Once upon a time there lived a woman who couldn’t have children. Because of that all her husbands kept leaving her. One day she was feeling so sad, miserable and lonely that she decided to go and see a witch doctor, for him to help her have a baby. The witch doctor said: “How can I help you? To have a baby you need a husband, and you haven’t got a husband!” She begged him to do everything in his power. In the end he relented; “OK, he said, I’ll see what I can do, but it won’t be easy. But as I’ve got a reputation to keep up, I’ll perform a miracle on you.” He gave the woman three limes and told her to take them home with her. “At the end of each day, he said, for the next three days, before you go to bed, make sure you have a bath. Wash your hands thoroughly. Take one of the limes and cut it in two, squeeze the juice, rub it on your tummy, your thighs and your hands.”
The woman followed these instructions exactly. After a few weeks, she noticed that her stomach and her thighs were getting big. She got worried, and went back to see the witchdoctor again to ask his advice. He told her not to worry, these were the signs that the magic was working. “You just have to go through with this, you will be fine,” he said. He added that once the children got big, and started to wonder about their father, she should tell them that the father is a one-eyed antelope.
As time went by, she got bigger and bigger. After nine months her left thigh just opened up and a baby boy jumped out. Then her stomach opened up and a baby girl jumped out. She was very happy that at last she was a mother, and for some time they lived happily like any normal family. She called the boy Atta, and the girl she called Attakuma. As the children grew older, they became very headstrong. They always did exactly what they liked and took little or no notice of their mother’s wishes or commands.
One day when her twins were about ten years old, the woman told them: Your dad is not a human. He is an antelope with one eye. If you go hunting and you come across a one-eyed antelope, don’t kill it, it could be your father. The children promised her they would never kill any one eyed antelope they might come across.
One day the twins went hunting. They walked really far searching the jungle for meat. They spent all day searching, then decided to go back home empty handed. One the way back they encountered a one-eyed antelope. Atta said to his sister: “Look at the size of that antelope! Let’s shoot it and take it home.” “No no, no, said Attakuma, remember what our mother told us, if we shoot it, we might be killing our father!” Atta turned to his sister and snorted: “What!? You believe that stuff? How can our father be an animal. No way, that’s impossible!” With that he raised his bow and shot the antelope right in its heart. The beast died immediately. But the animal was so big and heavy that it was impossible for them to carry. They had to make some rope, tied it round the animal and dragged it all the way back home. Their mother hadn’t returned from the market yet, so they set about cooking a delicious meal. When mother got home she was very pleased to find that her children had prepared a meal for her, and set down immediately to eat. But after a few bites, she thought this meat tasted just like antelope meat. She called out to her children: “Is this antelope meat I’m eating? Did you kill an antelope today?” “Yes” replied Atta. The mother screamed and threw her food away. “Oh, lord Oh lord; the witchdoctor warned me about this. What am I going to do, I’m sick and tired; these children of mine, they never listen, they always disobey me.”
The next day she went out and bought two chairs. These chairs she took to Mister Death, and explained to him that she’ll be sending her twins along later to collect the chairs. “When they get here, she said, I want you to capture them, and take them to the other side for me.” Death agreed to this quite happily. The woman went home and told her children she had just bought two chairs for them, but they were too heavy for her to carry, so she left them with the merchant. So the twins set out to fetch the chairs from the merchant. When they got to Death’s house he told them to sit and wait while he got the chairs from the back. But he came back with a rope, and tried to tie them up. The twins however were far too quick and smart for him, and got away. Back home, they told their mother what had happened. “That nasty man tried to kill us!” Attakuma said. “No. no, said the mother, you must have done something to upset him” But she was upset that her plan hadn’t worked.
A few days later she tried again. This time she bought some bread, and left it with Death, and asked her twins to collect it for her. But Attakuma had a plan. She told her brother to go to the front of Death’s house, and ask for the bread. This Atta did. In the meantime Attakuma went round the back of the house, and found the rope. She knew Death would come and get the rope to tie up Atta, so she waited on the roof, and when Death came outside, she jumped on him and tied him up. On the way home, Atta said to his sister: “Our mother is trying to get rid of us. We must leave the village before she succeeds in her plans one of these days.” They decided they would have to run away from home, but the were sure that their mother would come after them, so they had to find a way to stop her. The next day, while their mother was working in the market, they dug a big hole in the backyard, where everybody always washed. They covered it with a few branches and some leaves, and filled a bucket with water, which they left on the other side of the trap. They prepared some food and waited for their mother to come home. After she had eaten, Attakuma said to her, “We filled a bucket with water for your bath, and left it outside for you.” Mother was pleasantly surprised at these little kindnesses, but unfortunately for her, she didn’t suspect anything. She went out into the backyard to have her bath; in the dark she didn’t see the trap her children had laid, and fell into the hole. Atta and Attakuma left straight away and walked all night. They knew that one of the neighbours would find their mother soon enough, and they wanted to get as far away as possible.
Early the next morning they came across a small hut, where they found an old blind man. He was very old, and had a long white beard, and he was cooking some food in front of his hut. The children stopped, and Atta said to him: “What a pity! An old man like you having to cook your own food! Don’t you have any children? You can’t even see anything!” The old man grunted: “I’m here on my own. Everybody else left this village a long time ago.” Attakuma said: “Don’t worry old man, we’ll help you cook your food.”
So the twins set about cooking the food, but then they ate it all by themselves, while the old man sat back and waited. After they had finished the food, the filled a bowl with water and put it in front of the old man. They told him the food was ready, and to go ahead and enjoy it. Then they set off on the path again, leaving the poor old man to discover that he’d been tricked. As they walked away they heard him shouting and cursing them, but they just laughed. They kept walking through the bush.
