The Land of Abyssinia (Pt. 1): Legend of the Honai

I have two really close friends that happen to be best friends with each other. They each have a child. One has a little boy named Channing, and the other, a little girl named Abyssinia. I would like to think the kids and I are really close and I adore them immensely. Every interaction I have with them makes me long to be a parent.

The story you’re about to read is inspired by a little exchange Channing and I had. At times we can get lost in conversation. My mind tends to live in a very creative space and when paired with this five-year-old’s imagination, the worlds we create can be breathtaking. It’s a story that continues to evolve and grow every time I sit down to write it. Much like the stories my grandparents and parents told me, it’s one rich in morals and lessons. I hope you enjoy its progression as much as I have. The Land of Abyssinia (Pt 2): The War of Six Kingdoms is in my upcoming book, Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations about love, life and everything in between.

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Model: Wangechi Ojuok & Photograhper: Don Poling

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We played with Lego bricks. Built robots and jets powered by whooshing sounds as our arms flew through the air. You’d be surprised how you could have a lot in common with a four-year-old. You catch yourself getting lost and enthused by conversations that weave between imagination and reality—random exchanges of thoughts and ideas that allow you to glimpse the future brilliance and creativity of a mind so young.

Bored with the blocks, he turned to me and said, “Tell me a story about dragons!”

“A story about what?” I asked.

“Dragons!”

Clueless, I shrugged and said, “I don’t know any!”

“Then make one up!”

So I proceeded to. I dug deep into my creativity but couldn’t find much. But in an effort not to disappoint, I began talking: I narrated whatever crossed my mind and tried my best to link it to every thought that came after.

Once upon a time, in a place kind of far from here was the land of Abyssinia. It was a beautiful place surrounded by luscious green forests, snowcapped mountains, and beyond those magnificent peaks, a deep blue ocean that stretched further than the eyes could see. Abyssinian summers were crisp, clean and as refreshing as the fragrance of blooming flowers sailing through the air. The winters were chilly, but there was never any snow on the ground—just morning frost that would disappear with the rising of the sun.

The Abyssinians were a pleasant people who enjoyed living a peaceful and simple life. They were great farmers and hunters—lovers of the outdoors. And when they were not hunting or farming they would spend their time sculpting, dancing, singing, exploring, and storytelling. When the adults were tending to the day to day responsibilities of the village, the children would spend part of the day in school learning about the ways of their people. When school was over and they didn’t have any chores, they would run around freely doing as they please. Some would play around the village and close to home while others would play in the open fields or venture into the forest nearby to play games like hide and seek.

Now in this village there were two best friends, Lathem and Low. Inseparable, they would do everything together. Lathem was twelve years old and very adventurous. He liked to try and learn new things. This was a good thing, but once in a while it would get him into trouble.

Low on the other was two years younger. She was not as inquisitive or eager to step outside of what she was familiar with. This is what made them great friends. Lathem always introduced Low to a world of new experiences and ideas, and Low was always the voice of reason when she felt these experiences were a bad idea.

From sunrise to sunset they would run around the village or wander off into the woods for short little adventures. When the sun had gone down they would go straight home or sometimes pass by the house of an old man named Kona. He was the best storyteller in all the land. Children, and even some of the grown-ups would gather around the fire outside of his hut and listen to his stories—stories Lathem and Low never got tired of hearing.

One day, bored with nothing else to do, Lathem and Low decided to venture off into the forest. They were never allowed to go any further than the Crystal Creek—a fast and foaming stream that separated the safe and familiar woods the Abyssinians were used to from the forbidden and unexplored ones on the other side. No one ever explained to the kids why the other side of the creek was forbidden, they just knew not to go there.

Lathem and Low played all day as they ran through the forest and along the banks of the creek. Their imagination carried them away to far off places where castle towers scraped the sky and mythical creatures roamed the land. Sticks became swords as they dueled over imaginary treasure and thrones. But as the sun began to set they grew tired and decided to sit by the edge of the creek. They skipped pebbles across the water as they sat there chewing on blades of grass. But as Lathem turned to his side to pick up another rock to skip, he noticed something that sparked his curiosity. He held it up to the sky as if to examine it.

“What is it?” Low asked as she looked at what Lathem had clutched in the palm of his right hand.

