Africa | Barker: How Beasts and Serpents Came into the World

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How Beasts and Serpents Came into the World

THE famine had lasted nearly three years. Kweku Tsin, being very hungry, looked daily in the forest in the hope of finding food. One day he was fortunate enough to discover three palm-kernels lying on the ground. He picked up two stones with which to crack them. The first nut, however, slipped when he hit it, and fell into a hole behind him. The same thing happened to the second and to the third. Very much annoyed at his loss, Kweku determined to go down the hole to see if he could find his lost nuts.

To his surprise, however, he discovered that this hole was really the entrance to a town, of which he had never before even heard. When he reached it he found absolute silence everywhere. He called out, "Is there nobody in this town?" and presently heard a voice in answer. He went in its direction and found an old woman sitting in one of the houses. She demanded the reason of his appearance—which he readily gave.

The old woman was very kind and sympathetic, and promised to help him. "You must do exactly as I tell you," said she. "Go into the garden and listen attentively. You will hear the yams speak. Pass by any yam that says, 'Dig me out, dig me out!' But take the one that says, 'Do not dig me out!' Then bring it to me."

When he brought it, she directed him to remove the peel from the yam and throw the latter away. He was then to boil the rind, and while boiling, it would become yam. It did actually do so, and they sat down to eat some of it. Before beginning their meal the old woman requested Kweku not to look at her while she ate. Being very polite and obedient, he did exactly as he was told.

In the evening the old woman sent him into the garden to choose one of the drums which stood there. She warned him: "If you come to a drum which says 'Ding-ding' on being touched—take it. But be very careful not to take one which sounds 'Dong-dong.'" He obeyed her direction in every detail. When he showed her the drum, she looked pleased and told him, to his great delight, that he had only to beat it if at any time he were hungry. That would bring him food in plenty. He thanked the old woman heartily and went home.

As soon as he reached his own hut, he gathered his household together, and then beat the drum. Immediately, food of every description appeared before them, and they all ate as much as they wished.

The following day Kweku Tsin gathered all the people of the village together in the Assembly Place, and then beat the drum once more. In this way every family got sufficient food for their wants, and all thanked Kweku very much for thus providing for them.

Kweku's father, however, was not at all pleased to see his son thus able to feed the whole village. Anansi thought he, too, ought to have a drum. Then the people would be grateful to him instead of to Kweku Tsin. Accordingly, he asked the young man where the wonderful drum had come from. His son was most unwilling to tell him, but Anansi gave him no peace until he had heard the whole story. He then wasted no time, but set off at once toward the entrance hole. He had taken the precaution to carry with him an old nut which he pretended to crack. Then throwing it into the hole, he jumped in after it and hurried along to the silent village. Arrived at the first house, he shouted, "Is there no one in this town?" The old woman answered as before, and Anansi entered her house.

He did not trouble to be polite to her, but addressed her most rudely, saying, "Hurry up, old woman, and get me something to eat." The woman quietly directed him to go into the garden and choose the yam which should say, "Do not dig me out." Anansi laughed in her face and said, "You surely take me for a fool. If the yam does not want me to dig it out I will certainly not do so. I will take the one which wants to be gathered." This he did.

When he brought it to the old woman she told him, as she told his son, to throw away the inside and boil the rind. Again he refused to obey. "Who ever heard of such a silly thing as throwing away the yam? I will do nothing of the sort. I will throw away the peel and boil the inside." He did so, and the yam turned into stones. He was then obliged to do as she first suggested, and boil the rind. The latter while boiling turned into yam. Anansi turned angrily to the old woman and said, "You are a witch." She took no notice of his remark, but went on setting the table. She placed his dinner on a small table, lower than her own, saying. "You must not look at me while I eat." He rudely replied, "Indeed, I will look at you if I choose. And I will have my dinner at your table, not at that small one." Again she said nothing—but she left her dinner untouched. Anansi ate his own, then took hers and ate it also.

When he had finished she said, "Now go into the garden and choose a drum. Do not take one which sounds 'Dong-dong'; only take one which says 'Ding-ding.'" Anansi retorted, "Do you think I will take your advice, you witch? No, I will choose the drum which says 'Dong-dong.' You are just trying to play a trick on me."

He did as he wished. Having secured the drum he marched off without so much as a Thank you to the old woman.

No sooner had he reached home, than he longed to show off his new power to the villagers. He called all to the Assembly Place, telling them to bring dishes and trays, as he was going to provide them with food. The people in great delight hurried to the spot. Anansi, proudly taking his position in the midst of them, began to beat his drum. To his horror and dismay, instead of the multitude of food-stuffs which Kweku had summoned, Anansi saw, rushing toward him, beasts and serpents of all kinds. Such creatures had never been seen on the earth before.

The people fled in every direction—all except Anansi, who was too terrified to move. He speedily received fitting punishment for his disobedience. Fortunately, Kweku, with his mother and sisters, had been at the outer edge of the crowd, so easily escaped into shelter. The animals presently scattered in every direction, and ever since they have roamed wild in the great forests.

The text came from:

Barker, William H. and Cecilia Sinclair. West African Folk-talesLagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917. Buy the book in paperback.



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