Tuesday, December 3, 2013

King Panga

King Panga

          ‘Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘tell me a story about a king.’
          ‘What sort of king do you want? A good one or a bad one?’
          ‘A bad one!’ cackled Nawiti, rubbing her hands in glee.
          ‘I’m glad you’ve asked for a bad one,’ I chuckled, ‘because good kings are hard to find. I think I’ve got just the sort of king you’re looking for. His name was King Panga, and he lived long ago in the Kingdom of Zedia.’
          ‘Why was he a bad king?’
          ‘Who can tell why he was bad. Maybe when he was small, his mother didn’t punish him when he did wrong things.’
          ‘No, I meant why did people say he was bad.’
          ‘Because,’ I explained, ‘King Panga was far too bossy, and wouldn’t listen to anybody. He would tell the police whom to lock up, instead of letting them decide for themselves. And he would lock up his enemies even if they hadn’t done anything wrong.’
          ‘Look, Grandpa,’ said Nawiti, ‘that’s how kings were in those days. It’s no good being a king if you can’t boss everybody around. The job just attracts that type of person.’
          ‘You’ve got a point there,’ I conceded. ‘But King Panga also used to waste the people’s money. He wasted a lot of money building a tall tower, reaching right up into the sky, so that he could walk up to Heaven to consult God.’
          ‘So he went to Heaven?’
          ‘No. The tower got only halfway, then it fell down.’
          ‘Well,’ said Nawiti, ‘that’s the sort of thing you expect from a king. What else did he do?’
          ‘He built himself a huge golden coach pulled by twenty-four elephants…’
          ‘You mean horses.’
          ‘No. In those days there weren’t any horses in Zedia.’
          ‘Look, Grandpa, you have to understand how things were in those days. That’s the sort of thing kings do. You can’t have a king without a golden coach. The other kings would laugh at him.’
          ‘But he was wasting money. There were no nurses or medicines in the hospitals, no books in the schools and no seeds for planting. Meanwhile the king was wasting money on building roads everywhere so that he could drive his coach everywhere.’
          ‘So what did they do?’
          ‘Led by a bishop, they all went to the palace to see the king. And the bishop spoke for all of them, saying You can’t just rule anyhow like this, you must have a constitution.
‘And he king replied A constitution, what’s that?
          ‘Then the bishop told him, saying A constitution is a set of rules which we will give you, setting out the limits of your powers, requiring you to listen to others, and making sure you look after us and not just yourself.
          ‘And the king replied, saying Show me a copy of these rules!
          ‘But the bishop replied, saying We shall show you a copy of these rules in two years time, after we have agreed amongst ourselves.
          ‘And the king sneered, saying Huh, I could do the job myself in ten minutes.
          ‘And did they come back in two years time?’
          ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘The bishop and his priests went all round the country, holding meetings everywhere with everybody, and finally they drew up a constitution of ten basic rules which, even if followed by a foolish king, could make him appear quite sensible.’
          ‘So they went back to the palace to give the constitution to the king?’
          ‘They did indeed. But they found the king’s soldiers at the gate, armed with machetes. And the sergeant in charge said The king says that it does not need a thousand people to deliver ten rules. He commands that only ten people can enter the palace, each carrying one rule. These ten people will constitute the constitution which shall be given to the king!
          ‘And did the people agree?’ asked Nawiti.
          ‘They had no choice,’ I explained, ‘because the machetes were very sharp.’
          ‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti, ‘what happened in the palace? Was the constitution presented to the king?’
          ‘Nobody knows what happened inside that palace,’ I said grimly. ‘The people waited all night outside the gates. Early next morning there was a sound of marching, the gates opened, and out came a company of soldiers carrying on their shoulders ten coffins, which were laid on the ground before the weeping crowd.’
          ‘Then the sergeant in charge addressed the crowd, saying The king has declared that he finds these ten rules unnecessary. He also declares that it is not the job of the people to give the king a constitution, it is the duty of the king to give his people a constitution.
          ‘With this announcement, the sergeant threw down his machete, its blade sticking into the lid of one of the coffins, the cold steel quivering in the morning air. There! shouted the sergeant, There is your new constitution.’
          ‘That wasn’t a constitution, it was just a machete!’ said Nawiti, as tears streamed down her face.
          ‘It was a rule of governance,’ I explained. ‘Down the side of the machete blade was inscribed Nobody can question the King. This made it clear that the country was not to be ruled by a constitution, but by the machete.  And that is why, from that day to this, a machete is always known as a panga in the land of Zedia.’
          ‘Oh dear,’ said Nawiti, ‘he really was a bad king.’

          ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Let that be a lesson to you. If you ask for a bad king, that’s what you get.’


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