Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

#fridayflash 44: The Kitmvat Ritual

As we floated idly down the river, our guide pointed out the large tree-branch overhanging the river forty feet up.

"That," she told us, "is the tree that was used in the Kitmvat ritual of the original inhabitants of this space." We all obligingly looked up, none of us having the remotest idea what a Kitmvat ritual might be.

"The Kitmvat ritual," our stalwart guide illuminated us, "is a manhood ritual. Boys would climb the tree at sunset on the eve of their fifteenth year, spend the night balanced on the branch, and just as the sun crossed the horizon, would dive into the river."

We all nodded and looked suitably awed, although to be honest, it didn't seem like all that big a deal to me. Until our guide continued, "look at the water here -- it's barely deep enough for our boat. Most of you could stand in it." Suddenly the test seemed far more of a challenge. One I certainly wouldn't want to undertake.

"The night spent balanced in the tree was a test of balance, patience, alertness, and strength. The dive in the morning to courage, swiftness, and coordination. Men would be expected to hunt and fight for the tribe. These skills were mandatory and without them a man would be considered a liability -- little better than a child, with no possibility of outgrowing it. For that reason, they deemed the loss of any boy to the manhood ritual to be a blessing to the tribe. Better to lose the child, then risk the man failing at a critical moment and lose the tribe. A harsh reality, perhaps, but one they lived by."

As she wound up her story and moved on to something else, I turned to look at the branch now behind us, and could see the ghosts of children past staring at me. Two boys, twins. One hard and fit, already a man in all but ritual, excited to no longer be a child. And his brother, softer, quieter. A thinker rather than a athlete. Happy for his brother, but quite certain it would be his last night. It was midnight, but not quite dark. There was a bright moon reflecting off the river far below. The boys did not speak; it was forbidden. They listened to the night sounds and thought their own thoughts.

Their mother, home at camp, also lay awake knowing she would never see her second son again. She would be shunned too, for producing a failure, but not badly for it was already evident that one day her other son would lead as chief. She would be oblivious; no punishment induced by the tribe would be worse than the death of her son. Her boy, who saw things nobody else did. Her boy, who found the fire stones; stones that just by striking them together, could start a fire. Her boy, who changed the angle of the posts holding the tents, and stopped the tents from flooding. Her boy, who would never be a man.

In the dark before dawn, the camp awoke. Men left to observe the ritual. Women and children were not welcome.

On the tree limb, the one boy was calm. He had always known the moment his life would end, and he had accepted it. The other boy though, had been wrestling his thoughts all night. All their lives he had scorned his brother. His brother could never keep up with the boys, was next to useless with a bow or a spear, and he bitterly resented all the times he'd had to work twice as hard to protect him while still earning his own place at the top of the pack. It was time to be free of him. He held them all back. But, a tiny part of his brain twigged, he had skills. He had skills that could be of use to a hunter. He could call the animals. Hunting with him, they always found the animals faster than anybody. All assumed it was his tracking skills, and he encouraged that belief. But he knew, deep inside, that without his brother he'd be a far less successful tracker. And not only could he call them, but it was more than that. None of the others knew, but there was that day the boys had been out alone. The wild boar had charged. They should both have been dead. But his brother stepped in front of him and simply stared at the monster. Astonishingly the boar stopped mid-charge, tilted his snout slightly sideways, as though considering, and then had turned and meandered away. How mad he had been when his brother had shoved him, throwing off his aim. Bringing home a boar alone would've been an unequaled feat. His brother stared at him, and his anger cooled. The boar was meant to live, and so were they. It was the only time his brother had ever argued with him -- and he did it without a word or a weapon. His brother was weak; he would never be a man. But he could still be useful to the tribe. If only they knew.

In the last second the boys looked at each other. Both thought they knew what the other was thinking. Neither did.

The light broke the horizon and they dove.

Their mother, home at camp, heard the men shouting in the distance. The anger in their voices broke through the haze of her grief. They should've been celebrating the manhood of her son. Or if the worst had happened, come back feigning gratefulness for the sake of the tribe. But anger had no part in the day's ceremony. One of the little boys who'd been spying on the ritual, another tribe tradition, raced back to the camp with the news. The stronger one dove a second before his brother, stood, and caught the other one. Both went into the water a second time, but it was enough to slow the plummet of his brother and both were alive. The men were divided -- some wanted to kill him as nature intended, others argued that if it were intended no man would've been able to interfere. Then the shouting abruptly stopped.

At the river the stronger boy faced the men he respected and feared, for the first time as one of them, and raised a hand for silence. His brother stood beside him, surprised but calm, and looked across at the men. Under his cooling gaze the men turned. Their anger still radiated, but silence reigned. Locking his gaze with the chief, his father, the new man spoke. He spoke of his brother's hidden skills; he reminded them of all his strange ways of thinking had brought; and using a logic he knew was not his own, he argued for the life of his brother. He recommended he be accepted into the tribe not as a man, a hunter, a fighter. But as an advisor, one who could see and think of things the rest of them could not, for the betterment of the tribe. He would bridge the gap between the women and the men and between the people and the animals. He could hunt, if necessary, but far more importantly he could tell them where to hunt. He could find food in bad times. He could save the tribe.

The woman at the camp plied the boys with treats to keep bringing the information back. They dared not go to the river; it was taboo. But their sources were good so by the time the men returned, they knew what had been decided.

They knew without asking what had occurred when the new man walked powerfully into camp, having proved definitively that he possessed the strength, bravery, and wisdom required to one day be chief. And they also understood the role of his brother who followed him. The first shaman.


Wow. That was incredible! You really had me through the whole story. Riveting.

Was this an actual legend? It has a very legendary feel to it.

I think this is my favorite #fridayflash so far this week!


Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :) No actual legend @ all. Made it up based on a tree at the cottage :)



That was really terrific.


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