VIII: Stories

A. How people came to die
Long, long ago, when the world was beginning, the Spirit of God moved about on earth like men. People used to speak to God. So it happened that when the Spirit of God found that men were dying, he made up his mind to end death. He therefore arranged a race between the lizard and the chameleon. Each had to run to a certain place and repeat the words that God whispered in his ear. To the chameleon he whispered that people should continue to die: to the lizard, that there should be no more death, but that people should grow old and become young again. Whichever reached the place first and repeated his words first, his prophecy would come true.
The day was fixed for the race. The spirit of God offered a large prize for the winner of the race, and on the appointed day he reminded them of their words. Then the race started. The lizard was much the faster and soon got well ahead when he came across some wild egg plants. He stopped to eat these, and as he was eating the chameleon came creeping slowly and secretly past: he reached the place and repeated his fatal words. The chameleon heard the answer: 'It shall be so'; and he was very frightened, for he looked round and saw no one. So he crawled back again as fast as he could go.
He found the lizard still busy eating his egg plants. When the lizard saw the chameleon he laughed and said: 'You lazy creature, have you only just arrived?' 'Well, when will you reach the spot?' asked the chameleon seriously. 'When I have finished these delicious egg-plants,' answered the lizard: 'but you, you won't get there until the day after tomorrow at the rate you're going'. The chameleon then laughed and laughed, and opened his mouth wide and said. 'Dear lizard, dear lizard, I have already been and back'.
'You are lying - No, when did you get there?'
'Just now - I'm on my way back' 'It's all lies. Let's go there together.' 'Oh no. I've already told you I've been there and I'm not going back.' So the chameleon went off and reported to the Spirit of God. Meanwhile the lizard reached the place and gave his message, but there was no answer. So the chameleon won the prize and his prophecy came true, and since then people have always died.

B. The Thief and the Dead Body
Once upon a time there lived a very stupid robber in a certain large town. He did no work but lived by stealing other people's belongings. He had no house of his own but lived with his parents, who were tired of him and his troubles. At one time he was very poor, and went out to steal something. He came to a very rich man's house and found a large and heavy box. This he stole, and without opening it went on his way rejoicing at his good fortune. Without any assistance he carried the box off. After a while he came to a village and sought a lodging. The Chief of the village welcomed him into his own compound, because he was anxious to buy the contents of the box which he imagined must be both rich and rare. The thief thought, too, that they were valuable goods since the man from whom they were stolen was a rich trader. So together they opened the box, and inside it they found a dead body; the corpse of the rich man's wife dressed and laid out for burial. Then the Chief saw that the man was a robber and had him jailed for 2 years. Soon after he came out of prison he died of starvation.

C. The Wonderful Dove
Long ago there lived a lazy man and his wife. The other inhabitants of the village had many acres of farmland but for many years the lazy man had been begging food from his neighbours because whenever he went to farm he was distracted by a dove. Every working period this dove used to come and sit on a nearby tree and sing the most wonderful songs: so preventing the man from working for many years.
At last, when one farming season came round, and the villagers were getting ready to start clearing the fields, the lazy man made up his mind that he would no longer be a parasite. For he was ashamed of his reputation for laziness and had never been able to prove that it was the dove prevented him and his wife from working. So they took their hoes and went to the farm. But as soon as the man had sharpened his hoe and begun work, the dove settled in the nearby tree and began to sing. The man and his wife had made up their minds to ignore the dove and worked steadily on, but bit by bit the beauty of the songs overcame them until they could no longer resist and stood up and danced. They dropped their hoes and all day long they danced.
This went on for many days. The period for clearing farms had passed and still they had done no work. When the neighbours asked them how they were getting on they answered that the field was cleared and that they were waiting for the planting rains; and everyone believed them. Then came the rain and everyone went out to plough and plant. The lazy man and his wife went out too with their seed. But the dove sang flattering and insinuating songs, made them forget their intentions; at the same time it made good use of the neglected seed corn, lining well its crop while the man and woman leapt round in their dance.
This, too, went on for many days. Whilst elsewhere the corn had germinated and was growing well, the man and woman had done nothing. So the corn ripened. The others were eating the new corn, but the man and his wife had nothing to eat, although no one noticed this for it was assumed they had their own food that year. One day someone happened to visit the lazy man's farm and found to his great surprise a jungle of weeds and last year's grass. Nothing had been done. The lazy man tried to explain but the people refused to feed him any more for he was able-bodied. So the man and his wife soon died of starvation.
MORAL: This is why the Mambila say every man must earn his own living. 'Scorn delights and xxxxxx laborious day.

