How the Gift of Wisdom Came to Men

In times gone by men on earth found life difficult to endure, for they had little knowledge and did not have the wisdom to acquire it. Therefore they sent a boy to God to ask for Wisdom. The boy humbled himself before mighty God and said:“O God, the hardships of mankind on earth are great, and getting greater. Pray grant me the gift of Wisdom, that I may carry it down to men, and life on earth will not be so difficult for us.”

God looked upon him kindly, and said:

“Come to me when I am asleep, and I will give you Wisdom.”

The boy went early next day, but God was already awake. He went again in the middle of the night, but it seemed that God had not yet gone to bed. The little boy went several more times, but always he found God awake. So the lad sat down and thought, and thought, then went back to God and said:

“How can I come to you when you are asleep? You are God, and you never sleep.”

God smiled.

“I see that you know the use of Wisdom,” he said. “Therefore I will give you some: Take palm nuts and cut them with a knife, and you will find oil inside. Build traps, thus and so, to snare fish in the rivers. Plant fields with seed, and use the crops as food in the Hungry Season . . .”

God gave much Wisdom to the boy, and thus to men; and then, wondering if he had given them too much, he added:

“Cut holes in the tops of certain palms, and drink the juice you find.”Thus men were given palm wine, which sometimes robs them of all the wisdom they possess.


Why the Sea is Salty

Two brothers called Guba and Koi lived in a place near the sea. Guba was a wealthy man but had no children; Koi was a poor carpenter who carved canoes, but although he lived on the edge of hunger he was blessed with many sons, and Guba was jealous of his fortune.

When Koi was carving a canoe one day his cutlass slipped and cut his leg. The wound was deep, and he was unable to work for many days; his family grew hungry, and he begged Guba for food. Guba gave him a little food, and then a little more, but finally he said:

“I am tired of giving food to beggars. Take this bowl of rice and go to the Devil with it!”

Koi carried the rice home, and told his wife that Guba had requested him to take it to the Devil. He set off on this far journey despite the wound in his leg, and after a time he met a small old man sitting on a rock. The old man asked Koi where he traveled to, and Koi replied that he was taking rice to the Devil.

“When you give him the rice, “ the old man said, “ask him for some of his dried nuts. Bring the nuts to me, and I will give you anything you like.”

Koi went to the Devil with the rice, and the Devil received him kindly. He gladly gave Koi some nuts, and as he was returning Koi gave them to the old man on the rock.

“What do you want in return?” the old man asked. “Wives? Slaves? Riches? Tell me.”

Koi had a wife and loved her, and had no desire for others. He wanted no slaves, for he could not feed them. Riches? He considered riches. He knew his wife had always wanted to have a grinder, so he asked for one and the old man gave it to him.

His family rejoiced when he went home. He told them of his adventures, and gave the grinder to his wife.

“O husband, you are a fool,” she said gently. “There were so many better things you might have asked for. A grinder . . . I wish it could grind out gold, or meat, or grain.”

“Perhaps it can,” said Koi. “No one has asked it.”He asked the grinder to grind gold, and gold poured forth in a shower on the ground. He asked for meat, and meat came forth. Grain, and cloth, fine things they scarcely dreamed of — it was a magic grinder which humble Koi had won, and thenceforth his wife was blessed with every comfort.

After a time he invited Guba to visit him; Guba came, and marveled to find that his brother now lived in a fine palace hung with cloths of gold and silver, paved with precious stones and abounding with slaves who carried gourds of wine and golden bowls filled with choicest fruits and meats. When he discovered the secret of Koi’s success he stole the magic grinder and took it to his own house. He happened to arrive there at a time when his wife was needing salt.

Guba commanded the grinder to grind salt, and salt poured forth upon the ground. He commanded the grinder to stop, but it would not, having doubtless realized that Guba was not its master. Salt piled on salt and filled the house, until in desperation Guba flung it in the sea; and there the grinder is today, grinding salt and filling the seas with brine.


Why Wasp Will Not Live on the Ground

A man who lived on the edge of a forest decided to break new ground and make a farm. His family helped him to clear land and plant yams. The rains came, the crop grew; but when the time for harvesting drew near the farmer resolved to take the whole crop for himself. He was a greedy man beyond the common greed of men.

