The Enchanted Overalls

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2023  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of the author.

In which Umnegetfu acquires a new pair of overalls for more than twice the usual price, and a young Peace Corps family finds out more about witchcraft than they really wanted to know.

About the same time that we decided our housekeeper laDlamini was pulling the wool over our eyes, our foster-brother Lukhele came to the same conclusion. He had been courting her for some months, and while he had no serious plans for marriage, liked the idea of a steady girlfriend. He had the girlfriend but we were all beginning to wonder about the steady bit.

When we originally moved to Mbabane, Lukhele had come to visit one night and after a lot of hemming and hawing had announced that he and laDlamini were, "You understand, er, very good friends".

We had accepted this arrangement, partly for fear of upsetting the cross-cultural applecart, and partly because it was better to have the wolf at the door be someone we knew. Lukhele was a happy-go-lucky guy, the kids liked him, and he and laDlamini were discreet in their relationship.

This did not last. Within a few months of our settling in at Johnston Street, other men besides Lukhele began to visit laDlamini's tiny house. We didn't mean to pry, but as the kitchen window faced her front door across the patio, it was hard to pretend one didn't notice the traffic.

At one point laDlamini brought in an extra bed and three friends; this was too much, besides the moral issues, it was unhealthy for so many people to be in a tiny room. Further, our modest wages didn't run to feeding three extra mouths. On occasion when I came home from work unexpectedly early, I'd find as many as 8 friends gathered in my kitchen with laDlamini. The last straw was when one of the senior Englishmen in town mentioned to Gene at the Theatre Club one night that there seemed to be a fair number of unemployed men hanging around our back yard and perhaps one needed to speak to one's servant.

In desperation, I called on our friend and language tutor Sonile to come and mediate. She said we were the talk of the town for our forbearance.

"You mean our stupidity, don't you?" I asked.

Sonile smiled gently. "No-one wanted to hurt your feelings," she said. The upshot of it was laDlamini was given a carefully worded reference and two weeks’ severance pay and was preparing to leave for a more congenial environment.

Lukhele called in on Saturday and when informed that laDlamini was about to leave our employ, said, "That is good; she is very tricky and not a good servant." By now I had learned enough about the subtleties of Swazi behaviour not to get angry and yell, "Why didn't you tell me that before?"

And one had to take Lukhele with a grain of salt; after all, he was the offended former boyfriend and could be said to have and axe to grind.

Lukhele accepted a mug of tea and peered into it as if he could by force of will turn it into beer. He said he supposed he had better get his overalls back before laDlamini left for good. At the height of their romance, laDlamini had been doing Lukhele's laundry for him, and apparently there was still a pair of overalls outstanding.

A lot of increasingly loud voices came from the servant's quarters after Lukhele went in search of his missing garment. Doors banged and harsh words were exchanged. Lukhele came back to the kitchen with a morose look.

"She says she does not have the overalls. I said she had probably given them to one of her--hah!--other friends, and then she said they were too old and nasty and who else would want them." He looked very upset. I poured a tot of our precious cache of whisky and gave it to him. He went to sit by the living room fire to brood on his next step, while Erin crawled around his workboots and pulled at the laces until she got him to smile.

"Lukhele, why don't you just get a new pair of overalls?" I asked.

"I want my old ones. They are my work overalls and if I do not get them back, I will have to replace them out of my pay. I will find out what she has done with them."

Temporarily distracted by the baby, he sat on the floor and played pattycake and built block towers with her, but soon his wrath arose again, and he returned to laDlamini's door. There were more emotion-charged words exchanged, of which I caught only a few, including the word 'muti', which is medicine--or more specifically, things to do with spells and witchcraft.

Lukhele returned to the living room and threw himself down by the fire again.

"She said the overalls have been stolen. She says perhaps a former girlfriend of mine took them, to make muti with." Once started on this train of thought, Lukhele was like a hawk on a mouse. "This is a very bad thing!" he exclaimed. "But I will trick them, I will go to the inyanga and find out what has happened to my overalls. They will not get away with this!"
He stormed out, tripping over the undone shoelace which Erin had finally loosed from its grommets.

"Lukhele, stop!" I said, "This is crazy, it will cost two Rand just to get the inyanga to open his bag, then you have to pay for any spells he makes separately. You could have new overalls for just three Rand."

"You do not understand," Lukhele said, doing up his shoelace and apparently bearing Erin no grudge for causing him to trip. "I must get to the bottom of this; someone may have put a spell on me."

I reported the goings-on to Gene over supper that evening. We were puzzled. Lukhele, a city Swazi to his toenails, always poo-poohed anything outside of concrete reality. He claimed to attend church only when Reverend Tjwala (beer) was preaching. Many of the customs of his people he ignored, and had even been known to eat a piece of fish in direct contravention of totemic taboos.

Like a lapsed Catholic, in time of trouble Lukhele returned to his roots. Worried about the overalls, he would not feel at ease until he had consulted the inyanga. When he next came to visit, we managed to bring the conversation around to West Indian beliefs and how people died of voodoo because they believed in it, but once they went to school and learned about the world, they didn't die. This was a gross oversimplification, only intended to make Lukhele feel better, and he saw through it.

"That may be true for those ignorant people, but it is very different when there is a real inyanga involved, my sister" Lukhele explained to me in the patient tones of one dealing with a not very bright five-year-old.

A few days later, Lukhele stopped by and eventually got the point of the visit: he wanted to borrow two Rand. We suspected what he intended to do with it, but you can hardly tell your adoptive brother that he can have a loan but only if he doesn't spend it on the inyanga.

The following pay day, Lukhele arrived resplendent in new bright blue overalls. Our first thought was that the inyanga must be better than we had thought to have raised the overalls phoenix-like in such good condition.

Lubricated by a few beers, Lukhele was eager to relate his adventures.

He had gone to the inyanga and told the story of the missing overalls. The inyanga, after opening his bag and consulting the bones and other tools of his trade had told Lukhele that laDlamini had not taken the overalls. A female friend of hers had done it, very likely for the purpose of making a bad spell against him. For five Rand, the inyanga would attempt to retrieve the overalls and turn the spell back on the one who paid for it. However, if the overalls did return, they would be unfit to wear, being part of a spell which no inyanga could cleanse of evil.

"But Lukhele, the overalls were only worth three Rand, and you spent seven on the inyanga, plus the three for the new overalls." I cried. "That's a lot of money."

"Yes, I know," he said. "It is a lot of money. You have to pay very much for a good inyanga. It is not like it was years ago; now it is very expensive."

"How do you know you have a good inyanga?" I asked innocently.

"It is very simple. I know because I have my new overalls and no bad spell has happened to me because I paid much money to the inyanga to have the bad spell sent away. If he were not a good inyanga, I would now be sick, or my cattle would have died, or my home burnt."

"But Lukhele," I persisted, "suppose there never was a spell, suppose the overalls were just lost? You may have paid all that money for nothing."

Lukhele turned a pitying look in my direction. "Wife of my brother, these things are very difficult to understand, they are men's business."

I took my cue and went off to see about supper, while Gene and Lukhele clinked beer cans in celebration of the return of the prodigal overalls. Once again it had been proved to me that the lack of external plumbing was a serious bar to efficient mental processes. It did not, however, prevent my roast chicken from being eaten with every sign of satisfaction. One must be grateful for small victories.

Contact Karen

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Karen's Story List And Biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher