Fetichism in West Africa | Annotated Tale

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Beautiful Daughter, The

THERE was a married woman, a king's daughter, by name Maria, who was very beautiful. She had a magic mirror that possessed the power of speech, which she used every day, particularly when she desired to go out for a promenade. She would then take this mirror from its hiding-place, and looking at it, would ask, "My mirror! is there any other beautiful woman like myself?" And this mirror would reply, "Mistress! there is none."

               This she was accustomed to do every day until she became jealous at the very thought of ever having a rival.

               Subsequently she became a mother, and bore a daughter. She saw that the child was very beautiful, more so than even herself. This child grew in gracefulness; was amiable, not proud; and was unconscious of her beauty.

               When the daughter was about twelve years of age, the mother dreaded lest her child should know how attractive she was and should unintentionally rival her. She told her never to enter a certain room where she had her toilet. And the mother went on as formerly, looking into her mirror, and then going out to display her beauty.

               One day the daughter said to herself, "Ah! I'm tired of this prohibition!" So she took the keys, and opened the door of the forbidden room. She looked around, but not observing anything especially noticeable, she went out again, locking the door. And the next day, the mother went in as usual, and then went out for her walk. After the mother had gone, the daughter said again to herself, "No! there must be something special about that room. I will go in again and make a search." Looking around carefully, she noticed a pretty casket on a table. Opening it, she saw it contained a mirror. There was something strange about its appearance, and she determined to examine it. While she was doing so, the mirror spoke, and said, "Oh, maiden! there is no one as beautiful as you!" She put back the mirror in its place, and went out, carefully fastening the door. The next day, when the mother went as usual to make her toilet and to ask of the mirror her usual question, "Is there another as beautiful as I?" it replied, "Yes, mistress, there is another fairer than you."

               So she went out of the room much displeased, and, suspecting her daughter, said to her, "Daughter, have you been in that room?" The girl said, "No, I have not." But the mother insisted, "Yes, you have; for how is it that my mirror tells me that there is another woman more beautiful than I? And you are the only one who has beauty such as mine."

               During all these years the mother had kept the daughter in the palace, and had not allowed her to be seen in public, as she dreaded to hear any one but herself praised. Then the enraged mother sent for her father's soldiers, and delivering the girl to them, she commanded, "You just go out into the forest and kill this girl."

               They obeyed her orders, and led the girl away, taking with them also two big dogs. When they reached the forest, the soldiers said to her, "Your mother told us to kill you. But you are so good and pretty that we are not willing to do it. You just go your way and wander in this forest, and await what may happen."

               The girl went her way; and the soldiers killed the two dogs, so that they might have blood on their swords to show to the mother. Having done this, they went back to her, and said, "We have killed the girl; here is her blood on our swords." And the mother was satisfied.

               But in the forest the girl had gone on, wandering aimlessly, till she happened to reach what seemed a hamlet having only one house. She went up its front steps and tried the door. It was not locked, and she went in. She saw or heard no one, but she noticed that the house was very much in disorder; so she began to arrange it. After sweeping and putting everything in neat order, she went upstairs and hid herself under one of the bedsteads.

               But she did not know that the house belonged to robbers who spent their days in stealing, and brought their plunder home in the evening. When they returned that day, laden with booty, they were surprised to find their house in neat order and their goods arranged in piles. In their wonder they exclaimed, "Who has been here and fixed our house so nicely?"

               So they prepared their food, ate, drank, and slept, but they did not clean up the table nor wash the dishes.

               And the next day they went out again on their business of stealing.

               After they were gone, the girl, hungry and frightened, crept out of her hiding-place, and cooked and ate food for herself. Then, as on the first day, she swept the floors and washed up the dishes. And then she cooked a meal for the men to have it ready against their return in the late afternoon; and again she occupied herself with the arrangement of the goods in the rooms. Then she went back to her hiding-place.

               When the robbers returned that day and laid down their booty, they were again surprised to find not only their house in good order, but food ready on the table. And they wondered, "Who does all this for us?"

               They first sat down to eat; and then they said, "Let us look around and find out who does all this." They searched, but they found no one.

               The next day they armed themselves as usual to go out, leaving the table and their recent load of stealings in disorder.

               When they had gone, the girl again emerged from her hiding-place, and, as before, cooked, ate, washed up, swept, arranged, and prepared the evening meal.

               Again the robbers, on their return, were still more astonished, as they exclaimed, "Whoever does this? If it is a woman, then we will take her as our sister. She shall take care of our house and our goods, but none of us shall marry her; but if it is a man, he must be compelled to join in our business."

               The next day, when they were all going out on their ways, they appointed one of their number to remain behind, hidden, who should watch, and thus they should know who had been helping them.