The next day they met an old woman on a small farm. She was crawling around on the soil, planting groundnuts. Atta said to her: “What? What a shame! You shouldn’t be working at your age! Give us the bowl and we’ll plant those groundnuts for you.” The old lady was very grateful for a little help, and she gladly gave them the bowl. She chuckled: “I’ll go and sit over there in the shade and watch you children work!” The twins started work, Atta digging holes in the ground with his bare hands, and Attakuma following behind, filling them up again with soil. Instead of putting the nuts in the soil, she put hid them in a sack that was tied around her neck. After a while they noticed that the old woman had dozed off, and they wandered off, eating the nuts for their supper. When the woman woke up, she went round to inspect the children’s work, and could find no nuts in any of the holes. She cursed the children, but blamed herself for putting her trust in these vagabonds.
The next day the twins came across another old woman, sitting outside her hut. She had a small girl on her lap, who’d been hurt, and she was cleaning the wound. The twins approached her to have a good look. Attakuma said to her: “What are you doing there? That water should be hot! That wound looks very bad, you’ll never clean it with cold water!” The looked around and saw a fire burning by the side of the house. Atta took the bucket with the water, and heated it over the fire. “We’ll show you how to do it,” he said, laughing. When the water was hot, he brought it over and put the bucket on the ground next to the old woman. “Give me the baby, Atta said to the woman, we’ll get her fixed up in no time!” He took the girl from the woman’s lap, and held her over the bucket filled with hot water. The old woman didn’t like the look of this, and she jumped up, grabbing her stick. As she did so, she kicked over the bucket, and the hot water spilled over her feet, scalding them. She started screaming and waving her stick at the twins, at which Atta dropped the little girl, and he and Attakuma ran away, laughing. The old woman was furious, and decided to follow them so that she could teach them a lesson. First she wrapped some old cloth around her scalded feet, then she tied the girl onto her back. She picked up her stick, and followed the twins. But of course they were much quicker than she could ever be, and she couldn’t see them. But she was so furious that she was determined to catch up with them. She went to see an old witchdoctor who lived nearby, and told him what had happened. The witchdoctor agreed that she should go after these nasty youngsters and punish them. He gave her a stick, and said: “Tap this stick on the ground three times, and you will be able to see their footprints, to show you where they went. Just follow the footprints and you will catch up with them.”
At one end of the stick were three small branches, one was covered in gold, one in cowries and the other in kente cloth. The old lady thanked him, and went on her way, back to her hut, so that she could discover their tracks. When she got there, she hit the stick on the ground three times, as she had been told, and the ends of the stick started to glow. Soon the twins’ footprints became visible to her, and she followed them.
The twins had been resting a little further along the way, when they heard the old lady approaching. They didn’t want the old lady to find hem so they climbed the tallest tree they could find to hide in the foliage. But the old lady had spotted them, and walked right up to the tree where they were hiding. She hit the trunk of the tree three times with the stick the witchdoctor had given her, and the whole tree began to shake violently. The twins couldn’t hold on and the both fell out. Before he fell, Atta managed to grab a leaf from his sack, and chewed it as he was falling, so that when he hit the ground he wasn’t hurt. But Attakuma didn’t move, she just lay there as if dead. Atta took the chewed up leaf from his mouth, and squeezed some of the juice in his sister’s nostril upon which she immediately regained consciousness.
They ran away as fast as they could, the old lady following at her own slow pace. Presently they came to a very big river, they could only just make out the other side. They knew that in order to escape the old woman pursuing them they would have to get across the water. Just then a large vulture landed on the riverbank. They ran up to the bird and asked for its help. “We’re being pursued by an old witch, explained Attakuma, and she wants to kill us! We have to get to the other side of the water, please help us!” The vulture agreed to help them, and told them to climb on his back. He flew up easily and was over on the other side of the river in no time. After the children climbed off his back, Atta said to the vulture: “Be careful if you see that old woman. She might ask you to take her across as well, because she appears quite determined to catch us!”
Attakuma joined in: “If she asks you, you should say yes, certainly, but then make sure you drop her in the middle of the water! I’m sure she can’t swim!” The vulture just grinned. “Don’t you youngsters worry about me, he said. I’m quite capable of looking after myself.” As he flew back across the water, the twins decided to stay a while, and see what would happen.
The vulture returned to the other side of the river, and there he saw the old woman carrying her grandchild on her back, sitting in the sand, rubbing her poor aching feet, exhausted by her efforts. He greeted her and asked her if she was the one chasing a boy and a girl across the bush. The old woman confirmed that she was indeed the one, and then explained to the vulture what they had done to her and her granddaughter, and how, with the help of the witchdoctor’s stick, she had been able to follow them. The vulture was shocked and agreed to help the old woman teach the twins a lesson. He asked to borrow the magic stick, which he took in his strong beak, and went in search of a large piece of flotsam. He soon found something suitable, and lifted it up with his claws. Then he flew high up over the water, carrying the stick in his beak, and the flotsam in his claws. When he was over the middle of the water, he dropped the flotsam, which landed in the water with a big splash. The twins were on the other side of the water, watching the vulture. They saw him drop a large shape, and they assumed that this was the old lady. They cheered loudly, and watched as the vulture made his way towards them. “Well done, vulture! That taught the old hag a lesson!” they shouted.
The vulture now hovered over them with the magic stick. First he hit Atta on the head with it, then Attakuma. Atta shouted “Hey, mister vulture, what are you doing?” Attakuma just screamed. Their legs, their feet and their toes turned into roots, and dug into the sand at the water’s edge, their bodies turned into tree trunks, and their heads, arms, hands and fingers turned into branches. As leaves started to grow on the branches, a few moans were heard, then all fell silent except for the leaves rustling in the wind, and the sound of water lapping the roots. That’s how mangrove trees came to grow by the side of the river.