19 January 2011

The King and His Three Daughters

Le Roi et ses trois filles
Fiaa de kple evia nyonuvi etoawo
The King and his Three Daughters

Traditional story, written down by Yves-Emmanuel Dogbe in “Contes et Legendes du Togo”
Translated and adapted by Rose Lindgren

Once upon a time, there was a king who had three daughters. The daughters were very beautiful but very mysterious. No one in the entire kingdom knew their names. As soon as the daughters grew old enough to be married, offers of betrothal flowed in from every corner of the country from rich men. But the king rejected all of them.
One day, he had all his subjects gather together, both men and animals. “I want to give my daughters in marriage,” he declared to them, “to someone worthy. He who returns in three days time and can tell me the names of my daughters will become my son, husband of my daughters.”
Three days later, men, women, children, animals, all gathered in the courtyard of the royal palace. Beats of the tam-tam and chords of the balafons, the great African music, the true music of our ancestors, filled the air. The king sat down upon his throne, surrounded by his ministers and dignitaries. The three young girls were seated at the feet of their father.
The streets swarmed with crowds, it seemed that every person who had ever heard of the princesses had made the journey to the palace that day. The crowd kept flowing into the courtyard in a never-ending stream.
Once the sun rose to the top of the baobab tree on the horizon, a horn sounded, announcing the opening of the competition. Not even a fly buzzed. Every creature present had searched for three days for the names of the princesses. But no one had been successful. In their failure, they wanted to at least hear the winner reveal the names. Hopeful suitors waited impatiently to the right and to the left of the king, and began to pass in front of him to offer the names they had found or guessed. Each stole glances at the beautiful girls at the king’s feet, hearts bursting with hope of success. But all of the menl failed.
The chance was then given to the animals to try. But Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Panther, all failed.
Then Hare approached the throne, his large feet padding soundlessly on the packed dirt. The crowd began to throw insults:
“All the respectable men and animals passed through without success,” they cried,”what can we possibly expect of a skinny little hare?”
Everyone murmured, expressing their indignation, ignorant of how sharp a mind the hare had.
And in truth, well before the eve of the trials, Hare had reached an understanding with Turtledove. This bird went and hid herself in a guava tree in the heart of the royal garden where the three sisters loved to play and tease one another, pulling each other’s clothes and long shiny tresses.
The Turtledove perched on a branch directly above them and shook her beak to let a kola nut fall in the middle of the girls. (The princesses were very fond of kola nuts, but they found them only very rarely or not at all.) The girls began to fight and bicker, calling one another by their names. Again Turtledove released a nut, then a third.
The oldest daughter, Lali, had gathered them. She took one for herself, then called over Meyi, the youngest, and gave her one, then called Batsi, the middle child, and gave her the last. The Turtledove noted the three names in the meantime and flew off to confide them to the Hare, who left her the rest of the pile of kola nuts he had gathered. Well, he left her what remained after he had munched on them while he waited, of course.
In front of the king, taking the ministers and dignitaries as witnesses, the Hare revealed the mysterious names. The king tried vainly to hide his despair that he had to take Hare as his son-in-law. But true to his word, he gave his three daughters in marriage to Hare that same day. But the blow to his pride troubled him so severely that he went mad and hung himself only a few days after giving up the throne to Hare and his wives.
The Council of Humans was also very disturbed by the situation. They could not submit to being ruled over by a beast. So they decided to assassinate Hare.
Drunk with the wine of kings and the joy of the marriage bed, Hare was oblivious to the machinations around him. And so, the daughters of the king began to disappear one by one from the household of the Hare who, in turn, was found dead one morning under the talking tree.

1 comment:

Sea Dragon said...

That's an awful story!

Be clever and you'll be killed for it?

Wow. Africans are harsh.