The Rise and Fall of Zolu Dumah

Gorn is a town in the Vai-Koneh chiefdom of Grand Cape Mount County; and in recent years, within the compass of four life-spans, a man called Zolu Dumah was Chief of the town of Gorn.

The task of protecting his people concerned Chief Zolu deeply, for although he had no serious rival and his lands were unmolested, yet hostile spears beyond his borders were as sands on a sandy shore. All peoples from the Mano River to the Junk River were included in his chiefdom, and during his reign none of his people ever rebelled against him; but he was uneasy, and finally revised a plan to make the safety of his chiefdom doubly certain.

A Muslim priest, or Imam, was invited to appear before the Chief, and when he came the Chief demanded of him:

“Can you make magic to preserve my power? There are enemies about me, inside my borders and without, and they may do some evil thing against me. Can you make magic to prevent this thing?”

The Imam nodded thoughtfully. “O Chief, it can be done.”

“And can you make magic so that I may overpower any rival who appears? If you can do this, then I shall give you the greatest reward that any man can ask.”

The priest was pleased to hear this, but though eaten with desire to know what his reward might be he dared not ask. He nodded head again, and announced:

“O Chief, with my skill and knowledge I can do this thing.”

Chief Zolu smiled hugely when he heard this and praised himself in his own heart, saying : Indeed, I am the cleverest of chiefs, and for my cleverness my sons will rule a mighty kingdom. I will die with the blessings of my sons in my ears.

The priest went away, and being an ardent and capable exponent of his art he labored long and earnestly and succeeded in preparing the necessary magic; he wondered greatly what his fabulous reward might be. On the appointed day he took Chief Zolu deep into the forest, and stood him in a shallow basket such as is used to winnow grain, called a fanner. Certain magic formulae which he uttered caused the fanner to rise up in the air to such a height that Chief Zolu could gaze across great distances of forest and fertile farmland, from river to river and from the mountains to the sea.

“O Chief,” the priest cried up to him, “know that you will rule, till the end of your days, over all the land which you have see; and hostile spears will lose their power to hurt you.”

On returning to the ground the Chief exulted at his fortune, praised the priest, and declared:

“O best of Imams, you have done a fine and loyal deed; for this you have my gratitude, and the devotion of my sons. But you must understand I fear you may do some such thing for another chief, and work me harm. Therefore I must kill you.”

He grasped his lance. The Imam proudly stood his ground, returning the Chief’s gaze steadily.

“O faithless Chief,” he said, “has all honor left you? Or have you forgotten that you promised me the greatest reward that man can ask?”

“The greatest reward that any man can ask,” the Chief replied, “is a sudden and clean death. What has gone before is lost; what comes ahead, unknown. A clean death is a painless birth into another life.”

The Imam bowed his head in grief and disappointment; but was both a brave and holy man, and craved a boon of the Chief.

“What is this boon?” the Chief demanded.

“O Chief, I wish to pray.”

“Then pray.”

The Imam prayed to Allah the All-Highest; he prayed that Zolu might die slowly, slowly, and that no son of his might ever be a chief. Then Chief Zolu killed him.

And in truth no son of Zolu ever became a chief, and no chief has come out of Gorn that day.