Ethnic Origin

The Kissi

The Kissi were, like the Gola, one of the first people to settle in Liberia. Their language belongs to what is known as the West Atlantic Group, part of a larger classification of ‘class-languages’ which stretches from Lake Chad to the Senegal river.

The Kissi are a muscular and thickset people, proud and stubborn as well as being accomplished fighters.

Paramount Chief Quirmolu states that when the Kissi came south from the Sudan they found a people called the Kono occupying a fertile tract of forest and cultivated fields. They went to war with the Konos, invaded their land and drove a wedge through the center of that group, splitting it in two.

One half of the Konos was forced west into Sierra Leone, where they are today; the other half fled to the northeast into French Guinea.

It has been suggested that the Konos were in fact a Kissi advance-guard who, having been sent south on reconnaissance to find new land, settled here without bothering to send word back to their people, and married the women of neighboring peoples.


Why Elephants Flee From Goats

Elephant and Goat went out together to work in the fields, hoeing the soil and planting cassava stems. Goat was thrifty and industrious, but elephant was lazy and ate more than he grew. By midday they were hungry, and Goat, who could not trust Elephant with food, said:

“It is time to eat. Since I am the smallest, I shall prepare the meal.”

“Not at all,” declared the hungry Elephant. “You will not make enough. Since it is I who will eat most, I shall prepare our meal.”

Goat thought: “If Elephant does so, he will eat as he works and my share will be quite small: Therefore he said:

“You are a fool, Elephant. Your head is all bone. I can eat more than you, so I shall prepare our meal.”

Elephant could scarcely believe his ears. He looked down at Goat, a small and homely animal who did not reach his knee,, and protested: “I really cannot believe that you can eat more than I. You are too small. I am too big. I always eat much more than you.”

“Then let us have a competition,” goat suggested, and Elephant agreed. They abandoned their farming for the day, and for several hours they labored to gather a pile of herbs and fruits and grass and roots. This they divided into two equal heaps and started eating.

Elephant ate quickly till his stomach swelled and pained him, and he lay down to sleep a little and wait to see how much Goat would eat. Goat slowly munched, and munched, and when he could eat no more he kept on steadily chewing the same mouthful of grass.

Whenever Elephant woke up he saw that Goat still chewed, and each time he fell asleep again Goat move some of his food to Elephant’s pile. For many hours Goat chewed on and his pile of food grew lower and lower still till there was very little left; and Elephant became amazed that Goat could eat as much.

“How is it, Goat.” he asked, “that you can eat so much?” I am much larger than you, but you have eaten more.”

“Indeed I have,” said Goat. “My appetite is endless. When I finish this pile of food I shall eat the rest of yours; and if I am not satisfied, I swear I’ll eat you too.”

He announced this in such a menacing tone that Elephant became quite alarmed; for truly Goat appeared to have an astonishing capacity. After some reflecting he rose clumsily to his feet, and said off-handedly:

“Goat, I think I’ll go into the forest and find some honey.”
Elephant went deep into the forest, and after traveling for many days he came to the High Forests of the hinterland. He never returned. Since that time Goat has continued to chew his cud steadily, and men abroad in the High forests take Goat with them to frighten elephants away.


How Three Brothers Sought Their Fortunes

Three orphan-brothers had land which was so sour and full of stones that they decided to travel to some distant place to find rich soil. They had been raised in a poor and unimportant village, and had learned to love each other. The oldest brother possessed an unusual gift. He could often tell, by dreams and other signs, what would happen in the future.

The second brother was a warrior and a hunter, a tall and powerful man who could spear a kola nut at fifty paces or walk with a bullock on his back for three nights and days.

The youngest brother was the handsomest of them all, as handsome as a godling and skilled in the arts which women most admire. All women fell in love with him, and his own love for women knew no end; so angry were the husbands in that village that he was wise to leave them when he did.

The three brothers journeyed east through foreign lands for many weeks, and came to a large white city on a plain below a mountain. On the mountain lived a hairy monster with teeth the size of elephant tusks and seven legs like palm trunks.

Each year the monster ate a thousand people, so the Chief of the white city had offered a quarter of his lands to the warrior who would rid the country of this awful creature.

