01. AMACHI ADISA Muungano, the Belts / the Dreaming City
Your name is Leah Adisa. For now.
Choosing a name for yourself is not something to be entered into lightly. It is a promise you make to the Universe. Or it to you. A name is the story of yourself you present to the world, a label to define you. That is the entire point of the Naming Ceremony: you are finally of age to interpret yourself and enter fully into the Muungano community as a full free member.
Because this is an Adisa renaming, the entire Ijo governing body travels in from all of the Muungano alliance. An excuse for the people to, as the Ugenini would say, show out. The full sovereign territory of Muungano centers around the lunar outpost and the facility that serves as its capital, the Dreaming City. Named after an old tale the Wise Ones whispered when it was time for bed. A place full of orisha and magic and the old ways. From Bronzeville on Mars, Titan, and even the distant Oyigiyigi mining outpost, members make the voyage. It’s only a couple of weeks’ travel at sublight, but many representatives wanted to make the pilgrimage. Even the fabled research ship, the Cypher, is due to dock anytime now. With its captain. Your heart twists, nearly dropping to your belly, with the weight of the complicated feelings that accompany thoughts of her.
You distract your mind from her and the ceremony—the gathering of the families, the ritual and production—by focusing on preparing yourself. You spread your clothes out on your bed. As a spiritual cleansing, you light three candles. Fearing that three undeclared open flames might set off the fire suppression system, you snuff one out. With one of the candles, you ignite a small bowl of herbs, just enough for the leaves to smolder and fill the room with their sweet, woody odor. Adding a few chiba leaves to quell your anxiety, you close your eyes. Not quite in prayer but to simply control your breath and settle your emi—your awareness—to concentrate on understanding the language of the soul, our sabhu.
You study the array of clothes scattered about. You don’t want to wear any of the kaftans favored by the Titans, because she will be wearing one, and you don’t want her to think you’re imitating her. Encroaching on her. Thinking of her. Having handwoven a print to express your family’s roots, you sift through the rest for the proper accents. In the pit of your being, you still feel every bit the imposter. One wearing the print of a family you weren’t actually born into.
The door chimes.
<Camara Xola Adisa,> Maya intones.
“What’s he doing here?” you ask.
<You could let him in and find out,> Maya said. <Though it’s a statistical likelihood that he has some words of insight or encouragement to offer you before the ceremony.>
“Let him in.” You mutter the word smart-ass under your breath even though, one, Maya’s system still likely heard you and, two, they have no feelings—as you understand them—to hurt. Your hands fidget so much you reach for your chakram to twirl.
The door loses its color until it becomes a transparent window before a low hiss signals the material dissolving into an opening.
“I see you.” Camara Xola Adisa stoops slightly to enter. His skin—papery thin, well veined with pink undertones to his complexion—light enough to pass for wazungu. Tufts of gray-tinged, black hair rings the back of his head. His wife, Selamault, must not have been up yet. She would never let him out of their kraal looking like a disheveled shepherd.
“I see you,” you return his greeting. Behind him one of the Niyabinghi waits by the door entrance. The guard doesn’t enter.
“It’s almost time.” Lean as a reed, Xola moves with a slight tremble to his limbs. You believe he plays up this affect a bit, in order to make people attend him more closely. And underestimate him. He could have synthed new organs, but he proclaimed that would be treating the symptoms, not the root of his neurological degenerative disorder. Tracking any sound, his hazel eyes remain alert and sharp as his mind. Settling into a chair, he sniffs the air with an exaggerated snuffle, noting the not-quite-successfully cloaked smell of chiba with a knowing smirk crossing his lips.
“I’m almost ready.” You turn from him so that your idiotic grin doesn’t confirm your self-medication.
“Stacia should be here, helping you with your hair.”
Busying yourself by straightening up, you wince at the sound of her name. You wonder if he’s purposely being oblivious or inconsiderate, to gauge your reaction. There were so many expectations for the pair of you. Nearly the same age, she’s a captain now, while you are only now having your Naming Ceremony. “Her ship was over two weeks away, studying the Orun Gate, when I last received a message from her. She will barely make the ceremony.”
“Are you nervous?” Camara Xola struggles to find a more comfortable position in his seat even as it adjusts to his posture. His hand flutters in front of his face, gesturing as if conducting an invisible orchestra.
“No,” you lie, but you recognize one of his probing questions when you hear them. The community is school and school is always in session, Xola enjoys repeating. The Camara always takes the measure of those around him. Constantly curious, and genuinely so, it also allows him to ferret out possible weakness. No, it was more like scouting. He was always on the lookout to welcome and develop new leaders. Ones committed to building out the Muungano infrastructure for promoting learning and achievement.
And you never want to appear weak before him. Never him.
“You sure? Lots of folks here showing up to check you out. Coming to see what name an Adisa chooses for themselves.” His wry grin widens, perfectly pleased with himself.
You can’t help but match it. “I won’t disappoint.”
“I know you won’t.” Camara Xola’s eyes dart away from yours. His tell, when he has something he wants to pass along, calculating the best way to come at you.