He pretended to die, and in accordance with his dying wish his family buried him in a certain manner. He was placed in a hole in the center of the yam farm, together with a knife, a cooking pot, a gourd of palm oil and two stones for making fire.

As is customary in that place his wife stayed in her house for forty days and mourned him; no one went to the farm, and every night for forty nights the farmer came out of his grave, dug as many yams as he could eat, and cooked and ate them.

He must have been very fond of yams.

After forty days his wife came to the farm and was surprised to find that much of the crop had disappeared. She saw no tracks to mark the coming and going of any thief, and marveled that this thing could have happened; her brother promised he would watch by night. He hid at the edge of the farm at dusk, and after several hours he saw a figure moving about the field. He suspected someone was there, and drew close — and behold his brother-in-law, who had died, digging yams. He watched him build a fire and cook the yams, and then he crept quietly up behind him and seized him by the arm.

“Who is holding me on my own farm?” cried the farmer.

“You are dead,” the brother said. “And you have no right to steal food from the living, and must be punished. Or you are not dead, and therefore a liar as well as a thief, and must still be punished.”

He sounded the alarm, shouting in a loud voice, and everybody came. The farmer’s family came, and many neighbors, first to stare and then to scold and mock him: and he was mightily ashamed. He was so filled with shame he turned into a wasp by singing a song:

“Baba lade coyambo klubayo.”

“Greediness turns a man to a wasp.”

He is still a wasp, a greedy animal who builds a house of earth and stuffs it with more creatures than he can ever hope to eat. As he builds he sings his song,“Baba la e coyambo klubayo.”

And because of his shame he will never live on the ground.

Ethnic Origin

Why Grand Bassa Was Called Gbezohn

In times gone by in Bassa land the people of the interior used to walk down to the coast bearing kinjahs, or palm-leaf hamper, filled with the various inland produce they habitually traded for salt and articles of foreign manufacture.

At the appointed place of trade they would unload their kinjahs, and having sold the contents they would toss the empty hampers into a small stream which ran to the town.

The thousands of discarded hampers clogged the water, causing it to become stagnant and odorous, and thus this place earned the name Gbezohn. “Gbe” in Bassa means kinjah; and Gbezohn means a marshy, smelly place.

Another version offered by F. Harper holds an interesting story but appears erroneous!

There was a chief called Nendeh who lived in the hinterland, and he traded with the coastal Krus for salt. Among his subjects was a man whose name was Tetteh, and his wife was known as Ku-welee. Tetteh and Ku-welee stole a bag of salt from Chief Nendeh, and when this was discovered they were obliged to flee. Since they both loved salt they fled towards the coast. They traveled far, and one day Ku-welee said:

“I am weary, and with child. For many and many days we have been walking, and we are nowhere yet. The road we follow is too long; let us take another, shorter one.”

They traveled on another road, and in time they came to a pleasant place where a river called Jedani met the sea. They began to build their house beneath a cotton tree. During their first night there Ku-welee awake and said:

“I smell something strange. I think it is a ghost.”

Tetteh rose and looked about, and behind the cotton tree he saw a ghost of a mighty snake which people in that land called Gba.

“It is a Gba-zonh,” he told his wife, “and this place is his home.”Therefore the place was called Gba-zonh after the ghost of a snake, and grew to be the town which is Grand Bassa today.


Why Children Cry For Nothing

Two men lived in a far town; one of these was called Nothing, and his friend was known as Something. Nothing was a rich and generous man whom all the children of that town loved for his kindness, but he only had a single wife who bore no children.

Something, being poor, would often go to Nothing and beg for food, and he was always fed; but there came a time of such great hunger that not even Nothing with all his wealth could buy food. When Something went to beg from him he said:

“Forgive me, friend, for today I have no food. Come back some other time and I will help you.”

Something became angry, for anger easily grows in empty bellies and he was sure that Nothing had a hoard of food inside his house. One night he called and plunged a spear through Nothing’s heart, and ran away to hide.

Nothing’s wife found her husband lying dead with the blade of a spear in his heart, and she began to weep and wail. She had no one to help her mourn, no family at all, so she called in children from the town and they filled her house and cried and cried, for they had all loved Nothing.

They cried for Nothing and feared Something, and still do today.


