Once upon a time there lived a hunter called Ajakasi. Many hunters lived in his village. Some hunters used guns, some used bows and arrows, others used sticks and cutlasses to do their hunting.
Ajakasi went on a hunting expedition early one morning. He went deep into the bush. He wondered around all day long, but the bush seemed deserted, and by late afternoon he had not even seen a bird. He was terribly tired and hungry. He decided to go back home. Just as he was about to turn back, he heard an unusual sound coming from somewhere in the distance. He listened carefully, thinking he finally got lucky; he hard peeap peeap peeap uuwuurgh oowuurgh uuuwuurgh.
He said to himself, goodness, that sounds like a big animal, maybe even a lion, I’ll sneak up carefully and see if I can find it. He headed in the direction from which the sound was coming, and soon he came upon a clearing in the forest, and right there in the middle of the clearing was a big hole. He approached gingerly, and craned his neck so as to be able to see inside the pit, and what did he see?
He saw a lion.
Instinctively he jumped back, then after collecting his nerves, he approached the hole again, and craned his neck so as to be able to see inside the pit; then he saw a snake in the same pit! And he saw a man, crouching in one of the corners. Ajakasi couldn’t help but wonder what was happening down there, why was the lion not eating the man?
Then he also saw a rat! He couldn’t believe is eyes, so there was a lion down there, and a huge snake, and a man and a rat!
The lion was he first to spot Ajakasi. Please Mr Hunter, get me out of this pit! I‘m terribly hungry! Ajakasi shook his head, and with a trembling voice, said: I’m really sorry Mr Lion, but I can’t do that! A hungry lion? How can I pull you out? As soon as I get you up here you’re going to have me for your lunch!
The lion growled in response. Don’t you think I could have eaten this man here, he asked. Or the snake, or the rat? We all agreed not to eat each other but to stick together, so that we might all get out of here. I guarantee that if you help us you will be safe
The man in the pit joined in: Please Mr Hunter, believe us, the lion is telling the truth, please get us out of here, please help us. The snake joined in, hissing, and the rat was squeaking. The hunter was touched.
All right, he said, all right, I’ll help you. Just hold on while I find something. He went into the trees, and found the longest possible rope, he tied one end to the nearest tall tree, and pulled it hard to test it. When he was satisfied that it would be strong enough to pull all those creatures out of the pit. He threw the loose end into the hole. And who was the first to come out? Of course, the lion, the snake came out next, and then the rat and finally the man crawled to the surface. The lion gave Ajakasi a heavy handshake. Ouch, screamed Ajakasi, you’ve hurt me! That was painful! Is that how you’re going to thank me?
No, no, no, no, said the lion, Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hunter, I will see you again. With that the lion disappeared into the jungle. The snake thanked him too, and slithered away. The man thanked him, and ran off.
The rat was the last to thank him; I won’t forget your kindness, he said before scurrying off in the undergrowth.
Ajakasi was left all by himself; it was getting dark and he remembered how hungry he was, so he too set off back to his hut in the village.
Several days later, very early in the morning, even before the sun had crawled over the horizon, he heard somebody knocking loudly on his door.
Bhoumm Bhoumm Bhoumm! Who is there, asked Ajakasi. But there was no reply. He opened the door, and there stood the lion. Ajakasi was scared to the marrow, and almost threw the door shut again, but the lion raised a paw in greeting. Mr Lion, sighed Ajakasi, you really scared me there! I’m sorry about that, said the lion, I suppose that can’t be helped. I can’t very well turn up here in broad daylight, can I now? Ajakasi had to agree. Well then, said the lion, you did something wonderful for me the other day, you were very brave to help the four of us get out of that pit. So I have come to thank you, just come over here. The lion stood back and Ajakasi stepped outside. There, in front of his house he found a huge pile of wild meat. All for you, said the lion, and wandered off.
Ajakasi was very excited. He sat to work immediately cleaning the meat and cutting it up. He kept some in his hut and took the rest to the city to sell. He got a lot of money for it! A few more days went by, when Ajakasi was woken again by the same noise coming from his door. He opened the door carefully, and found the lion there again. The lion directed him to the usual spot, and there was an even bigger pile of meat! Again, Ajakasi cleaned the meat, cut it up and took it to the market to sell. He got even more money. The remarkable thing was that the lion kept coming back every three or four days to bring more meat. Ajakasi became a very rich man. He could pay his children’s school fees, he built a new house, he bought new clothes for himself and all his family members He was turning into a very happy man.
Then one day, he noticed a hole in the roof of his new house. Oooh, what is this? He went to inspect and to his surprise he saw a rat peeping through the hole. Aaaii, said Ajakasi, who are you, and what are you doing to my roof, making holes in it? The rat said: Don’t you remember me? I’m the rat you rescued from the pit in the jungle, some time ago now. If it hadn’t been for you coming along I would surely have ended up as supper for the lion or the snake! I’ve come to bring you something to thank you, just wait there a minute.
Ajakasi was left speechless, he watched as the rat disappeared, but came back presently, lugging an enormous sack, which he dropped through the hole at Ajakasi’s feet. Take these things, the rat said, as a token of my appreciation , and then he disappeared as quickly as he had come. Ajakasi, tugged at the sack, and opened it.
When he saw what was inside he almost fainted. The sack was filled with gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones and minerals
Now Ajakasi was almost the wealthiest man in the whole village. Only the chief was richer. It so happened that a few months later thieves broke into the chief’s compound while he was away on a trip. They took everything that had any value. When he returned the chief was soooo sad, he wept for days on end. People came from all over the district to bring him presents and to console him. Ajakasi also went to see him and took some pieces of gold. One day the man who was rescued from the pit by Ajakasi passed through the village and called at the chief’s compound. He asked to see the chief, saying that he had some information about the theft. The chief had him ushered into his private quarters immediately, he was still very sad and tearful, and asked his visitor to tell him everything he knew without stalling. Don’t cry again, nana, the man started, I know who it was who stole all your jewels and your rich kente cloths. Who is that man? The chief shouted. Where is he?
