Oral Literature. Why forest animals live freely

Many years ago, when the sky was sparsely populated, Hubeghedeh, God of heaven, came to visit his wives on earth, which even then was full of beautiful girls.

In those days, a great Limba tribal chieftain had a very beautiful daughter. She was the only daughter among the many children he had from his many wives, so he named her Taduba (Blessed). The great chief loved her very much and kept her close to him at all times, so much so that he was immediately worried as soon as Taduba went away, even for only a few moments.

One day, without telling her father, Taduba went into the forest to look for yam (truffles), and as she wandered, she discovered a spring of clear water that she had never seen before. Tired and thirsty, she approached it to drink and refresh herself, not knowing that the spring belonged to Hubeghedeh and his servants. Every day, in fact, he came to refresh himself and wash at that spring.

Opening the gates of heaven in advance, Hubeghedeh’s servants realized that there was a beautiful maiden at the spring. They immediately went to report this to God, their master, who, appearing at the door, wanted to see who she was. “She is indeed a beautiful girl. I want you to go down at once and take her without doing her any harm. Bring her then bring her up here because I want to see her up close. If I like her, I will marry her and she will be my last wife. Quickly, lower the ladder and get her up here before she leaves”, God orders the servants.

The servants carried out the orders without hesitation. In a few moments, Taduba was abducted, taken to heaven and into the presence of Hubeghedeh. The servants then withdrew the ladder and the door to heaven was closed.

Taduba’s father was desperate: not seeing her return, he had all his wives search for her everywhere and call for her, to no avail. Days passed without any news of Taduba. The tribal chief wept and despaired. There was no one to reassure him about the fate of his Taduba, whom he had even promised in marriage to whoever would find her.

The day came when even the animals of the forest heard the cries of the chieftain, whom they respected because he had ordered his people not to set any more traps to catch them. They all decided to go to him together and after giving him courage, they promised him that they would do their best to find his beloved Taduba.

“Please search for and bring back to me my beloved daughter. I will not rest until I see her again! As for you, dear friends of the forest, not only have I already instructed my people not to set any more traps, but I promise that I will give you full freedom to roam all over my hill country,” said the chief.

Among the animals were a dog, a spider, a goat, a lion, an eagle, a fly, a parrot and an elephant. Before dismissing them, the chieftain had much food prepared for them and, after eating, they set off in search of the beautiful Taduba. The dog preceded them, saying: “If you do not mind, I will go first; by sniffing the air I can discover the direction taken by the chief’s daughter”.

One after the other, the animals followed the dog. The dog, sniffing right and left, led them to the spring where Taduba had been abducted. Here he stopped abruptly; he sniffed left and right for quite a while until, at a certain point, he lifted his snout upwards, sniffing the air intensely. Finally, the dog said: “Taduba has risen upwards. Perhaps she has been kidnapped by Hubeghedeh’s servants whom every day come down to wash at this spring. But now, how to get up there?”  “Leave it to me – replied the spider promptly -. I will weave a ladder to the sky; we can then climb it all and look for her up there too.”

As he finished speaking, the spider began to climb, leaving behind a very thin thread. He ascended to the sky, climbing as best he could between clouds and dust. Finally, he descended, leaving behind him another thread parallel to the other. The spider ascended again, zigzagging from right to left and vice versa and intersecting the two vertical threads with horizontal threads, like rungs, one not far from the other, so that all the other animals could reach the sky, step by step.

The roads ahead were all covered with grass, so they did not know which way to take to reach the entrance to Hubeghedeh’s palace. Then the goat came forward and said: “Do not be discouraged. I am used to grazing in the grass. I will lead the way, grazing on the grass that covers the path. Follow me.”

All the other animals followed her. After a few hours, they arrived, all together, at a large entrance barred by several guards, beyond which voices could be heard. The guards blocked their way, threatening them. Then the lion stepped forward and said: “Leave it to me. A roar from me will be enough: they will run away and disappear or faint with fear”. So, the lion emitted a tremendous roar that made the guardsmen fall to the ground, half dead with fear.

