Hotay Olnill, The Blind Farmer

In the 1500’s in what is now Gabon, Hotay Olnill, typhlotic since birth, lived on the equator in a village by the sea. She was a good swimmer, as fast as dolphins, stingrays, sharks. When she slept she dreamed old beyond old songs, moon-sea-stars-garden songs—arcane beyond understanding. She intoned occult songs to her soil and her garden bred moon pumpkins sea amaranth star cassava; cowpeas kale okra yams. She sang her banana and ube trees lilies and orchids to unimaginable heights. Villagers with equal parts awe and jealousy thought this blind farmer a god.

Hotay fed the village with food from her garden.

Dik-diks appeared one night, following the stars, shy pilgrims. In Hotay’s blindness, she felt their arrival, sensed their hooves float, their breath on her fingers. She stroked fur, kissed eyes, felt warmth in their bodies and coldness in their shadows. Soon they made this Eden their home. Their hooves helped Hotay dig, their feces enriched the soil.

After innumerable seasons of abundance a pestilence of bones and stinging insects materialized. Hotay invoked the moon-sea-stars-garden with her songs. Nothing worked. She succumbed to unremitting sorrow. One night the dik-diks left. Replaced by this scourge the garden could no longer feed the villagers, much less Hotay Olnill. The villagers came, their footprints kicking up dust. Bones tripped them, insects stung them. Hotay wept, her tears sprinkling arid ground. She hid under a blanket and starved.

She sang of her innocence of wrongdoing in the main square. Showing no gratitude for season after season of food, Hotay Olnill was clapped in chains by the angry villagers, sold as a slave and put on a ship at the port of Badagry bound for the new world.

Halfway across the Atlantic, the ship’s captain, arrogant and superstitious, resolved to punish her as befits the despicable. Hotay Olnill was made to walk the plank. At the edge of the plank she jumped without hesitation and felt her bare feet enter her resplendent garden. Her hands brushed the leaves where she would live forever.

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