Don’t worry, said the visitor, he is here in the village, it is the hunter Ajakasi.
The chief fell down on his chair. Ajakasi? I don’t believe it, he is such a good man!
The man raised his hand up. Don’t you remember, Oh great chief, Ajakasi was just a poor wretched hunter, but look at him now, he has built a new house, almost as big as your own, he has bought new clothes for himself and all his family, he pays his children’s school fees, and he never goes out hunting any more, yet he always has plenty of meat on his table. How is he able to do all that…? He is surely the one who stole all your things.
The chief was now very angry. He called some of his soldiers and commanded them to arrest Ajakasi and bring the thief before him immediately. This was done. The soldiers went to Ajakasi’s house, tied him up and brought him before the chief. He was mercilessly beaten. He tried to explain how it was that he had come by his riches, but when he mentioned the lion bringing him meat, the soldiers just beat him more, and when he mentioned the rat bringing him gold and precious metals in a sack, the chief shouted: Enough! Tie him to the stocks, and tomorrow morning we will execute him!
So, Ajakasi was put in the stocks and condemned to death as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. He realized he would be executed the next morning and there was nothing he could do about it. After darkness had fallen and the last of the village people had gone home, he felt a strange sensation around his ankles. What is this, he wondered, what is going on now? He heard the hissing of a snake, and when he looked down he saw a large snake slithering on the ground in front of him.
I would normally be afraid of you, said Ajakasi, but as I’m going to die anyway tomorrow, I’m not really worried. Well, said the snake, you’re right not to be worried. You probably don’t remember me, but I am the snake you rescued from that pit in the jungle all those weeks ago now. I have come to thank you for what you did.
Oh. It was nothing really, said Ajakasi, but I’m afraid it’s a little bit late. I’m about to be executed! I have been accused of a crime I never committed.
We’ll see about that, said the snake. I have a plan. I have some medicine here, which I’ll hide under your belt. I understand the king has a very beautiful daughter. That’s right, confirmed Ajakasi, she is his only child. Even better, said the snake. I am going to give her a little bite, and poison her. She will surely die, but the medicine in the bottle is an antidote, the only thing that will cure my bite. When you save the life of the king’s only child, he will be forever in your debt, and he surely will not want to kill you any more! With that the snake slithered towards the chief’ living quarters.
Be careful, don’t get caught! whispered the hunter.
As the sun sent its first rays over the eastern wall of the compound, Ajakasi heard some screams coming from the chief’s living quarters. Women were wailing. Ouwooaagh! The king’s only daughter! Owowowow! A snake has bitten her! Owowowow! The snake has run away! Owowowowo! Why is this happening?! Owowowow!
People were running towards the house.
Ajakasi shouted at them: I can bring this girl back to life! A soldier came up to Ajakasi, and shouted at him: Shut up, you’re only a common thief!
Ajakasi pleaded with him: I am sincere, I can really bring the girl back to life, go and tell the chief! The soldier spat at him, and told him again to keep quiet. But as he was running to the chief’s house, the soldier thought to himself: what if the condemned man was telling the truth? The chief would be grateful to him and he would surely be rewarded. He had nothing to loose by telling the chief.
At first, when the chief was told that Ajakasi could bring his daughter back to life, he didn’t want to know. That man is only trying to postpone his execution, he thought. But when he looked at the body of his dead daughter, and saw his distraught wife, he changed his mind. After all, there was nothing to be lost, and everything to be gained. You never know what secrets these hunters learn in the jungle. So he ordered his soldiers to cut Ajakasi loose and bring the man to him.
When Ajakasi got to the dead girl’s bedside, he asked for a bowl and some water. He poured in the medicine that the snake had given him, and stirred it with his fingers until it was well mixed into a smooth sauce. This he mopped up with a piece of plain cotton cloth, and he squeezed the liquid into the dead girl’s nostrils. The chief and his wife and all the soldiers were watching his every move. Ajakasi knew very well that if the girl didn’t revive he would be dead on the spot.
But the girl twitched her nose. Itchee! Itchee!
She sneezed! The chief shouted: She sneezed! Slowly the girl opened her eyes, and the chief jumped up and down for joy. The girl’s mother rushed to her side and the soldiers started to dance. The girl spoke to her mother: mommy, where am I? I’m hungry, can you get me some fufu?
Ah, the chief and his wife were so excited! A servant brought in some fufu with a wonderful soup, and the girl ate everything.
Ajakasi was carried shoulder high all around the village. When things quietened down a little the chief sent for him.
Ajakasi, the chief addressed him, you have done me a great service, the greatest possible service, so I am going to save your life. But you must tell me, honestly and without lying, why did you have to steal all my property.
Ajakasi replied: O my great chief, I really didn’t steal your property, as I’ve been trying to tell everyone. He then told the chief his remarkable story, what had happened in the jungle, how he found the lion, the snake, the rat and the man in the pit and how he got them out. How the lion thanked him by bringing him meat, which he sold at a great profit; how the rat brought him gold and diamonds and other precious minerals, some of which he sold and got even more money for.
But his fellow human being thanked him by getting him into trouble. If it had not been for the snake coming to his rescue at the last minute, he would not be standing here to tell his tale.
The king was astonished by the tale. He apologized to Ajakasi for not believing him and he ordered all his possessions to be restored to him. To show the chief he did not harbour any grudges, Ajakasi organized a big feast, which went on long into the night.
Collected in Ghana by Kate Awo Fumey