. It contained green tea, a piece of sugar-loaf, thumb-high glasses and a tin can. Someone else brought out charcoal, tinder and flint, and a third ran to fetch the water-carrier, which was made of hairy goatskin.

Mid-e-Mid was in no hurry. He gazed contentedly at the flames which had been kindled with dry grass and withered twigs, and watched closely to see exactly how much tea the men were prepared to sacrifice for a song.

‘I like my tea strong,’ he explained, ‘and with plenty of sugar.’

‘You will like what you get,’ muttered one man, who wore a magnificent blue robe, but had ugly, prominent teeth.

‘All right. But if the tea is so weak, I shall sing the song in a very weak voice, so that you can hardly hear it.’

‘You should be ashamed of yourself for being so greedy!’ retorted the man.

‘I do not see why I should be ashamed of being thirsty. After all, you were not ashamed to ask me to sing.’

The man could not think of a quick answer and said nothing. He wrinkled his forehead, as he watched the other man measuring a glass and a half of tea-leaves into the can. One glass was the usual amount.

‘How did you get your name, Mid-e-Mid?’ asked one of the shepherds as he put the kettle on the charcoal, which had begun to glow.

‘I do not know,’ the boy replied. ‘It is just my name.’

‘I can tell you,’ said an older man, who had not said a word so far. ‘I knew his father, Agassum, before he was sent to prison, and I was there at the feast when the boy was named Ahmed. Agassum had slaughtered a goat, for many people had been invited. But many more arrived. So Agassum had to kill a second goat. Yes, he proved expensive when he was only a week old.’

‘And now he is proving expensive to us too,’ interrupted the man with the prominent teeth. ‘I should not be surprised if he spends the rest of his life living at the expense of other people...’

They all laughed. But Mid-e-Mid was offended and carved away silently at his shepherd’s staff.

‘When he grew older,’ the old man continued, ‘Agassum’s womenfolk used to call him ‘Mid!’ They found ‘Ahmed!’ too long. But he seldom paid attention when they called the first time, so they had to call him twice ‘Mid, Mid!’ And the name stuck, didn’t it, Mid-e-Mid?’

The boy nodded, bored. He cared nothing about it. The water boiled. One of the men used the bottom of the glass to hammer the sugar-loaf and he mixed the broken pieces with the tea- leaves.

‘Why was Agassum sent to prison?’ someone asked.

‘Ah, that is the fault of a man with whom he did business,’ said the old man, hesitating, and glancing at the well-dressed man. Then he continued in a deliberate voice, ‘Agassum had bought some guns, which he sold in the North for a good price. He used the money to buy camels. A certain man accompanied him on his journey. Afterwards they quarrelled. The man said that Agassum had not dealt fairly with him, and had given him two young camels less than they had agreed.’

The old man coughed. Water was poured over the tea-leaves, and the brew was left to draw a little on the hot charcoal.

‘That was a lie!’ exclaimed Mid-e-Mid excitedly. ‘My father gave him half.’

‘I happen to know that it was not half,’ contradicted the man who had tried to serve the tea too weak.

Mid-e-Mid spat contemptuously into the sand, and determined to have his own back on the man at the first opportunity.

The old man tried to smooth things over. ‘Perhaps he did not give him quite half. But it was Agassum who had had all the trouble getting the guns and selling them, and he had led the caravan. The other man had only travelled with him.’

A thin stream of amber tea was poured into a glass. The old man tasted it and poured it back again.

‘Well, they argued so long that Agassum drew his sword from its sheath and challenged the man to a duel. But the other man would not fight. You know how strong Agassum is, and his is no ordinary sword. It is a noble Toledo blade, a splendid sword to be handed down from father to son, when a boy is old enough.’

‘One day it will belong to me,’ said Mid-e-Mid vehemently, and tossed his head. ‘And then I shall take it and split that man’s skull right down to his neck!’

The men laughed aloud. And the one with the buck teeth taunted him. ‘A little lad who has not yet lived through fourteen rainy seasons should not speak such big words.’

‘I am fifteen,’ replied Mid-e-Mid, ‘and I shall keep my word.’

‘Yes, the man rode away, and Agassum kept all the camels for himself. But not for long.’ The old man nodded and coughed again for the smoke worried his throat. ‘The man went straight to the French authorities, to the Beylik, and said that Agassum had smuggled the weapons to the North. And he said that he could prove it. Then the Beylik sent his soldiers to look for Agassum, and he has been in prison ever since. And the other man got the camels as a reward, for betraying this boy’s father,’ and he pointed to Mid- e-Mid.

‘I shall kill him,’ repeated Mid-e-Mid, gritting his teeth, and grasping his knife, as if he were going to attack his enemy there and then.

As their guest, he was handed the first glass of tea. He gulped it down with relish, and calmed down a little.

‘He should not have traded in guns,’ said the well-dressed man. ‘The Beylik had forbidden it.’

