Kanu Above and Kanu Below (Limba, West Africa)
Kanu Above and Kanu Below were both great chiefs.
Kanu Above was known to be cruel and harsh and lived in the skies.
Kanu Below was known to be fair and good. He lived on the Earth with his beautiful daughter. He loved her very much.
But one day Kanu Above said, “I want her to come and live with me.”
So Kanu Above took her up to Sky Country, while Kanu Below sat alone. He wept for his missing daughter and began to neglect his duties.
One day his under-chief came to Kanu Below and said, “Someone has come into our village who is making trouble. His name is Spider, and he weaves sticky webs over the doorways. People trip and hurt themselves. What shall we do?”
Kanu Below said, “Send Spider to me.”
Spider came and listened as Kanu Below explained why he should not spin webs across the doorways.
Then Kanu Below went back to his people and said, “Spider will stay with us. He has caused some difficulties, but he also has much good in him.” And it was so.
Two days later, another under-chief spoke up, saying, “Oh, Kanu Below, now another stranger has entered our village. His name is Rat, and he is sneaking into our people’s houses and stealing rice and nuts and meat.”
Again Kanu Below asked that the stranger be brought to him.
“Rat, you cannot go into people’s houses and take things that are not yours.”
And again, Kanu Below spoke to his people, explaining that Rat had good in him and they would keep him in their village.
And it was so.
One day another under-chief spoke to Kanu Below. “Kanu Below, we have a third stranger who has entered our village. This time his name is Anteater, and he is digging holes. People are falling into the holes and breaking their legs. This must not go on!”
“Tell Anteater to come to see me.”
Kanu explained to Anteater that he must not dig holes, because people would fall into them.
Then he spoke to his people saying, “I think we should keep Anteater in our village.” And it was so.
One day the under-chief said to Kanu Below, “Kanu Below, another stranger has entered our village. His name is Fly, and he is biting and stinging people on their necks and on their behinds. What shall we do?”
“Tell Fly to come to see me.”
Kanu Below explained how his people must not be bitten. Then he said to his chiefs, “I think he should stay in our village.”
And it was so.
Time passed, and Kanu Below was still very sad and spent most of the day weeping for his missing daughter.
One day he called his people together and said, “If only someone could climb up into the sky and convince Kanu Above to return my daughter.”
Most people were afraid of Kanu Above because he was so powerful.
Then Spider said, “Kanu Below, I will go for you. I will spin a web up, up into the sky.”
Then other three voices joined Spider’s and said, “You have treated us well. We would like to help, too.”
So it was that Spider spun his web and fastened it onto a cloud.
Spider, Rat, Anteater, and Fly climbed it and began walking around Sky Country, calling for Kanu Above. “We come from Kanu Below who misses his daughter very much. Can you please return her to him?”
Kanu Above heard them and approached, glaring at them. “Very well, come and sit down and we shall have some food.” He whispered to one of the women, and Fly decided to follow her to the kitchen.
When the food was served, Fly buzzed to his friends, “Do not eat the meat! It has been poisoned.”
So Rat, Anteater, and Spider said, “Thank you, Sir. But we do not eat meat in our country.” Instead they politely nibbled from their bowls of rice and palm oil sauce.
Soon it was time to go to bed. They had no sooner entered their sleeping quarters when they heard doors and windows being locked from the outside.
Days went by, and they had nothing to eat or drink. Finally, Rat said, “Here is a job for me,” and began gnawing through the wood. Then he stole rice and nuts and meat and fed his friends.
Kanu’s men saw that they were still alive. They set fire to the house.
Anteater said, “Here is a job for me.” Anteater began to dig. Faster and faster he dug. Finally he dug a hole right under the wall. The four friends escaped.
Kanu Above thought to himself, “These creatures are very clever!”
He said to them: “I will return the child if you can pick her out from all the other children here.”
Fly buzzed into the dressing room and noticed one girl who received no help from the others. She had to braid her own hair and put on her own beads, bracelets, and ankle jewelry.
Fly flew back to his friends and cautioned them, “The girls will all be dressed alike, but watch which one jumps. That is our friend’s daughter.”
Fly buzzed over all the girls and, spotting the one he knew to be the outsider, he bit her. Whoop! She immediately jumped.
The four friends grabbed her and said, “This is the one! We choose her!”
Kanu Above said, “You are very clever, indeed. Take the girl, and here are four kola nuts for her father, to show my admiration for the four of you.”
So the four friends climbed back down with their precious cargo and presented the happy girl to her father, along with the four kola nuts.
“See this,” Kanu Below said to his people. “You wanted to banish these four from our village, but it is they who have returned my daughter to me. I am so grateful to them that I have decided they will be my under-chiefs from now on.”
And it was so.