| The night was impenetrably dark when we all sat on our town’s playground in the shape of a half moon, facing our grandfather –Napari. He was the eldest surviving member of the clan. The log fire was blazing in the midst of us. We were about a hundred people gathered there. On the left and right sides of the crowd, two women each sat on kitchen stools at a respectable distance from us, the men. The women were pounding tobacco leaves in mortars, singing tribal songs of unity in rhythmic motion with the beats of their pestles.
Behind Napari sat two men, in front of whom stood two drums and hollow metals. As Napari stood up and glanced through us, another man brought Mustapha. Mustapha sat on a stool next to him.
“Kulim-kulim, ko-ko-kko. Kulim, kulim ko ko kko,” the mixture of drumming and beating of hollow metals sounded. “Tongkum tongkum” the women also pounded in convenient obedience with the rhythm of the hollow metals and drums. Two men started dancing, coming slowly from the dark towards the log fire around which we all sat. Another young man was at their rear, following, holding a shear butter oil lamp. They came, dancing around the fire. One of the women ran to the middle of the floor, gave up a cheerful cry, and held out a handkerchief, wiping the sweat of the dancers.
After about thirty minutes, the drums, the hollow metals, and the pounding made by the women ceased. The dancers sat solemnly and were served goat meat with bitter leaf soup. After a while, they vacated the floor, and there was silence. Napari walked to the drummers and whispered something to them. They nodded their heads and laughed. He walked back to his sitting place. “Once upon a time,” he said.
“Time, time,” we replied.
“A long time ago, there was only one human being in the world,” said Napari. “He was walking in every garden, eating fruits and grapes and all kinds of food he could find. For one year, he never found anybody who looked like him. He began to have problems with insomnia, weariness and bitterness. One day, while he was sitting on a desolate termite’s mound in the forest, supporting his chin with his hands, all the animals gathered near him. His eye sockets were red and tearful. Sun bit him throughout the day; moisture on him at night; and sun came the next day until this man’s body was almost corroding, and his black hair began greying. Why? Unknown. Now the animals felt sorry for him. The elephant gave him strength to try to make him happy. The parrot gave him eloquent speech. The vulture gave him foresight. The lion gave him martial art. The cat gave him wisdom. It went so through all the animals. When he left, he cried no more, and all the animals said the man had now gotten all that he needed in the world so that he would be happy, but the owl objected, saying that it had seen a deep hole in the man; deep like a hunger he could never fill.
“One week later, that same man was sitting again, now more weary than before. Now the animals got confused, not knowing where to find any herbal leaf for this man’s sickness. The owl, the vulture and the eagle brought their heads closer to one another’s, consulting in whispers, and finally nodding their heads, arriving at a decision. ‘Let’s find him a partner of his own kind,’ the owl said. All the animals assented to that conclusion. Finally they sent the flight eagle to heaven, and ten days later, the eagle returned with cocoyam leaves in which a woman was wrapped. The man was living in a hut where the eagle dropped the woman. The animals made the cat the watchman for the woman and the dog for the man. The eagle was watching the entire household. After some months, when the eagle heard the crying of a baby in the compound, it flew away, saying that the new family had now found a complete companionship. That was the end of the man’s troubles. So the happiness of a man is incomplete until he finds a wife.”
The crowd bursts into laughter. A certain old woman laughed with rotten teeth. She was the wife of the late Chirifo, the greatest hunter in his time, who for nine noons and nine nights hunted lions in the distant bush of Dagbon.
“Kulim, kulim, ko ko kko. Kulim, kulim ko ko kko,” the beat sounded again and again.
“So what was the name of the first man in the world?” I asked Napari.
“History is silent about that,” Napari answered. “If you want to know, then ask the eagle.”
After some minutes of murmurings, a young lady, named Hadiza, was brought to the centre of the crowd, carrying a white calabash in which there was an egg. About ten minutes of drum beats passed; Hadiza remained standing. Napari walked closers to her and took the calabash off her head, turned it upside down to let fall the egg on a stone. When it fell, it rolled randomly and finally lay still, unbroken. This meant that Hadiza was virgin. If the egg were broken, she was unchaste and disqualified for marriage. A thunderous claps rose amidst the crowd. Her grandmother –she took care of Hadiza –send out a cheerful cry that rose and descended in rhythm with tribal songs of praises for a woman who guarded her chastity. The final pronouncement in the gathering was that Hadiza was to go and stay with Mustapha in his father’s household that night and forever.
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Wahab ibn Hassan
I am a beginning poet, writing poetry with patience.
I am a Ghanaian from a typical rural settlement called Cheo in the Yendi District of the Northern Region of Ghana.
I love writing and making friends who have synonymous thoughts with mine, so that we can join forces for fun and freedom.
I live with my wife Asana, my daughter Qatari, and my cat Peace, in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana.
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