The story of how the Greatest Hunter became Protector of the Animals.
THE LEGEND OF PAPA BWA
Long ago, before Papa Bwa became the protector of the animals he was known as the greatest hunter in the world. He was so great that he could go into the forest, day or night, with only his walking stick and bring back enough meat to feed his whole village for a week or more.
Stories about Papa Bwa travelled to neighbouring villages and from neighbouring villages across the seas to distant lands. He was a legend.
But over the years people of his village became careless and boastful.
One dry-season day, when the hills were smoking from the heat, Papa Bwa had to go deep into the forest to hunt. And while he was gone strangers form a far-away land came to his village. The arrived with long metal sticks, huge sacks and false smiles.
Well the villagers welcomed the strangers warmly. They gave them water to drink and food to eat and of course talk soon turned to Papa Bwa. And the villagers started to boast.
‘He can trap a tiger with a thought
He can snare a deer with a stare
He can blood a boar with a blow
He is Papa Bwa the hunter
The original hunter
And while the villagers talked, the strangers listened to the stores and rubbed their hands together and whispered to each other. ‘This is the place,’ they whispered. ‘We will get this Papa Bwa and he will hunt for us and then we will be the richest men in the world.’ And they listened to the stories, encouraging the villagers to tell them where Papa Bwa was.
Well the day wore on and afternoon turned to evening and still Papa Bwa had not returned. The villagers were in very high spirits from all their boasting and bragging, so when the strangers opened up their huge sacks and took out jugs of a strange brew, the villagers were bold enough to try some. They had never tasted drink so strong before, but they drank as if they were thirsty.
In no time they were all drunk. All except the strangers of course. And before night could fall, they were all in a deep, deep sleep. Except of course for the strangers. No, they were wide awake. They reached into their sacks again, but this time they pulled out long ropes. Going from sleeping villager to sleeping villager they tied them all together.
Then they carried the villagers down the road to a big wooden box that they had hidden at the side of the road.
The strangers piled the sleeping villagers into the box and closed the heavy lid, and ran back to the village to wait for Papa Bwa.
Soon enough, when the moon was high, Papa Bwa arrived back home. He was carrying ten large deer on his head, twelve calves on his might shoulders and seven boar and nine guinea-fowl in each hand.
‘Greetings. Greeting my people!’ Papa Bwa called out.
But there was no reply. He flung the carcasses down by the fading fire and called again.
‘Greetings my people. The hills was burning like the sun and I am thirst. Bring me a cool drink.’
But the village was quiet and still. Not even a dog barked.
And then from the mid-night mist the villagers showed themselves. They pointed their long metal sticks at Papa Bwa and called.
‘At last Papa Bwa. You have returned.’
Papa Bwa stopped. ‘Where are my people?’ he demanded.
The strangers laughed.
‘Your people will be safe,’ they said. ‘As long as you hunt for us!’
Papa Bwa was ready to fight. He raised he large walking stick, but the strangers raised their metal sticks and in a flash of fire, a loud bang echoed around the empty village.
Papa Bwa stopped. In shock. The strangers rushed at Papa Bwa and tied him, by his foot, to a breadfruit tree.
That night Papa Bwa crouched under the breadfruit tree, watching the strangers roast his meat and drink their wine and laugh about the wealth and riches they were going to have. They planned to sell his meat all over the world.
Finally the first light of morning came and the strangers fell asleep. Papa Bwa tried to get free but he could not loosen the knot around his ankle or break it, because it was made of metal chains.
When the sun was high in the sky the strangers awoke. They lit a fire and untied Papa Bwa.
‘Now, you must hunt for us,’ they said. ‘But be back before the fire is out, or you will never see your people again.’
Papa Bwa turned and ran into the hills. In no time he was back with eight manicou, two mountain deer and a large agouti.
The strangers cheered and laughed. ‘Hunt! Hunt! Hunt!’ they cheered. ‘But be back in the same time, or else…’
Six times Papa Bwa went up into the hills and six times he returned with lots of animals; meat for the strangers. But on his seventh trip into the bush, Pap Bwa passed closer to the road than before and this time, above the sounds of the forest he heard a sad, sad song.
‘We was tricked
Woe is we
We was deceived
Woe is we
Shame in we eye
Shorn of we pride
Suffering we cry
Woe is we, woe is we
Oh save us, Papa
Oh hear us, Papa
Oh find us now
Woe is we…’
Papa Bwa followed the sound of the voices. And hidden away under the tall grass, he found the large wooden box. He lifted the heavy lid of the box, and there, inside, were all the villagers.
‘My people,’ Papa Bwa said. And they all looked up and shouted with joy.
‘Oh Papa, you come to save us. Oh Papa, joy and happiness. Oh Papa, Oh Papa, never leave us. Oh Papa Bwa.’
But then, footsteps crunched on the gravelly road. Papa Bwa quickly shut the heavy box and ran, swift as a deer, into the forest.
That night, as Papa Bwa cleaned the day’s catch, he hid all the animal skins in the shadows behind his hut. And when the strangers tied him to the tree, he put a stone between his ankle and the metal rope.
Once again the strangers drank their wine and roasted meat. Once again they talked about the riches they were going to get. And once again Papa Bwa watched from under the breadfruit tree. But this time, when the strangers fell asleep, he freed his foot from the rope and sneaked to the back of the hut.
As quick as he could, he gathered up all the animal skins and ran down the road to the wooden box. When he got there he shoved the heavy lid to the ground and untied all the villagers. One by one they climbed out of the box and one by one Papa Bwa slipped the animal skins over them: boar and bear, deer and oxen, agouti and goat. And in single file they hurried into the forest. But then…
A loud noise echoed behind them. Papa Bwa and the villagers stopped. They could hear the strangers chasing through the bush toward them.
‘Wait’ Papa Bwa whispered, but the villagers panicked and scattered, scampering away like the animals of their skins: manicou, and ocelot, leopard and Lapp, guniea-fowl and ram goat.
By the time the next BANG!! rang out through the forest, Pap Bwa was standing alone.
But close behind him, the strangers were coming. He jumped into a big bamboo patch and pulled a large deer skin over his legs.
The strangers beat the buses with their long metal sticks, the fire light of their torches waving in the darkness. They beat the bushes, arguing and shouting, right past the bamboo patch, but they never saw Papa Bwa.
Then suddenly, it started to rain. Big heavy rain and from his hiding place Papa Bwa watched the strangers vanish into the night.
The next morning Papa Bwa climbed out of the bamboo patch and his legs were stiff and heavy. When he looked down he realised that his legs had turned into the legs of a large deer. He bellowed, a deep loud moan like a bull. Then he started to roam the forest in search of the villagers.
He searched high and he searched low. Over river and through mangroves. Highest hills and deepest valleys. But he could not find them. He would see a deer run past and call out, but it wouldn’t stop. Or he would see a guinea-fowl tip-toeing out from under a bush, but it would only cluck and flutter away.
By the end of the day Papa Bwa was tired and lonely. He climbed back in among the bamboo stalks, and carved himself a bamboo flute. Then he started to play. And as he played the animals of the forest gathered around to listen.
As Papa Bwa played, he could see the tears in their eyes. He stopped and as the soft tones of the flute drifted away on the wind, he said,
‘My people. My people. Now you are all my people. And I will never hunt again. I will only play this flute to soothe you and to warn you too, of any danger from hunters or strangers from far-away lands.
And with that, Papa Bwa started to play his flute again.
So that is how the greatest hunter in the whole world became the protector of the animals.
And if you go into the forest with a keen ear and a pure heart, you can still hear Papa Bwa playing his flute under the whispering wind.