Here is a translation I did of a story from the book Contes et Légendes du Togo, published by L'Agence de la Francophonie.
The story is called "Odélo"
I've also attached three photos that I took back in July when I attended the enthroning of a new chief in the village of Apegame (ah pay gah may). They show the newly crowned Chief and his Queen, four women attendants who sang to welcome the chief, and the traditional healer/priest (a Christian pastor was also there to bless the occasion, but he wasn't dressed so interestingly!) I think the pictures do a good job of kind of illustrating the story; at least helping out with a mental picture of the characters mentioned.
I had a lot of fun doing the translation so I think I'll continue doing more and sending those along to you. My class started working on a letter describing their school and after-school activities, but our class was cut short due to Ash Wednesday services so we'll have to finish that next week. It's been a good exercise - learning how to write a letter is an important lesson for their exams.
The Great Chief was rich and handsome. Despite his friends, his power, his forty-one wives, each one more beautiful than the last, he wasn’t happy, because he didn’t have any children. It caused him such sorrow that one day his old mother advised him, “Chief of chiefs, my son, you must go see the priest Itanko. Everyone says that he is a great master and that he knows the secret of life.”
Heeding this advice, the Great Chief traveled far through large towns and little villages to consult the magician. Itanko, already informed by his mysterious drum, was waiting for him on the threshold of his hut and welcomed him with the honor due to his position. After the traditional greetings, he said to him:
“Odoa, Chief of Chiefs, I know your problem. Here is a magic recipe that I entrust to you. Your forty-one wives must eat the dish that I will show you and soon you will have the good news of your fatherhood.”
Back in his village, as custom dictated, the Great Chief had his first wife called to him. “Wife,” he said, “Make a great dish, you will put into it these crushed snake ashes as well as some of these nourishing herbs. You will share out the meal equally among all of the wives.”
The first wife was named Kitia; she was mean and very jealous of Nayélé, the last wife of the chief, who was younger and prettier than her. Knowing the reason that motivated her husband’s visit to Itanko, she plotted with the other wives against Nayélé.
“My sisters,” she said, “Nayélé must not taste this dish!”
“No, she must not!” agreed the others.
“There is only one solution” continued Kitia, “We will organize a feast just for the wives.”
All the women looked at each other and began to laugh. Suddenly, Nayélé arrived and Kitia just barely had the time to quiet her companions. So Kitia organized the feast, and this meant that Nayélé, as the youngest, would have to serve the others. Therefore, she would be unabled to share the meal that would bring her the blessed gift of a baby child. But Nayélé was curious and loved good food. Knowing that when her turn to eat came, there would be no food left, she dipped her little finger into the bowl every so often and tasted it discretely before serving the others. Mm, and it was good!
When all had taken their part, naturally there was nothing left for her. Kitia rejoiced. But a few months later, it was Nayélé who gave birth to the baby that the Great Chief waited for so hopefully. It was a girl.
Kitia, mad with rage and jealousy, played a terrible trick. She made the other wives steal the baby as soon as it was born, before the Great Chief could see it, and leave it in the jungle. In the place of the baby, she put a block of wood. Kitia presented the “baby” to the Great Chief, saying, “Chief of Chiefs, my husband, the gods have not favored Nayélé. See what she has given birth to?”
As according to custom, the Great Chief trusted his first wife and believed that she was honest. So, in his disgust, he told his first wife to order the young wife to leave and go as far away as possible. “I never want to see her again!” declared the Great Chief.
“The Great Chief never wants to see you again, Nayélé. He ordered me to send you away.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong!” cried Nayélé. “Kitia, have pity on me, plead my case with him.”
Despite her tears and entreaties, Nayélé was renounced and exiled far from her husband.
As for the baby girl, well, the jungle has its own secrets. The snake Kiroa, one of the lords of the jungle, was smart and subtle. He knew an old woman who lived alone in a hut, near to the place where he liked to sleep. When he learned of the horrific action of these wives and the evil they had done to the child of Nayélé, he went to the house of the old woman and began to whisper. “Lisssten. Lissssten. A little girl isss lossst in the jungle.”
“Listen!” the words echoed “a little girl is lost in the jungle!”
The snake continued to whisper, “A little girl is lost in the jungle, quick, quick, you must go find her.”
And so the old woman who lived alone put on her most beautiful pagne, braided her hair and went out to search for the child those evil wives had stolen and abandoned. She brought the child to her home and named her Odélo.
The years passed...
Odélo became a joyful little girl, blessed in all things. She was intelligent and pretty. She sang and spoke with the birds and they understood her. Her chore was to guard the fields and harvest of the old woman. She worked with joy. The harvest was the most beautiful of the whole village. When the birds came to peck at the field, the girl simply sang to them, “Move along, little ones. Move along.”
One day, the Great Chief went out to his fields and found them devastated. He heard about a little eight-year-old girl who, by singing, kept the birds from stealing the grain. He called her to the palace and asked her, “Odélo, do you want to come guard my lands?”
“Chief of Chiefs, I cannot. I could not live a place from which my mother and I were exiled.”
“You trouble me, little one. Tell me, Odélo, who is your mother and who is your father?”
So the little girl sang the troubles of her heart:
I am a little bird
Raised by the jungle
My father didn’t want me
My mother was sent away
I am a little bird
Daughter of a chief
Now I watch the rich corn fields
Far from my father and mother
The Great Chief understood the song and took little Odélo into his arms asking, “Tell me, who is your mother? If she is among my wives, I will make her the Queen of my Kingdom.”
Little Odélo told the Great Chief the story of her birth as she had learned from the old woman.
She asked the Great Chief for permission to see her mother again.
What happiness for poor Nayélé, after such misery! The Great Chief had her found and brought back to the royal house. He held a great feast for her and dressed her in gold and silk.
Nayélé was even more beautiful than before. Full of happiness to be with the Great Chief, her daughter, and the wise old woman from the jungle, Nayélé pardoned Kitia for the wrongs she had committed.
But Kitia could not bear to see Nayélé so beautiful and happy. Her bitterness suffocated her. She died of shame and envy.
This teaches us that jealousy and lies have never brought happiness.