Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Good King

The Good King
‘Grandpa,’ said Thoko, ‘you remember that story you told me last week…’
‘Which story was that?’
‘You know, the story of King Nyamasoya, who appointed dogs as his ministers.’
‘What about it?’
‘Well,’ said Thoko, ‘my teacher says that History is the story of Good Kings and Bad Kings. So I told my class the story of Nyamasoya, and we all agreed that he was a Bad King.’
‘History is not that simple,’ I said. ‘Some people mean well, even when they mess up terribly. You have to hear both sides of the story, and to understand events from the point of view of people living at that time.’
‘Poof,’ scoffed Thoko. ‘Anybody can see that having dogs as ministers is not a Good Thing.’
‘Of course not,’ I agreed. ‘But why did he do it?’
‘He did it,’ said Thoko, ‘because he was Very Bad.’
‘It’s a circular argument to say he was bad because he was bad,’ I protested. ‘Do you know that Nyamasoya, when he was a young man, was very much against Kings and Things. He used to say that all people should be equal, and no king should have the power to lord it over others.’
‘Was he even against Good Kings?’
‘Every king,’ I said, ‘claims to be a Good King. He always claims to have been appointed by God to work for the good of the people, as the Father of the Nation. But if you look closely you find that every king is really a Bad King, oppressing his people and stealing their money for his own luxury.’
‘So why don’t people just get rid of Bad Kings?’
‘That’s the very question which the young Nyamasoya used to ask himself!’
‘And what was his answer?’ asked Thoko impatiently.
‘He realized that people support their king because they don’t want to believe that their beloved Father of the Nation is really a rotten crook and a thief. They can’t believe that God, who appointed their king, would make such a stupid mistake. They can’t believe that they have been respecting a leader who despises them. They can’t believe that they were so foolish as to allow some shabby little swindler to usurp the throne.’
‘They have to believe in the king if they are to believe in themselves,’ suggested Thoko.
‘Exactly. So they respect the king. It’s only after a Good King is dead that anybody dares to suggest that he was really a Bad King.’
‘But suppose somebody blurts out the truth when the king is still alive?’ Thoko wondered.
‘Of course they would be locked up immediately!’ I said. ‘Bad Kings are always very much against anybody speaking the truth.’
‘But you say that Nyamasoya, as a young man, was against this system of living under the tyranny of despotic kings. Did he dare to speak out?’
‘He saw what had happened to others,’ I explained. ‘So he had a more crafty idea. He resolved to become king himself.’
‘So that he could become a Good King?’
‘Exactly. A Good King needs a Great Vision, and Nyamasoya’s Great Vision was to destroy the entire system of monarchy from within. But to do this, he first had to get himself onto the throne. And so he spent a careful and patient fifty years in politics, cultivating the friendship of all the crooked, crafty, thieving and lying politicians. He was so convincing in his performance that nobody ever suspected that he had good intentions. So, when the King Muwelewele died, they made Nyamasoya king!’
‘And did he achieve his Great Vision of destroying the monarchy?’
‘His simple strategy was to destroy the people’s deep faith in the monarchy and their natural respect for the king. He knew that once this faith collapsed, the monarchy would also collapse. So every action he took was designed to be so self-evidently wrong and stupid that even the most simple-minded and trusting person would finally lose faith in the monarchy.’
‘What exactly did he do?’
‘Appointing vicious dogs as his ministers was just the first step. Then he began a policy of throwing innocent people in jail, and letting out the most notorious criminals.’
‘How did he do that?’
‘He corrupted the judges, who were scared of the vicious dogs.’
‘And did he ever speak to the people to try to explain his actions?’
‘Never. Instead he sent the Red-Lipped Snake all around the country to represent the king. People were absolutely petrified by the strange sight of this weird animal trying to talk like a human, with an empty suit hanging from his body. Women rolled on the ground in terror, while grown men fled into the forest.’
‘But didn’t Nyamasoya do anything positive or beneficial?’
‘He was very careful to avoid anything like that. When there was a national disaster of massive flooding, he showed no interest at all. Instead he went away on a long luxurious holiday to the Kingdom of Ching.’
‘So the people rose against him?’
‘Under their new leader, Father Freak,’ I said, ‘they completely freaked out, and the monarchy was overthrown. So Nyamasoya achieved his Vision, and went down in history as a Good King.’
‘And did Father Freak become the new Father of the Nation?’
‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘He claimed to have been appointed by God.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Thoko.

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