Title: Bakwirian Tales of the Bush
Author(s): Renaud Paulian
Source: Folklore, Vol. 51, No. 3 (Sep., 1940), pp. 213-219
THE folklore of primitive tribes, and especially that part of the folklore bearing upon animal life, is always of interest. During a recent stay in the Cameroons, as Zoologist of a French Scientific Expedition sent by the Paris Museum of Natural History, I had the opportunity of getting first-hand stories of animal life as they are taught in the Bakwirian tribes. The Bakwiris, a tribe closely allied to the Dualas, and inhabiting the southern part of the Cameroon under British Mandate, around Buea and Mt. Cameroon, though they are nominally, for the most part, christianized, have kept many of the "liowa" (i.e. taboo) stories about animals of the bush.
It is evidently often rather difficult to get at these stories as the natives are very diffident, partly afraid, probably, of being laughed at by the "White Massas" but mostly unwilling to give information about their real beliefs and superstitions. We were, however, lucky enough to be able to collect many animal stories as they were told around the camp fire by the hunters.
While agreeing to number us among his listeners (it cost us by the by many a box of "Bicycles" cigarettes and many a bottle of bad Rhum) the tale teller, usually the old and crafty Headman of the carriers, always asked us not to repeat those stories.
Amongst the tales we heard, many bring to mind Aesop's fables and medieval European animal tales. Everybody knows the fable of La Fontaine of the Bat that was neither Bird nor Mouse, and this story, borrowed by the author from Aesop's fable and from Marie de France (de totes les Bestes e des Oiseaux li parlemenz) is quite comparable to the Bakwirian tale of the Bat.
The same parallelism may be found between the "Fabliau" of the fight of the "Roitelet" and the Elephant and the story made by the Bakwiri of the glorious victory gained by Isoli the Sun-Bird upon N'Joku the Elephant.
The English reader may not know Corrozet's "Du Lieure et de la Tortue" nor Haudent's "D'un Lieure et d'un Lymafon", but he has not forgotten Aesop's or La Fontaine's versions of the Tortoise and the Hare. In the bush the Pangolin, Kulu, and the Antelope, Kawè had a contest, at least as famous. And though Kulu despised fair play, yet he was victorious just like the Tortoise.
The Tale of Isoli the Sun-Bird and N'Joku the Elephant
Once upon a time, Isoli the Sun-Bird called the Elephant N'Joku to battle. All the bush declared that as Isoli had said, so Isoli should do. It was not good form to call anybody to battle and then to back out because one happened to be the weakest. So, it was decided to fight. And upon the day that had been chosen, from all sides the bush-life came to the clearing where it was to take place. The serpents, heads down on the rotten leaves, were the first; it is always easy to pass through the forest when you can get under the branches and the climbing vines. The birds, all of them calling upon Isoli and singing themselves hoarse in praise of their champion, came next. The loud-voiced, loud-coloured Touraco, the Cawka of the woods, had left his perch on some dead tree to be there. The stump-tailed bush-fowl had left the open grass, above the forest, to look at the battle and was finding it very wet. From the plantations down by the sea the weaver-bird, leaving his nest to swing in the wind, had come to the bush. The Cameroon thrush, whose sweet song seems to come from far-off lands, the multi-coloured buntings, even the hawks were there .... Last came the animals; it is no easy matter to thread the bush and there were few paths leading to the clearing. One by one, following ancient trails which never changed, came the slow pangolin Kulu in his jacket of horn plates, Injo the tiger (i.e. the panther), Kawè the antelope and even lonely little Ikuwe-kuwe, the bat.
All around the clearing the animals and the birds looked on. Slowly, breaking a branch right and left as he advanced, N'Joku in his turn entered the clearing. Trunk raised, ready to charge, he sent through the air his shrill trumpeting challenge: "I am here, Isoli, and where are you? I am here, coward. Come and show fight or all the bush shall say that you are a braggart." Dancing in the sun, just over the clearing, Isoli was waiting, rather afraid to meet N'Joku and wishing, oh so strongly, that he had never sent that stupid challenge. But he had just finished his nest, his suit of gold and red and sapphire was at its best, and he could never stop his tongue in time.