When the three brothers arrived the Chief was absent on a journey; and the youngest brother fell in love with the Chief’s first wife. Each night he went to her, although he knew he would be killed if ever the Chief found out; and his brothers feared for him. Each day the eldest brother counted the nuts on a palm beside his door; several fell each day, and when but one was left he said to his youngest brother:

“Beware! Take care! The Chief returns tomorrow.”

This good advice was ignored. On the following night the young man went as usual to the palace; but he knocked on the door in vain. At length he took a stone and beat upon the door suddenly the Chief rushed out, made angry by such noise, cut off the lover’s hand with a single sword-stroke and slammed the door in his face.

The elder brother tenderly treated the wound with clean red clay and healing herbs, and the middle brother, who was the warrior, pondered what he should do. He decided to hunt and kill the monster, if he could, for this was the only way they could now find favor with the Chief.

That very night he found the monster on the mountain top crunching the bones of an elephant; and here they fought by the light of the moon till trees were splintered and rocks were cleft, and blood lay on the ground. The warrior’s flesh was gashed and slashed by fangs and flailing talons: the monster’s hide was gouged and ripped by spear and knife, and several of his seven legs were broken.

The mountain groaned and trembled, and moon hid fearfully in black steam clouds and high winds came to howl and shriek about the scene of battle. The hideous fight wore on through midnight until dawn, and the gods of men assembled in the shadows in silent admiration of their man.

At length the warrior leapt astride the failing monster’s hairy neck, stabbed out his eyes and plunged his broken spear into the brain.

The monster shuddered, and so died.

As the sun rose over the edge of the plain and gilded the mountain top the warrior stumbled tiredly down the mountain side to report to his two brothers. As he entered the city, heralds were abroad announcing g that no man could leave the city until it was discovered who had knocked at the palace door the previous evening.

The eldest brother tended the warrior’s wounds, then went up to the palace and stood before the Chief.

“O Chief,” he began, “I am the eldest of three brothers who came from a foreign land, and it was my youngest brother who knocked on your door last night.”

“So! Then let him be brought before me.”

“Let him be brought indeed,” agreed the elder brother.

“Let also our other brother be brought here: for it was he who slew your monster on the mountain top. And when our youngest brother came here to report, you cut his hand off. Is that a just reward, O Chief?”

These words amazed the Chief.

“You say the monster is dead?”

“My younger brother slew it.”

“And it was your youngest brother who came here to report?”

“You cut his hand off.”

“Then indeed, you are the worthiest of all men, and have been severely wronged. The three of you shall share half the lands which I possess, rich and fruitful lands, and half my gold as well.”
But for the rest of his life the lack of a hand reminded the youngest brother that he should not toy with the wives of other men.


A Story of Two Monsters

Men tell a tale of two brothers who were orphans. They came of a poor family, and having no land of their own they sought work where they could.

“We are poor,” the elder brother remarked one day. “What should we do to gain riches.?”

Look for them,” the younger one suggested.

“But where? Such things are not easily found.”

“We should look for riches where riches abound, and that is in foreign places far from here.”

“Then let us travel,” agreed the elder. “Let us each take a different direction, and after the moon we will return and see if either of us had been successful.”

Going from their village they came upon two roads; one went towards the rising sun, the other towards the setting moon; and here the brothers parted.

The younger one traveled east with his dog and his spear and a small bag of food; he walked for many days over hills and streams and mountains and valleys, and finally the road, which had starter out so boldly, became an uncertain track snaking thinly through great forests and dark swamps in the most remote corner of the land. The young man grew afraid, but just as he was about to turn back he came upon the ruins of an old town, buried in vines and shrubs.

“Perhaps, in a place like this where men have lived and died,” he reasoned, “there will be hidden treasures.” He began to look, and his dog helped him. For a whole day he hunted in all the hundred places where treasure might have been hidden, but discovered nothing more interest than a large pot.

The pot was too heavy to pick up and too tall for him to see inside; but he knew that such a tall and beautiful post must have been used for some important purpose, and so using all his strength he pushed it over… and a monster out on the ground.

The young man was alarmed. He watched in growing fear as the monster swelled and swelled, just as if it had been stuffed inside the pot like a dog in a peanut shell; and when the thing had grown very big indeed it glared down at the young man. He made an angry growling sound, and forest birds took flight.

“Arrgh! Foolish man! For centuries I have slept, and now you have awakened me. You must now carry me on you back until you die; and if you will not, you shall die at once!”

