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14.03.2020 Feature Article

Laughter Then And Now

Laughter Then And Now
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Keeping children from being bored these days, when they are (delightfully!) in one's company, is not easy.

For there is stiff competition in the air. Literally!

There's the tablet, for one, which, at the press of a button, takes them onto the Internet.

The Internet! – hmmm! – where there are a whole gamut of games and story series specially tailored to suit the tastes of every age group of children.

Try telling them stories. Ha – even the very funny ones often don't impress them. Even when I try those that I remember from my mother's portfolio (that never failed to make me and my siblings laugh) don't receive much of a welcome, I am afraid. “Can I have the remote, please?” comes the oft-repeated request.

One story I recently insisted on telling, which was intended to open the door to my storehouse of stories inherited from my mother and her age group, is this:

There was once a nice little village surrounded by a forest. The forest was what is known as “virgin forest”: it was fertile land which the people could use for farming.

They grew plantain, cocoyam, yam, cassava and vegetables on their farms. The land was so good that it also voluntarily yielded vegetation that was edible but which, unlike those I have already mentioned, did not need to be deliberately planted. These natural foods included banana; a variety of “wild yams” [whose Twi names are ahabayerƐ, asƆbayerƐ and nkamfoƆ].

The soil was also very good for mushrooms, such as mpempena, nsibire and nkaakom.

Of these mushrooms, nsibire is the most delicious:it has a sweet, chompy crown which the teeth enjoy breaking into small pieces for the tongue. It also has a long “tail”, that's also very nice to eat. Because of its unusual characteristics, the Asante people call nsibire Nsibire by an onomatopoeic name – Twe-a-worƆdƆ [That's to say “it comes out of the ground smoothly. It's extremely nice in either palm soup, nkontomire [cocoyam-leaf] soup as well as ordinary light [pepper-and-garden-egg] soup. Furthermore, it is absolutely fabulous when used for stewing.

Nkaakom is also good for soup but it tastes better if fried with specially-prepared palm oil, in a stew. There's nothing as beautiful as seeing fully-grown nkaakom mushrooms sitting on top of an ant-hill, waiting to be plucked away.

Mpempenais a strange mushroom – it is tiny in size but extremely luxuriant in growth. When it sprouts up, it can be gathered all along the length and breadth of a farm, including beneath the cocoyam and cassava plants! It shoots up from the soil after rainfall, usually, as soon as a farm has been “burnt” and ash has been left on the ground from the burning process. Mpempenais immensely popular with lazy kids, for it can be eaten by itself when boiled in salted water. No need to cook plantains or cocoyam to eat with it!

Oh, before I forget – there is another mushroom called nnomo. It is not very common and that's probably why it escaped me at first. It grows from the trunk of a palm tree that's been felled to make palm-wine. Such dead palm trees are usually the property of the palm-wine tappers who felled them. But often, palm-wine tappers don't revisit the palm trees they've felled, once they've got their palm-wine. So if one has sharp eyes, one can benefit from nnomo that did not sprout on one's own farm. Damn nice they are, too.

Unfortunately for the people of the village I am telling you about, their fertile land was shared with many wild animals, some of which (like grass-cutters [akranteƐ] were very good for food. But there were also dangerous predators like lions [gyata] and leopards [ƆketebƆ]. Some of these dangerous animals moved deeper into the forest whenever they encountered human beings, for they knew that humans could kill them by snaring them with horrible traps or shooting them with noise-making guns.

But there was one lion which felt so strong that it refused to retreat into the deep bush like the other animals. Its brute strength enabled it to break down traps set for it by the inhabitants of the village. And whenever hunters went after it with their guns, it was able to smell them from afar before they got to it. When it smelt hunters, it would hide and stalk them, take them by surprise and kill them – before they could fire a single shot at it.

The lion's exploits frightened the people. And some moved away from the village. Many of those who remained refused to make farms near the lion's “territory”.

Now, because the land which the lion had “annexed” to itself was very fertile indeed, some people kept trying to get rid of the lion.

They hunted it in packs – to no avail.

They hid in the bush at night to see whether it would dare come near them and get shot – but again to no avail.

The villagers thought hard and discussed the issue many times. But they could not come up with any plan that would enable them to get rid of the lion.

Then, out of the blue, a stranger came to live in the village. He came from a part of Ghana where there were many lions, and so when he heard of the story of the lion, he saw a way of making himself so useful to the people that they would accept him totally – as if one of their own.

He told the villagers that if they allowed him to go and make a farm in the area monopolised by the lion, he would be able to deal with the animal. The villagers readily agreed, for, of course (as I said before) they were afraid to use the land themselves.

What the wise stranger did was to go and make a farm in the lion's territory – behaving as if it was just like any other piece of land. The lion was very surprised that anyone could come so boldly into its territory. It assumed that the man had a trick up his sleeves. So it hid nearby and watched the man carefully every day, without attacking him. It wanted to detect any plan the man might harbour to harm the lion.

But the man didn't do anything unusual. He tilled the land in exactly the way the lion had seen other people till theirs.

The man finished making the farm.

Then he did a very strange thing: he brought a nice fat goatinto the farm, tied it to a tree and – left to go home!

The lion was, of course, attracted by the loud crying of the goat and went closer to have a good look at it.

The lion could not believe its eyes. Such a fat, meek goat?

The lion waited for nightfall. Then, it began creeping towards the goat.

Nothing happened.

The lion crept forward a little more.

Still, nothing happened.

Now, because it had been watching the goat all the time, the lion had not eaten all day. As it saw the goat chewing the cud and moaning loudly, the lion's appetite for goat meat rose very high. Its mouth juices were released. As if the sight of the tethered goat had hypnotised it, the lion became completely obsessed with eating the goat. it imagined how crunchy the fat thighs would be; how the niece would taste like if it sank its fangs into the soft flesh there.

After a while, the lion could wait no longer.

It charged!

Within seconds, it had strangled the goat with its mighty teeth.

The goat shuddered and died.

The lion was happy! It was still alive and the goat was dead!

Now, the lion began to gore itself on the sweet meat of the goat.

It hadn't tasted anything as good as that for a long time. This was because the animals it preyed on in the bush had tough meat, due to the running around they had to carry out to survive being chased by predators.

The lion ate and ate and ate and ate.

Now, as happens to anyone who overfeeds, the lion became increasingly comatose.

Next, it – it fell asleep!

Meanwhile, from his hiding place, the man had been watching the lion.

What happened next?