“What is it?” You provide him the opening. You’ve never had trouble talking with directness to each other.
“You don’t miss a trick, do you?” The grin returns.
“You taught me not to.”
“I did? Hm, I must be better than I thought.” Xola plucks a jackfruit from within the folds of his robes. His long, yellowed nails dig into the flesh of the fruit. You can’t help but watch his flicks and fumbles, the intricate dance of his fingers along the fruit’s skin. You’re pretty convinced that he grows his nails impractically long simply to annoy his caretakers.
“Don’t try to be clever by changing topics,” you say with a smile in your voice.
“It’s Selamault.” A heavy sigh ladens his words. “She won’t be at the Naming Ceremony.”
“Oh.” The disappointment seeps out of you like a poorly bandaged wound.
Camara Xola reaches for your hand, his long, spidery fingers tremulous as they wrap around yours. “She’s sick. Can barely get out of bed. You know it’s the only reason she’d miss your time.”
“Will she be all right?” You study your fingers interlaced with his, how dark your skin is, especially compared to his.
“She should be. I’m not sure she’s going to let a spell of sickness stop her.” Xola squeezes your hand. “She loves you like you were her own.”
“I know.” The words come out, but you sound not quite convinced even to your ears.
“Because you are,” he finishes. “Your place is within our family. A daughter we are so proud of. I hope you hear that. And one day, I hope you fully believe it.”
Camara Xola has been every bit the father to you ever since you lost your parents in a mining accident so long ago you can’t remember their faces outside of a holovid. He releases your hand after a brief shake of your fingers to keep you from spiraling into a gravity well of introspection.
“I know.” You slowly meet his eyes. “I really do.”
“Good. Besides, you being around keeps Wachiru on his toes.”
“He needs it. All of Muungano will be his one day.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Camara Xola straightens, excited about an idea, and suddenly seems a few dozen years younger. “If we do this really, really well, Muungano will be everywhere. Folks raised in the Muungano way will go out into the world, the universe, and they will create other Muunganos in new spaces.”
“But Wachiru is the heir apparent.” You leave the words not me unsaid.
“Wachiru is the oldest in the work. He was born into it and raised in it, so naturally he’s a great candidate. But the role is not grounded in biology; a leader has to be selected by the community. The Camara is the voice of the community. A teacher. A consensus builder. Someone with the vision and skills to lead. Someone who represents the philosophy of the work. Now I don’t know how Wachiru would feel about any of that. At the very least, though, he recognizes the burden and sacrifice of leadership.” Camara Xola slumps, suddenly weary. When he chuckles, it’s a low, dark thing. “Maybe I’m being naive not having developed a ritual of transition.”
“Because you oldheads think you’re immortal.” Keyed to your artificial cowries encircling your wrist, you activate a wave of nanobots with a sweep of your hand. With that gesture, your funkentelechy spreads and directs them like liquid metal to fashion a curtain for you to hide behind to finish dressing. More because you hate the vulnerability of being observed enrobing than actually being seen nude. You have no shame of your body, but you do treat the ritual of dressing and applying makeup with the solemnity of a magician not wanting to reveal their secrets.
“It has been a couple of hundred years of birthdays. I’m old enough to know that we have to remain vigilant.” Xola’s voice becomes thoughtful and distant, drifting off into a dream. “There are always forces ready to attack who we are. I fear what we might become to stop them. But worst-case scenario is how my mind works.”
The two of you fall silent as you finish putting on your clothes. The weight of the day, of the community, presses on you. Your mind sifts through possibilities. You can’t escape the sensation of something impending about to drop on you. You push your anxiousness to the side as you put the final pins in your wrap.
“I’m almost ready,” you announce.
“Let me see you.” You can almost hear Xola’s anticipatory rustling, ready for a show.
You draw back the curtain. Rich blends of gold, black, and green form your full-body wrap of handmade kente weave. Your black cloak has a matching pattern for its border. Your head wrap leads into a cow-horn-shaped hat. It took you weeks to make, with thousands of curses from pricking your fingers while mastering the old ways rather than simply synthesizing the materials. The entire point of the Naming Ceremony is to connect the past to the future, so you thought this extra effort only fitting. Xola beams with pride.
“You are amazing. Want to tell me your new name?” Having risen to circle you in inspection, Xola leans toward you in a conspiratorial whisper. “I promise I won’t tell.”
You match his movement and soft voice. “You’ll have to come to the ceremony to find out.”
“I’ll see you there, then.” Beaming, Xola walks toward the door before hesitating. “I appreciate you.”
“I appreciate you.”
* * *
The members of Muungano experience two Naming Ceremonies. You don’t remember your first. It came seven days after your birth. On O.E., the Yo, as you call it. By the holo accounts, family and neighbors gathered together to celebrate and welcome you into the world, imitating the rituals they heard were carried out on Muungano. You were given the name of a distant ancestor in your family. It is only fitting that you chose Ojo Bo, the Day of Creation, for the day of your second.