D. The Cunning Rabbit
Once upon a time there lived a very cunning rabbit near a trapper's cottage. The trapper had 3 wives, each with a child. The whole family were very hard working. They had many farms of maize and guinea-corn and in these farms they liked to plant egg-plants too (which they used for soup). The cunning rabbit used to invite his friends along to these farms and eat up the egg-plants when they were ripe. The trapper used to catch many of these in his traps but he could never outwit the cunning rabbit, who always knew where the traps were set.
Soon the cunning rabbit's friends began to leave him along, for they saw that those who associated with him too much soon came to an end. So the cunning rabbit went to feed on the egg-plants alone. The trapper himself became very cunning and made many secret traps and pitfalls, but he could not catch the rabbit. Then he began to use bluff. He devoted himself exclusively to pitfalls and left off using snares. The pitfalls were easily detected and the rabbit was thus dulled into a sense of false security. Then one day the trapper set no less than 6 snares, very well hidden round a very succulent bunch of egg-plants. The rabbit was carelessly jumping here and there amongst the plants and fell into one of the snares. The noose tightened round his neck and left him there swinging. There was no escape.
Now along came a foolish monkey hoping to steal egg-plants. He saw the rabbit swinging to and fro just as though he were dancing, and said: 'What an excellent and original dance'. 'Yes, my dear,' answered the cunning rabbit despite his pain, 'I am glad you like it'. Then the monkey asked the rabbit if he could now join in. At the first the rabbit pretended to refuse and made the monkey even more eager. Then pretending at last to yield, he said to the monkey: 'The only way you can join in is by loosening this rope round my neck, of putting your head in too.' Eventually after a hard struggle, the monkey managed to loosen the knot. At once the rabbit slipped out, pushed the monkey's head in and left him there swinging - foolish fellow.
Then realizing at last what had happened the monkey yelled; 'Hey! This is your punishment, come and take your own medicine'. To which answered the cunning rabbit: 'What do you mean my punishment? You came to steal the egg-plants and you it is the trap has caught. What 'Take my own medicine' indeed.' As he spoke he picked up a stick and starting beating the monkey. When the trapper came, 'Look my dear trapper,' he shouted, 'here is the thief who is always stealing your egg- plants.' The trapper rushed towards the rabbit to kill him, for he knew him well, but the rabbit easily escaped. So the trapper killed the monkey instead.
MORAL. This is why the Mambila say: 'Never follow a thief when you are alone. For he may turn the tables on you: make you the culprit and himself go free.'

E. The Trapper and his Friend
Long ago there lived another cunning rabbit called Bey. Bey had a great friend, a trapper called Mba, who lived near him with his two wives. Mba was a very good trapper and loved hunting, but he had no farm. His wives were both lazy and did nothing. But they were rich and Mba earned plenty by his trapping so he was very happy with them. He had no brother or sister and both his parents were dead. He was not on good terms with his neighbours, who hated him, and so his best friend was Bey, the cunning rabbit.
Now Mba's wives loved Bey very much and Bey had by witchcraft put wicked thoughts into their heads so that they came and asked Bey to find some way of killing their husband and marrying them. Bey was delighted to hear this and promised to find a way. The women took no more interest in their husband.
One day Mba's traps caught many animals - a python, an antelope and two buffalo. The buffalo were in pitfalls. Mba asked Bey to come with him and went first to one very deep pitfall where the large buffalo was trapped. There was no way to descent into this pit except by ladder. So Mba sent Bey home to bring a ladder. Bey went off to the village and before fetching the ladder ## got the wives to grind up for him some pepper - about one tasa full. He then returned with the ladder and the pepper, but xxxx the pepper a little before reaching the pit where Mba was awaiting him. Mba then took the ladder and lowered it into the pit. While he was descending cautiously himself, Bey xxxx and fetched the pepper and dashed it in Mba's eyes, blinding him so that he fell and couldn't find the ladder again. Bey then packed grass and wood over the mouth of the pit and ignoring Mba's cries set a light to it. In a short while Mba was dead, burned to ashes.
Bey then carried the animals home to Mba's wives and they were married and had a great feast on the slaughtered animals. The women were delighted with Bey's stratagem and Bey was highly pleased to have acquired such desirable wives.
MORAL: Never trust your friends and neighbours too much. This is what the Mambilas mean when they say love is bad and good. It is good but if you trust the loved one too far or tell him all your secrets he may betray you.

