This is one of the most widely told tales in the Central African Republic. It helped me see another aspect of their culture: the influence of nature in their lives. This version is by “the Ubanguian People” as it is really passed down by storytelling. This written version comes from a book listed at the end under credits.
“After eleven moons, the twelfth rises in the sky. The yellow page of the dry season covers the savanna. The winds push in front of them the gray and black smoke of the bush fires.
The savanna that is the color of gold became the color of coal. Gray is the dust and the light from the sky. Gray is the ground and gray are
the trunks of the trees.
It is hunting season.
It is the season chosen by the herders of Chad to cross the Centra African plains with their herds.
During this season, the thin cows try to find the rare grass on their path. In the sky heavy birds look for the remains of an animal that died of fatigue on the side of the path and that was sold to some peasant for a few measures of peanuts, corn, or millet to the people of a village.
During this season, the children of Tagoua, the monkey with red hair and the fingers of a thief, descend from their trees to collect the ears of corn forgot ten by the machetes of the peasants.
During this season the traveler hears at a distance the cries of the scarecrows
placed high in the branches of trees.
The dry season has returned.
After eleven moons, the twelfth rises in the sky.
It is the dry season.
The father says: “Mother, the granaries are full. Now the child must pass the test that will make him a man. During this test he will learn to conquer fatigue and pain.”
“Let us take our son to the test. There he will be alone. The eyes of his heart his will look for me every day. But you are the father. Promise me to pay attention to his health his.”
She quiets herself and starts to cry.
For her her, her child, her son her, it’s her body her, her soul her. It is her language her and her words her. Since he has arrived in the world, she taught him to walk, to run, to say his first words his. She cared for him when he was sick. She watched over him at night, she laughed to teach him to laugh.
“Let us take our son to the test.’ And the child left…
The camp is in the heart of the forest, next to a spring. There the young boys
learned to become men. There, to prepare them for their work as men, they obeyed all the laws that came from very ancient times.
They sleep at night with their legs separated and attached to the bed of branches and dry leaves. They were awakened at daybreak for a first bath in the cold water of the spring.
Dressed in a skirt of husks, they learned sacred dances, their bodies painted Then from morning to night they learn the plants that cure and those that with white powder. kill. They learn to follow the paths that animals make. They learn to hunt, to
fish, to wrestle.
tests are terrible. The child goes to look for honey without fearing the sting of the bee. Lost in the bush, he must live alone and find a path to get him back to the camp.
Death will get him if he lacks courage or if fear makes him crazy. If he quits before the end of the tests the old ones will make fun of him in a wicked way. He is punished and beaten. They refuse to feed him or give him anything to drink. And during all this time, he will see no woman. For many weeks, no woman. Neither his mother nor his sisters his will see him.
And the child is gone. “Father, did you see the child?”
“Does he eat well?”
“Yes, mother.” “Does he sleep well?”
“Father, have you seen the child?” “Yes, mother.”
“Is he in good health?”
“Yes, mother.” “Does he speak of me?”
“He repeats non-stop. “Tell my mother that I am okay and that I am facing the tests with bravery. Tell her also that I am becoming a man and that I will
come back soon…. Also tell her that I think of her …”
The child has been gone for two moons.
The third rises in the cloudless sky.
That morning at dawn, in the camp, in the heart of the forest, a child was found dead on his bed his on his bed of dried leaves. His poor skinny body his was found there, lifeless, not moving, by the head of the camp.
The head of the camp said “It is the law of nature and it is the law of men.” This child was buried according to the law of the past, in silence, in the shade of the deep forest.
And the chief said: “The bush has its secrets. Only the ancestors have the right to know them. The wise man must keep the secret of the bush, the secret of death in his mouth. The secret of death. If he speaks, the anger of the gods will be upon his house, his wife, his children and the children of their children.”
The chief and the father left. At the camp, life continues.
The father came back to the village. Silence and forgetfulness covered the bush and its mysteries. “Father, did you see the child?”
“Is he eating well?”
“Is he sleeping well?”
“Yes, mother, he sleeps well.”
“Is he in good health?”
“Does he speak of me?”
“He spoke of you.”
“Father, when is he coming back?”
“He will come back when the next moon rises from the bottom of the night.’
“Tell him that to receive him I have repainted the walls of the hut in white. Tell him that for his rest, I have made him a new mat. Tell him that I will be there, with all the village, to receive the new man that he has become. And we will sing, and we will all dance at the festival of his return.”
The moon rose from the depths of the night.
The new men, born in the camp, came back to the village. They arrived with the dawn of the new day. They walked all night, their faces and bodies painted in vivid colors.
For five days and five nights the village will have great festival. That morning the woman came back from the fountain, her her earthenware pot of water on her head. She saw the young people descend the mountain. But she did not recognize her son.
She stopped herself on the side of the road, put down her burden and says,
“I do not want to be what I am. I did not ask for this sadness.” Then she started to cry and scream. Then she tore up her pagne and nude, totally nude, she loses herself in the bush.
