Long long ago, Oyankopon (“the Creator”) who was a big chief was very pained whenever any man died. So when he learned what had happened to Nothing, he wanted to do something about.
Here is what happened:
At that time Anansi (the spider) was living in miserable little hut. It was long ago when he set himself up as the first king of the human beings. But the trickster, crafty, sly and villainous spider lost all his riches and ennoblements after he was beaten in his encounter with the wax girl, to whom he stuck fast with his legs when she refused to talk to him. People then rushed forwards and beat the deceitful Anansi. He was so ashamed to be caught in the act of pride that he changed into a spider and took refuge in a dark corner of the ceiling lest any one should see him.
Near Anansi’s hut there was a fine palace where lived a very rich man called Nothing. One day Nothing and Anansi proposed to go to the neighboring town to get some wives. Accordingly, they set off together.
Nothing, being a rich man, wore a very fine velvet cloth, while Anansi had a ragged cotton one. While they were on their way Anansi persuaded Nothing to change clothes for a little while, promising to give back the fine velvet before they reached the town. He delayed doing this, however, first on one pretext, then on another—till they arrived at their destination.
Anansi, being dressed in such a fine garment, found no difficulty in getting as many wives as he wished. Poor Nothing, with his ragged and miserable cloth, was treated with great contempt. At first he could not get even one wife. At last, however, a woman took pity on him and gave him her daughter. The poor girl was laughed at very heartily by Anansi’s wives for choosing such a beggar as Nothing appeared to be. She wisely took no notice of their scorn.
The party set off for home. When they reached the cross-roads leading to their respective houses the women were astonished. The road leading to Anansi’s house was only half cleared. The one which led to Nothing’s palace was, of course, wide and well made. Not only so, but his servants had strewn it with beautiful skins and carpets, in preparation for his return. Servants were there, awaiting him, with fine clothes for himself and his wife. No one was waiting for Anansi.
Nothing’s wife was queen over the whole district and had everything her heart could desire, Anansi’s wives could not even get proper food; they had to live on unripe bananas with peppers. The wife of Nothing heard of her friends’ miserable state and invited them to a great feast in her palace. They came, and were so pleased with all they saw that they agreed to stay there. Accordingly, they refused to come back to Anansi’s hut.
He was very angry, and tried in many ways to kill Nothing, but without success. Finally, however, he persuaded some rat friends to dig a deep tunnel in front of Nothing’s door. When the hole was finished Anansi lined it with knives and broken bottles. He then smeared the steps of the palace with okro to make them very slippery, and withdrew to a little distance.
When he thought Nothing’s household was safely in bed and asleep, he called to Nothing to come out to the courtyard and see something. Nothing’s wife, however, dissuaded him from going. Anansi tried again and again, and each time she bade her husband not to listen. At last Nothing determined to go and see this thing. As he placed his foot on the first step, of course he slipped, and down he fell into the hole. The noise alarmed the household. Lights were fetched and Nothing was found in the ditch, so much wounded by the knives that he soon died. His wife was terribly grieved at his untimely death. She boiled many yams, mashed them, and took a great dishful of them round the district. To every child she met she gave some, so that the child might help her to cry for her husband.
Oyankopon being very upset, sent for the dog, who was his head mercury, and told him to go out into the world and give his word to all people that for the future whenever any one died the body was to be placed in the compound, and wood ashes were to be thrown over it; that the dead body was to be left on the ground, and in twenty-four hours it would become alive again.
When the dog had travelled for half a day he began to get tired; so as he was near an old woman’s house he looked in, and seeing a bone with some meat on it he made a meal off it, and then went to sleep, entirely forgetting the message which had been given him to deliver.
After a time, when the dog did not return, the Creator called for a sheep, and sent him out with the same message. But the sheep was a very foolish one, and being hungry, began eating the sweet grasses by the wayside. After a time, however, he remembered that he had a message to deliver, but forgot what it was exactly; so as he went about among the people he told them that the message the Creator had given him to tell the people, was that whenever any one died they should be buried underneath the ground.
A little time afterwards the dog remembered his message, so he ran into the town and told the people that they were to place wood ashes on the dead bodies and leave them in the compound, and that they would come to life again after twenty-four hours. But the people would not believe him, and said, “We have already received the word from the Creator by the sheep, that all dead bodies should be buried.”
In consequence of this the dead bodies are now always buried, and the dog is much disliked and not trusted as a messenger, as if he had not found the bone in the old woman’s house and forgotten his message, the dead people might still be alive. Also this is why, if you find a child crying and ask the cause, you will often be told he is “crying for Nothing.”
Africa, on spiders & dead bodies – African Folktale adapted by Dugutigui
In the “Diula” language in Mali, the term « dugutigui » (chief of the village), literally translated, means: «owner of the village»; «dugu» means village and «tigui», owner. Probably the term is the result of the contraction of «dugu kuntigui» (literally: chief of the village).