Fetichism in West Africa | Annotated Tale

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Fairy Wife, The

IN HIS great town, King Ra-Mborakinda, or Ra-Nyambie, lived in glory with all his wives and sons and daughters. Some of his great and favored sons had large business and great wealth. But there was one of the sons, named Nkombe, whose mother was not a favorite wife of the king, so this Nkombe was poor. Everything went against him, and his life was quite miserable; only, he had a gun, and he knew how to shoot; that was all. So he thought, "I'm tired of this kind of life. I better leave and go off by myself."

               He gathered together the few things that belonged to him,--a few plates and pots, and his gun and ammunition,--and went away. He went far into the forest, and with his machete began to clear a little place for a camping-ground (olako).

               He fixed up his camp, and next morning went out hunting. When he began to feel hungry, he turned back to cook his food. On his return he had fresh meat with him; this he cooked, set it on the table, and ate. After eating, he cleared off the table, washed the dishes, brushed up the floor, and the new meat that was left he put on the orala (drying-frame) for next day's use. So that day's work was done.

               Next day he again leaves the camp, and with his gun is off again to his hunting. At noon he comes back with his meat,--antelope, or wild pig, or whatever it may be. He cooks his food, eats; and that day's work is done just as the day before.

               So he did many days. After each day's work he was so tired and felt so lonely he wished he had a mother or some one to do for him.

               Unknown to him, since he had come to that olako, there was a woman named Ilâmbe, who belonged to the awiri (fairies), who secretly had observed all that he did. One day she thought to herself, "Oh, I am sorry for this man; I think that as I have the power I will turn myself into a human being and help him, for I do not like to see him suffer." So she said to herself, "To-day I will cause Nkombe to be unsuccessful, so that he shall kill only ntori (a big forest rat), and I will hide myself in ntori."

               So Nkombe hunted long and far that day, and saw nothing worthy of being shot. He was getting hungry, and murmured, "Ah! I have not been able to kill anything to-day." But presently he saw ntori pass by, and he said, "Well, I'll have to take this small animal, ntori!" He shot it, and took it with him to his camp. When he reached the olako, as he had other meat on the orala, and was in a hurry, after singeing and cleaning ntori, he threw it on the orala, and took the older dried meat, and began to cook it for his supper. He went on with his usual day's work, as it took only a little while to arrange ntori on the orala.

               Next day he went out as usual on his hunting journey. While he was away, and before he returned, Ilâmbe had crept out of the head of ntori. She brushed up the camp, and made everything neat and clean. She began to cook, taking meat from the drying-frame. She cooked it very nicely, and ate part,--her share, just enough to satisfy her appetite. Then she crept back into ntori's head, as she knew Nkombe must be about starting back.

               Late in the afternoon Nkombe returned with some wild meat. He took down dried meat from the orala, leaving his fresh meat unattended to, for he was in a hurry to cook, being hungry. He went to his little hut to get plate, kettle, and so forth. To his surprise, on the table was everything ready, food and plate and drink. He exclaimed, "What word is this? Where did this come from? Is this the work of my mother's spirit? She has pitied me and has come and done this. I wish I knew where she came from."

               This occurred during three successive days, just the same each day. Nkombe was puzzled. He wanted to find out, and decided to go to the great prophet, Ra-Marânge. The prophet saw him coming, and greeted him, "Sale! (Hail) my son, sale!" "Mbolo," replied Nkombe. Ra-Marânge continued, "What did you come for? What are you doing?" "I come for you to make medicine, that you may prophesy for me about a matter I want to find out."

               Ra-Marânge said, "Child, I am old, and do not do such things now. I have given the power to Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya" [so called because his body was all-covered-by-a-disease-of-pimples]. "Well, where shall I go to him?" The prophet replied, "He is not far."

               Nkombe starts to go to Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya, who presently sees him coming. As soon as Nkombe reached him, Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya said, "If you come to me for medicine, good, for that is my only business; but if for anything else, clear off!" "Yes, that is what I came for."

               So Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya began to kindle his big fire. Nkombe was surprised, not knowing what was to be done with the fire. The next minute he sees Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya throw himself into the flames. Nkombe was startled and afraid, thinking, "Is this man going to kill himself for me?" The prophet rolled himself several times in the fire in order to get the power. Some of his pimples on his body burst in the flame; and he jumped out, ready with his power to do the medicine. He said, "Hah, repeat your story; I am ready!" Nkombe told all his story,--how he had worked for himself, and how for a few days past he had been helped by some one, and wanted to know who it was, if Ogula-ya-impazya-vazya would please tell him. "Hah, that's a small matter for me!" So the prophet told him, "You killed ntori for yourself a few days ago, and this being is a woman who has come to be your wife, and has hidden herself in ntori." "But," said Nkombe, "how shall I be able to catch her, so that she shall be a real woman, for I do not see her?"

               "I'll let you know how. Go back and hunt all the same for three days. On the fourth day go out as usual, but do not go hunting. Hide near the olako,--near, but not where you will be seen." Then the prophet gave Nkombe a prepared powder, and told him to keep it carefully. He gave him also a small cornucopia (ozyoto) full of a bruised medicinal leaf, and told him, "Go and put these two medicines in a secret place near your olako. On the fourth day have these two medicines with you where you hide. When you see her come out, and while she is doing your work, you will run and seize her, and say to her, "You are my wife." She will not understand your language, and will murmur and shake her head and resist. But when you hold her fast, sprinkle the powder all over her body. Then take the ozoto, and squeeze some of the juice in her nostrils, eyes, and mouth. She will begin to sneeze. Repeat the words, 'You are my wife, my wife!' Then she will understand you, and will yield."