Lathem rolled it around with his left forefinger. “It looks like a tooth! A big, sharp tooth,” he exclaimed.

Curious about where the tooth came from, but cautious considering the size of the animal that would have a tooth that big, Low suggested they go back home.

Lathem agreed, adding, “Let’s go ask Kona!”

“Why don’t we go ask our moms?” Low interjected.

“Because they will know we were playing by the creek and close to the forbidden forest!”

They hurried back to the village, raced through the gravel path that weaved through it, and arrived at Kona’s house. Exhausted and panting, they knocked on his door and a few moments after he opened it.

“Hey little ones,”

“Look what we found!” Lathem said while trying to catch his breath.

“It’s tooth. A big tooth! We don’t know where it came from. We’ve never seen any animals that would have a tooth this big!” Low added.

Kona took the tooth from Lathem’s hand and examined. He looked surprised. “Where did you find this?”

Lathem and Low looked at each other. Afraid of getting into trouble for being close to the forbidden forest but not wanting to lie, they said, “The creek!”

“You know you’re not supposed to be that close to the forbidden forest!”

“We know,” they both replied.

Kona went back to examining the tooth, “This looks like a dragon’s tooth!”

“Dragon?” the children exclaimed.

“Yes, dragon!”

“I thought dragons didn’t exist,” Lathem said.

“They don’t—anymore. But they used to! Until one day, the Honai made them disappear.”

“The Honai?” Lathem asked,

Noticing the intrigue and curiosity in the eyes of his young guests, Kona said, “Sit down and I will tell you about the legend of the Honai!”

The kids took a seat on the woven rug in the middle of Kona’s living room. He put his cane down and threw himself into his rocking chair, and began to tell the story.

“A long time ago, before the continents were separated by four big oceans and humanity was divided along borders, we all lived on one big continent in the middle of one big ocean. This continent was called Pangaea. Mankind lived alongside animals and neither feared the other. This was before we mistreated animals. We never road them or locked them up in cages. We never hunted them for food, clothes, or sport. If you could envision the perfect world, this was it. It was a time before humanity discovered war, and hunger was unheard of. It was a time before greed and selfishness entered the hearts of man.

In this land there also lived the Honai. These were enchanted and wise creatures blessed with special powers. They were said to be as tall as trees and could fly without wings. Their bodies were surrounded by a magnificent glow. Some say their skin was softer than anything man has ever touched and their voices were as soothing as the sound of summer rain splashing on green grass. They also possessed special powers that allowed them to control water, wind, fire and the earth—some say they could even create or destroy life itself. But as powerful as they were, they never used their powers if they could avoid it. Instead, they tried to help humanity grow through the sharing of knowledge and the passing of wisdom.

But as the human population grew, their needs grew too. They needed more food, land, shelter, and natural resources to sustain that growth. This growth began to causes tensions and conflict. The Honai, not wanting to see this conflict escalate, decided to intervene. Where they could resolve the problems and issues with knowledge and wisdom, they did, and where they couldn’t, they used their powers.

Through wisdom and knowledge, they helped mankind discover other foods to eat besides the berries and fruits they picked in the wild. They taught them how to farm crops and tend to the land. Then the Honai introduced humans to meat; taught them how to domestic certain animals they could keep for milk, food, and clothing. They also taught them how to fish and make fishing rods and nets from tree branches and bark. The only condition the Honai gave mankind was to never gather, grow, or keep more food or animals than they needed to feed their families and people.

Through their powers, the Honai created one magnificent beast—the dragon. These were incredible creatures, gentle and beautiful. They could fly just as easily as they could swim. To see them soaring through the sky was amazing. The only thing more pleasing to the eye than watching their powerful wings flap through the clouds was to see them come out of the water as their scales glistened in the rays of the sun.

The dragon was the gift that would allow mankind to travel to new lands and over greater distances. The fire they breathe would help provide the heat mankind needed to keep warm, cook, and light the kilns they used to forge the iron they needed to make farming tools with. Their strength would help mankind build faster and bigger as they would bring down and haul bigger logs.

These creatures were the Honai’s favorite creation. Because of this, they asked mankind to take good care of them and to never abuse or mistreat them. Mankind was grateful and promised to respect the wishes of the Honai.

At first humanity treated their gifts well. They never abused the dragons or any of the animals they were taught to domesticate. They also treated the environment well, never taking more from it than they needed. They flourished and did not struggle thanks to the help of the Honai.

