I sat down on a pink sandstone boulder patched black with lichens. I took out my water bottle; my throat was parched from the climb and the biting dry air of winter. I wondered if it was time to head back to the camp, the valley below didn’t look promising, but I decided to check it out anyway and rearranged the pack on my back and started the climb down.
As I descended the steep side, I realised the distance had been distorted, the valley was much deeper than I originally thought. The mountain side was shaded by the hills opposite and the temperature lowered at least ten degrees. The moisture in the air increase as well. I was no longer climbing through sharp thorns, but pushing aside the soft leaves of trees I wasn’t familiar with. I still could not see the bottom.
I watched each step, careful not to fall, and something brushed like a feather across my cheek. Looking up, I found myself in a cloud of butterflies; crimson and jade, navy and orange, black and brown- every colour of the spectrum. Then I noticed a noise just above the level of hearing. A strange, whispery sound. I felt my body relax into it as if its systems, the movement of my blood, the snap of electricity between the synapses, the beating of my heart, all synchronised with this almost unheard noise. I closed my eyes and turned my face into the coloured cloud and wished for the sensation to continue. Time slipped away, it could have been minutes, hours, but then without warning the butterflies parted and I opened my eyes.
There before me was a collection of tidy mud huts. The thatched roofs pushed far out over the walls creating a wide, shady veranda around the whole diameter. Each had a large enclosed lowlapa at the front. Intricate patterns dyed in the colours of the butterflies decorated the walls of the huts and the lolwapa. In the distance, I could see fields of green crops trailing off though the thin valley. The houses were arranged in a wide circle and in the middle people were collected perhaps a hundred, no more than three hundred. They watched me with cautious eyes as I walked toward them.
“Dumelang,” I tried not knowing what language the lost tribe spoke, for I was sure I had found the Lost Tribe of the Amandebele.
A tall, middle-aged man stepped forward. He wore only a leather loin cloth, his bare chest muscled and hairless. He spoke a language I was not familiar with and yet I knew exactly what he was saying. “Welcome.”
After he spoke the women gathered round me ululating. They closed me in and herded me toward a large rondavel at the far side of the massive circle of huts. A young woman with thick, black lashes resting on her cheeks slashed with two traditional marks on each side took my hand and we entered the cool darkness of the hut. She smiled and indicated a leather mat in the corner. “This is where you will stay.”
“Stay? Thank you for you hospitality, but I can’t stay.”
Smiling, she ignored me, turned, and disappeared leaving me alone. I looked around the hut; it was nearly empty. There were a few clay pots and the leather mat which was apparently to be my bed. I sat down on it and waited, not sure what to expect.
I was thinking about how excited everyone would be back at the university when I told them about my find, when an elderly man wearing the skin of a leopard entered. He was followed by a line of elderly men. I could see that the man at the front must be the chief, the others his council. The chief spoke first. “We are happy that you’ve decided to join our tribe. We always welcome foreigners.”
“No, I…” I started but one of the elders raised his hand and shook his head to indicate I should remain silent.
“There have been others before you. We welcomed them as we welcome you. Ranania has shown you this house. You will live here until you marry. We encourage marriage to foreigners. Just indicate which young woman you would like to marry and all will be arranged. There are a few rules. You must never climb the surrounding hills. They are home to the gods. The butterflies that welcomed you will not be so kind if you try to leave. We live in harmony. There is no fighting. No war. No murder. Unlike the world that you come from. We share everything. There is no want and no greed. All is done for the benefit of the group, unlike your world where the individual rules at the expense of the tribe.”
The old men who were now sitting behind the chief on the smooth dung floor of the hut, nodded in agreement. They whispered a word, “Phypere. Phypere” like a mantra. Others closed their eyes and hummed the word as the chief continued. Every time it was spoken I felt the same sensation I had in the cloud of butterflies. I slipped into a synchronisation with the sound waves produced by the word, a wash of contentment flowed over me. Phypere, phypere. I suddenly realised the word was the gentle hiss of the butterflies on the hill.
“You will find a life here that is pure and allows your mind to reach areas it would have no chance of seeing on the other side of the hills. Embrace this life and happiness will follow.” The chief got up and reached his clasped hands out to me. I took them in mine. “Phypere,” he said.
I looked into the deep recesses of his eyes and discovered that I had found the home I had not been searching for there among the butterfly people.