Tuesday's Tales - from Southern Nigeria

Ju-Ju are ghosts or fiends; sacrifices are offered to them to propitiate their anger.  God, though recognised as creator, receives no sacrifices, for to the native mind, he is “too high and too far”.

The King and the Ju-Ju Tree

Udo Ubok Udom was a famous king who lived in an inland town, which did not possess a river.  The king and his wife therefore used to wash at the spring behind their house.

King Udo had a daughter of whom he was very fond, and looked after her most carefully, and she grew up into a beautiful woman.  The King had been away for two years and, so, had not been to the spring.  When he went to his old place to wash, he found that the Idem Ju-Ju tree had grown up all round, making it impossible for him to use the spring as he had done before.  He called fifty of his young men to cut down the tree but their efforts were useless.  Directly they made a cut in the tree, it closed up again.  After working all day, they found they had made no impression on it.

When they returned at night, they told the King that they had been unable to destroy the tree.  He became angry and, next morning, went to the spring with his own machete.  When the Ju-Ju saw the king coming to cut his branches, he caused a small splinter of wood to go into the king’s eye.  This gave the king great pain, which got worse and he could not eat or sleep for three days.

He sent for his witch men, and told them to find out why he was in such pain.  They decided that the reason was that the Ju-Ju tree was angry with the king, because he wanted to destroy the tree to wash at the spring. They told the king that he must take seven baskets of flies, a white goat, a white chicken and a piece of white cloth, and make a sacrifice of them in order to satisfy the Ju-Ju.

The king did this, and the witch men tried their lotions on the king’s eye, but it only got worse.  The king dismissed those witches and got another lot.  When they arrived, they told the king that, although they could do nothing themselves to relieve his pain, they knew one man who lived in the spirit land who could cure him.  He was sent for and arrived the next day.

The spirit man said, “Before I do anything, what will you give me?”

King Udo said, “I will give you half my town with the people in it, also seven cows and some money.”

But the spirit man refused.

As the king was in such pain, he said, “Name your own price, and I will pay you.”

So the spirit man said the only thing he was willing to accept as payment was the king’s daughter.  At this the king cried very much, and told the man to go away, as he would rather die than let him have his daughter.

That night the pain was worse than ever, and some of subjects pleaded with the king to send for the spirit man again and give him his daughter, and told him that when he got well, he could no doubt have another daughter but if he died now, he would lose everything.

The king then sent for the spirit man again, and in great grief, handed his daughter to the spirit.

The spirit man then went out into the bush, and collected some leaves, which he soaked in water and beat up.  The juice he poured into the king’s eye, and told him that when he washed his face in the morning, he would be able to see what was troubling him in the eye.

The king tried to persuade him to stay the night, but the spirit man refused, and departed that same night for the spirit land, taking the king’s daughter with him.

Before it was light, the king rose and washed his face, and found that the small splinter from the Ju-Ju tree, which had been troubling him so much, dropped out of his eye, the pain disappeared, and he was well again.  When he came to his proper senses, he realised that he had sacrificed his daughter for one of his eyes.  Deeply upset, he ordered that there should be general mourning throughout his kingdom for three years.

For the first two years, the king’s daughter was put in the fatting house by the spirit man and was given food.  But a skull, who was in the house, told her not to eat, as they were fatting her up, not for marriage, but so that they could eat her.  She gave all the food to the skull and lived on chalk.

Toward the end of the third year, the spirit man brought some of his friends to see the king’s daughter, and told them he would kill her the next day, and they would have a good feast.  But the skull, who wanted to preserve her life, and who had overheard the spirit man, called her and told her what was going to happen.  He said, “When the spirit man goes to the wood with his friends to prepare for the feast, you must run back to your father.”

He gave her some medicine, which would make her strong for the journey, and also gave her directions, telling her that there were two roads at the end of the town.  When she came to the parting of the ways, she was to drop some of the medicine on the ground and the two roads would become one.  He told her that if she met people on the road, she was to pass them in silence, for if she saluted them they would know that she was a stranger in the spirit land, and might kill her.  She was not to turn around if anyone called to her, but was to go straight on until she reached her father’s house.

Having thanked the skull for his kind advice, the king’s daughter started off.  She reached the end of the town and found the road, then ran for three hours, and at last arrived at the branch roads.  She dropped the medicine as she had been instructed, and the two roads immediately became one.  And so she went straight on, never saluting anyone or turning back, although several people called to her.

About this time the spirit man returned from the wood only to find the girl was nowhere to be seen.  He asked the skull where she was, and he replied that she had gone out the back door, but he did not know where she had gone.  Being a spirit, however, he very soon guessed that she had gone home and he followed as quickly as possible, shouting as he went.

When the girl heard his voice, she ran as fast as she could, and at last arrived at her father’s house.  She told him to take a cow, a pig, a sheep, a goat, a dog, a chicken and seven eggs, and cut them into seven parts as a sacrifice, and leave them on the road, so that when the spirit man saw these things he would stop and not enter the town.  The king did so immediately.

When the spirit man saw the sacrifice on the road, he sat down and began to eat.  When he had satisfied his appetite, he packed up the remainder and returned to the spirit land, not troubling the king or his daughter anymore.

When the king saw that the danger was over, he beat his drum, and declared that for the future, when people died and went to the spirit land, they should not come to earth again as spirits to cure sick people.