Kalaki’s Korner: The Rise and Fall of King Atas

‘Thoko,’ I said, ‘What are you learning at school nowadays? Anything interesting?’

‘It’s all so boring,’ she sighed. ‘Especially Civics. All this stuff about the constitution, the executive, parliament, judiciary, and so on. I’m beginning to think the whole thing was invented just to make the Grade Nine exams more difficult.

‘So how would you make things more simple?’
‘I’d just put a king in charge of everything. Or better still, myself as queen!’
‘But hasn’t your teacher told you the cautionary tale of King Atas?’
No, who was he?’

‘King Atas lived long ago, when it was quite normal for the country to be ruled by a king. In those days they didn’t bother about a parliament or ministers or anything like that.’

‘So there was only one person to steal money from the people?’
‘Exactly,’ I agreed.
‘Ha ha!’ she laughed, clapping her hands. ‘Now you see why a king would be better!’

‘But in those days,’ I cautioned, ‘everybody had to do exactly as the king said, because he held all the power.’

‘But wasn’t it the people that gave him that power?’
‘Good gracious no,’ I said. ‘The power was given to him by God. Therefore the king’s word was law. His judgement was final. His power was absolute.’

‘And was King Atas a good king?’ Thoko wondered.
‘He started off alright,’ I admitted, ‘although rather annoyingly noisy and bossy. When he banged his spoon on the dining table and shouted Bring me more ice-cream, a servant had to bring it quick, otherwise he’d be fired, with immediate effect.

‘That’s just how little Nawiti shouts for ice-cream,’ laughed Thoko.
‘But it’s a much bigger problem when the king does it,’ I said.
‘There was nobody to control him,’ laughed Thoko, ‘because he was the one in control of everybody else.’

‘That’s not the only problem,’ I said. ‘A king is always surrounded by a coterie of flatterers and sycophants, who incite and encourage him, saying You can order anything O King, Your word is law. One day King Atas went so far as ordering an elephant to be brought to him, even though elephants are notoriously difficult to catch. When no elephant was brought within five minutes, he sacked all the game rangers.’

‘With immediate effect,’ suggested Thoko.
‘Of course. Another time he ordered the rain to stop, and when it didn’t, he fired all the meteorologists.’

‘Did he ever have any successes?’ laughed Thoko.
‘Oh yes, King Atas will always remain famous for his miracle of restoring water to the Holy Well at Ultimate Termination House.’

‘What sort of house was that?’
‘It was the most important place in the land. The UTH was where everybody went to die. The Holy Well contained the Holy Water for the Holy Sacrament of washing the bodies of the dead before being taken to Heaven. So a shortage of water would have been an insult to God.’

‘But King Atas managed to restore the water?’
‘The miracle is recorded in the scriptures. He just stood in front of the well and said In the name God and the King I order this well to supply water! Immediately there was a loud gurgling noise, as water rose up in the well and overflowed onto the ground. Whereupon the assembled crowd fell to their knees and raised their hands to Heaven.’

‘So now people had confidence in the king’s power?’
‘Exactly. And even the king himself was now confident that he could successfully order anything. The very next day he ordered six palaces to be built throughout the country, so that he could visit all his people and perform more miracles. But the people murmured that they needed food and not palaces.

‘The next day King Atas ordered a huge 40,000 capacity football stadium to be built in Shang’ombo. But there were murmurs that there were only 4,000 people in Shang’ombo and they didn’t even have a football club.

‘The next day King Atas ordered that an Atlantic cruise liner to be brought up the Zambezi, so that he could travel in a suitably regal style when visiting the remote and neglected Western Hinterland of his vast empire.’

‘Why couldn’t he travel by road?’ wondered Thoko.
‘In those days, long ago,’ I explained, ‘there were hardly any roads and the horse had not yet been invented.’

‘The next day King Atas ordered a university to be built in every village, so that the next generation could all become doctors and lawyers so that they would never have to be farmers like their unfortunate parents.

‘And the very next next day King Atas ordered a tall tower to be built at his palace, so that he could stand on top to inspect progress on all his new development projects. But when he climbed the tower he found that he could see no further than Kalingalinga. Then his flatterers and bootlickers encouraged him, saying Just fly over the country, O King. Flap your arms and fly! You can do miracles! You have the power and glory of God! You are the King!’

‘And did he manage to fly?’ asked Thoko.
‘Oh yes,’ I replied, ‘He flew straight to Heaven.’
‘So after that,’ said Thoko, ‘did the people decide to have a constitution?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘They introduced a new system, with a parliament to control expenditure, a judiciary to control the executive, and a church to perform miracles.’

‘And did it work?’ Thoko wondered.
‘That,’ I admitted, ‘is another story.’

Source: Kalaki’s Korner

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