The young treasure-hunter decided he would have to try, although it seemed an impossible task; for it was a large monster, and although one foot was only as large as a pebble, the other was as large as a house. He managed to barely lift the creature, and for a time he staggered through the ruined town; but such was the demon’s weight that soon the young man was exhausted, and set his burden down.

“Carry me!” the monster roared.

“One moment, Master; I must lay an egg.” The youth withdrew among the weeds and waited, resting, for some time. He knew he could not carry this demon any longer, and stood in danger of losing his life; so he took a small gourd of red pepper from his little bag, and as he returned to the monster he pretended to be eating it. The monster demanded:

“What are you eating?”

“It is a magic powder which will make me strong; strong enough to carry you.”

The creature snatched the gourd and emptied a pound of red pepper into his mouth. Within a moment his eyes had bulged like coconuts, fumes issued from his mouth and streams of perspiration began pouring down his face. He fell down and rolled on the ground in pain, and the young man trust his spear into the monster’s heart.

He was curious to know what made one feet so large, and what made the other small, so he slit the little feet with his knife and found a nut inside; and since he did not know what kind of nut it was, he gave it to his dog. The dog ate the nut and began to grow smaller and smaller until finally he disappeared, and only the nut was left. The young man had never seen a nut like this before, so he picked it up and put it in his little bag.

When he slit open the bigger feet he was surprise to see cattle the size of dogs come forth, and they at once began to grow in size until they formed a handsome herd. Here were riches indeed: so he set out to return to his village with the cattle, and at the junction of the two roads he met his brother. His brother had been frightened of the forest and had not journeyed far.

“Greetings. What fortune did you have?” the younger brother asked.

“No fortune, only blistered feet and hunger, red ants and thirst, and other things. and what of you? Are these your cattle?”

“I won them from a monster. Let us return to our village as rich men, and live there with fine clothes and feasts, as rich men do.”

They began driving the cattle towards their village; but the older brother held jealousy in his heart, and began wondering if he would become a slave to his rich brother. He suddenly thrust his spear through the young man’s heart, took his little bag and flung his body carelessly in a ditch. When he reached his village he left the cattle outside in a field, hung the bag upon a bush, and went in to see the Chief.

“O Chief,” he said, “I traveled far abroad, through many hardships and great danger, and killed a monster who had many cattle. I have brought the cattle back and they wait outside the village; but since I have no land to graze them on, I would give half of them to you if you will give me land.”

The Chief agreed to do this, and bade his councilors discover the most suitable grazing land.

“Take me to this herd,” he commanded, and the wicked brother led him outside the village. But during this time one of the cattle had found the bag and eaten the magic nut, which held a fragrance loved by animals, and the beast shrank and disappeared.

Other cattle came and found the nut lying on the ground, ate it, and in turn shrank away, until the whole herd had disappeared. So when the murdered and the Chief came to the appointed place, no sign remained of the beautiful fat herd. The Chief was furious.

“You lying dog! What foolery is this? Do you seek to trade with cattle you do not have? Am I a fool that I should give land to a liar and a cheat? Men, let this rogue be bound and fed on cattle-dung until he dies.”

Riches come, and pass away and murder follows them.


How Fire Came to Earth

Long ago only Meleka, the god who lives in the sky, possessed the gifts of fire; and in his wisdom he withheld it from Man. One day he gave a fire stick to Hawk and bade him fly through the heavens to kindle a dark star, but the fire stick fell from the mouth of hawk and dropped down to earth.

It landed amid dry grass and a fire began, and men who saw the fire came to gaze on it in wonder, while Hawk flew down through the smoke trying in vain to seize the fire.

Men felt the heat of the fire and saw that it was sticks. They realized that fire could keep them warm at night, so each man carried a pot of coals to his house and kept them burning bright with sticks of wood.

Until that time all food was often raw, but women now discovered that fire had magic to improve raw food, and thus they learned to cook. In those days there were no cooking pots, only hollowed stones, but rice and water, roots and meat were put in these hollowed stones and heated, and provided pleasing fare.

But no one knew how to kill fire except by starving it to death until one day a woman chanced to spill water on her fire. The water fought the fire, which hissed angrily and grew cold. It was then thought that fire and water must be married, since they fought so well; and as water was called Mending, fire became known as Yinding, and still is.

