The reason why the crab has a shell


Once upon a time there lived a woman whose name was Aftermath. She had one daughter, whose name was Akuvi. Her husband had died when the girl was still very young. As Akuvi grew up she began to rebel against her mother’s authority. If Aftermath asked her to fetch water she would refuse, if Aftermath asked her to pound some yam, the girl would snarl and sulk. Mother used to curse her daughter, but all to no avail. “You think I’m hard on you, she would say, just wait if you keep behaving like this you’ll meet your fate one day!” This went on for quite some time, until one day the mother again asked Akuvi to fetch some water from the well. Akuvi refused bluntly. “Why do I always have to fetch your water, mother? Why can’t you get it for yourself. You have arms and legs just like I do!” Aftermath got so angry at her daughter’s insolence that she took a cane and beat her. This in turn made Akuvi very angry. “that’s it! She said, That’s it! I’ve had enough, I’m going!” With that she took some of her clothes, packed them in a bundle and left home. She really had no idea where she was going, she had nobody to turn to, she didn’t know anybody outside the small village they lived in.

As there was nowhere else to go she headed towards the forest. After she’d been walking for some time, she came across a small farm. On the edge stood an old hut, and outside the hut sat an old lady. Akuvi had never seen such an old lady, she must be at least a hundred years old! Akuvi walked up to the old lady, who looked her in the eye, and asked “Who are you and where are you from?” Akuvi just about opened her mouth to answer, when the old lady shouted “Stop! Don’t speak! I know all about you!” She wagged her crooked fingers at the girl. “Your mother tried her best to bring you up well, but you wouldn’t have it, would you? You thought you knew better. You wouldn’t listen to your mother, well, now you’re here, you’ll see something else! Welcome, my dear! ”

The old lady took her in, gave her some food and a corner of her hut where she could lie down to sleep. The next morning the old lady took Akuvi to her field, where she grew some vegetables; yam, cassava, beans. The old lady spread her arms and said to Akuvi: “what you see here is my farm, I grow everything here, and you will have to help me. Everytime I send you to pick something, these plants will talk to you. Some will say: Don’t touch me please, I’m too young, or: I’ve only just been planted, I’m not ripe yet! I want you to ignore them don’t take any notice; just pick the one that protests loudest.”

That same afternoon the old lady sent the girl to the farm to pick some cassava and yam so that they could pound some fufu for their supper. As she entered the field the plants started talking to her. One of them said: Look girl, I’m too old to be here, and fed up being stuck here in this field, come and pick me!” Another said: “Please don’t pick me, I’ve just been planted! Go to the next one!” With all these voices coming at her from all directions Akuvi got scared; nothing like this had ever happened to her in her entire life. She wanted to run away but she was frightened of what the old lady would do to her. So she gathered up all her courage and started picking the plants that were saying they were not ripe enough or mature enough to be picked, just as the old lady had told her to do. She took the vegetables home and the old lady instructed her to peel them and boil them. She finished this task, and then looked for mortar and pestle to pound the fufu, but she couldn’t find these anywhere. So she went to the old lady and asked her what she should use. The old lady told her: “I haven’t got a mortar or pestle and I still eat fufu. I still manage to pound it!” All Akuvi could say was: “Well, how do you do it? Can you show me?” The old lady raised an arm, and said to Akuvi, “Go to the back of the house. There you’ll find a log, bring it here. When Akuvi came back with the log a few minutes later, the old lady was lying on the ground, and instructed Akuvi to put the wood under her head.

Resting her head on the log, she told Akuvi to use her nostrils as the mortar; pointing to them she said: “This is where you’ll pound the fufu!”

Akuvi was shocked, never had she heard of anything like this before. But the old lady reassured her: “Don’t worry dear, I always do it like this and it comes out perfect every time. Now it became clear to Akuvi that the old lady had magical powers. Her nostrils expanded into a big bowl, and Akuvi was able to pound the fufu. When she finished the old lady told Akuvi to go her room where she kept a pot full of soup, and to bring it out to her. Akuvi hung the pot over the fire to heat the soup, and brought out a little table for the old lady to eat at. The old lady sat down and started to eat. Akuvi washed her hands and sat down with the old lady as she was by now very hungry.

But the old lady stopped her taking any food. “Don’t even think about it. Before I let you have any of this food, you have to tell me what my name is.” Akuvi didn’t know the old lady’s name, she had absolutely no idea. How could she? Nobody in the village had ever even mentioned her. She started guessing some names, Mawutor, Mawuko, but all the names she could think of were the wrong ones, and she was not allowed to touch any of the food. After the old lady finished her meal she gave the pot to Akuvi to fetch some water from the river. Obediently Akuvi took the pot and made her way to the river. As she approached the water, she saw a crab. The crab called out to her: “Hey there, little girl! I know what’s happening to you, that old witch has got you guessing her name, hasn’t she? I can help you because I know her very well!”

Akuvi was very excited: “Mr Crab, if you know her name please tell me and help me out of my misery!” The crab answered: “Her name is Zeglo. Call her Mama Zeglo!” Akuvi jumped in the air, she was so happy, at last she would get something to eat. She thanked the crab profusely, and set off home again. But she was so happy, she was dancing and jumping all the way home, carrying the pot filled with water on her head. She stumbled over some stones that were strewn on the path, the pot fell off her head and broke into a hundred pieces. She started to cry, she knew the old lady would be furious with her. Slowly she finished the walk home, and as she came up to the house the old lady was sitting outside, waiting for her. When the old lady saw her, she asked immediately: “What happened to my pot? Where is my water?”

Akuvi answered “Mama Zeglo, I fell down on the path and your pot broke.”

The old lady was astonished that Akuvi had guessed her name correctly, so she asked her: “How did you find out my name? Who told you?”

Akuvi replied that she met a crab by the river who told her. The old lady jumped up, she was indeed furious. “I’m going down to the riverside, I’ll find that stupid old crab and teach him a lesson!” She got up, took her stick and a calabash and walked briskly towards the river. She fully intended to punish the crab for his indiscretion. And she did indeed find the crab still rooting around in the sand on the riverbank, and addressed him in an angry tone: “Why on earth did you disclose my name to that young girl? What business is it of yours?” The crab hardly deigned to look at the old lady. “Why don’t you bugger off, he said. Who do you think you are; can’t I mention your name to anybody?” The old lady got even more annoyed, and she raised her stick and hit the crab on the back. Wallop! And again: Woosh!

The crab jumped sideways and shouted at the old lady: “Hey what! What are you playing at? Hitting me? You don’t know me! Just you wait!” The crab dived under the water, and started scooping up white sand, splashing it all over the old lady’s head so that all her hair turned white. She got ever more angry, so angry that she just threw the calabash at the crab, which landed on his back and got stuck there. She tried to pull it off, but try as she might, it was stuck hard. The crab groaned, and the old lady cursed, but they could not remove it. That’s why when you see a crab now, it’s got a hard shell on his back, and when you see an old lady, her hair is white all over!