All the animals, and even the birds were calling on Isoli now. It really was to be fought then. So down he came, on brilliant, bright wings, down until he was in the clearing near the creatures of the bush. "I am here, N'Joku, here, and today I shall show the bush that you are a sluggard and a fool."
His eyes red with rage N'Joku charged through the clearing. But, flying straight to his trunk came Isoli and darted inside, his long beak held right before him. And the pain was so sudden and so great that down fell N'Joku.
So the whole bush declared that N'Joku had been well beaten by Isoli and that Isoli had well beaten N'Joku.
The Tale of Pie the Bush-fowl an Injo the Panther
This is the tale of Pie the bush-fowl and of Injo the panther, or tiger as he is called in the bush. In the old days Pie, who, as you all know, has a stump tail, was the happy owner of a very long and splendid feather in his tail, like all the other birds of the bush. He was very vain of that feather and was always turning himself to set it at its best.
One day as he was walking through the grassland, followed by his children (there were four of them then), constantly turning round and calling to his children, he met on his trail Injo. For many days Injo had robbed the villagers of their pigs and had even stolen children. So the men had decided to trap him and Injo, made too bold by his easy victories, had fallen into the trap. He now lay across the trail, each paw tied to a rope, and he could only move his tail which was twitching and beating the earth. Pie saw the tail first of all and was calling his children off (it's never safe to be near the tiger as you never know what he is up to), when Injo called to him in a low and subdued voice: " Oh Pie see, I, Injo the tiger, am a prisoner. A fool I was to think I might kill man and get away with it. But Pie, oh beautiful, long-tailed Pie, good father Pie, if only I could get free from these ropes, never again should I eat man or beef or bird. As you do, so would I hunt about for beetles and fruit. Pie, do not let me be killed by men. See, my beautiful coat, all spots and dots, would make a carpet for men's feet. What would you think if your own tail-feather, so splendid when you turn and dance in the grass, was taken by some dirty black man who would adorn his head with it? Think of it, Pie, once they have seen how beautiful my coat is they will be sure to think that Pie's tail, so much prettier than my coat, would do splendidly in their head-gear. And then they will kill you."
Pie was rather loth to come near the tiger. They had had many a tiff before, and many were the times in which Pie had got free only by the skin of his beak. But the tiger's talk made him very thoughtful. One never knew what man was going to do, it's even more difficult than to guess whence a tiger may jump. And, if he should really try to get his tail-feathers! ... Pie's tail was standing upright at the thought and his skin tingled.
Well after all it would be very easy to get off as soon as the tiger was ready to pounce. So Pie, calling his children around him, as there is always danger in the bush for the little ones who know nothing and understand even less, set to work.
As the first paw was freed Injo straightened it and moved lovingly the long claws. Pie passed on to the next paw and the youngest chick, thinking that those shining claws were perhaps some kind of beetle, came just a little too near and, caught in a mighty clasp, was gulped down by the hungry tiger. The second paw was free by now and Pie, turning round Injo, got on to the hind paws. The last of the chicks was too slow to follow his father and a swoop of the strong paw caught him and sent him to bear his brother company. As the third paw was liberated, Injo managed to catch a third chick, who, being of an inquisitive turn of mind, studied the few feathers that had dropped from the bloody jaws.
Pie, all unawares, untied the fourth knot, and the tiger seized the last child who, just before his nose, was crowing his father's prowess in all-exulting tones.
And Pie, his work finished, passed before the tiger, wishing politely to take leave before flying off. But Injo was very hungry and the four children had given him an appetite. So he tried to pounce on poor Pie. Happily he had been tied so long that he was very cramped and Pie, screaming, managed to get away, leaving his tail-feather in his enemy's grasp.
And from that day Pie flies about sadly, with a stump tail.
