26 March 2009

Spider and Death Folktale

Spider and Death
Yiyi kple Ku

At one time, there was a very great famine, to the point that even lions could no longer find any game. Profiting from these circumstances, Death went to the jungle and cleared an immense path – as long as from here to Sokodé* and along it he lay out lots of traps. All the animals that took this path, looking for a place to find food, were captured by Death. He therefore gathered a huge amount of meat. One day Spider visited Death and said to him, enviously:
“Oh! You have lots of meat here at your house! Could I please take a little home with me?”
“You make take a basketful,” responded Death generously.
Spider, being very clever, then made a huge basket that extended all the way from Ho to Akoviéfé, and piled it high with meat to bring back home. In thanks Spider gave his daughter Yiyisa to be Death’s bride. From this day on, Spider could come and take as much as he wanted of Death’s meat.
When Yiyisa arrived to share Death’s home, Death gave her the following instruction:
“Do not ever take the path that I cleared in the jungle, instead you must take the one that is overgrown in order to get yourself to the river.”
One day when it had rained Yiyisa was taking the overgrown path in the jungle and found that the grasses were very wet, making her dress soaked and heavy and her feet muddy. When she looked to her right, the cleared path looked so dry and easy that she decided to move over to it. Before she could take her second step upon the cleared path she fell into a trap and died instantly.
When Death came by collecting the prey from his traps and found his new wife, Yiyisa, dead at the bottom of a trap, he cut her up into little pieces and smoked the meat.
One day, Spider came to visit Death. Death gave him a hearty welcome feast. When Spider had finished eating, he readied himself to leave but first he asked for news of his daughter.
Death replied to him “When you sort through the pieces of meat, you will find her.”
Very intrigued by these words, Spider said: “How could one find oneself in pieces roasted above a fire without being dead?”
At these words, Death spoke again “I warned both of you very well.”
Spider looked through the pieces of meat and found the remains of his daughter. He then said to Death:
“I am going back to my house now but I will return soon to make war upon you.”
At home, Spider sharpened his machete and sharpened it again. Then he threw a stone into the air. When it fell down back to earth, two perfect halves of the stone rolled away, the knife having spliced the stone like a soft cooked yam. But Spider said, “The knife is not yet sharp enough.”
He sharpened it once again. He sharpened it so well that all the flies that landed on it were instantly transformed into water droplets. Then Spider left to confront Death.
When Death saw him coming, he shot an arrow at him, but Spider dodged the projectile, and it was lost in the jungle. Immediately, the whole forest became a huge inferno. Death, astonished that he’d missed Spider, struck up his hunting song:
When the arrow hits the elephant
The elephant dies
When the arrow hits the hippopotamus
The hippo dies
When the arrow finds the target
The target dies

Spider also burst into song:
Funo, funo my wife
Is there a place on earth where one can never go?
To return or to fall there, I go
The fire and the sword come
Funo funo

Spider then threw his knife, cutting all the trees and vines around him. But despite his brave song, Spider was afraid of Death’s power and the growing inferno and he escaped by retreating to his house, the knife continuing to cut by itself all that was in his path. Having arrived at home, Spider hid himself in his hut. Death followed but lay in wait for him at the edge of the village, intending to kill him as soon as he showed himself. That morning, at dawn, women left the village to fetch water from the river and, making their way, they chatted and laughed joyfully. Death shot an arrow at them instantly, killing many of them and wounding others. The survivors ran back to the village screaming,
“This woman is killed, this is dead.”
Death came closer to contemplate the bodies and said
“There is enough prey here, why do I go all the way into the jungle to hunt?”
This is how Death came into the world of men. If Spider had not done what he did, Death would never have been brought into our world.

*Sokodé is in the Centrale Région of Togo, which, unsurprisingly, is just about halfway up the vertical length of the country. In miles, it’s approximately 300km from Lomé to Sokodé. I chose Lomé as the point of reference as this tale is from the Éwé people, who live primarily along the coastline in Ghana, Togo and Benin. In today’s circumstances, Sokodé is about a 4-hour drive under good road conditions. Not a huge distance to Americans – (on American roads and in well-maintained cars, the distance would take much less than 6 hours). But it is a sufficiently long distance for the ethnic group and local language as well as religious beliefs to be markedly different. These differences lead me to believe that saying the path stretched from here to Sokodé is along the same lines as the familiar American phrase “From sea to shining sea”. It indicates a path that stretched all the way across the “known world” or at least the Ewe-controlled lands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At first glance, I truely expected this to be a story about a spider so large it's eyes reflected off the beam of a torch... but alas, that is a different story!