A Story From: Nigeria
Read Time: ["10 to 15mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs., 10 to 14yrs.
WHEN Kokumo’s parents died, his uncle took the boy into his own home. Unfortunately after a few years the uncle also died. Then a friend of the uncle’s took him in. This friend’s wife however was not as keen as her husband on the newcomer to their home. As far as she was concerned, the boy was nothing but trouble, stealing her husband’s attention away from her and draining their savings. She fed him only table scraps and let him walk around unwashed and in rags. The sooner he left their house, the better, she thought, and she didn’t mind saying so.
One day someone broke into a rich man’s house. The foster wife may have mentioned to a few people that it’d be just like the boy Kokumo to be the one to steal. In a snap of a twig, word spread all over the town that Kokumo was the thief. A couple of days later, it came to no one’s surprise that the dirty-faced boy was gone from the village.
Kokumo had no idea where he was headed. He wandered deep into the woods, picking up stray rope. He had no particular reason to pick up the rope, but the thought occurred to him that he might end it all, since there was nowhere he could go for shelter that 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 then he noticed in the distance a cluster of lights.
“That’s strange,” he thought, “I never knew there was a town out here.” He 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’m no worse off than I am now.”
Kokumo followed a path to the town. Turning a bend, he nearly bumped headlong into an antelope.
“Why are you here, son of humans?” said the Antelope, staring at him eye-to-eye. “You do not belong here.”
“I don’t belong anywhere,” Kokumo said in a low voice. Then he thought, “Wait! Am I talking to an antelope?”
“How did you find the Community of the Animals?” the Antelope demanded.
“I saw lights from the mahogany tree,” the boy explained.
“The mahogany tree had no business showing you our Community of the Animals,” said the Antelope. “Why would the mahagony tree do such a thing? You must go back at once to the village of the humans!” She brushed passed him without another word.
Realizing he may not be welcome at the Community of Animals, Kokumo stepped off the main path. Yet he continued through the deep woods toward the lights, so he would not be seen. 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 brightly lit, and listened through open windows to the voices inside.
“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?” What Kokumo did not know, and what I will tell you now, is that at the Community of the Animals were three groups – the Hunters, the Grazers, and the Reptiles. This was a meeting of the Grazers.
“Come outside,” said an Elephant. The Elephant picked up a bundle of twigs in his trunk. The Gazelles, Chimpanzees, and Gorillas lumbered outside. The Shrews and Mice scampered behind. Under the moonlight, Kokumo could make out their shadows, large and small. The Elephant set down the bundle. He broke one twig and threw a piece, and a fine house sprung up.
“Ah!” exclaimed the Animals. “Oh, my!”
The Elephant broke the other end of the same twig and threw it, and the house disappeared.
“My, my, did you see that?” “Well, I never!”
“Try one,” said the Elephant, to another Grazer.
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 same 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. One by one the animals departed. At last, Amadi could retrieve the magic twig that had produced food and scampered back with it into the bushes. He imagined honey cakes, snapped a small piece off one end of the twig, and threw it to the ground. Presto! A feast of honey cakes spread before him. He didn’t need to snap the other end to make the feast disappear – Kokumotook care of that himself.
By carefully breaking only fragments of the twig, Kokumo 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 heard voices in the distance, and followed the sounds. He was relieved to see the voices end at another meetinghouse, though this time, different animals were inside. Kokumo 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 Kokumo’s delight.
Before they adjourned, a Leopard said, “Well! I doubt the Reptiles will have a meeting like this one!”
After everyone left, Kokumo 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 Kokumo had kneeled outside the meetinghouse of the Hunters. The Wild Dog 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 all Grazers, Hunters and Reptiles. An Antelope stepped forward and revealed that 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, caught up 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. Kokumo knew one thing – he was doomed.
“Well, I won’t need these anymore,” thought Kokumo. From the bag he had made of leave to carry what was left of his honey cakes, he threw one of the honey cakes into the Elephant’s open mouth.
The Elephant closed his mouth. “Hmm,” he said, cocking his head to one side. “HMMMM.” He lowered Amadi a bit. “Uh, no need to be hasty. This human has a very unusual, I might say a tasty treat.”
“What do you mean?” called one animal.
“I want a treat!” called another. “Give it to me!”
Suddenly they were all clamoring for honey cakes. Kokumo broke the honey cakes and threw pieces of 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 Kokumo, and they clustered around him. Amadi told them how he had been so badly treated by the humans, how the mahogany tree had shown him the lights of their town, and how he had lived on honey cakes once 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 could learn a lot from this human.
For the next few years, Kokumo happily stayed at the Community of the Animals. They had much to teach one another. Kokumo, too, learned much of the ways of the animals. But there came a time when Kokumo began to feel restless.
“Of course, I understand,” said the Lion, when Kokumo told him he felt 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. Kokumo,” continued the Lion. “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, and the Community of the Animals.”
Kokumo 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 the young thief with the dirty face. It seemed to them strange that a few years later the same young man should return and produce such a fine house, and 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. They stormed inside, grabbing him and carrying him to the Chief. “You will pay for your crimes!” boomed the Chief. Kokumo’s fine house and belongings were confiscated and he was thrown in jail. After awhile when Kokumo was released from jail, he had no choice but to return to the Community of the Animals, his only friends in the world.
In despair, he told them what had happened at the village of the humans. How the people had turned against him, how they took everything he had, and had thrown him in jail. That night while Kokumo slept, the Community of the Animals held a whispered meeting. The next day, the Lion said to Kokumo, “Last night, we discussed your situation. You kept our secret about the magic twigs. You didn’t tell the humans about us, and the Community of the Animals. You kept your word. Now we’ll be friends to you, too. We decided, Kokumo that you may show the humans the magic of the twigs. Though you must keep the presence of our Community a secret.”
And so Kokumo 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. Kokumo 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?” said the Chief, full of suspicion.
“It’s a good magic,” said he. “Watch.” And with another twig he created a magnificently beaded crown and offered it to the Chief as a gift.
“This is a fine thing,” said the Chief. He had to admire that beaded crown.
“Soon the twig will run out,” said the Chief. “Then what will you do?”
“I am like anyone else,” said Kokumo. “If I may live here at this village in peace, I will try to prosper as best I can.”
“You will have my protection,” said the Chief. “But you will have to live by my hut, until the people accept you.”
As the days went on and long after the magic of the twigs ran out, Kokumo worked hard and earned the trust of the Chief. In time, he and the Chief’s daughter fell in love. At the wedding, none but Amadi could see the presence of the Animals as guests at the edges of the woods. Richly adorned they were, with robes and jewelry to celebrate the marriage of their human friend. After the wedding guests had all left, Kokumo invited the Animals to come forward and share in a special wedding treat he had made sure was part of his wedding feast – honey cakes, of course!
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.