‘We do not take orders from him!’ shouted Mid-e-Mid. ‘We are free men!’ And his eyes seemed to slant more than ever in his brown face.

‘Who are?’ asked the other. ‘My father and I,’ replied Mid-e-Mid proudly. The men held their blue veils higher to hide their smiles. For

they liked Mid-e-Mid, and they did not want to hurt his feelings. Only the quarrelsome fellow laughed openly. ‘It is time you learnt obedience, my lad!’

‘Will you sing for us now?’ said the others, trying to change the subject.

‘Yes, when I have drunk my third glass.’ They did not hurry over their tea. The sun moved slowly over the acacia tree in whose shade they had camped. The camels lay not far away in the glaring brightness of noon, and stretched their heads into the wind. There was a feeling of well-being, for the breeze was fresh. Far away to the north, rain had fallen in the Ahaggar Mountains and it had cooled the air. There were even a few silvery clouds sailing over the blue sky, like the vanguard of a fleet going into battle.

Then Mid-e-Mid started to sing, and the shepherds bent their heads, drinking in every note. And after the first words of the song, they beat time with their hands. Only one man did not beat time, but listened with obvious signs of impatience.

At the foot of the mountain a motherless calf Wandered alone in its search for the well, Searching alone for the yellow alemos. Soon he was spied by the spotted hyena,

The spotted hyena, the friend of the weak.

He paused a moment. Then he went down on all fours and mimicked the ungainly walk of the hyena and the way it bares its teeth. The shepherds laughed. But one man did not laugh.

Follow me, calf, said the spotted hyena. I will take care of you if you obey. Come to my den, I shall teach you obedience,

While you sing songs to me, playing your lute. So said the hyena and lowered its eyes.

Then the boy changed roles. He put his hands to his temples to indicate a calf’s horns. The man who refused to beat time was now the hyena. Mid-e-Mid turned his back to him, stuck an imaginary tail in the air and pawed the ground with one naked foot. And as he sang the last verse, the shepherds shook with laughter.

Go grind your teeth, oh you spotted hyena! Balek! Look out! And take care of yourself. You want me to sing for you? Here is my answer – How would you relish my hoof in your face? That is the song I shall sing, and the angels Waiting in Heaven, shall join the refrain.

The man with the prominent teeth gathered up his robes. ‘I must see to my goats,’ he said.

The others wiped away their tears of laughter. Mid-e-Mid’s mimicry had gone straight home. How could anyone fail to notice that the man looked like a hyena, and behaved like one too! Then they grew serious. It occurred to them that if you make fun of people, they may take revenge.

‘You should not have sung that, Mid-e-Mid,’ they said.

‘He insulted my father. But even young calves have hoofs. I shall sing that song again and again, whenever I can, so that everyone in the land hears it.’

‘Don’t do that, Mid-e-Mid,’ they said. ‘Sing us Amenehaya instead. Please sing us Amenehaya.’

And so Mid-e-Mid sang his song Amenehaya, with his own words, and the tune he had composed himself. All the Tamashek in the Iforas Mountains knew it. And whenever they sang it, they said, ‘That is Mid-e-Mid’s song.’ But no one sang it like Mid-e-Mid himself.

Inalaren, lance-bearer, and the son of Intebram, Come when the cattle graze in salt pastures, Come to the Well of In Tirgasal.

Bring the proud stallion, Intedigagen, Stately and swift, for the grey-haired Magidi, Lead him to the Well of In Tirgasal.

Look at the wind as it ripples the grass At the foot of the mountains, Adrar and Tigim Hard by the Well of In Tirgasal.

Inalaran and Intebram’s son, Can you see the maiden, Milkfed and comely and smelling of spices, There at the Well of In Tirgasal?

There were several verses. But the last was the most beautiful and all the herdsmen joined in. Their voices were soft and dark. But Mid-e-Mid’s voice rang out like birdsong by the banks of the Niger, when it is time for the first morning prayer. This is how it went.

Even Magidi, the grey-haired Magidi, Dances his stallion in time to the drum-beats. At night the warriors sing round the fire, Inalaran and Intebram’s son, Singing the song of the men who are free By the ancient Well of In Tirgasal.

When the song was over, the shepherds asked, ‘Where are you going, Mid-e-Mid?’

Mid-e-Mid pointed eastwards. ‘I am going that way. I am looking for a donkey. It ran away from my mother yesterday.’

The old man nodded. ‘I have seen a donkey’s tracks. Its right fore-foot turns inwards.’

‘That is the one,’ said Mid-e-Mid. ‘It broke its foot a year ago.’ ‘I think it was going towards the Well of Timea’uin.’ ‘Then I should be able to find it,’ said Mid-e-Mid. ‘It is three days’ ride from here,’ they told him. ‘You will lose

your way. There is no water-hole between here and Timea’uin.’ ‘I have a water-carrier, and my donkey to carry us both. What

more do I need?’

