No hunter makes a habit of exploring the Forest of Irunmale as I did, no hunter undergoes such punishment as came to me.
Image by Bruce Onobrakpeya
Without a doubt, my friend has told you the tale about my parents, and about the various things that I experienced when I visited the Forest of Irunmale.
And I think I do not lie when I say that anyone who has listened to these adventures could not fail to believe that I would never dream of hunting again. But no, I did hunt again, for it is in the profession to which a man is trained that he must serve; the goods which he truly understands are what a trader sells, and it was not fitting that I should leave my profession at the prime of day and turn to masonry or wood-carving. But certain it is also that, if you learned that I had indeed returned to hunting, you could hardly imagine that I would return to the Forest of a Thousand Daemons.
I once again took hold of my gun one night and set my head on the road to the Forest of Irunmale, all eager to do some hunting
I wish to let you know that it was to this very place that I turned myself. He who must do what no one has done before him will experience that which no man has experienced before. No hunter makes a habit of exploring the Forest of Irunmale as I did, no hunter undergoes such punishment as came to me. I endured plenty; and even so should it be with me, for there is truth in this saying of our elders—the aggressive man dies the death of war, the swimmer dies the death of water, the vainglorious dies the death of women; it is the trade of the cutlass that breaks its teeth, the food we eat is what fills our bellies—may God forbid that what you eat bring about your death.
A clear year after my return from the first adventure, I once again took hold of my gun one night and set my head on the road to the Forest of Irunmale, all eager to do some hunting. When I left home I had imagined that it was on the verge of dawn, but the truth was that I had set out in the very dead of night; the brilliant dawn-lingering phase of the moon had deceived me into thinking that a new day was about to break. However, by the time a man could begin to distinguish the lines on his palm, it lacked only two hours for me to arrive at my destination. It was a different route that I took to the Forest this time. I did not wish to return the former way lest it appears that I sought out trouble with my own hands and met the consequent misadventures that I pulled the whirlwind down on my own head.
I arrived finally just about breakfast time; quickly I made a fire and roasted a piece of soft yam. My meal over I tucked my pipe into my mouth and lit it; my body was filled with pleasure and tingled all over with wellbeing.
After a while, I put out my pipe and replaced it in my pocket. When I looked up I found two kola nut trees, one had no fruits but the other had some. I plucked the fruits of the latter and found three pods. When I had split them all open the nuts numbered ten. I took the largest of them and peeled it, its skin was wafer dry; I broke it open and it pared in four. So, since this variety of kola nut is excellent for ritual offering to the gun, I propped up my gun and offered the kola.
But when I cast the pieces, the result was inauspicious. For if it spoke good, would two pieces not face down and the other two up? Alas, it was not so for me, sometimes three pieces faced down and one up, and at other times all four faced down—the matter of this kola nut was simply beyond my comprehension. So when I had cast them many times without good augury, with my own hands I turned two up and faced two down saying, “With his own two hands does a man mend his fortune; if you kola pieces will not predict good, I will predict that good for you.” After I was done, I picked up my gun and proceeded to the forest of game.
Even as I stood up, I stubbed my left foot; this was my maternal foot and whenever I stumbled by this foot over any matter, that affair would not prosper. This frightened me somewhat, and while I stood pondering on this unlucky foot, an owl flew past and its wings hit me in the face; a most evil omen was this. I stood for nearly ten minutes thinking about these ominous signs but in the end I simply bartered death away saying, “What of it! Does a man die more than once? If death must take me then let me get on my way.” I plunged into this forest and began to seek game. After a long while I saw an antelope, with its haunches turned to me. I waited some time for the creature to turn its head towards me but it did not oblige; thereupon I loosed a shot at it. The animal was hit but the shot was not lethal. It leapt into a zigzag flight and I in turn seized my cutlass and gun and chased it. I chased it over a long distance but did not catch up with it; after a while it fled into a cave within a large rock and I followed it inside.
The cave was large and exceedingly dark; from the moment I entered it I no longer saw the antelope; I could only follow the thud of its hooves. But after a while, there came the moment when I neither saw the antelope nor heard its hooves. It puzzled me how it could have vanished in the middle of this place and I began to hunt it everywhere.