“Oh! God! And you my ancestors. You have killed my child. Listen to the cries of a mother. Listen to my cries which will now live in the bush and mix with those of savage animals. Block your ears if you do not want to hear my songs which will tell and repeat my sadness.”
But the bush is sometimes more mild than the law of men. The woman walked since the morning.
Near a spring she stopped.
She tumbled in the dewy grass. In sleepiness, she tried to forget the fatigue of her body her and that of her heart.
At the foot of an old tree, she hears the voice of running water that told her: “Mother, I will carry the echo of your pain to the great waters of the plain.”
Then a very old woman advanced with small steps and said to her: “I understand your hurt, my girl. But I offer to heal you and offer you vengeance.”
She showed her a small tree, which kept all its green leaves despite the season and the bush fires. She asked her “This tree keeps its leaves. Can you tell me why?”
“It is the plant of good and evil. It is the plant which, attacked by fire, burned by the sun, does not die. It gives power to all that touch it. Make your self a pagne of her leaves. Pick a branch that you will hold in your hand. Go to the place of the festival. You can, if you want, prevent your husband, your relatives, your friends from mixing with the people of the village.” “I want everyone to be struck by my vengeance.”
“When the sun sets behind the mountain, you will make a furrow with the end of the stick around the village.”
The old woman disappeared and the mother her found herself at the entrance to the village where the festival had begun.
The tam-tams beat. The balafons resonated. The dancers turned faster and faster, jumped higher and higher. Hands beat harder and harder. The laughs and cries mounted along with the songs. The mothers showed with their fingers their sons who returned from the camp who were now men.
Then the woman, alone, started to walk slowly around the village. at the end of the stick that she picked from the tree of Good and Evil, she drew, silent and with a grave air, a little furrow.
When she came back to the spot from where she departed, the earth opened up with a terrible noise. The village, its dancers and spectators, the tam-tam and balafon players, the houses, and trees disappeared all of a sudden into a big hole.
And the hole is so deep that one cannot see the bottom. A high wave showed in a clap of thunder. The waters seemed to boil. They covered and devoured everything.
When the waters that came from the center of the earth were calmed, a lake of black waters was born.
There was nothing on its shores but a woman all alone who laughs and cries at the same time.
This lake, today, is called the Lake of Sorcerers. No one has ever been able to measure its depth. No fisherman has ever plied his canoe on its waters. In all seasons, neither the rains nor the dry season make the waters of the surface of the lake go up or down. No river empties into it. Its dead waters are inhabited only by crocodiles with fiery eyes.
There was also a white administrator at Damara, the neighboring village. One day an old man came to talk with him about the lake.
“Commandant, the black lake that sleeps behind our village is not tranquil like the others. Every night the voices of men, women and children, noise of the tam-tam and the sound of balafons rise from its depths and all its sides shine like a thousand fires.”
They The white man listened, but the story did not interest him. “In Cameron,” he said, “the blacks said that the souls of the dead flew in the air and went walking ing at night. One could see them and hear them around still waters. healed lost travelers along the road and walked around sleeping villages. In the Soudan, Africans made huts in the bush for their lost souls. If they came in, they could not get out. And the souls of the living forgot them.”
The white chief made a sign to the interpreter. “Tell this peasant that maybe I will go one night to see this lake he thinks is inhabited. Tell him also that if this lake stays tranquil and without life I will put him in prison for mocking me and for coming to trouble the spirit of the citizens.”
One night, the white man went to the sleeping lake. At midnight the wind rose up and blew strongly in the branches. A savage music rose in the air from the bottom of the lake. It was accompanied by cries and very sad one heard moaning voices. A wave rolled to the surface of the lake. The noise of the tam-tams and the balafons got louder and louder. The leaves of the trees and the grass shone with a thousand fires. songs. Then the commandant was afraid, he ran into the night, followed and enveloped by the increasingly terrible noise.
Never again did anyone see the one who did not believe in the African spirit. The lake is dead still today in the middle of the forest. It is the place where one comes to take courage from those who suffered from losing very close loved ones. Women sometimes soak their feet to ask the gods for the happiness of mothers.”
This piece shows the importance of initiation and how it is a man affair. The father keeps all the information from the mother. According to the author she discusses how many Westerners believe that African women do not hold any power, but she says that this is not true in this story as she is the one that creates the lake that devours the entire town for killing her son. What do you think?
For me it was a very sad story as I am a mother to a young man. I can only imagine her pain!
I wondered what a “pagne’ was and this is what I found from Wikipedia:
Pagne designates a certain cut (two by six yards) and type (single-sided “Fancy” or double-sided “wax” prints) of un-tailored cotton textile, especially in Francophone West and Central Africa. Enormously popular in much of tropical Africa, the pagne cloth’s usage and patterns may be used to convey by the wearer a number of social, economic—and sometimes even political—messages.
Story taken from the book: Culture and Customs of the Central African Republic by Jacqueline Woodfork. Pg. 49-54.
Featured photo comes from the communication initiative network. com