Hawk has never ceased trying to recapture fire, which he must some day return to Meleka. He hovers over towns and villages waiting for his chance, and may be seen diving and swooping about on the edge of forest fires. But he cannot approach a fire until it burns quite low, and then only the biggest sticks are left, too big for a hawk to carry.


How Hawk Learned of the Shallow Hearts of Men

In a certain tree called the Palmolin tree, in which the palm birds live and Chameleon has his home. Men plant those trees in the center of their villages, and thus it was that chameleon lived in a tree by a village market place.

People feared this animal, for although it was quite small it possessed a surprising strength. It would spring on the backs of passing men and could not be removed until frightened by lightning and thunder. Then it would fall to the ground and run back to the Palmolin tree.

One day when Hawk was flying above the town he saw Chameleon on the ground, and sweeping down he seized the little animal in his beak and carried him into the air. The people in the village below rejoiced and sang the praises of clever Hawk.

“O Hawk!” they cried, “O greatest of all birds! You have captured the awful Chameleon, that wicked animal who has lived among us causing us fear and trouble. O clever Hawk, with all our hearts we thank you!”

The people were very happy. But up in the air Chameleon confided to Hawk:

“Brother, let me go back to my tree. Long have I lived among men, and I know they have two tongues. Today they praise a man and tomorrow they speak against him, for their hearts are shallow and their minds are weak. Let me return, O brother, to my tree.”
But Hawk was full of the praises of the villagers.

“The people praise and love me,” he declared. “I have found great favor with them. I will eat you, and they may make me Chief.”
“Unhappy bird!” Chameleon said. “Tomorrow men will curse you. Their memories are brief. Men only love themselves, as you will see.”

Suddenly he grasped Hawk by the throat, and so powerful was his hold that Hawk began to strangle, and fell down, and dropped breathless in the market place. The people quickly gathered, and saw Chameleon had overpowered Hawk.

“Noble Chameleon!” they cried. “O good and clever animal! You have defeated wicked Hawk, the thief who steals our chickens. With all our hearts we thank you for ridding us of that evil bird!”

They heaped praises on Chameleon and rejoiced. The little animal whispered in Hawk’s ear:

“You see now, brother? Now do you realize how shallow are the hearts of men? They have double tongues, and how short their memories are; a little time ago they praised you and cursed me. Now they curse you and heap honor on me.”

“I understand,” Hawk murmured. “Forgive me, Chameleon. Let us always be friends, for I know that Man will always be our common enemy!”

Then Hawk flew up into the air, and Chameleon went back to his Palmolin tree, and these two today are allied in friendship against the treachery of Man.


The Fisherman Who Married a Water Spirit

Once upon a time there was a fisherman who went forth every day to sit on the river in his canoe and fish. He was a clever an industrious man and his name was Wana, but always when sitting alone in his canoe he felt a great emptiness within his heart.

“Ah,” he would sigh, “if I only had a wife!”

He would have preferred a wife to all the fishes in the river, for he was a lonely man with no family at all, and every evening he returned to an empty hut, prepared his own meal, and passed the night alone.

As he sat in his canoe he often told the river how much he desired a wife, and prayed that he might be blessed with many children.

A river spirit overheard him. She had the form of a crocodile and lived on the bottom of the river, but when she watched and watched the man and saw that he was gentle, good and honest, she began to plan a plan.

One day, as was his custom, Wana left his fishing early to attend the weekly market. The river spirit waited until he had gone; then she climbed onto the river bank and stepped out of the crocodile skin to reveal herself as a singularly beautiful young maiden. She carefully had her crocodile skin beneath a rock and went to the town market. Many people from neighboring villages attended this weekly market, and everyone wondered whom the beautiful stranger could be.
When nightfall came and the market was over she went to the fisherman’s house; he was preparing his evening meal.

“O fisherman,” she said, “I am a stranger here, and my village is far off. I beg you to let me sleep in your house tonight.”

Wana welcomed her courteously. She prepared his simple meal for him in such a wifely fashion that first he ate from hunger and then from sheer delight: never had he tasted such exquisite cooking. The beauty of this woman filled his heart with such admiration, he gave her his own bed and she slept there in peace.