…Only then did I observe the man; he was not much above short and his back had an enormous hunch, fins covered his body so that it had the appearance of a fish.
I was occupied with this when I suddenly felt someone seize me by the right hand, twist the arm behind my back, and fetch me a slap on the ear. This person’s hand had a severe sting to it; even as I struggled to free myself from his grip he used his left hand to grip me by the neck and, when he had squeezed it tight, began to push me forward with regular shoves, slapping me as we went along. When, after some time, the punishment became unbearable, I began to cry out, “Please let me go, I will never again touch your antelope. Please, I will never again kill your game . . .”
He made no reply; he continued to shove me along and punish me as he went. Sometimes he would pinch me, other times he would rap me on the head; there was no variety of torment he did not devise for me and I could not even see him because it was pitch dark. It seemed a long time before we emerged in the open, and only then did I observe the man; he was not much above short and his back had an enormous hunch, fins covered his body so that it had the appearance of a fish. He had two arms, two legs, and two eyes like a human being, but he had a small tail at his posterior and his eyes were enormous; each one was six times the normal size and red as palm kernels.
When we came out into the open, he ordered me to stoop and place my hands on my knees and I obeyed him. When he observed that I had done so he mounted my back, kicked me and ordered me to bear him about as if I was a horse. Like it or not I had to do this. I want you to know that he had seized my gun before we came out of the cave, and when he was astride my back, it was he who held on to it.
We emerged into tall grass and it was here that my torment was most severe. Before he climbed on my back he had cut several switches and kept them by him, and from the moment he spurred me and turned my head in the direction of his choice he began to laugh and to drip saliva on my head; whenever I tried and sought to raise my head a little he would lay about me with the whips and I would at once resume the race.
Sometimes he would ask me to neigh like a horse and when my voice did not simulate a horse’s satisfactorily, he would blast my ears with several slaps. Sometimes he demanded that I toss him up and down like a horse, and there was no remedy but to obey him; if I did not he would thrash the very breath out of me. It was during these riding sessions that we arrived at a spot where there was a large hole. He dismounted and took a thick rope, tied my hands together behind me, then entered deeper into this hole and returned with a large chain which he hooked round my neck. He did not make it too tight but slackened it a little so that I was able to breathe comfortably. He then tied the chain to a tree and returned into the cave; this was the home of the creature.
It would be about two o’clock when we came to this man’s dwelling, and when I saw that he was safely in, I took hold of tears and began to weep them. I was careful to cry very softly lest, overhearing me, he return to punish me even more. About half past four, the man came out from the cave and approached me; he pressed on my stomach to see if I was hungry and when he observed that my stomach was little better than flat he returned into the cave and brought out a raw, uncooked yam, cut pieces into a leaf and placed it before me. He put it down and told me to kneel and eat it directly with my mouth.
I tried a little of this yam but my throat was not too favorable towards it, so I left the rest alone. His next act was to loosen the chain from my neck, untie my arms and mount again on my back, and I began to bear him round and round in this bush. It was about seven in the evening before we returned to his home and on our return, he himself ate some of the yam that I had left uneaten, and I ate the rest. Afterward, he secured me as before, re-entered the cave and slept.
As you will surely realize, I did not sleep till daybreak. I was full of doleful thoughts and frequently sobbed aloud. The following morning my captor fed me on raw yams as on the previous day and again I galloped him around till nightfall of that day; at evening we returned to his cave and once more he chained me by the neck to a tree, and when he had fed me on raw yams, re-entered his home and slept.
You will be thinking by now that I ought somehow to have freed myself during this length of time—and rightly too. What made the situation so dismal was that he had seized my gun from the moment of my capture and when he arrived home, he took it into the cave; he even took my hunting-bag at the same time. And from the day that I came to that place, he never allowed me to enter his home: whenever we returned to the cave, it was the chain for me. I tried the few spells and charms that I had left on my person but none of them had any effect. I invoked, bullied, and commanded ogede but the matter seemed to have no solution.
