Where Animals Talk; West African Folk Lore Tales/Part 2/Tale 21

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Is the Bat a Bird or a Beast?



Ndemi (Bat) and his Mother Vyâdu (Antelope)
Joba (The Sun) Hako (Ants)
Other Animals and Birds



In Tropical Africa, it is not usual to retain a corpse unburied as long as 24 hours. Bat retained his mother's corpse too long. The "Driver" Ants of that country are natural scavengers.

A reason why bats are not seen in the day time:—Also, why they make their plaintive cry at night, as if they were calling for their mother.



Bat lived at a place by itself, with only its mother. Shortly after their settling there, the mother became sick, very near to death. Bat called for Antelope, and said to him, "Make medicine for my mother." Antelope looked steadily at her to discern her disease. Then he told Bat, "There is no one who can make the medicine that will cure your mother, except Joba." Having given this information, Antelope returned to his own place.

On another day, early in the morning. Bat arose to go to call Sun. He did not start until about seven o'clock. He met Sun on the road about eleven o'clock. And he said to Sun, "My journey was on the way to see you." Sun told him, "If you have a word to say, speak!" So Bat requested, "Come! make Medicine for my mother. She is sick." But Sun replied, "I can't go to make medicine unless you meet me in my house; not here on the road. Go back; and come to me at my house tomorrow." So, Bat went back to his town.

And the day darkened. And they all slept their sleep.

And the next day broke. At six o'clock, Bat started to go to call Sun. About nine o'clock, he met Sun on the path; and he told Sun what he was come for. But Sun said to him, "Whenever I emerge from my house, I do not go back, but I keep on to the end of my journey. Go back, for another day." Bat returned to his town.

He made other journeys in order to see Sun at his house, five successive days; and every day he was late, and met Sun already on the way of his own journey for his own business.

Finally, on the seventh day. Bat's mother died. Then Bat, in his grief, said, "It is Joba who has killed my mother! Had he made medicine for me, she would have recovered."

Very many people came together that day in a crowd, at the Kwedi (mourning) for the dead. The wailing was held from six o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock of the next day. At that hour. Bat announced, "Let her be taken to the grave." He called other Beasts to go into the house together with him, in order to carry the corpse. They took up the body, and carried it on the way to the grave.

On their arrival at the grave, these Beasts said to Bat, "We have a rule that, before we bury a person, we must first look upon the face." (To identify it). So, they opened the coffin. When they had looked on the face, they said, "No! we can't bury this person; for, it is not our relative, it does not belong to us Beasts. This person indeed resembles us in having teeth like us. And it also has a head like us. But, that it has wings, makes it look like a bird. It is a bird. Call for the Birds! We will disperse." So, they dispersed.

Then Bat called the Birds to come. They came, big and little; Pelicans, Eagles, Herons and all the others. When they all had come together, they said to Bat, "Show us the dead body." He told them, "Here it is! Come! look upon it!" They looked and examined carefully. Then they said, "Yes! it resembles us; for, it has wings as we. But, about the teeth. No! We birds, none of us, have any teeth. This person does not resemble us with those teeth. It does not belong to us." And all the Birds stepped aside.

During the while that the talking had been going on. Ants had come and laid hold of the body, and could not be driven away. Then one of the Birds said to Bat, "I told you, you ought not to delay the burial, for, many things might happen." The Ants had eaten the body and there was no burial. And all the birds and beasts went away.

Bat, left alone, said to himself, "All the fault of all this trouble is because of Joba. If he had made medicine, my mother would not be dead. So, I, Ndemi, and Joba shall not look on each other. We shall have no friendship. If he emerges, I shall hide myself. I won't meet him or look at him." And he added, "I shall mourn for my mother always. I will make no visits. I will walk about only at night, not in the daytime, lest I meet Joba or other people."