‘Then you had better be setting off,’ said the old man, pointing the direction to the boy. ‘Your ass is fresh and if the water-skin is a stout one, it will hold enough for three days. I will show you which are the oueds through which you must ride.’

He drew a line in the sand with his finger.

‘These are the mountains without a name. They run from sunset to sunrise. You must ride through them for two hours. There is only one path.’

He drew two further parallel lines. ‘You must cut across the next oued. It is called Tin Bojeriten and acacia trees grow there. There is a steep stony hill at the end of the oued, and if you climb to the top, you will see another oued before you. That is the Oued Timea-’uin. You must ride along it for two days. It will lead you to the well.’

‘I can remember all that,’ said Mid-e-Mid. ‘Tell me one thing, though. Will I find any people on the way?’

‘Yes,’ said the old man in his kindly way. ‘You will find three camps between here and the well.’

‘Good,’ said Mid-e-Mid. ‘I shall ask the people for food.’

‘Yes, do,’ nodded the shepherds. ‘And if at first they only offer you millet, just sing for them, and they will give you meat.’

‘I do not sing for food. I sing because I must.’

‘Ayé! Listen to him!’ they laughed. ‘You extorted tea and tobacco from us only a moment ago.’

Mid-e-Mid frowned. ‘I should have sung anyway. But I saw that the man with the ugly teeth wanted to make me sing. That is why I asked.’

‘Yes, he is a thorn in the flesh,’ they agreed. ‘But you have made an enemy of him.’

‘I do not care,’ retorted Mid-e-Mid. ‘I shall sing my Hyena song everywhere, from Tadjujamet to Kidal.’

He sprang to his feet and slung the water-skin under the belly of his ass, humming as he did so,

Balek! Look out! And take care of yourself! You want me to sing for you? Here is my answer! How would you relish my hoof in your face? With the word ‘balek’, he poked his knee hard into the little grey donkey’s ribs, as if he had his enemy at his mercy. The donkey brayed. Mid-e-Mid untied the hobble rope, swung himself on to the ass’s back, his thin brown legs clinging to its body, and struck it lightly about the ears with a short stick. ‘Forward march!’ he ordered, and turning to the shepherds, he called, ‘Farewell!’

‘Inchallah – please God!’ they replied.

The old man with the weather-beaten features laid a hand on the donkey’s head and barred his way.

‘I have something to say to you,’ he said slowly. ‘What do you mean?’ asked Mid-e-Mid. ‘It is about the man you mocked,’ said the man. ‘I do not like him,’ said Mid-e-Mid.

‘You are quite right. That is Tuhaya.’ ‘Good,’ said Mid-e-Mid. ‘I shall remember his name.’ ‘That is not all,’ said the old man and spat. ‘He is the man who

betrayed your father...’ Mid-e-Mid’s face turned ashen. The old man put his hand on

the boy’s shoulder. ‘Think of it night and day,’ he said solemnly, ‘but this is not the time to do your duty. Wait until you are strong and carry a sword.’

‘I am strong now,’ said Mid-e-Mid impatiently.

‘Not strong enough. And do not forget that Tuhaya is the friend of the Prince, Intallah. Do not forget that.’

Mid-e-Mid wavered. But he realized that the old man’s advice was sound. He could never have overtaken Tuhaya riding a donkey. Tuhaya rode a stately camel of noble breed, which took immense strides. Then he said, ‘I thank you, old man. I shall wait.’

So they parted.

And Mid-e-Mid rode on to find the lost ass. His blue tunic fluttered in the wind. His heels drummed the donkey’s sides. Its small splayed hoofs trotted over the gravel. The sun was high overhead, and the shadow of the rider and his mount was so fore-shortened that it looked as if a jackal astride the shell of a tortoise were making its way towards the mountains.

The shepherds watched him for a long time, shading their eyes with their hands. Yes, it was quite true. From Tadjujamet in the north to the town of Kidal in the south, all the Tamashek knew Mid-e-Mid’s songs. And many people knew him personally, a skinny, ugly boy with green eyes, a snub nose, and hair like a hedge-hog’s spikes. The herdsmen loved the lad, although they did not show it. But the women showed it openly. They gave him milk and dates and dried meat. And they called him affectionately Eliselus. That means happy-go-lucky, or blithe spirit. But they did not call him Eliselus to his face.

And Mid-e-Mid sang and rode, and rode and sang. And when he was tired, he laid his head on the donkey’s neck, crossed his feet under its belly and fell asleep.

And the thorny branches of the talha tree and the yellow blossoms of the tamat acacia, the grey rocks and the sand, the sun and the wind all smiled to see him pass, sleeping as he rode. Only the donkey’s head nodded gravely as it trotted eastward, as if it understood perfectly well that it had to make for the Oued of Timea’uin.