Much later, however, I began to understand where I had erred. I realized that I indulged in magical arts but had failed to reckon with God. I forgot that He created the leaf and created the bark of the tree. Before daylight broke on my third day, I cried to God and prayed:
“Ruler of skies, Owner of this day, this matter is much beyond me. Help me now; help me for I cannot do it by myself alone. O God, do assist me in this. Forbid it that I become meat for this creature; forbid it that he use my skull for a bugle. Let me not perish in this forest; forbid it that from this spot I become a voyager to heaven: let me not die the death of a fowl; forbid it that this man devour me as a cat devours mice. Let the masquerader worship the mask for as long as he pleases, he must return to render account to you; let the follower of Sango serve and serve Sango, he must render account to you; let the devotee of Oya bow to Oya, he must return in the end to you and render accounts. The Moslems worship you as Anabi; the Christians offer you every minute of their existence. I implore you rescue me, I cannot alone save myself, God Almighty, save me from my plight!”
Even so did I pray that night and I rested my hopes in God. The following morning when the man emerged as usual and offered me the usual raw yams, I was inspired by God to ask him a small question.
“Pardon me, Master, I beg of you, do not fail to tell me why it is that you do not cook your yam before you eat it.”
As we were speaking thus, we touched on the subject of the gun and he demanded to know what was the use of it. I replied at once that it was a gadget for enjoyment, and that if I thrust the muzzle of this gun in the mouth of anyone and gently caressed its stock at the base, water would flow from the gun
He looked at me with wide-mouthed astonishment and confessed that he was not aware that there was such a thing as went by the name of cooked yam. So, I elaborated further on it, saying that when yam is cooked it is far more delicious than when it is eaten raw. So, he asked me if perchance I could cook this yam for him and, when I answered yes, he unchained me.
I made a fire and cooked the yam, and when it was done, I peeled and offered it to him. When he tasted this yam, it tickled his palate no end and he began to talk to me with interest.
As we were speaking thus, we touched on the subject of the gun and he demanded to know what was the use of it. I replied at once that it was a gadget for enjoyment, and that if I thrust the muzzle of this gun in the mouth of anyone and gently caressed its stock at the base, water would flow from the gun of such a quality that the man would experience no thirst for seven clear days. When he heard this he hurried into the cave and brought out my weapon, eagerly he thrust the muzzle in his mouth and bade me caress it at the base. The bird is already eager to fly and idle hands pelt it with stones—this was exactly how the matter was.
I took the gun in my hand, blazed away, and heard it roar. Down fell the man, dead.
Even so did I bring about the end of this man, but I must rejoice no further, for I had not the least idea where I was. But first, after I had dispatched him, I entered the cave, and when I was deep inside I discovered all manner of precious things—segi, coral beads, waist beads and expensive cloths such as velvet, sanyan, red northern, dyed cloth and exquisitely seasoned kijipa which had been smoothly beaten. And I discovered various kinds of headgear, okiribi, dog-ears, and plain hats. I found also three crowns which were made of beads; if a king put these on, his face would be invisible, for these beads hung down right round the crown; they were beautiful beyond words. I found a stack of yams also, and took some that I cooked.
After some time I began to hear the sound of drumming from the spiked grassland and I turned in the direction of the drums. Before long, I came upon a settlement; it was a city of ghommids.
After this I selected the most valuable of these treasures, packed them properly, took my gun and my hunting-bag and began to feel my way around until I could arrive at a familiar spot and head for home. But rather than soften, the fronds of the coconut palm merely stood stiffer. The more I sought a way out, the deeper I was lost.
After some time I began to hear the sound of drumming from the spiked grassland and I turned in the direction of the drums. Before long, I came upon a settlement; it was a city of ghommids. These were different from the usual run of ghommids; they were just like human beings and both male and female were attractively attired; they were like birds of elegant plumage.
On the day of my arrival, the crown prince of the town was holding a celebration and the entire populace was gathered in the market square; their king was seated on his throne watching his son dance on horseback. When I first came there they were all engaged in dancing round the prince; they were so immersed in their dance that they did not observe me, but their king had seen me from the first and had instructed someone who stood close to him to summon me to him. I went, and when I was close to him and saw that he was a king, I prostrated myself full-length on the ground, poured earth on my head, and saluted him, “Kabiyesi!”
