Moses, aka The Unknown Soldier, returns his young charge, the liberated child soldier Paul, back to his family. Before he does that, in a stunning opening sequence, he must traverse deadly terrain and avoid hostile Fighter Aircraft to get Paul there. These scenes, played in deafening confusion and the horror of being within the grasp of death, are amazing – with full credit to the art of Pat Masioni, who conveys the sheer terror with maximum impact.
Once arrived safely, the elder of the village does not want Paul welcomed back, despite pleas from the boys extended family. This elder states that these ‘lost children’, these abandoned, brutalised victims of circumstance – these child soldiers – are ‘ a tribe of their own now’. It is only when Moses, in a stunning single panel, confronts the elder, literally burning wih a combustible mix of indignation and sheer desperation, that Pauls fate is decided.
That fate is this – Paul must break an egg, a symbolic breaking away from his past, a reassurance to the community that te evil of death and destruction that the child was witness and party to does not infect them. For Moses, his fate is more unclear. Paul wants his rescuer to stay with him, and the elder offers hope in the ritual of ‘mato oput’, the blood of the lamb mixed with the bitter root, to celebrate the passing of hate. A ceremony of forgiveness and peacemaking.
The elder, the lawi rwodi, sees the blood of many upon Moses, and the ‘mato oput’ is the only ceremony that will cleanse the ‘Unknown Soldier’, and exorcise the ghosts of these dead. Once it is done, Moses seems to undertake a redemption, symbolised beautifully as a barren tree laden with skulls giving way to the tree, free of its grim cargo, the skulls disapearing like blossom into the air.
Paul urges his protector to stay and help his people during the dry season – this coming season ‘is not good’, and Paul, who knows the value of having this resourceful man around, sees the Unknown Soldier as a great asset in troubled times ahead. Is this a further invitation for Moses to change his life? Away from the killing and destruction, it will be interesting to see how he adapts to this challenge.
As a bridge into the upcoming ‘dry season’ arc, it is a powerful reminder of why this series works so well. It is not just about the terrible conflicts in Africa, but also the power of man to change, sometimes for the better. A message of hope here, as well as an insight into a peoples culture and rituals. Another vital issue in a vital series.