Children's Stories: Lahemane Mushe

Lahemane Mushe
by Virginia Moyer as told to Karen Flowers

The three boys stopped dead in their tracks. They were three boys from Sierra Leone. But who on earth was he? Only moments before, the three of them had been chattering their way down the path that led from the school to the headmaster's house where they were hired to do household chores. Now they were holding their breath behind the palm trees that lined the long driveway. Venturing another look, they made sure they hadn't just been imagining things. No, he was really there. And with him there, they weren't going any closer-not for anything!

He was much older than they were. But it wasn't his age, nor anything unusual about his hair, or his long blue-and-white-stripped shirt, his sandals, or even his height that made him so alarming. But his face! Big black designs bulged from the flesh of his cheeks and forehead as he scowled in every direction, watching. And in his right hand he held the longest spear the boys had ever seen. At the slightest noise he would lift it, at the same time readjusting the fierce looking hatchet that hung from his left shoulder.

Actually, he had been hired while the boys were studying that day. Thieves had frequently broken into the school compound in recent weeks, and the headmaster had decided it was time for action. And so it was that Lahemane Mushe (La-ha-ma-nee Moo-she) became the school watchman.

It could never be said that the three boys got over their fear of Lahemane Mushe. He was enough to make even the headmaster shiver if he met him unexpectedly. There was so much mystery about him. Like the little black pouch he carried everywhere.

"What's in your bag?" the principal's wife questioned one day when curiosity got the best of her.

"It's for men only," was Lahemane's reply.

One day she watched him from the far corner of the garden as he ceremoniously opened the pouch and took out a tuft of what seemed to be monkey's hair. Carefully he placed it under a leaf at one corner of the compound. Muttering something to himself, he deposited a polished leopard's tooth in another corner, a smooth stone in another, and an old wheel from a watch on a piece of string in another.

Slowly, in bits and pieces, the mystery of who Lahemane Mushe was and where he came from unraveled. He was from a tribe in the North. A nomadic band of his people had been forced to migrate South in search of pasture land for their animals. Perhaps it was because he now lived in a strange place that Lahemane so fiercely preserved his tribal family heritage. Take that black pouch for instance. Since a watchman cannot watch everywhere at once, wise men of his village had taught him how to hide certain charms in every corner of the village to watch for him and protect the village from harm when he was not there. And the black marks on his face? They were not strange or scary to him. Every man in his tribe wore them with pride. And every boy looked forward to the day when he would become a man and have his face permanently marked with the identifying pattern of his father's family and the tribe.

Then there was his name. Lahemane Mushe. According to ancient custom, his father had spent the first seven days after he was born deciding on a name for his son. The name chosen was very important because they believed that a child will become like the person he is named after. On the eighth day, the village buzzed with expectation. After morning prayers, all watched as his father bent down and whispered the name his parents had chosen for him into the baby's ear. They believed that a child should be the first one to know who he is. Drums sounded again as father ceremoniously bent and whispered one more time, this time to the village schoolmaster who nodded and smiled. The drums intensified, and at last the announcement was made for all to hear. The baby would be called "Lahemane Mushe" after his great-grandfather, a revered tribal chief. Lahemane Mushe was a distinguished and honorable name to be sure.

One thing completely baffled Lahemane when he first came to the Adventist school. From time to time he would hear one of the boys speak of changing his name when he became a Christian. Change his name? It was unthinkable! All of his proud heritage was linked to his name. This was strange indeed. Lahemane Mushe he would remain!

From time to time a traveling storyteller would come to the marketplace and tell stories about the history of the tribes. Lahemane would listen with interest, eager to learn more about his tribe and the family to which he belonged. And with pride he would repeat his name over and over to himself. Then he would pick up his spear, readjust his hatchet, and take up his watchman's post at the school.

Have you ever asked your mom or dad about your first name? Does your name have a special meaning? Are you named after someone important in your family? Ask and see what you can find out. Did you know that Jesus knows your name? That's because He made you and is interested in being your friend.

Last names tell what family you belong to. Did you know that Jesus Christ has called us by His name? We're called Christians because we're part of His family. What makes you glad to be part of Jesus family? I'm glad to be part of Jesus family too. I think it's the best family in the world!

Source: Understanding Families: Family Ministries Planbook 2001. Silver Spring, MD; Department of Family Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2001.

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