               When they had gone, the girl, ignorant that one had been left to watch, came out of her hiding, and began to do as on the other days. When she went outdoors to the kitchen [kitchens here are all detached] to cook, the watcher came in sight. She was frightened, and began to run away; but he called out, "Don't be afraid! Don't run, but come here! What are you afraid of? You are not doing anything bad, you have been doing us only good. Come here!" She stood and said, "I was afraid you would kill me!"

               He came to her, saying, "What a beautiful girl to look at! When did you come here, and who are you?" So she told him her story. And when she had finished all the housework, she sat down with this man to await the coming of the others. When the others came and saw the two, they said to him, "So you found her?" He replied only, "Yes." Looking on her, they exclaimed, "Oh, what a beautiful girl!" To calm her excitement, they told her, "Do not be alarmed! you are to be our sister."

               So they took all their goods and put them in her care, and herself in charge of the house. Thus they lived for some time,--they stealing, and she taking care for them.

               But one day, at the palace, the wicked mother began to have some uneasy doubts whether her soldiers had really obeyed her orders to kill her daughter, and thought, "Perhaps the child was not really killed." She had a familiar servant, an old woman, very friendly to her. To her she revealed her story, and said, "Please go out and spy in every town. Look whether you see a girl who is very beautiful; if so, she is my daughter. You must kill her." The old woman replied, "Yes, my friend, I will do this thing for you." So she went out and began her spying.

               The very first place at which she happened to arrive was the robbers' house. There being no people in sight, she entered the house, and found a girl alone. On account of the girl's great beauty, she felt sure at once that this was her friend's daughter. The girl gave her a seat and offered hospitality. The old woman exclaimed, "Oh, what a nice-looking child! Who are you, and who is your mother?" The girl, not suspecting evil, told her story.

               Then the old woman said, "Your hair looks a little untidy. Come here, and let me fix it." The girl consented; and the old woman began to braid her hair. She had hidden in her sleeve a long sharpened nail. When she had completed the hair-dressing, she thrust the nail deeply into the girl's head, who instantly fell down, apparently dead. Looking at the limp body, the old woman said to herself, "Good for that! I have done it for my friend." And she went away, leaving the corpse lying there, and reported to the mother what she had done. The mother felt sure her friend had not deceived her.

               When the robbers returned that day, they found the girl lying dead. They were very much troubled. They began to examine the corpse, to find what was the cause of death, but they found no sign of any wound; and instead of the corpse being rigid, it was limp; there was perspiration on the head and neck. So they decided, "This nice life-looking face we will not put in a grave." So they made a handsome casket, overlaid it with gold, and adorned the body with a profusion of gold ornaments. They did not nail on the lid, but made it to slide in grooves. Supposing the body liable to decay, they placed the coffin outdoors in the air; and to keep it out of the reach of any animals, they hung it by the halliards of their flag-staff. Every day, on their going out and on their return, they pulled it down by the halliards, drew out the lid, and looked on the fresh, apparently living face of their "sister."

               One day while they were all out on their business there happened to stray that way a man by name Esěrěngila (tale-bearer), who lived at the town of a man named Ogula. Coming to the robbers' house, he saw no one; but he at once observed the hanging golden box. Exclaiming, "What a nice thing!" he hasted back to his master Ogula, and called him. "Come and see what a nice thing I have found; it is something worth taking!" So Ogula went with him, and Esěrěngila pulled down the gilded box from the flag-staff. They did not enter the house, nor did they know anything of its character; and they carried away the box in haste, without looking at its contents, to Ogula's, and put it in a small room in his house.

               Some days after it had been placed there Ogula went in to examine what it contained. He saw that the top of this coffin-like box was not nailed, but slid in a groove. He withdrew it, and was amazed to see a beautiful young woman apparently dead. Yet there was no look or odor of death. As she was not emaciated by disease, he examined the body to find a possible cause of death; but he found no sign, and wondering, exclaimed, "This beautiful girl! What has caused her to die?"

               He replaced the lid, and left the room, carefully closing the door. But he again returned to look at the beautiful face of the corpse; and sighed, "Oh, I wish this beautiful being were alive! She would be such a nice playmate for my daughter, who is just about her size." Again he went and shut the door very carefully. He told his daughter never to enter that room, and she said, "Yes"; and he continued his daily visits there.

               After many days Ogula's daughter became tired of seeing him enter while she was forbidden. So one day, when he was gone out of the house, she said to herself, "My father always forbids me this room; now I will go in and see what he has there." She entered, and saw only the gilded box, and exclaimed, "Oh, what a nice box! I'll just open it and see what is inside."

