The great migration of Nairobians to the coast is a spectacle that happens at the end of every year. Droves of impressionable young men and women drive down to the coastal towns for a fortnight or so. The prices in Diani and Mombasa sky-rocket while they’re there and there are so many familiar faces around that you can’t sneak a quickie on the beach without being spotted by last year’s quickie.
If you can ignore the fact that you’ll go back with sand in all kinds of places then it generally gets rave reviews so this year I decided to go down and see what all of the rave is about.
After a few days spent lounging on the beach and getting some (more) colour, New Year’s Eve was upon us and a friend of mine named Josh invited me to go see him perform at his new year’s gig.
I accepted and he informed me that the night would start out at his beach-front villa. I arrived a few hours after sunset, expecting a slow start to the evening but found something else going on.
At the gate a woman in a bikini kindly requested that I leave my clothes with her. I couldn’t possibly have heard right so gave her a questioning look and she repeated her request. Unsure of what to expect on the inside, I obliged and stripped down to my skinnies. Then she motioned to me to remove my underwear as well.
“Is this really necessary?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “All of the guests at tonight’s ceremony are required to remove all of their clothes before proceeding inside.”
She assured me that I would not be the only one in the buff and I figured that I had nothing to lose. I’d always known Josh to a bit a little eccentric and a party that required absolute nudity piqued my interest.
Clothes off and bits hanging, I made my way up a path lit on either side by candles in packets of sand. Josh’s girlfriend Rita greeted me at the door à la nude and smiled as I took a second to take in her tight, lithe body. The lucky bugger, I thought of Josh, he always managed to bag the hottest ones.
I tore my eyes away from her body and made a small promise to myself that I’d keep my eyes up.
“Took you long enough,” she said. “Now that you’re here, the ceremony can begin.”
We passed through the villa and into a large living room. A group of about ten naked people stood in a circle around a two-foot high podium, chanting in a language that I did not understand. I looked to Rita to explain what was going on and she leaned in to whisper in my ear, her bare breast brushing against my arm.
“Relax,” she said. “This ceremony may be a little difficult to take in so just sit back, follow my lead and everything will be alright.”
To my right an old man walked in through a door and the chanting stopped. He stood dressed in a loincloth, holding a long stick in his hand with a curved blade attached to the end. A young girl with dark skin and a clean-shaven head who couldn’t have been older than eighteen followed him in.
The man in the loincloth, a witch-doctor by the look of him, led her towards the podium in the middle of the circle. The girl lay on it and the witch-doctor tied a rope around her ankles. To my right, I heard a winch start to turn and as it did the rope went taught around the girl’s ankles, pulling her up into the air.
When the girl’s feet reached the roof, Josh appeared from the same room and took his place on the podium with the girl dangling above him and the chanting continued. The witch-doctor took the stick with the curved blade and reached it up towards the girl then cut a long slash down her back. She cringed and a steady flow of blood streamed down from the gash it left, falling onto Josh. The witch-doctor made another cut on her back and more blood flowed.
Josh raised his hands to the heavens and bathed in the steady flow of blood that came down from the young girl. I held my mouth in shock as the witch-doctor took the blade to the girl’s throat. She pushed her chin away from her chest and he drew the blade across her neck. Her carotid artery opened up like a burst water balloon. I watched as her feet twitched, quickly at first then slowly as her life’s blood drained from her body and onto Josh. He stood there, bathing in her blood until last drop was expended.
The chanting continued until she bled out, then Josh raised two clenched fists to the sky and the circle of men and women erupted in jubilation.
Rita broke the cheering circle and passed him a towel. He dried the blood off his skin, stepped down off of the podium and made a bee-line straight to me.
“What the hell was that?” I asked him.
He laughed and placed his hands on my shoulder.
“My dear, sweet Kabirium,” he said. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”
“Hell yeah you do,” I said. “You just made me an accessory to murder.”
“Murder?” he said. “Don’t be daft. This is a ceremony that happens every year. The locals of Diani know that without the income generated from the great migration of Nairobians to this place, their economy would die. So every year, on the eve of our great party, they offer a sacrifice; the blood of a virgin, to those that make this happen.”
“But…” I said. “The girl…”
“A willing participant,” he said. “She knew full well what was going to happen to her. It is a great honour to be chosen for this ceremony.”
“You’re mad,” I said.
He laughed again.
“It is a necessary step,” he said. “Without this ceremony to appease the gods of the place where land meets water, we cannot get their blessing and then the great migration will have been in vain.”
My head reeled, unsure of how to process all of this information.
“I can see that you’re having a little trouble with this. Come with me to my event, and I’ll show you why we do what we do.”
The crowd started to mill out and we headed towards the front door. I took a look back over my shoulder at the young girl, hanging there like a fresh cut in a butcher-shop window and shuddered.
Once outside the lady at the gate handed us our clothes back we and piled into the waiting cab that took us to the event.
All of the way there, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just become a part of. The event itself had about ten head-liners. Did every single one of them perform the same ritual? Were there dead girls hanging in villas all across the beach? Is this what it takes to be successful in the 21st century?
If I wasn’t so distraught I might have actually enjoyed the event. Everything went off without a hitch. The lighting was spectacular, the set-up inspiring and the sound came in euphoria-inducing droves. My friend delivered a spectacular performance, one of his best yet. I congratulated him after, unable to meet his eye.
Some time before the sun rose we went back to his villa for the after-party. I didn’t want to but the fear of what these people might do to me if I showed anything less than full support kept me there. I sat in the corner, going over the events of the last 12 hours, unsure if the success of my friend was worth the life of a young girl when a tray of drink appeared in front of me.
I waved the tray away at first then looked up and noticed the person serving them to me. It was a young girl, no older than eighteen with a clean-shaven head. Recognition dawned on me and I gasped. It was her, the young girl who’d been strung up and bled out like a sacrificial lamb, walking and breathing like nothing had happened. Not even a scar across her neck where the witch-doctor delivered the fatal slash.
“You…” I said. “But I saw…and you…how?”
The girl smiled and placed a cocktail in my hand.
“Cheer up,” she said. “Life isn’t that serious.”