Jeboo and Jeboo
By Peter Kohler
People sure will be people. And they’ll tell stories about it too….
They tell it in Liberia, the one about that man Jeboo who lived in the next village over, and that woman also named Jeboo who lived there. Jeboo (it doesn’t matter which) had but one eye, one ear and one leg and foot. As did the other Jeboo. Well, nobody wanted to marry them so they married each other and moved away from the village and started their own farm, where they grew an abundance of food and were very happy. After a time their relatives found out about how well they were doing and showed up asking woman Jeboo for some food. She shared with them, but secretly, until her husband found out and blew his stack, infuriated that she would share with those who had previously shunned them. In his outrage he drove her away from the farm (she went back to live with her relatives) and he remained alone and wept until the end of his days.
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The Hunter Who Hunts Elephants
They also tell it, the one about the hunter who lived with his mother and who killed only elephants, and how one day all the elephants got together and decided they must find out why he killed only elephants and how he was never himself harmed. They turned one of themselves into a beautiful girl, whom the hunter encountered when next he was out hunting and immediately fell in love with. She told him she was lost and asked if she could go with him; so he brought her home, and when he told his mother what had happened she was pleased. That night the girl pretended to love him very dearly. While rubbing his back she asked him why he killed only elephants. Now the hunter had a secret and he began to reveal this secret to his girlfriend: “When I shoot an elephant I turn into a stump. When I shoot another, I turn into a bird. If another is shot I turn into grass, and if still another is shot I turn into a lizard.” Then just as he was about to tell the last of the secret, his mother called out to him, “Say no more because you do not know who this girl is.” The next day the girl snuck away for a bit and ran to the elephants and spilled the beans about all she had learned. And so, three weeks later when the man went out to hunt and shot an elephant, this time after he changed into a stump all the elephants chased the stump. He shot another elephant and changed into a bird. The elephants chased the bird, so another elephant was shot and he turned into grass. The elephants continued to chase him so he shot another and turned into a lizard. By now the elephants were intent on chasing him no matter what. The hunter ran into a garden, shot an elephant and immediately turned into an eggplant. The elephants were unable to find him, and being tired and angry they turned on the girl, trumpeting that she had deceived them. The elephants killed her for not having found out the hunter’s entire secret. And when the hunter arrived home he told his mother all that had happened, and promised that never would he tell all of his secrets to a girlfriend.
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Wana, The Lonely Fisherman
They tell this one in Liberia, too, the one about the lonely fisherman named Wana who would have preferred a wife to all the fishes in the river. Every day he sat alone in his canoe, and every evening returned to an empty hut where he prepared his own meal and passed the night alone. Often he told the river how much he desired a wife, and prayed that some day he might be blessed with many children.
A river spirit who had the form of a crocodile overheard him, and she often watched the man and saw that he was gentle, good and honest. One day, after Wana had left his fishing early to attend the weekly market, the water spirit came out of the water and stepped out of her crocodile skin. She hid the skin beneath a large rock and went to the market, where everyone wondered who the beautiful young maiden could be.
At nightfall she followed Wana home and made her presence known to him by calling out, “O fisherman, I am a stranger far from my own village; may I sleep tonight in your hut?” He of course allowed her to, where she rested the night untouched. In the morning he escorted her down the road, but near the river she thanked him and insisted she go on alone now. Once by herself she slipped into the crocodile skin and returned to the bottom of the river. In the days that followed she heard Wana sighing with longing for the lovely maiden who had spent the night in his hut.
So the next week and for many weeks thereafter on market day the water spirit came out of the river, hid her crocodile skin beneath the rock, went to the market and then begged shelter for the night at Wana’s hut. Wana came to feel an intense love for the beautiful maiden.
One day, wishing to learn more about her and finding her so evasive in answering his questions, after escorting her to the river Wana only pretended to turn back toward his hut and instead snuck around to a place where he could observe which direction she went. He was astonished to see her take the crocodile skin from beneath the rock, put it on and go into the water. “So this is it?” he said to himself. “She is a water spirit? How am I to win and wed her if she must live in the water for six days of the week?”
The following week, as the maiden slept in his hut, he slipped away and hurried to the river, where he took the crocodile skin from under the rock and carried it far away and buried it. In the morning he escorted the maiden to the river as usual and then turned back at her request. He went home to wait.
The maiden was startled to discover that her skin had gone missing! She searched for it all up and down the river bank, to no avail. According to spirit law she was to return to the river, but now she could not. Dizzily, she sat down and cried for awhile. Then she rose and went to the fisherman who was so kind and good.
She went to him with affection, and thus they were wed and passed the night together. In the morning she whispered to him, “I am the happiest of wives. But last night I had a terrible dream, and this I now know: if a man should ever bring the skin of a crocodile to this village, I shall surely die! Wana, if you should ever see such a thing along the river bank, drop it in the river if you love me.”
And so it goes. Human life, it would seem, is no simpler nor less lovely wherever you might go, so long as you listen closely to and heed the advice of the local storytellers….
Peter Kohler is a writer and researcher based in Portland, Oregon.