In the morning the maiden asked him to escort her a little way, but near the river she begged him to leave her and turn back. Alone she went to the river bank, and having carefully looked about she slipped into the crocodile skin and went into the river. During the following days she heard Wana sigh longingly for the lovely maiden who had passed the night within his house.

Next market day the river spirit came out of the water again, hid her crocodile skin beneath the rock, and went to market. Again she begged shelter at Wana’s hut, and he was glad when he saw her. She passed the night, and in the morning went away.

This continued for some time, and Wana came to love her with a great and urgent love. Since he was a humble man and considered her the daughter of some important chief he could not bring himself to ask her hand in marriage; but when he inquired of her village and home and family, the maiden was so evasive in her answers that finally his suspicions were aroused.

There came a certain day when he escorted her, as usual, some little way along the path towards the river, and, as usual, when they reached a certain place she asked him to turn back. Wana pretended to turn back, but walking softly, softly, he followed the maiden until she reached the river bank. Thinking herself alone she took the crocodile skin from beneath the rock, put it on, and went into the river.

Wana was astonished.

“Can this be true?” he asked himself. “Is she, then a water spirit? How can I win and wed a maiden who lives inside the river for six days of the week?”

Deep in thought he went away, and planned a plan to win her for all time. Next market day the maiden came again, so beautiful that the fisherman was oppressed by burning love. That night, as she slept, he slipped away. He ran to the river bank. He took the crocodile skin from underneath the rock and carried it to a far, far place, buried it, and returned to his house before dawn broke.

As usual he escorted the lady towards the river, and turned back at her request. He waited in his house. The river spirit went to the river and put her head beneath the rock to find her skin.
The skin was gone! It had completely disappeared.

She searched about and about, and up and down the bank, under other rocks and everywhere one could; but search as she would, the skin was nowhere to be seen. What could she do? Spirit laws obliged her to return to her own place, but now she could not. She sat upon the rock and wept a while, then she rose and went to the fisherman who had been so good to her, and whom she hoped would one day take her for his wife.

She entered his house.

“I have come to you,” she said, and she went to him. Thus they were wedded, and passed the night together, and in the morning when she awoke she said:

“O Wana Yoryer, know that I am the happiest of wives. But last night I dreamed a terrible dream, and I tell you this: If any man should bring the skin of a crocodile to this town, I shall surely die! so if you see such a thing yourself anywhere along the river bank, drop it in the river if you love me.”

Thus it is seen that the Sky God hears the prayers of honest men and fills their needs.


The Otter Who Ate Crabs

An otter lived in a river and consistently ate crabs. He ate crabs every day and several times each night; the crabs along the river were most disturbed. They decided they would hold a conference to discuss what should be done.

“This wicked animal must be removed,” they said. “He’s eaten all our uncles, aunts and brothers, and soon he’ll eat us too. What shall we do?”

Some said he should be trapped and slowly eaten, others thought that crabs should stay in holes; a few suggested a mass attack, but no one wished to lead it. so they sought the River Spirit’s good advice.

“The gall-bladder of a crocodile is a very poisonous thing,” the River Spirit said. “One of you must eat some gall and die. He will be a deadly bait for Otter.”

No crab wanted to eat the gall, so an elderly crab was seized and stuffed with gall by force. His body was left on the river bed, and all the other crabs hid in their holes till Otter came. Otter found the poisoned crab, ate it, and soon died.

The crabs came scuttling from their holes dancing and rejoicing.
“What clever people crabs are!” they cried happily. “Our great skill and wisdom killed the evil Otter. We are brave and noble animals of great intelligence!”

The forget that they had acted on the River Spirit’s advice; they forgot to give him thanks. They danced about poor Otter singing their own praises, then swarmed on Otter to feed upon its flesh. The River Spirit was annoyed by the foolish vanity of the crabs, and sent word to another Otter in a river far away. This second Otter was angry when her heard a clan of wicked, stupid crabs had caused his brother such a tragic death, and he decided he would travel to that river and expect a just revenge.

The river crabs had grown bold and confident; they wandered where they wished now that Otter had been killed, and their holes had all filled, so when this new Otter suddenly appeared the crabs were taken by surprise — they had no place of refuge, and the slaughter which the Otter caused is still talked about in whispers to this day.
And Otter stayed amongst them, eating every crab he caught.

Thus it is soon that when a victory is gained the people, while rejoicing, should remember to thank God, and should take care lest over-confidence should invite disaster.