He thereupon told me to rise, turned to me, and spoke thus: “There are many ghommids upon this earth who hate the sons of men. They frighten them by day and chase them about at night, they indulge in the habit of taunting them and they talk of them with contempt; but I disapprove of such ghommids and love to make friends with human beings, for there is wisdom in them. Therefore I want you to put down your load, sit at my feet and enjoy the festival.”
I was truly happy to hear this from the king and as I sat down, I observed that the drummers were not really performing too well, so I sought permission from the king to take over from them, and he granted my wish. He called the lead drummer and told him to give me a drum and bid the others keep silent a while; I was then handed a gangan.
A long time before, while still a child, I had learned how to drum; whenever I did not accompany my father on his hunting trips, I would follow round after a certain relation of mine whose profession was drumming. This gave me greater honor among these ghommids; I took the drum and set to work and all of them began to dance.
My good friends, these ghommids most assuredly could dance; they danced better than grubs. When I had truly excelled myself, the king himself rose from the throne and plunged into the dance. I was now thoroughly aroused and I dug the crook into the drum skin, darted into the fray and crowded the king with music.
It was a long while before the dancing stopped, and the king took me to his palace and placed delicious dishes before me. When I had dined he made me a gift of a house, boy servants, and maidservants to live with me and insisted that I make their city my home; but should I wish to return to my home to look up my own people, he would provide those who would accompany me so that it would be as if I merely visited there as a stranger and would return immediately. His words sounded good to my ears and I accepted.
I stayed very long in this town and I enjoyed myself beyond measure.
I stayed very long in this town and I enjoyed myself beyond measure. The king loved me more than life; everyday he sought new ways of diverting me, he indulged me, contented me, and treated me truly as a son. Even so, did many of the townspeople extend favors to me; they also loved me like a paramour. As for me, I had resolved within myself to render satisfaction to them all even in so far as it lay within my power. There was nothing which any one of them would request of me which met with a denial; there was nowhere the king would send me that I would not go: it was much as if we were all children of the same mother.
There was a most vicious beast in this kingdom; it was a one-eyed leopard. He menaced the townspeople at will and preyed on them as he pleased and, no matter how hard they tried to kill him, the effort proved futile. Eventually the entire town met in assembly and summoned the priests of Ifa with whom they conspired that the entire priesthood of the Oracle should go to the king and bid him send a crier to summon the population to the market square. The crier would announce that the priests had a message to deliver which had come directly from the lips of the clan-spirits, so that when the king had obeyed and the entire people were assembled, the Head Priest would address them all in the following words:
“Rest well you people of our town; it is upon this matter of the one-eyed leopard that we have summoned you here to speak and deliberate with you. The guardian spirits advised us recently that the only way to stop the menace of this beast is to call you all together and let us voluntarily select one man among you as an offering to this beast—the significance being that this individual takes away from us the sins of the entire city—also that the person so selected must volunteer himself for we must not enforce this on anyone.
The spirits said further that if we cannot find anyone among you to sacrifice himself for others in this manner, whether we like it or not we must make a gift of our king to the beast. Should we fail to do this, instead of the one beast we shall be plagued with seven such creatures, each one surmounted by a hundred horns. This is the problem which we would like you all to consider carefully.”
It is true that these people planned a great treachery and embarked on a great conspiracy; but they forgot that he whom God himself does not apprehend, no man can harm him. Do you not see the nature of the words, which these men had placed on the tongue of the Head Priest? They knew very well that there was no way in which the king could escape; for clear it was that none of them had set eyes on any guardian spirit, and there would be none who would rise and walk into a pointless death. And the entire city was present when this plot was hatched, so it left only me, and the king, only a wife of the king, two children of the king and a servant.
So, the priesthood came to the king and addressed him as planned, and the king obeyed them without any suspicion; he summoned a town assembly.
When they were all seated, the Head Priest rose and spoke as the people had schooled him. As he ended his set piece, he enquired if anyone there was prepared to make himself a gift to death but no one rose; they stared blankly at one another. In the end, the king rose and said that since there was no one present who would respond with a proud breast to the matter in hand, he was quite ready to go and provide the beast’s next dinner. With great rejoicing the people gave a shout of approval, they began to offer their thanks of hypocrisy to the king.