As your Saqqara shuttle ship disembarks from the array, the two bisecting arms known as the Belts span the circumference of the moon in a curving perpendicular lattice looming over you. A string of kraals arranged in a long line, the series of modules gird the moon in a geosynchronous orbit over the Dreaming City, the capital of Muungano. Descending on a vector to the building—with spires radiating from its dome—the many-rayed architecture makes it appear like a setting sun coming into view.
You love landing into the Dreaming City. With its giant columns, sky ports, and blur of lights, it is a gleaming bauble filling the horizon. The journey weighs your bones down and roots you until the bump of the tractor tethers lock on to your Saqqara and jolt you out of your reverie. Riding the invisible conveyor, you never feel a bit of the interstellar cold, which would chill you to the bone. Instead, the sun’s rays overhead beat down upon you, causing any exertion to make you sweat. You’ve grown up in the carefully regulated confines of the Dreaming City. By your seventh year, you knew every centimeter. By your fifteenth, you knew the entire surface of lunar Muungano. You haven’t visited many planets; a run to Titan with Stacia, a brief stay in the Bronzeville outpost on the Mars settlement. Your heart still races, just an extra beat, admiring the jeweled heart of Muungano.
Still, you yearn for more. The stars call to you. If not for the Yo or Mars, then certainly Titan or maybe even worlds beyond. You dream of truly outer space and the magic of the stars.
* * *
A team of twenty drummers strike up a beat and line up at the front of the great hall of the Dreaming City. Behind them, a storm of dancers hop in place, allowing space for the drummers to proceed, before spacing out along the pathway to twirl their scarves. Green, yellow, or black, mirroring your outfit. They synchronize their movement, a formation of limbs jerking and swaying, bobbing along the syncopated heartbeat of the pounding rhythm.
Crowds of people line either side of the walkway. You’ve never seen so many of your people assembled at once. Here in this place, in this time, they echo the old ways. Their dress a sea of kente cloth, kaftans, and head wraps. Bold colors, different patterns representing the various families. Though you know it’s not the case, it seems like all of Muungano has turned out for your renaming. Once you complete the ceremony, the next step will be for you to be formally invited to the Ijo as a ranking member of the Adisa family.
A sudden dread gnaws your stomach.
Serving as the officiating elder, Bayard Anike stands up next and follows the dancers, his every step slow and considered. An oak of a man, his white, embroidered gown—with its wide sleeves—drapes over a short-sleeved, matching tunic and trousers. However, his hat echoes the colors of your wrap as do the accents on his otherwise black shoes. Bayard carries a large staff, which he raises according to his own internal rhythm, turns it on its side, as if to bar anyone from approaching.
Camara Xola marches next, alongside an empty chair held aloft by four members of the Niyabinghi. Under ordinary circumstances, he would serve as the officiating elder, but because this is your ceremony, he defers to Bayard and instead serves as Libator so that he may lead the family processional. You walk behind him with your peculiar stride, a sort of a toe-first stomp, each footfall slapping the ground to echo as loudly as possible against the fused regolith floor. As he steps onto the pathway, a holographic image flares to life. Mother Sela, despite being in her sickbed, projects an image of herself. The hologram of Selamault, unperturbed by the regulated temperature of the Dreaming City and the clear view through the dome, seems to stare toward the horizon of Muungano. She turns to look down at you, outstretching her fingers to brush yours. A ghost of light projections, they pass through your hands.
Wachiru brings up the rear. His features favor his father though his complexion is several shades darker. He hoists a large umbrella, a token meant to shield the Queen Mother during the processional. The differences between you and Wachiru betray the illusion of you being blood relations. He stands tall and thin with the delicate build of a russet-complected flower easily uprooted. Much darker skinned, your short, thick frame—a muscled, squat construction of too much behind and overcompensating chest—moves with a dancer’s confidence. Your deep, sepia eyes all but dare anyone to cross you. Wachiru turns to you and nods, his eyes warm and inviting, but distant in the way that he never quite focuses on anyone in particular. Despite the Muungano greeting, he sees in a way that defies explanation.
Four members of the Niyabinghi Order follow the processional as rear guard. When you arrive at the center dais, the entire parade pauses in remembrance of the spot where the original module touched down and construction began on the Dreaming City’s first structure as a part of the social experiment called First World. The guards disperse to the four corners of the stage.
A hush falls over the crowd without Bayard doing anything beyond taking center stage.
“To destroy the identity of a people,” he begins, “you must first strip them of their name, strip them of their sense of self. Your name joins you to your family, your history, your culture. We struggled long and hard to reclaim our birthright and control of ourselves. Today we honor our right to define ourselves on our terms. Leah Adisa, before whom do you vow?”
“Nyame. Asase Afua. The orisha. My honored ancestors. My family, Adisa. The people of Muungano.”
“What name do you choose for yourself?”
“Amachi,” you proclaim. Turning to the gathering, you define your name. “Who knows what God has brought us through this child.”
His lips broadening into a well-pleased smile, Camara Xola Adisa stifles a snort.
Copyright © 2022 by Maurice Broaddus