Mankind spread across the continent and created new settlements that grew into kingdoms of their own. There were six of them—the kingdom of Abyssinia, Fau, Mataka, Sendala, Tamayi, and Zuwa. Although they grew distinctly different in culture and language they continued to interact with each other through trade and other things such as sport, music, and literature.

But over time each kingdom began to forget the promise they had made to the Honai. They abused the animals and the land. Some people started catching more fish than they needed. Some people started growing more crops than what was required. Others, who grew bored with the taste of the animals they had domesticated, started hunting the animals in the wild. Whole forests were destroyed by man and his desire to grow and expand. Because of this, some animals became extinct due to our hunting and destruction of their natural habits while the fertile land became barren as a result of over farming and herding.

It was only a matter of time before the kingdoms turned on each other. As they became more selfish and greedy, irresponsible and carefree, tensions grew and those tensions led to conflict, and eventually war. Nobody knows why or how it started, but the Abyssinians began to fight the Sendalans, the Fau fought the Zuwa, and the Mataka fought the Tamayi. And so, where there once was harmony, war took its place, and where there was love, hate began to flourish.

These wars lasted for many summers and winters. The land becomes barren as all its resources were used towards sustaining their armies and supplying them with what they needed to keep fighting. One resource in particular became the weapon of choice for many of the kingdoms. This weapon was the dragon. Mankind used the dragon’s strength and abilities to inflict suffering and destruction. Creatures that were gentle and friendly became mean and scary as they were now raised and trained to be instruments of war.

This angered the Honai. They had hoped that common sense would prevail and peace would return to the land hence why they had not intervened. But as they watched the environment being destroyed and their favorite creation being used for evil, they intervened with a punishment that would curse mankind for generations until they had learned how to be peaceful again.

Their punishment and solution towards ending the conflict was swift. They used their powers to separate the kingdoms from each other. Where there was one continent, six smaller ones took its place—all of them separated by oceans so big and wide no one could go across them or around them.

The next thing the Honai did was give the animals different colors and furs, sharper teeth and faster legs, bigger claws and more venom, more strength and natural instinct. This would allow them to hide from the humans, run from the humans, or defend themselves if running or hiding was not an option.

Knowing that mankind could still use the dragons to fly across those oceans they had created to separate the kingdoms, the Honai made the dragons they love so much vanish.  Some say the Honai made them disappear to a far-off land where no humans could ever reach. Others believe they turned them into volcanoes and gave them the power to erupt at will and exact revenge on mankind for the terrible treatment they had inflicted upon them.

As a last gesture and hope that mankind would return to its peaceful and kind ways, the Honai buried six dragons eggs—one on each continent. When the time was right they would lead someone to these eggs and when all six were found, they would hatch and dragons would return.

Tired of dealing with humanity, and in order to make sure they observed mankind closely, the Honai used their powers to disappear into the wind and the earth, fire and water. By hiding in the elements that surround all humanity, the Honai could observe our ways and see if we were getting better or worse. To this very day the Honai are all around us, watching how we behave and treat each other and the environment. Some say if you’re really quiet, you can sometimes hear them whispering in the wind or watch them dancing in the flames of an open fire.”

As Kona ended the story, Lathem and Low sat there mesmerized with so many questions in their minds.

“But Kona,” Low asked, “The Abyssinian people are very peaceful. Do you think the Honai would show us where the eggs are now?”

“Just because we’re peaceful, that doesn’t mean the other five kingdoms have discovered peace.”

Kona replied. “When the time is right, the Honai will return and so will the dragons. All you can do in the meantime is be the best person you can be and encourage others to be the same”

Lathem, still focused on the eggs, said, “I’m going to find the Abyssinian one!”

“Boys, put the building blocks away and let’s get ready to go to grandpa and grandma’s” his mom called from the other room.

“But Kwapi, hasn’t finished telling me the story!” he said.

“I’m sorry sweetie, he’ll finish it later!”

“Kwapi will you? Because I have questions?”

“Questions?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “Did Lathem end up going to look for the egg? And why was the forbidden forest forbidden?”

I smiled at him. Impressed by his ability to remember such a small detail in the story, but embarrassed by the plot hole in my tale, I said to him, “Well, that’s a story for another day.”

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