The Girl Who Rose From Her Grave

In a village on a hill there lived a beautiful young girl called Duakma; she was the only child of her mother, who loved her well. When the time came for Duakma to join the women’s secret Sande Society she was taken to the gree-gree bush with many other maidens, far from the eyes of men, and certain ceremonies were performed.

Duakma was the best dancer in the land; when she danced the other girls watched in fascination, and event birds and animals came to watch, but there was one wicked woman who was jealous and hated Duakma because she danced better than her daughter.

This evil woman poisoned Duakma and she died. When the Sande ceremonies were over and Duakma failed to return with the other maidens the whole town mourned, and Duakma’s mother wept for days and could not be consoled. One night she dreamed, and in her dream Duakma appeared to her saying:

“Beloved Mother, if you wish me to live again, arise at dawn and summon the best singers of the town. Let each one sing the Sky-god’s praises as they walk across my grave, and I will live again.”

This thing was done. The singers walked across the grave singing the Sky-god’s praises, and Duakma rose from her grave clad in garments of gold and silver cloth, with precious stones about her and a golden bowl of riches in her hands. She gave half her riches to the singers who had sung her back to life, and danced into her village while her mother and the people all rejoiced.

The wicked woman who had poisoned her became more jealous than before, for now Duakma and her mother possessed happiness and wealth. Therefore she poisoned her own daughter, hoping that fortune would also come to her, and in the time of mourning she also dreamed the dream.

She called the singers at dawn and let them walk across her daughter’s grave singing the Sky-god’s praises, and waited greedily for her girl to rise with precious stones and gold, and other things.

The earth of the grave began to stir, and her daughter’s head appeared: but being greedy the woman ran to pull her out, and pulled her head right off. The head, which had been living, became dead and rotten in her hands: she screamed and ran into the forest, and was never seen again.


The Ruler of the World

When Skygod created the world and the animals and men therein, a king was needed to rule mankind. The people went to Skygod and asked him to appoint a ruler, and in his wisdom Skygod, knowing the wickedness and jealousy of men, said:

“I will show you three kings, an you shall choose one of them.’
He showed them Sun, Darkness and Rain, and men elected the Sun. So the Sun became king of the world, an poured his heat upon the earth until the rivers steamed dry, the rocks cracked, the grasslands burned and the forest began to die, and men cowered in caves away from the might of their king. They prayed to Skygod, saying:

“O Skygod, let the Sun not be our king, for he is too powerful and too fierce. Let Darkness be our King.”

Darkness became king of the world; and with Darkness came the fears of the night, and murderers and rogues and evil beings swarmed about the earth causing such fear and misery that again the people cried to Skygod.

“O Skygod, let the reign of Darkness end, for we are oppressed by fearful terrors and demons of the night. We beg you, let rain be our king!”

When Rain was made king the world was washed with storms and showers until the rivers rose, swamps overflowed and dry land was flooded by the swollen sea. Mankind cried out in anguish, and yet again their pleas rose to the sky.

“O Skygod, remove this curse from us, for we are almost dead. We have had three kings, and each one would destroy us; therefore we have had enough of kings. Pray let the moon, the gentle moon be our queen.”

Moon became queen and ruler of the earth, and men rejoiced to see her drifting majestically through the sky by night — and, like any woman, always changing shape, flirting with the clouds, and each night an hour later than she was the night before.


Why Leopard is an Enemy of Deer

In other days Leopard and Deer were the best of friends and always lived together; when sorrows came they mourned together, and when happiness came they shared their joy. People warned Leopard that Deer would one day play him false, but Leopard never listened to such talk. One fine morning Deer said:

“Let’s go hunting and find a thing to eat.”

“Tomorrow,” said Leopard. “Today my bones are weary.”

“Tomorrow they may be dead,” said Deer. “Let us go today.”

Leopard finally agreed, but said:

“We should carry food with us, for we will be out all day.”
Deer, who ate far more often than Leopard, refused to give assistance in collecting food, so Leopard found six bananas and carried them with him, along with his gun. Deer carried nothing. They walked through the woods a long way without finding anything to hunt, and Deer said: “My belly is empty. Let us eat bananas.”

“No,” said Leopard. “Not yet. Wait until we are on our way home.”

