Oral Literature: How The Stars Were Born

One day, two friends named Ebopp and Mbaw went off in search of a good site to establish a farm with fine fields of grain and peanuts. They looked here and they looked there until they finally found the right place.

They immediately began to fell trees and break up the soil. They worded for two days and two nights without stopping; on the third day they rested. Then at daybreak on the fourth day, they went back to work, and each of them built his own little house.  And once again they worked for two days and two nights without a break, and on the third day they rested.  But at daybreak on the fourth day, they took up their tools again and built a little temple in the middle of the farm. In two days, the little temple was finished, and on the third day they rested.

So, following the same pattern, barns, kitchens, granaries, and a well arose. When the farm was almost ready, they went to summon their wives who had remained behind in the old village, and they made merry all day to celebrate the fruits of their labour.

With their wives ‘help, they planted the banana seedlings, and sowed the grain and peanuts. It was long, hard work, but finally Ebopp said: “I’m finished and so is my wife.” “I’m finished, too, and so is my wife,” Mbaw echoed. “Now all we have to do is wait for the harvest. May it be a success and may we live in comfort!” concluded Ebopp.

Nevertheless, things did not all go smoothly. One evening, when Ebopp was sitting at the table with his wife, Anwan, with the soup steaming in their bowls, someone knocked at the door. It was a messenger sent by Obassi Osaw, the leader of Anwant village. Panting, the messenger said: “Ebopp, I have to speak to you alone!” So his wife left the room, and the messenger spoke: “Be strong, Ebopp. I bring you word that your sister-in-law is dead.”

Ebopp wept tears of sorrow not only for his sister-in-law; whom he loved very much, but especially for his wife, the dead woman’ sister. Then he sent for his friend Mbaw to get some comfort and advice. “I am sorry for you and for your wife, Ebopp . . . but have you thought about how we are going to bear the costs of the funeral? The farm has just been set up and the harvest is still far off.”

“But, dear Mbaw, we must do everything we can, because it is my duty as a relative. How will I be able to look Chief Obassi Osaw in the face again if I don’t at least have a funeral banquet?” “You’re right – said Mbaw – we must do what is required.”

Ebopp thanked his friend and told the messenger, “Go back to Obassi Osaw and tell him that I will come to his village in six days.” Then he said good-bye to his friend, arranging to meet him the next day, and went to break the news to his wife. It would take too long to describe the woman’s despair at the news of her sister’s death. For the next six days Anwan did not stop crying and grieving for an instant. Nonetheless, the next day the two friends, having scraped together the few pennies in their mutual coffers, went to the city and spent all that they had to arrange the funeral banquet. Then they went back to the farm and figured out where they stood.

“So, – said Ebopp – we’ve spent it all and we still lack the two most important things: The palm wine and the rum for the ceremony. What are we going to do without any money?”  “Why don’t you try going back to the city and making the rounds of your relatives and acquaintances? Maybe you can get a loan,” Mbaw advised him.

“I will try,” replied Ebopp, and he began to travel around the city, from this one’s house to that one’ house, asking all his relatives and friends for loans. But with a variety of excuses, they all refused to help him. It was already night time when Ebopp, frustrated, began to retrace his steps. He had just left the city and was slowly walking along the river when, in a fit of depression, he sat down on a rock, rested his chin on his hand, and began to complain. A firefly casually alighted on his knee and Ebopp, seeking some relief began to talk to it as if the pretty little light could actually hear him.

“My dear firefly – he said – if you only knew how cruel the world of man is! When you’re successful, everybody’ your friend; but beware if things change. You lucky animals! You don’t even know what falseness is!” And he carried on in this fashion for quite some time until, to his great astonishment, he heard the firefly answer him: “Ah, in truth, I am very sorry for you!”

“Oh river gods! –  exclaimed Ebopp. – That’s it. Sorrow has gone to my brain and, as if I didn’t have enough problems, now I’ve also gone crazy. I’m hearing voices!” “What do you mean crazy?” the firefly went on. “It really is me who’s talking! Listen Ebopp, I am the spirit of one of your ancestors, and it has been your great good fortune to meet me.”

Ebopp rejoiced greatly at this news, and asked the firefly how he could properly honour her. “You have an upright and generous heart, Ebopp, – said the firefly -. Even in your distress, you have not forgotten the respect you owe to your ancestors. For this reason, I will give you the help that your fellow men have denied you.”

