The Slave Girl who tried to Kill her Mistress: An Ibibio Folktale

Akwa Ibom State - Folkli Folktales
General Location: Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria / Map data ©2019 Google

This Ibibio folktale tells the tale of a slave girl who tried to kill her mistress to take her place at a wedding. 

A man called Akpan, who was a native of Oku, a town in the Ibibio country, admired a girl called Emme very much, who lived at Ibibio, and wished to marry her, as she was the finest girl in her company.

It was the custom in those days for the parents to demand such a large amount for their daughters as dowry, that if after they were married they failed to get on with their husbands, as they could not redeem themselves, they were sold as slaves.

Akpan paid a very large sum as dowry for Emme, and she was put in the fatting-house until the proper time arrived for her to marry.

Akpan told the parents that when their daughter was ready they must send her over to him. This they promised to do. Emme’s father was a rich man, and after seven years had passed, and it became time for her to go to her husband, he saw another very fine girl, who had also just come out of the fatting-house, and whom the parents wished to sell as a slave. Emme’s father bought her as a handmaiden to his daughter.

The next day Emme’s little sister, being very anxious to go with her, obtained the consent of her mother, and they started off together, the slave girl carrying a large bundle containing clothes and presents from Emme’s father.

Akpan’s house was a long day’s march from where they lived. When they arrived just outside the town they came to a spring, where the people used to get their drinking water from. No one was allowed to bathe there. Emme, however, knew nothing about this. They took off their clothes to wash close to the spring, where there was a deep hole which led to the Water Ju Ju’s house.

The slave girl knew of this Ju Ju, and thought if she could get her mistress to bathe, she would be taken by the Ju Ju, and she would then be able to take her place and marry Akpan. So they went down to bathe, and when they were close to the water the slave girl pushed her mistress in, and she at once disappeared.

The little girl began to cry, but the slave girl said, “If you cry any more I will kill you, and throw your body into the hole after your sister.” She then told the child that she must never mention what had happened to anyone, and particularly not to Akpan, as she was going to represent her sister and marry him. She then made the little girl carry her load to Akpan’s house.

When they arrived, Akpan was very disappointed at the slave girl’s appearance, as she was not nearly as pretty and fine as he had expected her to be; but as he had not seen Emme for seven years, he had no suspicion that the girl was not really Emme, for whom he had paid such a large dowry. He called all his company together to play and feast, and when they arrived they were much astonished, and said, “Is this the fine woman for whom you paid so much dowry, and whom you told us so much about?”

Akpan could not answer them.

The slave girl was for some time very cruel to Emme’s little sister, and wanted her to die so that her position would be more secure. She beat the little girl every day, and made her carry the largest water-pot to the spring; she also made the child place her finger in the fire to use as firewood. When the time came for food, the slave girl would take a burning piece of wood and burn the child all over the body with it.

When Akpan asked her why she treated the child so badly, she replied that she was a slave that her father had bought for her.

One day, the little girl took the heavy water-pot to the river but there was no one to lift it on to her head; she had to remain at the spring a long time, and began calling for her sister Emme to come and help her.

When Emme heard her little sister crying for her, she begged the Water Ju Ju to allow her to go and help her, so he told her she might go, but that she must return to him again immediately. When the little girl saw her sister she asked to be allowed to go into the hole with her. She told Emme how badly she had been treated by the slave girl, but her elder sister told her to have patience; a day of vengeance would arrive sooner or later.

The little girl went back to Akpan’s house with a glad heart as she had seen her sister.

But when she got to the house, the slave girl said, “Why did you take so long getting water?” She then took another stick from the fire and burnt the little girl very badly, and starved her for the rest of the day.

This went on for some time, until, one day, when the child went to the river for water, after all the people had gone, she cried out for her sister as usual, but she did not come for a long time, as there was a hunter from Akpan’s town hidden near watching the hole, and the Water Ju Ju told Emme that she must not go; but, as the little girl went on crying bitterly, Emme persuaded the Ju Ju to let her go, promising to return quickly. When she emerged from the water, she looked very beautiful with the rays of the setting sun shining on her glistening body. She helped her little sister with her water-pot, and then disappeared into the hole again.

The hunter was amazed at what he had seen, and when he returned, he told Akpan what a beautiful woman had come out of the water and had helped the little girl with her water-pot. He also told Akpan that he was convinced that the girl he had seen at the spring was his proper wife, Emme, and that the Water Ju Ju must have taken her.

Akpan made up his mind to see for himself, so, in the early morning the hunter came for him, and they both went down to the river, and hid in the forest near the water-hole.

When Akpan saw Emme come out of the water, he recognised her at once, and went home to consider how he could release her from the power of the Water Ju Ju. He was advised by some of his friends to go consult an old woman who frequently made sacrifices to the Water Ju Ju.

When he went to her, she told him to bring her one white slave, one white goat, one piece of white cloth, one white chicken, and a basket of eggs. Then, when the great Ju Ju day arrived, she would take them to the Water Ju Ju and make a sacrifice of them on his behalf. The day after the sacrifice was made, the Water Ju Ju would return the girl to her and she would bring her to Akpan.

Akpan bought the slave and took all the other things to the old woman. When the day of the sacrifice arrived, he went with his friend the hunter and witnessed the old woman make the sacrifice. The slave was bound up and led to the hole, then the old woman called to the Water Ju Ju and cut the slave’s throat with a sharp knife and pushed him into the hole. She then did the same to the goat and chicken, and threw the eggs and cloth in on top of them.

The next morning at dawn the old woman went to the hole, and found Emme standing at the side of the spring. She told her that she was her friend, who was going to take her to her husband. She took Emme back to her own home, and hid her in her room, and sent word to Akpan to come to her house, and to take great care that the slave woman knew nothing about the matter.

Akpan left the house secretly by the back door and arrived at the old woman’s house without meeting anybody.

When Emme saw Akpan, she asked for her little sister, so he sent his friend, the hunter, for her to the spring, and he met her carrying her water-pot to get the morning supply of water for the house, and brought her to the old woman’s house with him.

When Emme had embraced her sister, she told her to return to the house and do something to annoy the slave woman, and then she was to run as fast as she could back to the old woman’s house, where, no doubt, the slave girl would follow her, and would meet them all inside the house, and see Emme, who she believed she had killed.

The little girl did as she was told. As soon as she got into the house, she called out to the slave woman: “You are a wicked woman, who has treated me very badly! But I know you are only my sister’s slave, and you will be properly punished.” She then ran as hard as she could to the old woman’s house.

The slave woman heard what the little girl said and, seizing a burning stick from the fire, ran after the child. But the little one got to the old woman’s house first, and ran inside. The slave woman followed close upon her heels with the burning stick in her hand.

Then Emme came out and confronted the slave woman. She at once recognised her mistress, whom she thought she had killed, so she stood quite still.

Then they all went back to Akpan’s house, where Akpan asked the slave woman what she meant by pretending that she was Emme, and why she had tried to kill her.

But the slave woman had nothing to say.

Many people were then called to a play to celebrate the recovery of Akpan’s wife, and he told them all what the slave woman had done.

Emme, for a time, treated the slave girl in the same way as she had treated her little sister. She made her put her fingers in the fire, and burnt her with sticks. She also made her beat foo-foo with her head in a hollowed-out tree. Finally, she was tied up to a tree and starved to death.

Ever since that time, when a man marries a girl, he is always present when she comes out of the fatting-house and takes her home himself so that such evil things as happened to Emme and her sister cannot occur again.

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