I waited patiently for the king to have his say, and as he sat down, I rose and addressed them thus:
“Kabiyesi, you will die no such death. I here will take your place, and I am all ready to go.”
Soon we arrived at the cave; it was a big cave and lay within an enormous rock. As I got there, I drew my matchet, gripped my dagger, tautened my trouser band, and uttered a spell that the tiger’s claws be sheathed.
Upon this, the king looked at me and burst into tears. He begged me not to go but my mind was made up. He pleaded a long time but I said, “Come rain come thunder I shall go.” My will was fully aroused and all his words simply bypassed my ears. I rose from the ground like air and told the ghommids to lead me to the dwelling of the beast where I would meet my death. Thus did they all follow me with great anger; there was no sympathy for me because, they claimed, I had brought it all on myself. Before we left, I sent home for my matchet and my thin, double-edged dagger. These were brought to me, and so, accompanied by dagger and matchet, I set off. But these ghommids only laughed and scoffed at me because even more valiant efforts than mine had failed to kill this manner of beast, according to their thinking.
Soon we arrived at the cave; it was a big cave and lay within an enormous rock. As I got there, I drew my matchet, gripped my dagger, tautened my trouser band, and uttered a spell that the tiger’s claws be sheathed. I then entered the cave and began to seek him everywhere; sure enough, my spell had worked, and the creature’s claws were drawn in even before I encountered him.
As soon as he spied me, he honed in on me without deviation, and pounded towards me. And even though it was true that I felt terror at the sight of him, yet was I determined to show him a thing or two before he eventually killed and devoured me; in my hand, my knife was tightly held. When he was only a short distance away he leapt upon me as a hawk might dive on a chicken but I stood firm, because even before he leapt I had resolved to blind him and I had set the dagger at the target of his eye—this very leap took his eye smack on the point of the knife which was driven in to the hilt.
After this, I retreated a little but he was surely blinded and, as the venom of the knife seeped further into his body, he rampaged around desperate to find me, and if he had encountered me in that state, it would have been a sorry tale indeed. When I saw that he had begun to tire a little, I drew near to him and seized him by the neck in an attempt to twist his neck backwards, force his back to the ground and stab him in the soft of his belly with my dagger, but he easily tossed me off and I hit a rock on my back.
At once, he dashed forward hoping to catch me where I had fallen, but I was in a different spot. I did not stay down too long because I saw that he had tired even more, so I made the effort to rise, seized my matchet and tip-toed towards him; when I had moved within reach I gathered all my strength and struck him on the neck. The blade penetrated him a little and, before he could turn round, I seized hold of him and we began wrestling in earnest. We wrestled for a long time and threw each other many times, but in the end he fled, so I hung on to him, tucking my matchet in my trousers while the beast dragged me along with him. He pulled me about for some five minutes before he tired completely and stood still, panting heavily. When I observed this I seized him about the wound on his neck and pulled him back with all my strength; he fell on his neck and before he could crawl back to his feet, I struck him a deathblow and his intestines splashed out of his stomach. Even so did I overcome this evil beast.
Now it was one thing to kill him, it was another to carry him out of there; and yet it was clear that if I did not bring him from the cave my glory would not be apparent to the world. When I seized him by the legs and applied all my strength to drag him out, he merely settled back in position, he was much too enormous. At first I was afraid and began to doubt whether I would fail in this task, but the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that I must make every effort before I gave it up. So, I sat gently down and rested a while. When I had rested, I took both my matchet and my knife and tucked them out of the way in my trouser band; I seized the beast by the legs and began to drag it out. My friends, it did not seem possible, but I dragged that monster out. As I re-emerged into sunlight I set on the road to the town and dragged it along, by six o’clock in the evening I appeared in the town and shouts of wonder re-echoed among the people. They stared at me with open-mouthed amazement.
Since my departure the king had not stopped weeping for he thought I must surely be dead. Those who had accompanied me to the cave were also convinced that I was dead, for when I entered the cave and they had waited a little without my returning, they went back home and announced to the people that I had met my due.
