Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

River Bobo's sudden revenge

Short Story

by Akosua Kuma

Bobo was a small river which strangers ignored but was very important to the people of Cheche village. There was only a small bridge spanning what one could easily describe as an empty river basin. However the depth of the river valley indicated that at one time Bobo could have been a force to reckon with. The villagers of Cheche, simple farming folks had a lot to say about this river. They did not regard it as an ordinary stream but a very powerful fetish who could deal very violently with people who offended it.

The Bobo river was a tiny stream of water which coursed its way resolutely in between mountains and meandered briskly under great dark forests. This stream virtually ruled the lives of the villagers and they swore by its powers. One fact that permeated the life at Cheche village was the absolute peace and lack of violence that existed in the village. There were no incidents of robbery or cheating of any kind.

My grandmother lived in this village until she died at the ripe age of eighty- eight and by the time she passed away almost all the school children in Cheche knew of the powers that the little river possessed. There were a number of rules actually taboos about the river which had been established through its powerful priestess. The day of rest for the river was Tuesday on which day nobody was allowed to go to his or her farms nor wash their clothes in or near the river. Even their eating habits were somehow dictated by the river.

It was the nearest source of water and yet one was not permitted to boil it. It could be drunk but was never to be boiled or used in boiling other food items. The explanation given was that the sons and daughters felt too hot when any of Bobo's water was on fire. No one could eat the fresh water fish from the stream.

The only thing that one could eat from it was either a crocodile or an alligator, but since the biggest part of the stream was no more than six feet there was no chance of anybody getting any of the reptiles so the villagers concerned themselves with other food and game they could get from their vices. farms and the forest.

Whenever grandmother recounted the fate of the two European mining engineers on an exploratory tour of the area whose derisive attitude to what they regarded as superstitious folktales led to an unfortunate end we were overwhelmed with awe. One drove his car over the bridge without tooting the horn, and he had a fatal accident. Apparently he had killed one of River Bobo's little ones who could not leave the bridge quickly enough. It was said that the river had spirits who came to relax and enjoy fresh air on the bridge.

"I think it is time something was done about Nana Tutu; we never had anything like this in the village until he came on with his new-fangled ideas on Christianity," the eldest kingmaker said to one of his companions.

It was the enstoolment of a new chief that changed the way of life of the villagers. The newly elected chief of Cheche village, Nana Tutu, was educated and regarded all the numerous rules governing the use of the stream as a great infringement on his authority. He was often heard saying aloud: "Who is the chief of this village, myself or that funny little river? You can cook or eat whatever you get from the river because accord- ing to my christian religion all these things were made by God for man and this is the case all over the world. I see no reason why Cheche alone should be different."

"Nana Tutu, please speak carefully because the River Bobo's priestess is very powerful, she can hear you even though she is not here physically" the elders said to him, anxious to keep down their voices, in case something evil befell them.

Nana Tutu only laughed at them and said that they were all superstitious and that attitude would retard the progress and development of the village. One direct consequence of the new chief's defiance of the old order was the return of all the evils that had been buried. Like the Pandora's box the village was quickly engulfed in long forgotten vices.

It was soon an open secret that the village blacksmith's wife was having an affair with the palmwine tapper. She was supposed to work for the tapper; every morning she had to get up early and go and carry the white foaming wine in a blackpot on her head to the village market. The tapper was to pay her a token fee for this work, however because of their secret romance, she sold off the potful of wine and pocketed the money.

Before long she was flaunting her newly acquired wealth in front of her husband. The blacksmith watched this for some time and then decided to end the whole affair once and for all. One night he got up, put the sleeping wife's head on the anvil and flattened it up. As daytime approached he panicked and took the body and dumped it in the deep end of Bobo River valley. Though it did not rain, the next day the valley was full of water and the body was found floating in circles right under the bridge where everybody could see it.

"I think it is time something was done about Nana Tutu; we never had anything like this in the village until he came on with his new-fangled ideas on Christianity," the eldest kingmaker said to one of his companions.

"Well, Bobo has proved that it is powerful and it is time we went back to its rules," he answered thoughtfully. Then, strange things started happening to the stubborn chief.

If there was one thing Chief Tutu hated, they were ordinary houseflies. Whenever he sat in state he was surrounded by more than four stool boys hovering around him just to wave away flies that irritated the young chief. In order to get rid of these flies, he ordered everyone in the village to weed regularly around their houses. He would certainly have ordered aerial spraying if he could afford it but the stool resources could not avail him such luxury.

In order to avoid any contact with these dreaded enemies, Nana Tutu decided to eat only in the night when he could be sure that there were no flies around. Shortly after the blacksmith's wife's tragic death, Nana Tutu asked his wife to warm his soup by the open fire one night. This was done and he sat down to eat in peace. He was half through his evening meal of fufu when he called out his wife.

"What is it Nana?" the wife answered, rushing over to the table set on the veranda where Nana normally ate his dinner. "What meat did you use for the soup tonight, I have always told you that I want my meat boiled for a long time. I hate hard meat and that is exactly what you have given me tonight," he shouted angrily at his wife.

"But Nana please, I did not use meat for today's soup, it was all fresh fish from the river, those you have now asked us to eat because they are good for our health," Yaa replied with the usual humility accorded to chiefs.

"What, no meat? Then quickly bring over the lantern and let me see what this is, you think I do not know the difference between meat and fish?"

he shouted at his wife who scampered away to bring the light. Nana was fuming with such anger that he was actually ready to beat the daylight out of her.

"Oh no, no, no..." he sank slowly to the ground. Yaa raised the light to examine the contents in her husband's hand.

Good God!" was all she could utter. She was looking at a dead toad. Nana Tutu had fainted, apparently with shock, and was foaming at the mouth. Yaa screamed for help. By the time the elders arrived Nana Tutu was almost dead. The priestess was called to help, but in spite of her elaborate pacification rites to River Bobo, apparently to atone for the sacrilege that the young defiant chief had committed over the years, he died.

There was a hush over the village after this. Of course, the chief priestess whose powers had been challenged and somehow made insignificant before the dramatic death of the chief seized the opportunity to reassert her powers by emphasising the fact that in the social set-up of Cheche there was still reason in tradition.

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