               She began to draw the lid out of its grooves, and a human head was revealed with a splendid mass of hair covered with gold ornaments. She withdrew the lid entirely, and saw the form of the young woman, and delightedly said, "A beautiful girl, with such nice hair, and covered with golden ornaments!" She did not know why the girl seemed so unconscious, and began to say, "I wish she could speak to me, so we might be friends, because she is only a little larger than I." So she gave the stranger's salutation, "Mbolo! mbolo!" As no response was made, she protested, "Oh, I salute you, mbolo, but you do not answer!" She was disappointed, and slid back the cover, and went out of the room. Something about the door aroused the suspicions of her father on his return to the house, and he asked her, "Have you been inside that room?" She answered, "No! You told me never to go there, and I have not gone." Next day Ogula went out again, and his daughter thought she would have another look at the beautiful face. Entering the room, she again drew out the lid, and again she gave the salutation, "Mbolo!" There was no response. Again she protested, "Oh, I speak to you, and you won't answer me!" And then she added, "May I play with you, and fondle your head, and feel your hair? Perhaps you have lice for me to remove?" [one of the commonest of native African friendly services among both men and women]. She began to feel through the hair with her fingers, and presently she touched something hard. Looking closely, she found it was the head of a nail. Astonished, she said, "Oh, she has a nail in her head! I'll try to pull it out!"

               Instantly, on her doing so, the girl sneezed, opened her eyes, stared around, rose up in a sitting posture, and said, "Oh, I must have been sleeping a long time." The other asked, "You were only sleeping?" And the girl replied, "Yes." Then Ogula's daughter saluted, "Mbolo!" and the girl responded, "Ai, Mbolo!" and the other, "Ai!"

               Then the girl asked, "Where am I? What place is this?" The other said, "Why, you are in my father's house. This is my father's house." And the girl asked, "But who or what brought me here?" Then Ogula's daughter told her the whole story of Esěrěngila's having found the gilded box. They at once conceived a great liking for each other, and started to be friends. They played and laughed and talked and embraced, and fondled each other. This they did for quite a while.

               Then the beautiful one was tired, and she said, "It is better that you put back the nail and let me sleep again." So the girl lay down in the box, the nail was inserted in her head, and she instantly fell into unconsciousness.

               Ogula's daughter slid back the lid, and went out of the room, carefully closing the door. She now lost all desire to go out of the house and play with her former companions. Her father observed this, and urged her to play and visit as she formerly had done. But she declined, making some excuses, and saying she had no wish to do so. All her interest lay in that room of the gilded box and beautiful girl. Whenever her father went out, she at once would go to the room, draw out the lid, and pull out the nail; her friend would sit up, and they would play, and repeat their friendship. Ogula's daughter, seeing that her friend's desire for sleep was weakness for want of food, daily brought her food. And the girl grew strong and well and happy.

               This was kept up many days without Ogula knowing of it.

               But it happened one day, when the two girls were thus sitting in their friendship, they continued their play and conversation so long that Ogula's daughter forgot the time of her father's return; and he suddenly entered the room, and was surprised to see the two girls talking. She was frightened when she saw her father. But he was not angry, and quieted her, saying, "Do not be afraid! How is it that you have been able to bring this girl to life? What have you done?"

               She told her father all about it, especially of the nail. Then Ogula sat down by the girl of the gilded box, and asked the story of her life. She told him all. Then he said, "As your mother is the kind of woman that sends people to kill, and I am chief in this place, I will investigate this matter to-morrow. I will call all the people of this region, and there will be an ozâzâ (palaver) in the morning; and you shall remain, for you are to be my wife."

               The next day all the country side were called,--the wicked mother, the soldiers, the old woman, and everybody else (except the unknown robbers). The palaver was talked from point to point of the history, and, just at the last, this beautiful girl walked into the assemblage, accompanied by Ogula's daughter.

               As soon as Maria saw her daughter enter, she started from her seat, looked at the old woman, and fiercely said to her, "Here is this girl again! not dead yet! I thought you killed her!" The old woman was amazed, but asserted, "Yes, and I did. I kept my promise to you!"

               Then the girl sat down, and Ogula bade her tell her entire story in the presence of all the people. So she told from the very beginning,--about the magic looking-glass, about the soldiers, about the robbers' house, and on till the stay in Ogula's house.

               Then all the people began to shout and deride and revile, and threaten Maria and the old woman. This frightened the cruel Maria and her wicked friend, and they ran away to a far country, and never came back again.

               So the beautiful young woman was married to Ogula, and was happy with his daughter as a companion.

               But the robbers, in their secret house, not having heard of the ozâzâ, kept on mourning and grieving for their lost sister, not knowing where she had gone or what had become of her. And so the story ends.

               (The above story is probably not more than two hundred or two hundred and fifty years old; the name "Maria" doubtless being derived from Portuguese occupants of the Kongo country.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Beautiful Daughter, The
Tale Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Book Title: Fetichism in West Africa
Book Author/Editor: Nassau, Robert Hamill
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1904
Country of Origin: West Africa
Classification: ATU 709: Snow White

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