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21.03.2020 Feature Article

Laughter Then And Now (2)

Laughter Then And Now (2)
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THE stranger was very happy when he saw the lion lying prone on the ground, fast asleep.

For he knew that his stratagem had begun to work. He was particularly delighted that the lion had not taken the goat into the deep bush to consume it there. For if the meat had been dragged far into the bush, other members of the lion's “pride” would have joined in feasting on it. But the stranger wanted to deal with the lion “man-to-man” or rather, “man-to-animal”.

But although the stranger knew that his plan was working, he was still very cautious in what he did next. He knew from observing the behaviour of lions in his home area (where they were more common) that after being sated with meat, lions would sleep for hours and hours. Yet he did not approach the animal. For he also knew that lions had something called a “sixth sense”. This is an “instinct” that alerts them to danger, even when they are deep asleep.

In fact, humans also used to have a rather “diluted” form of this “sixth sense” long ago, before guns made them arrogant and inattentive to Nature. Faint remnants of this sense works for some humans, especially those who love Nature and listen to what the “little small voice” in their inner selves tells them.

For instance, a person with a strong “sixth sense” will inexplicably stop in his tracks just as he's about to step into the path of an oncoming motor vehicle. He would shiver all over, as he contemplated what nearly happened to him. But he would never fully understand how “something” had made him stop just in time before being run over!

The stranger now opened a back-pack bag that he always carried with him when he went into the forest. It contained a bow and a quiver containing several types of arrows of different sizes; a box of matches; some white (not red) kola nuts! (These were very good both for stifling hunger and quenching thirst and also, for preventing drowsiness.) The stranger's bag also contained dried powder from certain mysterious herbs and roots which, when mashed together, produced a drug that possessed “anaesthetic” properties. The powder's local name was mmƆtƆ.

The stranger nest took a small arrow and dipped its tip into the mmƆtƆ. Then he spat on to the arrowhead to dissolve the powder into liquid.

Next, he put the arrow into his bow, aimed and let fly – wheeeeee-gbangggg!

The arrow pierced right into the fat, goat-meat-filled stomach of the lion.

The lion was startled into sudden wakefulness by the sting of the arrow. But it was only for a moment. After lazily using its paw to scratch the spot where the arrow had hit him, it lay down again. This time, it stretched its legs fully, turned over from the side of its body on which it had been lying, and – passed out. Clean.

The stranger waited for a few minutes. Then, when he felt quite certain that the lion had been sent into a deep sleep by the mmƆtƆ, he approached the animal. He gave it a mighty kick to ascertain that it was completely lost to the world. He laughed a little to himself as he contemplated how delighted the astonished villagers would be that the lion they feared so much could be kicked with impunity. .

The stranger then dipped his hand into his bag and took a bell.

He tied the bell tightly around the neck of the lion.

A bell? Yes - he had once heard the story of a group of mice who wanted to be alerted when a ferocious cat was coming to catch them. However, out of sheer cowardice, not one of the mice had volunteered to “bell the cat”. So the cat had continued to terrorise them.

The story gave the stranger an idea: a lion, too, was a cat, wasn't it? All right: it was a very big cat; granted. But it was still a cat. If a small cat could be “bothered” by a bell hung around its neck, then so could a big cat. Only that the bell for a very big cat ought to be proportionately more noisy. Right?

So the stranger had gone to the school in the village and persuaded the head-teacher to lend him the big school bell. This bell was so loud that it could be heard all around the village when it was rung to call the children to “assembly”.

The stranger now strung the bell in a knot around the neck of the lion. He then went to hide a little distance away.

After a while, he took out an antidote to the mmƆtƆ from his bag, tipped the head of another tiny arrow with it and then let fly. Within a minute, the lion was awake. It roared! It stretched its body.

As the lion did the things that it normally did when it woke up from its sleep, the bell around his neck rang –

KRAAAAAAANG!.....KRAAAAAAANG!!

The lion jumped on hearing the noise, for bells frightened it.

But its precipitate jumping produced by fear resulted in the bell pealing more loudly:

KRAAAAAAAANG!......KRAAAAAAANG!

The lion was both frightened and angry – the worst state of mind for any creature to get into.

The lion began to jump about here and there, up and down, this way and that way. And each action produced the same result:

KRAAAAAAAAANG......KRAAAAAAAANG! .....KRAAAAANG!

Every step it took made matters worse.
I can still hear the alacrity in my mother's voice as she broke into poetry and continued the story in dramatic fashion -- dancing, singing and gesticulating. Every time she changed the position of her body, we children anticipated her words and merrily chanted, in unison, the refrain:

"KRAAAAAAANG!"
MOTHER: Gyata se Ɔɔfa ha a,
CHILDREN: KRAAAAAAAAAANG!.....
MOTHER: Ɔse Ɔɔfa nowhaa a,
CHILDREN:KRAAAAAAAAAANG!....
MOTHER: Ɔdane kƆ benkum a,
CHILDREN: KRAAAAAAAAAANG!
MOTHER: Ɔto fa nifa a,
CHILDREN: KRAAAAAAAAAANG!.....KRAAAAAAANG!! ….KRAAAAAAAAANG!!!…...KRAAAAAAAAAAANG!!!

(When the lion went this way,
The bell would ring:

KRAAAAAAAANG!
And when it went the other way too,
KRAAAAAAANG! rang the bell.
If it charged to the left:
KRAAAAAANG!
If it charged to the right:
KRAAAAAAAAAANG!
KRAAAAAAAAAANG!....
KRAAAAAAAAAANG!
KRAAAAAAAAANG!....)

We laughed and laughed and laughed as my mother expertly dramatised the confusion of the lion with changes of expression, lunges of her body and uncontrolled laughter. She told us that the end result was that the lion went literally mad as the unceasing ringing of the bell took its toll.

Finally, in order to try and get rid of the bell's noise, the lion ran and knocked its head full-tilt against the trunk of a mighty Odum [Mahogany] tree!

That would tear the bell from its neck, the lion thought.

But that act broke the lion's neck. And It lay down dead.

The stranger immediately ran fast in excitement to the palace of the chief and invited the villagers to “ come and see something”.

They all trooped to the forest and were all astonished when they saw the lion lying dead at the foot of the Odum tree.

They congratulated the stranger and showered him with gifts.

And from that day on, it became the custom of the villagers to happily welcome all strangers who wanted to settle among them..

For, they said, no-one could tell what sort of useful skills a stranger might bring to his new locality.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2020

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

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