A Story From: Nigeria
Read Time: ["10 to 15mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs., 12 to 14yrs.
WHEN Amadi’s parents died, his uncle took the boy into his own home. Unfortunately after a few years the uncle also died, and a friend of the uncle’s, who was also fond of the boy, took him in. The friend’s wife, though, was not as keen as her husband on the newcomer to their household. The boy was nothing but trouble as far as she was concerned, stealing her husband’s attention away from her and draining their household. The boy was nothing but trouble as far as she was concerned, stealing her husband’s attention away from her and draining their savings. She fed him only table scraps and let him walk around in rags. The sooner he left their house, the better, and she didn’t mind saying so. One day someone broke into a rich man’s house. Maybe she mentioned to a few people that it’d be just like Amadi to steal. In a snap of a twig, word spread all over the town that he was the thief. It came to no one’s surprise a couple of days later that the dirty-faced boy was gone.
Where he was headed, Amadi had no idea. He wandered deep into the woods, picking up odd sticks and a stray piece of rope. He had no particular reason to pick up the rope, but the thought occurred to him that he might hang himself, since there was nowhere he could go for shelter for the night, and he’d probably become the victim of a lion or other ferocious beast anyway. He found a sturdy looking mahogany tree and tied the rope to a thick branch. But as he brushed up against the tree, he noticed in the distance a cluster of lights.
“That’s strange, I never knew there was a town out here,” he thought, then considered a new possibility. “I may as well go explore the town. If they’re friendly, maybe I’ll have a place to stay. If not, I’ll be no worse off than I am now.”
Amadi followed a path headed in the direction of the town. Turning a bend, he nearly bumped headlong into an antelope.
“Why are you here, son of humans?” she said, staring at him eye-to-eye. “You do not belong here.”
“I don’t belong anywhere,” Amadi muttered. Then thought, “Wait, am I talking to an antelope?”
“How did you find us, the Community of the Animals?”
“I saw lights at the mahogany tree,” he explained.
“The mahogany tree had no business showing you our Community of the Animals,” said the antelope. “Go back at once to the village of the humans.” Then she brushed passed him without another word.
Realizing he’d probably not be welcome at the Community of Animals, Amadi stepped off the main path, yet continued toward town. As he approached the town, he thought it strange that no smoke puffed from any roof, yet clearly there was a sense of hustle and bustle, and many different sets of footprints were criss-crossing the paths. He crept up to the largest house, which was the one most lit, and listened through open windows to the voices within.
“Calling to order! Calling to order!’ said a very dignified warthog. “The meeting of the Grazers in the Community of Animals is now in session. What new magic have we to share?”
“Come outside,” said an elephant, picking up a bundle of twigs in his trunk. The gazelles, chimpanzees, and gorillas lumbered outside and the shrews and mice scampered behind. Under the moonlight Amadi could make out their shadows, large and small. The elephant set down the bundle, broke one twig and threw a piece, and a fine house sprung up. “Ah!” the Animals exclaimed. “Oh, my!” He broke the other end of the same twig and threw it, and the house disappeared. “My, my, did you see that?”…”Well, I never!” Then the elephant threw the twig away.
“Try one,” said the elephant. One by one, Grazers stepped forward. Each stick held a different surprise. Some created bright woven cloth, or fresh fruit, or necklaces of cowrie shells. Breaking the other end of the twig made the items disappear. Amadi paid special attention to where the broken twig landed that had created food, as he was terribly hungry. The night seemed to stretch on without end but finally daybreak dawned, and one by one the animals departed. At last, Amadi could retrieve the magic twig that produced food and scampered back with it into the bushes. He imagined honey cakes and snapped a small piece off one end. Presto! A feast of honey cakes spread before him. He didn’t need to snap the other end to make the feast disappear – Amadi took care of that himself.
By carefully breaking only fragments of the twig, Amadi was able to live by himself in the bush. Each night before sunset he would creep up to the meetinghouse in hopes of witnessing another meeting and collecting more magic twigs, but the meetinghouse stayed dark. Careful to hide signs of himself, he covered his footprints and stayed in the thick bush.
Finally when he neared the end of his twig, he determined to search for another meeting in the Community of Animals. He followed voices that seemed to be headed in a certain direction and was relieved to see them end at another meetinghouse, though different animals were inside. Amadi stayed outside to listen.
“Attention all Hunters!” said a lion. “Our meeting has commenced. We shall share any new magic discoveries. Everyone is talking about the elephant’s magic twigs at the Grazers’ meeting. Does anyone here have magic twigs?”
“I do,” said a jackal. The jackal demonstrated the same magic twigs, much to Amadi’s delight. Before they adjourned, a leopard said, “Well! I doubt the Reptiles will have a meeting like this one!” Amadi collected the broken twig that had produced food. He wished for honey cakes, and his wish was instantly granted. Tipped off that there may be yet a third meeting, this one for the Reptiles, he went in search of that part of town.
It so happened that a wild dog passed the spot where Amadi had kneeled outside the meetinghouse of the Hunters, and caught a whiff of something odd. Sniffing about, he said, “It’s a human scent, no doubt about it. There’s a human here at the Community of Animals!”