You can, my friends, yourselves imagine the overflow of joy in the king when he set eyes on me. His happiness was indescribable, and from then on, I became a dearer friend and became so great a confidant of the king that he would embark on nothing without letting me know. My word in that kingdom was law. But when the stunted palm begins to grow, the forest giant bursts with resentment—this was my fortune; my relationship with the king did not please the majority of them and they sought ways of setting us at loggerheads. They began to vilify me before the king, they lied and lied, they plotted and plotted but he paid no heed to them.
As I rose from my mat and made to saunter out, I saw a numerous crowd of people armed with cudgels and cutlasses, coming in my direction. It did not even occur to me that it was I whom they were seeking, I had no suspicion at all until they were actually upon me. I had only a coverlet around me, and before I could enter the house to put on some clothes, they had seized me. In a second my arms were tightly bound behind my back; next they entered the house and brought out all my valuables, both those which I had acquired in this town and those which I owned before I came there; they tied them in bundles and placed them on the heads of children. I was taken through the market and whipped as we went; my body was raw and full of weals.
When we got to the market, they ordered me into a hole, which had been dug in expectation of me. I obeyed and found that it came up to my neck; only my head appeared above ground. They made me stand straight and then began to fill up the hole, pounding the earth hard against my body. Next, they took up a matchet and began to shave off my hair. When it looked clean, enough they poured honey over my head so that flies of all kinds buzzed round it in swarms. They proceeded to spread my goods all around me, placed all kinds of food before me and an inscription on a signpost which read—“With your eyes behold this, but your lips will not touch.” They tormented me in every conceivable manner; I wept until tears were exhausted in the home of tears, I pleaded until pleas were finished in the home of pleas, but the seasoned witch, sooner than experience a change of fortune, simply gives birth to daughter after daughter, so witchbird swarms over witchbird: instead of taking pity on me they redoubled their jeers.
In the end, they all left me to my fate and went their ways. At this stage, I had resigned myself to death; certainly, I had no hope that I would ever escape from my present plight. But God had seen their act of wickedness and resolved in his mind to rescue me. They buried me about half past eleven in the morning; about two o’clock the clouds began to gather and before long it began to rain. The rain was truly heavy and did not cease until about eight o’clock at night. As you will realize, it was upon my head the rain began and on my head also did it stop, but even though this heavy storm punished me, it had also been helpful to me in one respect. For I realized after it was over that the soil had softened a great deal, and I moved myself about to see if I might extract myself. I saw indeed that if I applied some effort I could climb out, and after some struggle and some time, I did. Quickly I took a few of the more valuable among my possessions; I ate a little of the food, picked up my things and fled into the night.
My condition, which was a tired one, made my feet rather infirm on the ground, so after I had walked sometime and arrived at a certain pit, I went down into it. This turned out to be the pit which was used by the townspeople for disposing of their dead livestock, for they would never eat an animal which had died on its own. This gave the pit an unholy stench and I was no sooner down it than I stepped on the festering head of some such animal. Backwards or forwards I could not find a patch of common earth, the place was filled with the carcasses of animals. So I reached down on a goat that appeared freshly deposited and attempted to sit on it, little dreaming that it was at least four days dead, and its seeming firmness. Simply bloatedness. The moment my buttocks hit the carcass, it burst, and the gallbladder and intestines flushed my buttocks with their fetid fluids.
This woman again took such care of me the following day that I nearly resolved that there was nowhere better to hunt than the Forest of a Thousand Daemons. The drunkard had forgotten toil; I forgot all the suffering I had undergone. And her hospitality on the third day was simply indescribable.
When I thought upon these new tribulations, helpless tears flooded me. At that moment, even death seemed preferable to life. But my Creator again took pity on me and sent a messenger to me; it was a most beautiful woman, and when she came to me, she took me by the hand and bade me follow her. Still weeping I followed, and after we had walked some distance in this pit, we came to a certain well-appointed house. Several boys and maidservants were in this house, and each of them more beautiful than the antelope. It turned out that this woman was the head of the household. As we stepped in she ordered the servants to bathe me in warm water and rub me in sweet-smelling unguents. After this, she gave me a velvet coverlet and placed the most delicious food before me. When I had eaten I rose and would have prostrated myself to her because of excessive joy at my situation, but she forbade it. Next, she showed me to a room and pointed to a bed where she told me I should sleep. My head was no sooner down than I slept off, and it was not until the afternoon of the following day that I awoke. She woke me up, inviting me to eat.
