ONCE upon a time there were two men who were such great friends that they were almost always together. If one was seen the other was sure to be near. They had given one another special names, which were to be used only by themselves. One name, Maku Mawu, meant, “I will die God’s death,” and the other, Maku Fia, “I will die the King’s death.”
By and by, however, the other villagers heard these names and gradually everyone got into the habit of calling the two friends by the nicknames in preference to the real ones. Finally, the King of the country heard of them and wished to see the men who had chosen such strange titles. He sent for them to Court, and they came together. He was much pleased with the one who had chosen the name of “Maku Fia,” but he was annoyed at the other man’s choice and sought a chance of punishing him.
When he had talked to them a little while, he invited both to a great feast which he was to give in three days’ time. As they went away he gave a fine large yam to Maku Mawu and only a small round stone to his own favourite. The latter felt somewhat aggrieved at getting only a stone, while his friend got such a fine yam. Very soon he said, “Oh, dear! I do not think it is any use carrying this stone home. How I wish it were a yam! Then I could cook it for dinner.” Maku Mawu being very generous— immediately replied, “Then change with me, for I am quite tired of carrying my great yam.” They exchanged, and each went off to his own home. Maku Fia cut up his yam and cooked it. Maku Mawu broke his stone in half and found inside some beautiful ornaments which the King had hidden there. He thought that he would play a trick on the King, so told nobody what had been in the stone.
On the third day they dressed to go to the King’s feast. Maku Mawu put on all the beautiful ornaments out of the stone. Maku Fia dressed himself just as usual.
When they reached the palace the King was amazed to see the wrong man wearing his ornaments, and determined to punish him more effectually next time. He asked Maku Fia what he had done with the stone, and the man told him he had exchanged it for his friend’s yam.
At first the King could not think of any way to punish Maku Mawu, as, of course, the latter had not done anything wrong. He soon had an idea, however. He pretended to be very pleased with the poor man and presented him with a beautiful ring from his own finger. He then made him promise to come back in seven days and show the ring to the King again, to let the latter see that it was not lost. If by any chance he could not produce the ring—he would lose his head. This the King did, meaning to get hold of the ring in some way and, so get the young man killed.
Maku Mawu saw what the King’s design was, so determined to hide the ring. He made a small hole in the wall of his room, put the ring in it, and carefully plastered over the place again. No one could see that the wall had been touched.
After two days the King sent for the wife of Maku Mawu and asked her to find the ring. He promised her a large sum of money for it not telling her, of course, what would happen to her husband if the ring were lost. The woman went home and searched diligently but found nothing. Next day she tried again with no better success. Then she asked her husband what he had done with it. He innocently told her it was in the wall. Next day, when he was absent, she searched so carefully that at last she found it.
Delighted, she ran off to the King’s palace and gave the ring to him. She got the promised money and returned home, never dreaming that she had really sold her husband’s life.
On the sixth day the King sent a message to Maku Mawu, telling him to prepare for the next day. The poor man bethought himself of the ring and went to look if it were still safe. To his despair the hole was empty. He asked his wife and his neighbours. All denied having seen it. He made up his mind that he must die.
In the meantime the King had laid the ring in one of the dishes in his palace and promptly forgot about it. When the seventh morning had arrived he sent messengers far and wide, to summon the people to come and see a man punished for disobeying the King’s orders. Then he commanded his servants to set the palace in order, and to take the dishes out of his room and wash them.
The careless servants—never looking-to see if the dishes were empty or not took them all to a pool near by. Among them was the dish containing the ring. Of course, when the dish was being washed, out fell the ring into the water—without being noticed by the servants.
The palace being all in readiness, the King went to fetch the ring. It was nowhere to be found and he was obliged to go to the Assembly without it.
When every one was ready the poor man, Maku Mawu, was called to come forward and show the ring. He walked boldly up to the King and knelt down before him, saying. “The ring is lost and I am prepared to die. Only grant me a few hours to put my house in order.” At first the king was unwilling to grant even that small favour, but finally he said, “Very well, you may have four hours. Then you must return here and be beheaded before the people.” The innocent man returned to his home and put everything in order. Then, feeling hungry, he thought, “I may as well have some food before I die. I will go and catch a fish in the pool.”
He accordingly took his fish-net and bait, and started off to the very pool where the King’s dishes had been washed. Very soon he caught a fine large fish. Cutting it open, to clean it, his delight may be imagined at finding the lost ring inside it.
At once he ran off to the palace crying: “I have found the ring! I have found the ring!” When the people heard him, they all shouted in joy: “He named himself rightly ‘Maku Mawu,’ for see—the death God has chosen for him, that only will he die.” So the King had no excuse to harm him, and he went free.
Source: Barker, W. H. and Sinclair, C. West African Folk-tales. Lagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917.