An emergency meeting was called of Grazers, Hunters and Reptiles. An antelope stepped forward and revealed she had met a young man on the path. Others confirmed seeing human footprints.
“This is outrageous!” blustered a hippo. “We’re invaded!” screeched the hyenas. “Whoo…whoo is it?” said an owl. “Whoever it is, we’ll catch him!” shrieked the monkeys. The next day, the monkeys swooped from the trees to catch Amadi, and carried him back to the meeting house. Another emergency meeting was called with the three communities to decide what to do with the hapless human.
The elephant lifted him high in his trunk for all to see. The Hunters roared, “How dare he come to our Community of the Animals! We’ll tear him to pieces!” “Our elephants will trample him!” cried the Grazers. “We’ll snap him in two!” croaked the crocodiles. They all shouted with anger. Amadi knew one thing – he was doomed.
“Well, I won’t need these anymore,” thought Amadi, and from the bag of leaves he had made to carry his honey cakes, he threw one into the elephant’s open mouth. The elephant closed his mouth. “Hm,” he said, cocking his head to one side. “Hmmmm.” He lowered Amadi a bit. “Uh, no need to be hasty here. This human has a very unusual, I might say a very tasty treat.”
“What do you mean?” “I want one!” “Give me a treat!” Suddenly they were clamoring for honey cakes, and Amadi broke the honey cakes and threw treats to them all.
“Call to order! New proposal!” said the warthog, banging his staff. “My suggestion is that we allow the human to live so he can share with us the secret of these tasty treats.”
They all cheered this fine idea. The elephant set down Amadi, and they clustered around him. Amadi told them how he had been so badly treated by the humans, how the mahogany tree had revealed the lights of their town, and how he had lived on honey cakes since he discovered the magic twigs. He offered to teach them about the practices of humans, how they hunt and how they try to trick animals. The animals could tell they would become fast friends with this human.
Indeed, for the next few years Amadi happily stayed at the Community of the Animals. They had much to teach one another. But there came a time when Amadi began to feel restless.
“Of course I understand,” said the lion, when Amadi told him it was time for him to leave the Community of the Animals. “You’re older now, it’s time for you to rejoin your people, find a wife and start a family. Amadi, you are our friend. Take these magic twigs with you, in case you need them. But you must promise not to tell the humans about the magic of the twigs, or about us.”
Amadi promised. He said goodbye to all his Animal friends and returned to his village. At the outskirts of his town he broke one twig and a fine house sprung up, complete with blankets and pots. He entered the village and tried to be friendly, but the people there hadn’t forgotten about the incident that had prompted his flight. It seemed strange to them that this young man should return so suddenly, produce such a fine house, and all so quickly. “How could anyone save enough money in such a short time to build a rich man’s house?” they whispered among themselves. “It must be ill-gotten gains from thievery! Now he’s come back to steal from us again!”
One night a mob gathered around Amadi’s house and stormed inside, grabbing him and carrying him to the chief. “You will pay for your crimes!” boomed the chief. Amadi’s fine house and belongings were confiscated and he was thrown in jail. When Amadi was released he had no choice but to return to the Community of the Animals, his only friends in the world.
Despairingly, he told them what had happened at the village of the humans. How the people turned against him, how they took everything he had and had thrown him in jail. That night while Amadi slept, the Community of the Animals held a whispered meeting. The next day, the lion said to Amadi, “Last night we discussed your situation. You kept our secret of the magic twigs, and you didn’t tell the humans about the Community of the Animals. You kept your word. Now we’ll be friends to you, too. We decided, Amadi, that you may show the humans the magic of the twigs, even if that means our Community is revealed.”
Delighted, Amadi returned to the village. “I can explain! I can explain!” he called out as angry villagers again hauled him off to the chief. “So explain,” said the chief, his arms crossed. Amadi broke a magic twig, and a feast appeared. He broke the other end and it vanished. With other twigs he created pottery and intricate masks.
“How did you learn this black magic?” yelled the chief, full of suspicion.
“It’s a good magic I learned from my friends, the Animals,” said he. “Watch.” And with another twig he created a magnificently beaded crown and offered it as a gift to the chief.
“Father, this is a fine gift,” said the chief’s daughter. “Look, it must be a good magic because everything he creates with it is good.” The chief had to admire the beaded crown and couldn’t help but smile as he accepted it.
Not long afterward Amadi was married to the chief’s daughter in a grand ceremony. But what made the wedding most grand was the arrival of the Animals as guests. The humans crept as far away from the Hunters and Reptiles as they could while still remaining polite to the invited guests. Still, they couldn’t help but admire the richly adorned robes and jewelry they wore. Never had they realized Animals could be so impressive! For their part, the Animals were pleased to see that the humans had accepted their friend Amadi after all. And what was served for dessert at the reception? Honey cakes, of course!
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The above story is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
The Yoruba tribe is one of the largest cultural groups on the African continent, numbering over 20 million. Although many Yoruba live in villages and farms, most live in large cities such as the capital of Nigeria. A significant percentage of Africans who became enslaved in the Americas came from areas in West Africa largely populated by the Yoruba such as Nigeria, Benin.