Where Animals Talk; West African Folk Lore Tales/Part 1/Tale 10

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"Njiwo Died of Sleep": A Proverb



Njiwo (A Species of Antelope) Nyare (Ox)



An event (the supposed death of the red antelope) is traced to its first cause (sleep) back of the immediate causes (the people who actually sought to kill him). Whence the proverb, "Eziwo a juwi na Antyâvinâ." "Eziwo" is a familiar way of pronouncing Njiwo.



Antelope and Ox went to a town to dance Bweti (a certain spirit-dance). After the dance, Antelope, exhausted with the exercise, fell asleep in the Bweti-house. While he was there, certain persons made a plot to kill him. Ox heard of it, and came to warn him, calling gently, (lest he should be overheard and himself seized), "Njiwo! Eziwo!" But antelope did not hear, and Ox made no further effort, and ran away to his home in fear for his own life.

Then came Antelope's wife, while he still slept, and loudly called him. He, only half-awake, grumbled, "What do you call me for? Let me rest. I'm tired by the dancing." She persisted, "I call you because certain persons want to kill you." But, he, still heavy with sleep, did not understand, and was not willing to rise, and went on sleeping. Then his wife, unable to arouse him, went to call other people to help her.

While she was away, his enemies came and tied him with ropes, and left him there tied, still sleeping, alone in the house. They locked the house, and went away, intending to return and kill him when he should awake. Before they came back, his wife returned with aid; and, with machetes and knives, they cut open the door, and found him with his limbs tied, and still sleeping. They roughly shook him, and he, half-conscious, asked, "What do you want here?" His wife replied, "I have come to carry you away." So, she untied the ropes, and they lifted him and carried him away, still too sleepy to walk himself.

While all this was going on, the people of the town to which Ox had fled, asked him, "There were two of you who went to dance Bweti. You are here, but where is the other?" Ox, assuming that Antelope was dead, and not knowing what Antelope's wife had done, told how he had been unable to waken him, and said, "Eziwo was killed while asleep." Then the village people said regretfully, "Eh! Eziwo! Sleep has killed him!"

In the meantime, Antelope and his wife had reached the town, where the news of his death had preceded them; and the people wondered, saying, "Nyare reported that you were cut to pieces!" Then Antelope's wife explained that he would have been killed, because Ox had not made every effort to arouse him from his deep sleep.

So the friendship of Ox and Antelope ended. And the proverb came, that, "Eziwo died of sleep."