Deer was obliged to agree, for the food was Leopard’s food. Sometime later Leopard saw a monkey in a tree, and said to Deer:

“Deer, there is a monkey in that tree. See if you can shoot him down.”

“I am too weak with hunger,” Deer complained. Leopard shot the monkey. The monkey fell in a fork of the tree and stayed there dead.

“See if you can get him, Deer,” asked Leopard.

“I have no strength,” Deer said, and sighed unhappily.

Leopard climbed the tree. He reached the monkey and was about to climb down when he saw Deer nosing the six bananas, as if he was in the mood to eat them. He began to climb down quickly. He slipped, and his back feet became entangled in some vines, so that he found himself hanging there helplessly, upside down.

“Deer,” he cried. “I beg you, climb up and cut me free!”“I am too weak with hunger,” Deer said again. Leopard could hear people working on a nearby farm.

“Then shout for people on the farm nearby to come, or I will die.”

“How can I shout when I am so hungry?” I have not eaten food all day. Particularly bananas.”

“Then eat two bananas, and then shout.”Deer ate two bananas, and shouted in such a small voice that a person four paces distant could scarcely have heard him. Leopard was now in great pain, and begged his friend to make a greater effort.

“Those two bananas hardly touched my throat,” said Deer. “I am still too weak.”

“Then eat two more, and shout for help.”

Deer ate tow more bananas, but his second shout was even weaker than the first.

“Have the bananas stolen your voice?” cried Leopard angrily.

“No, my friend, my voice is coming now. If I could have two more bananas my voice would be loud indeed.”

“Then eat the last two, and be quick before my legs are torn loose from my body.”

Deer ate the last two bananas, and then sat down and laughed and laughed at Leopard. Leopard did not know what to do. Deer looked up at him, still laughing, and said:

“If you can’t get down I shall leave you useless Leopard. Oh, how funny it is to see you hanging by two feet!”

Leopard became very angry. He struggled and struggled, and began to free himself. He said bitterly:

“When I get down I shall eat you, Deer. I will claw you to pieces, I swear.”

“When you get down,” Deer mocked him. But Leopard was pulling free of the vines, and when Deer saw this he grew alarmed and ran away. Leopard came down the tree and began to chase him.

Deer hid behind a tree, and Leopard did not see him. Leopard went home, but Deer remained in the forest, and since that time he has been obliged to run for his life whenever Leopard finds him.


A Maiden Who Wedded a Dhevlin

There lived a rich chief whose daughter was so beautiful that men who saw her trembled with desire; her name was Daggu. But although she was of marriageable age, Daggu was too disobedient to follow her father’s good advice and marry such a man as he might choose; and she was too proud to choose a husband from those who begged her hand, for she saw no man who’s beauty matched her own.

The old chief was very sad. He called in diviners and wise men and asked them to discover some solution. The diviners and wise men asked the chief to put them to sleep with gifts, so the chief gave each of them white cloth and silver. They slept, and next morning they revealed the nature of the trouble.

“Your daughter has inherited a discontented Spirit, O Chief,” they said. “We can do nothing. No one else can do anything. Her ways cannot be changed.”

A powerful Dhevlin heard of this proud and beautiful Daggu, and decided he would win her. This Dhevlin had one big leg, one tooth, one large ear and one eye in the center of his forehead. He went into the forest and began to change his form: he borrowed the beautiful eyes of Deer, Otter’s silken coat, Monkey’s teeth, and Pigeon’s pretty pink fee.

Disguised as the most handsome of creatures he went to the chief with gifts, and as soon as Daggu saw him she fell passionately in love. The wise chief cautioned his daughter against marrying this unknown stranger, but she merely laughed. So they were married, the Dhevlin and the maiden, and stayed for a week of feasting the chief gave in their honor: and then they began the journey to the rich, fair land the Dhevlin said he owned.

They met otter, and Dhevlin gave Otter his skin. His own was of slippery yellow scales, and cold; Daggu was alarmed. Dhevlin gave back his beautiful eyes to Deer, his fine white teeth to Monkey, his pretty pink feet to Pigeon. He became once again an ugly monster, and Daggu was forced to live with him in despair and sorrowing until she died.

Such may be the fate of any maiden who is proud and disobedient, and disregards her parents’ good advice.