Once they had entered Hubeghedeh’s palace together, they heard voices but could not see the people speaking, who were behind many curtains. An eagle came forward and said: “Mother Nature has provided me with very long and strong claws with which I will tear down all those curtains: then we will be able to see who is behind them”.

Hubeghedeh appeared to them in all his splendour, but no one could approach him, protected as he was by numerous guards and servants. It was the turn of the fly who said: “Stay here. Do not be afraid. I will go slowly and I will perch very close to Hubeghedeh, perhaps behind his back and, without being noticed, I will be able to hear everything he orders from his servants.”

The fly flew very close to the servants, then settled on Hubeghedeh’s back and listened attentively to his orders. He heard him tell the servants to be very hospitable to the ‘foreigners’ and to entertain them kindly by offering them food and drink. But then, approaching the ear of one of his most trusted servants, he said: “Have a lot of rice cooked and put a good dose of poison in the seasoning while you pour another dose of sleeping potion into the palm wine. As soon as they have finished eating and drinking, they will all be dead.”

Hubeghedeh invited the animals to sit down comfortably and asked them the reason for their sudden visit to heaven. “Well … we, great God of heaven” – replied the parrot spokesman for all the others -, “we have come looking for a girl, Taduba, daughter of a great and generous Limba tribal chief. She disappeared a few days ago and we heard that she had come up here. Perhaps she may now be among your people. “

“You are mistaken. No one can set foot here alone, without my permission or invitation”, said Hubeghedeh. “Of course” – replied the parrot -, “but we would be immensely grateful if you would allow us to look in among your people, wives and servants.”

“With pleasure” – Hubeghedeh replied – “I only hope you can find her.” While all the animals were searching, the fly heard Hubeghedeh order one of the servants: “Quickly, go and tell all my wives, including Taduba, to all dress alike and cover their faces with a veil. In this way, it will be very difficult for the animals to discover Taduba. I will tell them that they are dancers dancing in their honour.”

The fly detached itself from Hubeghedeh to follow the servant in charge of carrying the order received; it entered the harem with him and heard him say: “Listen to me well and attentively all of you: Hubeghedeh has given orders that you should all wear the same model of dress to entertain the guests with a special dance. He does not wish you to be recognised, so you will cover yourselves with a veil up to your eyes and always remain with your heads down as a sign of respect towards our guests. Do you understand? And you, Taduba, do you understand?”

The fly, which flew over them and, as soon as the girl answered in the affirmative, landed gently on her and never left. When they were ready, they were ushered into the hall where Hubeghedeh awaited them with all his other animal guests. The sky God, turning with a gentle smile to the animals, told them: “I imagine you are satisfied but rather tired. I will entertain you with a dance performed by my best dancers. Take a seat and relax.”

As soon as the wives entered the hall, the fly tried to detach itself from Taduba to be noticed by its friends, but in doing so it was also afraid of losing sight of her. While Hubeghedeh was still talking to his guests and the wives stood waiting behind him, he quickly flew to his friends: “Be careful! Taduba is alive and is among the wives. I will return to her and stand on her head. Do not lose sight of me. As soon as I reach her and rest on her, grab her and flee.”  “Leave it to me,” replied the elephant confidently.

Before Hubeghedeh gave the order to start dancing, the fly came back to Taduba and landed on her. The elephant then emitted such a horrifying screech that it made the sky tremble and headed towards the girl, while all the other animals kept Hubeghedeh’s servants and guardians at bay.

The elephant came near Taduba, and as the fly whispered in her ear not to be afraid, for they had come to free her from Hubeghedeh, he took her gently with her trunk and, all together, they returned to earth. (Folktale from Birrwa-Limba people. Sierra Leone) – (Photo: 123rf)

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