This woman again took such care of me the following day that I nearly resolved that there was nowhere better to hunt than the Forest of a Thousand Daemons. The drunkard had forgotten toil; I forgot all the suffering I had undergone. And her hospitality on the third day was simply indescribable.
On the evening of the third day, the woman complained of a headache, so I sat beside her, took her head in my hands, and began some incantations for its cure. My good companions, it was even as I uttered these healing words that the woman died in my hands, and, as she died, a bell rang and all the members of her household came towards me and died there about us. I thereupon endeavored to die also but this proved impossible and I said to myself, what new visitation is this? I could not sleep all night, I alone living among all the dead—I was terrified of them. Early the following morning I cried up to my mother and bade her come out of heaven and attend me where I stood. I called her the first time but there was no response, I called her a second time and still I heard nothing, the third time I bellowed out in anguish saying:
“Ah Mother! Mother! Mother! Why do you fail to answer me at this hour? Why do I detect no sound of your presence? Is death not preferable to scorn for me? Had I but died at home, that would have been much better than this present plight. Is it fitting that I should perish in this wilderness? Is it proper that no one should know what earth covers me? This world favors me ill; I emerge from the home of death to the home of illness, I go from torment to contempt, my life proceeds lacking head or tail. Mother, dear mother, true mother, most complete mother, mother who turned out well in life, sharper than sharp mother, mother to be reckoned with, larger-than-life mother, far from wicked mother, an elite-on-earth mother, a famous-in-heaven mother, mother who dined well on earth, mother who wines well in heaven. Ah, you invaluable mother, wherever you are this day, do not fail to let my eyes behold you.”
When I had cried out thus, the earth was rent suddenly open and my mother appeared, and seeing me with tears in my eyes she also began to cry. She embraced me, caressed me on the head, saying, “Why do you summon me thus, my child? Tell me, do tell me, I want you to tell me, my son. I know that in this world your portion is hardship for you are a valiant man among men and a famous figure in the world. God will not deny you a long life, your Creator will not hide riches from your reach; but try, try to benefit this world before you die and leave it better than you entered it. As for returning home, that you surely will, nor will you die in the prime of youth. And also, when you have become aged, life will hold you esteemed, for there is nothing more harrowing under the heavens than the sight of an elder who is not yet free from toil. Therefore tell me if it is on an important matter that you have thus summoned me so that I may exert myself for you and make you happy.”
When my mother stopped, I wiped off my tears and told her that it was the fear that I could not escape from where I was which made me cry to her, and I told her also of the number of cruel experiences I had undergone. After this, she brought out a tasty cake that she offered me and I ate it. Then she bade me follow her and I followed her.
We did not walk too far before we came to a tunnel. There she dug her hand in her pocket and brought out a stone; this stone was very smooth and was white as cotton fluff. She instructed me to throw this stone into the tunnel and follow it wherever it rolled. And she assured me that if I did so I would emerge before long in a different section of the forest where I would meet another hunter who had been lost for a very long time. And she promised further that I would not encounter too many hardships from that moment until my return home. When she had said this, the earth yawned again and swallowed her, and I did as she had instructed me.
Copyright © 1982 by Wole Soyinka. Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books.
Daniel O. Fagunwa’s Forest of A Thousand Daemons, is one of the first novels to be written in any African language. First published in Nigeria in 1939, it is one of that country’s most revered and widely read works, and its influence on Nigerian literature is profound, most notably in the works of Amos Tutuola. Fagunwa studied at St. Luke’s School and St. Andrew’s College in Nigeria, before becoming a teacher himself. In 1955, he was awarded the Margaret Wong Prize. In 1959, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. He died in 1963, and remains the most widely read Yorùbá-language author.
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright and poet; he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first person in Africa or the diaspora to be so honored. Soyinka has remained active in Nigeria’s political history and its struggle for independence.