F. The Beautiful Girl
There once lived a beautiful girl named Bahu. Many suitors came to claim her but none succeeded. Her parents said that he who wished to claim her hand must first kill a certain huge elephant that lived nearby. Many young men had tried without success.
Now a certain Mbe, a very small rabbit, heard about Bahu and made up his mind to try his luck. When he was told the conditions, and saw the ravages of this terrible elephant, he withdrew to think things over. For many means of killing the elephant had been tried in vain by the unsuccessful suitors. They had even tried pitfalls and traps. But Mbe went one better than this.
He went to the farm where the elephant usually fed and dug a huge hole. He then by cunning wits made up to the elephant and became friendly with him. He went everywhere with the elephant, who regarded Mbe as a pleasing but rather simple companion. Bahu's parents and the other suitors thought Mbe had betrayed them and were angry with him, and contemptuous. 'How,' they asked, 'could such an insignificant creature have any success?' For two whole days Mbe went about with the elephant and on the third day he managed to entice him near his pitfall, and then, by cunning, tripped him so that he fell in.
Mbe was overjoyed and went back to Bahu's compound singing a song of triumph. All the other suitors were there and Bahu's parents came rushing to the farm when they heard the news. And there they found that it really was true. The others who had thought themselves so wise and strong - they had failed and now they looked meanly and enviously at Mbe. But Bahu's parents stuck to their bargain and ordered the girls of the village to bathe Bahu and oil her and take her to Mbe's village. They did so with much rejoicing and the bridesmaids were well entertained by Mbe's family. And the other suitors went their ways envious and disgusted.
MORAL: Don't despise things for their size. The best goods may come in little packets. The last shall be first, and quite possible the first last.

G. Why the Mambila don't eat Grey Monkey
This is a true story. Once upon a time there lived a very pretty girl who thought she was created only to be beautiful. From her childhood she never did a hand's turn in the house nor helped her mother. So she never even learned to prepare food or cook the soup, but always left it to her mother. None the less many young boys and rich men wished to marry her, so beautiful was she and all she had to do was to pick the best. At last she picked on the handsomest among them, and the disappointed suitors retired chagrined. After two days, the girl was taken to her young bridegroom's compound.
Now since she was a bride she was at first not given much to do, and for 3 months she enjoyed herself while her house was built. She was her husband's second wife, and so she stayed with her husband's mother. But xxxxxx she made no attempt to learn even now to cook. At length she was moved into her own house and the time came when her husband asked about 20 people to help him clear a new farm. The husband and his mother went to the farm, leaving the two wives to prepare the feast. To each was given two chickens to cook, and the husband warned them both to make special efforts for his guests, as they were all young boys who would not be ashamed to criticise if things were wrong.
The two women then started their work. The first wife went on as usual but the pretty one had not the slightest idea what to do. She first cut up the chickens without plucking them and then forgot to add water before putting the pot on the fire. The other wife had already finished while the good-for-nothing was still struggling with the singed feathers. She had never heard of oil and salt. The first wife gave her a bite of chicken to taste, and she compared it with her own and realised that hers was still far from right. For one thing it was not salty enough.
Now it chanced she had once noticed her mother-in-law open a calabash which was hanging over the fireplace and take out something white and put it in the soup. (This was salt. For every elderly man and women in Mambila has this sort of calabash hanging over the fireplace. But only the owner may open this calabash. This is most important, and however xxxx the old folk may love you they will not allow you to touch this while they are still alive.) Well this was the calabash the good-for-nothing had noticed and now she went and found it and poured the contents on her soup.
She put the calabash back in its place. But to her alarm it came down from its hook, and followed her about. She hung it up again but once more it came down. The girl was then afraid that her maid would notice, so she smashed the calabash and buried the pieces.
The wives then got their food ready - started off from the farm. But before they were half way there, along came the calabash rolling after them. The girl then took it up in a fury and ground it into powder and threw the powder into a nearby stream. When the maid saw this she was afraid and went on to the farm and told the husband. But no one believed her. When the wife came with the food, sure enough there was the calabash rolling after. Then all at once the husband's father and the good-for-nothing girl were turned into stones shaped in the form of human beings. The rest of the people on the farm turned into grey monkeys.

These stones are at Gembu and everywhere. Mambila knows about them. And for this reason too you will never find Mambila people eating Grey Monkeys.

This is a true story.