The firefly’s light dimmed a bit, and she handed Ebopp a sparkling little stone, saying: “Take this. You will be able to buy all that you need and much, much more with it”. And this is why, from that day forward, only half of the firefly’s body shines (excluding the head, which did not glitter even then).

Touched and happy, Ebopp clutched the little stone in his fist and ran to the farm, though not without first trying to thank the luminous little insect. But she had already taken flight. When he got back home, he summoned his wife and friend and showed them the stone. Now their worries were over.

The following day they set off for the village of Obassi Osaw, with each of them carrying a share of the supplies that they had purchased in the city for the banquet. When they reached the entrance to the village, they separated. Anwan ran off to weep at her sister’s grave, while Ebopp and Mbaw went to appear before Obassi and the elders of the tribe.

“Have you brought everything necessary for the banquet in honour of your sister-in-law?” they immediately asked. “I only have the food with me. I will buy everything else I need here in your village,” replied Ebopp. The elders didn’t say anything, but they looked at one another doubtfully. The village, and all the surrounding area, had been stricken by a grievous famine. It was almost impossible to find anything to eat or drink.

“Don’t lose heart, – said Mbaw to his friend – I believe that at the sight of this beautiful little stone, the supplies will spring forth. Better still, try this: Put the stone in a mortar and crush it up really well. You will have more of it and you will be in a position to buy more stuff.”

So Ebopp followed his friend’s advice. He put the stone in a mortar and crushed it until it was reduced to a powder, and he saw that the result was truly extraordinary. Their eyes could scarcely tolerate the brilliant twinkling! Mbaw got his friend a little black sack, and they put the powder inside of it. Together they went off in search of everything else they needed to worthily mark the occasion.

They walked and walked until they found themselves at the edge of town in front of Effion’s fine hut. Effion was one of the richest warriors in the tribe and, therefore, as always happens in times of famine, he also had one of the largest supplies of food. Ebopp said to him: “Sell me the goatskins of wine and the barrels of rum that you have hidden away, and in exchange I will give you something that will make you so rich and powerful that all of your peers will have to bow down before you”.

Effion thought about it for a minute and then replied: “All right. But you will only get half of what you’re asking, since I have to live myself, you know!” “Agreed, – said Ebopp with a hint of a smile -. Half will be enough for the funeral banquet. But listen: Don’t open up the sack I’m going to give you until I have returned to my farm. And rest assured: When you open it, your fellow citizens will have to bow down before you.”

And so the funeral service and the banquet took place according to custom, and everyone was pleased because absolutely nothing was lacking. When the ceremony was over, the tribal chieftain, Obassi Osaw, went up to Ebopp and thanked him in the name of his people and begged him to stay the night. But Ebopp politely declined the invitation, and with his friend Mbaw and his wife, Anwan, he headed back home.

When they got back to their farm, Ebopp sent a messenger to Effion, the rich big shot, with the following message: “I am back home again, and you can open the sack now”. As soon as he received the message, Effion, despite the fact that it was starting to get dark, summoned all of his fellow citizens by shouting at the top of his lungs: “Come quick! I have something extraordinary to show you.” “Here we are, Effion – an old warrior replied for all of them-. Now show us what you are talking about.” “I have in my possession,” Effion went on, – make you fall on your knees before me, whether you want to or not”.

Everybody looked at him with suspicion. But he swiftly took the sack out of his pocket and emptied it at their feet. They saw a stream of brilliant light and a general ‘ahhh’ of astonishment escaped their throats; but at that instant, a gust of wind blew. The powder flew everywhere – down the streets, onto the roofs, into the trees-covering everything with its sparkle.

Effion was very disappointed even though his fellow citizens did bow down before him. They had all thrown themselves to the ground in an attempt to catch some of the miraculous powder. Only Effion remained standing straight as an arrow, struck dumb with amazement.

The children in particular distinguished themselves in picking up the shiny powder because they were faster and more nimble. Every evening, since during the day it was impossible to see the powder’s twinkling, the children ran about, gradually gathering up those tiny little stars. When they caught them, they put them in a box.

Over the course of a month, the box grew to full that they had trouble closing it. But the wind brought an end to that frenzied chase. One day it blew harder than usual, knocking the box wide open, and scattering the sparkling particles into the air. They flew upward and came to a stop in the vault of the heavens, where until that time there had been nothing but darkness. (A. Ceni- Folktales from Ekoi people. Cameroon)

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