               So Nkombe took the medicines, and obeyed directions; hid the medicines and hunted the three days, his heart bursting with anxiety to get the days done that seemed so long. At last the three days were over and the fourth day came.

               Now the woman, by the power that was with her, knew all these things; she knew she would be caught that day.

               After Nkombe had left in the morning with the medicines, had hidden himself, and was waiting for the hours to pass, the woman, hesitating on her fate, did not come out quickly as on the other days. But finally Nkombe saw the pieces of meat on the frames shake. And out of ntori's head came a beautiful woman with clean soft skin. He could hardly restrain himself. She went on with all the usual work,--cooking, and so forth. But that day she did not divide nor partake of the food, but put all of it on the table. When he saw she had finished, and was washing her hands preparatory to jumping back into ntori on the orala, he came out of the bushes, and stepping cautiously but rapidly, rushed to seize her. He caught her. She began to resist, and he followed the prophet's directions. The woman at first was murmuring and sobbing, and Nkombe was trying to calm her with the words "My wife." Finally, under the powder, she quieted. When the juice was dropped into her mouth, she was able to speak his language. She told him all her story,--how she had pitied him, and had entered into ntori, and everything else. "But," she said, "there is one more thing I must tell you. I have come indeed to be your wife, and I have the power to make you rich or poor, happy or unhappy. I will give you only one rule: Be good to me, and I will be so to you; but never say to me that I came from the low origin of a rat's head." Nkombe exclaimed, "No, no! You have done so much for me, I could never so humiliate you." "You speak well, but be very careful not to break your promise." So they ate and finished the day's work.

               Next day the woman wanted to build a town by word of her power. She said, "Mwe [Sir] Nkombe, surely you will not live in an olako all your life. Look for a site for a town, and mark it with stakes for its length and width." Nkombe was puzzled. He had a wife, but where would he get materials for a house; for he was as poor of goods as he was before? Being troubled, he made no reply to his wife, and did not go to mark a site. At night they retired, Nkombe still troubled about the building of a town; but Ilâmbe was smiling in her heart, for she knew what she would do. So she made him fall into a deep sleep. She went out at night a short distance, and chose a good town-site. She spoke to her ngalo (a guardian-spirit charm), "Ngalo mine, before morning I want to see all this place cleared, and covered with nice houses, and all the houses furnished and supplied with men and maid servants." And she returned to bed.

               Before daybreak everything was ready, as Ilâmbe desired. The ngalo had made the olako disappear, and Nkombe and wife were sleeping inside their nice house. When morning came, Nkombe did not know where he was, nor even on which side to get out of bed. He exclaimed, "What is this word?" "You are in your own house and in your own town." So both went out to inspect their town and their servants. Nkombe did not know how well to thank her, so glad was he.

               Later the wife became a mother, and a son was born. Nkombe called this first-born Ogula. Again, a daughter was born. Then the wife told her ngalo to bring ships of wealth. The next day ships were seen coming. Nkombe went on board and had a conversation with the captains. They stayed a few days, and then sailed away, leaving Nkombe a cargo of wealth. Another time ships came, and Nkombe went off on board as before; and these ships sailed away, also leaving wealth. Other children were born to them. Children of a fairy mother are called "aganlo"; they grow very fast, and are very wise.

               Other ships came. One day one comes, and Nkombe, having gone on board, has there a convivial time, stays all day, and returns nearly drunk. The wife says to him, "Nkombe, often you come from ships looking in this way, and I do not like it. I have spoken with you often, that if a food or a drink is not good in its effects, it is better to leave it off. But you do not care for my words." Nkombe, under the influence of liquor, was vexed with her, rebuked her, and began to use hard words with orâwo (insult): "You--you--this woman who--but I won't finish it." Soon, however, he took up the quarrel again, saying, "A person can know from your manners that you came out of--" The wife said, "When you are drunk, you say half sentences; why hold back? Say what you want to say."

               He shouted angrily, "Yes, if I want to say it, I will say it! It was my own ntori that I killed. If I had not killed it, would you have come out of it?" Then Ilâmbe said, "Please repeat that; I do not quite understand you." He repeated it. She exclaimed, "Eh!" but said no more, and waited until morning, when he would be sober.

               So early in the morning she told him to get up, so that she could do her housework. She did the morning's work, washing things neatly but rapidly. Then she called her sons and daughters, and in their presence said to their father, "You said so-and-so yesterday; now I am off and with my children."

               Nkombe knew he had said the forbidden words. He pleaded for mercy; but she replied, "No, you broke your promise." The two elder children pleaded for their father: "It was only once. Though a bad thing, it cannot break a marriage. Forgive it." But the mother persisted, "No!" Then the two elder ones said they would not leave their father.

               So she said to him, "Now be thankful you have these two. If it was not for them, I would put you back where you were just as I found you; but for the sake of these two children, I leave some of my power with them." Then to those two she said, "You will call on me for help when you have need, and I will be near to help you."

               So she took the two younger ones, and said to their father, "As this place is quite open, Nkombe, sit you here and see me depart." Nkombe did so. He and the two older children watched the mother and the two younger ones walk down the path from the town. They went to the bank of the river, and, wading in, disappeared in the river depths.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Fairy Wife, 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: unclassified

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