Kings on the wing – a tribute to dragonflies

Globe Skimmer


It wasn't too long ago when we were brown, nylon-slippered children. And we would wait for December to daub the tops of our Iloshi (ekel) with freshly chewed gum. December was a special month. It didn’t just mean the end of school – it brought in a swarm of wing-bound beauties to our islands - yes, the dragonflies. For weeks, we would pick them from the air with our Iloshi, tie strings around their slender tails and feed them ground rice. We watched them rest on clotheslines, and take shelter under tin rooves when there was rain. In December, we lived.

We noticed our grandparents didn’t say December but talked instead of Mula: "Mula brings the dragonflies," they’d say with a mouthful of Foah (areca nut) or through the soft blue smog of the Gudugudaa (hookah). Mula. A curious word. It rhymed with Kula, the word for “color”. So, Mula became a time of new hues in our imaginations, we knew so little about the word save that it stood for good times.  

 At school, they taught us that dragonflies were insects like houseflies and mosquitoes and butterflies. But how was that possible? The grey houseflies annoyed us, they were fast and zipped by on buzzy wings. The mosquitoes whined and pricked our skin. The vain butterflies, meanwhile, glided from flower to flower.

Oh, but the dragonflies! Their movements were uninhibited, free: flying left and right, up and down, forwards and backwards. In the air, they were unmatched – peerless kings on the wing.

 Then we grew up. We wanted to find ourselves, to trace our roots. We went back and back, like a retreating Dhondhooni (dragonfly), recalling that old grandmotherly name – Mula. We learned that it was part of an ancient calendar called Nakaiy, used by those whose work depended on the knowledge of the changing constellations and resulting weather.

 Mula, the first Nakaiy of the sunny Iruvai monsoon, brings a strong breeze and white-tipped seas. And the dragonflies pass over us on their long and perilous journey, migrating from India to East Africa, braving rain and terrible winds. Why must they go all the way to that big continent? Perhaps they are like us islanders with our old African connection. One that can still be sensed in traditional buildings, in old bodu beru (drum) words. So, maybe one day in December when the wind shifts, we too will take wing and fly West on a journey of discovery.