The Igname of Death
L’igname de la Mort
Once upon a time, after an interminable dry season, a famine raged through the land. All being were wasting away.
Only Death, that master of power, possessed a vast field of ignames where the tubers still grew. But who would dare eat the ignames of Death?
And yet one morning the rumor circulated everywhere: Death had put his ignames up for sale. But no one had enough cowrie shells to buy them, their price was far too high.
Despite all of the animals’ protests and pleading, Death refused to reduce the price. He intended to decimate the animals for his own pleasure, and he even thought up a strategy to kill them off faster than the famine: he would give his ignames for free to whomever wanted them on one condition. Instead of cowrie shells, the poor animal would have to submit to a single blow for each igname he took. But who could survive even a single blow from Death?
All of the animals except Yévi the spider refused Deaths’ offer, fearing his implacable blows. Each one said “I would prefer to die with an empty belly than to cause my own destruction by calming by hunger with the ignames of Death.” All of them fled from Death’s offer.
Yévi, who always thinks he is the most clever of all, the most intelligent of all, a veritable Genius, decided to brave the danger. He boldly asked Death for twelve ignames, which means twelve formidable blows.
Death, whose hand were itching with the desire to hit someone, accepted Yévi’s offer joyfully.
Yévi took the twelve tubers from the hands of Death, who told him “I will come tonight to start collecting the fee.”
“Oh my lord,” responded Yévi, don’t come tonight, I beg you. I’m feeling a bit sick, come instead tomorrow morning at dawn.”
That day, Yévi, equipped with a small drum he’d made especially for the occasion and some pieces of boiled igname that he carried on a tray on his head, went out and posted himself at the only crossroads in the country, where all the animals must pass. And, with an agile hand he began beating his instrument in a rythym that said
There is a famine
Children, come and eat ignames!
La Biche, a doe, tormented by hunger was walking past desperately searching something to eat. She heard the drum and came to ask Yévi about it. Yévi offered her four big pieces of boiled igname. She ate them and thereby calmed her hunger.
La Biche, after thanking her benefactor over and over, asked him where he had found such tender and delicious tubers in such a time of scarcity.
“A brother living in the next village gave me these ignames as a present” responded Yévi. “He will be bringing me some more tomorrow morning at dawn. He always comes in disguise so he won’t be bothered by my other brothers; do you want to sleep here in my house tonight so that you can get some more tomorrow as well?”
“I’d like that very much,” said the poor doe.
Night came, Yévi and his guest went to bed. The gullible doe, fallen in Yévi’s terrible ambush, slept deeply. As for Yévi himself, he was awake and listening.
At the cock’s first cry, Death appeared.
“Yévi, Yévi” he called. “I’m here, wake up for the collection.”
Yévi, without responding, went to quietly wake the doe.
“La Biche, La Biche” he whispered, “my brother is here calling you. Wake up and go get your ignames.”
She had barely arrived at the door when Death struck her face with a violent blow that floored her. She died instantly.
Yévi, joyful, threw himself onto the doe, carved her up and feasted abundantly.
Yévi boasted to himself that with this strategy he would never lack for something to eat and he could make other receive the twelve fearsome blows. He even thought that he would become at the same time Death’s good friend, if Death came to learn of Yévi’s cleverness that allowed Death to kill so many animals.
The Antelope, the Porcupine, the Giraffe and the Bird all underwent the same fate as the Doe. Six ignames were thus already paid for.
The seventh day, Yévi placed himself again at the crossroads where he played his drum:
There is a famine
Children! Come and eat some ignames!
The Rat came along to take advantage of Yévi’s offer. Two small pieces of igname satisfied him.
But this time, Yévi wasn’t dealing with an imbecile. The Rat went to bed at the home of his benefactor completely happy, lively and alert. Yévi, on the other hand, felt so confident from his six successful tricks that he fell into a deep sleep.
In the middle of the night, the rodent, wiser than Yévi, dug a hole that went from the hut of his host to his own. The rat gathered up the six remaining ignames, dropped them at his house and closed up the hole. All this he did without disturbing the ‘great Genius’ at all.
The next morning, at dawn as usual, Death appeared ready with his blow, called out and waited.
Yévi quietly searched around calling out for the Rat.
“Rat, Rat, the brother has come, go see him to get your ignames.”
No sign of life! Yévi began to worry and searched fervently for the Rat. It was too late for him to find a way to get out of this mess.
Death started to get impatient and turned red with rage. Yévi trembled, pretending not to hear Death’s raging just outside.
Death broke open the door and dealt Yévi a fearsome blow. Yévi collapsed, crushed.
Don’t seek to harm your neighbor. Like Yévi, you risk falling into your own trap.
Retold by Paul Akakpo TYPAMM