The Tale of Ikuwe-kuwe the Bat
Ikuwe-kuwe, the little bat that haunts the mountain caves is sad. The bush holds two kinds of creatures: animals and birds. Ikuwe-kuwe wanted to make friends, as the other creatures of the bush do, so she tried to meet animals and wanted to play with them. But the animals laughed at her and ran away from her, saying: "Why should we be friends with you? You are no animal." So the bat turned to the birds calling out: "Oh birds, see, the animals do not agree to play with me, they throw me off, saying I am no animal. Here I am asking to be allowed to play with you, for surely, if I am not an animal, I must be a bird." But the birds only answered back: "Why should we be friends with you? Surely you are no bird." Despondently Ikuwe-kuwe went away, crept into a cave, and hanging head downwards, she sulks, dreaming of friendship, ever since.
The Tale of Kulu the Pangolin and Kawè the Antelope
This is the tale of Kulu the pangolin and Kawè the antelope. In those days, the antelope walked through the bush, mocking every creature and calling them all to a race. She was the swiftest of all the animals and she laughed aloud when she saw another creature running. Now animals of the bush loathe to be laughed at, and they cannot bear pride in another animal. One day the small, slow, horny pangolin, trotting about on his day's work, met Kawè and she derided Kulu saying: "See, this is Kulu, the swift Kulu, Kulu of the long, lithe limbs, Kulu of the quick running."
Kulu did not answer these gibes but said simply to a passing grasshopper, Bafalala: "Some think that they are swift runners, that it would be easy for me to be outrun in a race." Loud laughed Kawè and she cried: "If you think you could run quicker than I, I challenge you, come out and run."
Italala the frog, passing there, heard this and called out to all the bush that there was to be a race between Kawè and Kulu and that a day had been settled for the meeting.
On that day, high upon Monga-na-loba (the Mt. Cameroon of the white man), in a clearing of the forest the two champions met. Kawè, sure of victory, had not prepared herself particu-larly for the contest. But Kulu, the wary, knowing full well that in a normal race he would be beaten, had found a way out. The day before he was to run he had called his brothers to him. From the grassland over the forest, in the perpetual fog, from the crags around the old craters where only lichens and moss grow on the lava and cinders, from the forest itself, under the fallen trees, in the ravines filled by fallen leaves, from the fields where bananas and pawpaws grow, and from the marshes around the coast, in the fever-infected mangrove, where strange fish jump about on the slimy earth and where yellow fever and sleeping sickness reign, all the Kulus came to him as he called. Soon he had over a hundred brothers around him. These he placed at every turning and twisting of the trail along which he was supposed to race from the mountain-top to the sea.
In the clearing the umpires, Mojo the great black rock serpent, and Niao the bee, had chosen Yongoli the chameleon and Euaki the chimpanzee, and sent them down to the sea, to see that the race was fairly run and to name the winner.
Then while Gangazinge the stag-beetle buzzed around the clearing, calling for silence, the signal to start was given by Mosillo the thrush. Down bounded Kawè, while poor Kulu, running as fast as he could, got to the first turning, stopped and hid in the bush. But as Kawè neared the first turning, sure to have already outrun Kulu, what did she see but Kulu, or rather Kulu's first brother, trotting along as fast as he could. Faster ran Kawè, but at every turning Kulu was before her trotting on. At last Kawè, all dripping with sweat, arrived at the coast to see the last of the Kulu brothers trot peaceably to the goal and turning, say to her with a sneer: "Don't you think I run faster than you, my dear madam."Kawè was so furious that she asked for a return match, to be fought up the mountain this time. The match was granted and up bounded Kawè, well decided to win this time. But she ran so swiftly that her heart burst with the strain.
So Kulu defeated Kawè.
Rien ne sert de courir, il faut partir à point says La Fontaine. Kulu seems to have found a new, even if not very elegant, way of arriving in time.
Note: Accompanying picture is The Bat And The Two Weasels, by JJ. Grandville. From Fables de La Fontaine, by Jean de La Fontaine, Paris, 1855 via archive.org