THERE once lived a woman who had one great desire. She longed to have a daughter—but alas! she was childless. She could never feel happy, because of this unfulfilled wish. Even in the midst of a feast the thought would be in her mind—”Ah! if only I had a daughter to share this with me!”
One day she was gathering yams in the field, and it chanced that she pulled out one which was very straight and well shaped. “Ah!” she thought to herself, “if only this fine yam were a daughter, how happy I should be!” To her astonishment the yam answered, “If I were to become your daughter, would you promise never to reproach me with having been a yam?” She eagerly gave her promise, and at once the yam changed into a beautiful, well-made girl. The woman was overjoyed and was very kind to the girl. She named her Adzanumee. The latter was exceedingly useful to her mother. She would make the bread, gather the yams, and sell them at the market-place.
She had been detained, one day, longer than usual. Her mother became impatient at her non-appearance and angrily said, “Where can Adzanumee be? She does not deserve that beautiful name. She is only a yam.”
A bird singing nearby heard the mother’s words and immediately flew off to the tree under which Adzanumee sat. There he began to sing:
“Adzanumee! Adzanumee! Your mother is unkind—she says you are only a yam, You do not deserve your name! Adzanumee! Adzanumee!”
The girl heard him and returned home weeping. When the woman saw her she said, “My daughter, my daughter! What is the matter?” Adzanumee replied:
“O my mother! my mother! You have reproached me with being a yam. You said I did not deserve my name. O my mother! my mother!”
With these words she made her way toward the yam-field. Her mother, filled with fear, followed her, wailing:
“Nay, Adzanumee! Adzanumee! Do not believe it—do not believe it. You are my daughter, my dear daughter Adzanumee!”
But she was too late. Her daughter, still singing her sad little song, quickly changed back into a yam. When the woman arrived at the field there lay the yam on the ground, and nothing she could do or say would give her back the daughter she had desired so earnestly and treated so inconsiderately.
Source:Barker, William H. and Cecilia Sinclair. West African Folk-tales. Lagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917.
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.
THE Omanhene is the chief of a village. A certain Omanhene had three sons, who were very anxious to see the world. They went to their father and asked permission to travel. This permission he readily gave.
It was the turn of the eldest to go first. He was provided with a servant and with all he could possibly require for the journey.
After traveling for some time he came to a town where lived an Omanhene who loved riddles. Being a stranger the traveler was, according to custom, brought by the people before the chief.
The latter explained to him that they had certain laws in their village. One law was that every stranger must best the Omanhene in answering riddles or he would be beheaded. He must be prepared to begin the contest the following morning.
Next day he came to the Assembly Place, and found the Omanhene there with all his attendants. The Omanhene asked many riddles. As the young man was unable to answer any of them, he was judged to have failed and was beheaded.
After some time the second son of the Omanhene started on his travels. By a strange chance he arrived at the same town where his brother had died. He also was asked many riddles, and failed to answer them. Accordingly he too was put to death.
By and by the third brother announced his intention of traveling. His mother did all in her power to persuade him to stay at home. It was quite in vain.
She was sure that if he also reached the town where his brothers had died, the same thing would happen to him. Rather than allow this, she thought she would prefer him to die on the way.
She prepared for him a food called kenkey—which she filled with poison. Having packed it away in his bag, he set off. Very soon he began to feel hungry. Knowing, however, that his mother had not wished him to leave home, and therefore might have put some poison in the food, he thought he would test it before eating it himself. Seeing a vulture nearby, he threw it half the cake.
The bird ate the kenkey, and immediately fell dead by the roadside. Three panthers came along and began to eat the vulture. They also fell dead.
The young man cut off some of the flesh of the panthers and roasted it. He then packed it carefully away in his bundle.
A little farther on he was attacked by seven highway robbers. They wanted to kill him at once. He told them that he had some good roast meat in his bundle and invited them to eat with him first. They agreed and divided up the food into eight parts.
While they were eating the young man carefully hid his portion. Soon all the seven robbers fell ill and died. The young man then went on his way.
At last he reached the town where his brothers had died. Like them, he was summoned to the Assembly Place to answer the riddles of the Omanhene. For two days the contest proved equal. At the end of that time, the young man said, “I have only one riddle left. If you are able to answer that, you may put me to death.” He then gave this riddle to the Omanhene:
Half kills one— One kills three— Three kills seven.
The ruler failed to answer it that evening, so it was postponed till the next day.
During the night the Omanhene disguised himself and went to the house where the stranger was staying. There he found the young man asleep in the hall.
Imagining that the man before him was the stranger’s servant, and never dreaming-that it was the stranger himself, he roused the sleeper and promised him a large reward if he would give him the solution to the riddle.
The young man replied that he would tell the answer if the Omanhene would bring him the costume which he always wore at the Assembly.
The ruler was only too pleased to go and fetch it for him. When the young man had the garments quite safely, he explained the riddle fully to the crafty, Omanhene. He said that as they were leaving home, the mother of his master made him kenkey. In order to find out if the kenkey were good, they gave half to a vulture. The latter died. Three panthers which tasted the vulture also died. A little of the panther’s roasted flesh killed seven robbers.
The Omanhene was delighted to have found out the answer. He warned the supposed servant not to tell his master what had happened.
In the morning all the villagers assembled together again. The Omanhene proudly gave the answer to the riddle as if he himself had found it out. But the young man asked him to produce his ceremonial dress, which he ought to be wearing in Assembly. This, of course, he was unable to do, as the young man had hidden it carefully away.
The stranger then told what had happened in the night, and how the ruler had got the answer to the riddle by cheating.
The Assembly declared that the Omanhene had failed to find out the riddle and must die. Accordingly he was beheaded—and the young man was appointed Omanhene in his place.
This tale comes from: West African Folk-tales by W. H. Barker and C. Sinclair. Lagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917