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A West African fable of pride, prejudice and sweet potatoes.Every country and region has its own folktales, and The Gambia in West Africa is no exception.British ex-pat and international bestselling author Mark Williams has been taking the short oral tales of West Africa and bringing them to life for western audiences who prefer to read their folktales delivered by the written word.So come meet Gorgui and is four beautiful wives, Yeela, Yeelankeh, Torro and Tolino, and discover the fate that befalls them when the cunning Hyena arrives in their quiet village, in this classic West African fable of pride, prejudice and sweet potatoes.
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West African Folk Tales
GORGUI AND HIS FOUR WIVES
(British ex-pat author in The Gambia)
© Mark Williams 2016
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THERE WAS A MAN named Gorgui who lived in a remote West African village, far from the city.
He had four beautiful wives. In order, they were his first wife Yeela, his second wife Yeelankeh, his third wife Torro, and his fourth wife Torrino. All these women lived with their husband Gorgui in one compound in the time-honoured tradition of the region.
Many said the four women were among the most beautiful in the whole of Africa and that Gorgui was the luckiest man alive to have four such beautiful wives.
One day Hyena was passing the village and he heard mention of this man Gorgui, who had four such beautiful wives, so he asked the villagers about them.
The villagers were always happy to see a new face in the village to chat to, for the village was remote and visitors few and far between, so they made Hyena very welcome.
The villagers cooked green tea, attaya, and the first glass went to their guest, as was the custom in West Africa. As Hyena sat beneath the shade of the big baobab tree in the village bantaba he heard wonderful things said about Gorgui and his four beautiful wives.
No-one had a bad word to say about Gorgui. He was the richest man in the village, with the most beautiful wives in the village, and everyone envied his good fortune.
They all marvelled at how Gorgui’s crops always grew faster and bigger than the crops of the other farmers, and how he could afford to eat goat meat all year round when the other villagers had to make do with dried fish and could only afford to kill a goat for the special festivals like Tobaski.
But most of all they talked again and again about Gorgui’s four beautiful wives. They told Hyena how Gorgui had got his first three wives from neighbouring villages and that he wanted his fourth wife to come from their own village, but the only woman beautiful enough, Torrino, was already betrothed to another man, Modou.
“What happened?” asked Hyena.
“It was all very strange,” explained the village elder. “The cola nuts had been exchanged and we were all set for the marriage ceremony, but on the night before the wedding Modou just disappeared, never to return.”
“That is terrible,” said Hyena. “And what became of poor Torrino?”
The village elder smiled. “Torrino was very distressed, of course, for it would bring great shame on her family if there was no marriage, but fortunately for everyone our dear friend Gorgui came forward and asked Torrino to be his fourth wife, so everyone was happy.”
The more the villagers told Hyena about these four beautiful wives, the more Hyena began to think to himself how tasty these four beautiful wives might be were they to be popped into a cooking pot with hot spices and cassava and sweet potatoes.
At length Hyena decided it was time to see the four women for himself. He thanked the villagers for their kindness in entertaining him, then asked for directions to Gorgui’s compound and set off on his own.
WHEN HYENA REACHED the compound he saw Gorgui stretched out in a hammock, relaxing beneath the shade of a big mango tree, laden with ripe fruit, for it was that time of year.
“Hello, friend,” Hyena said. “I just happen to be passing through your village. And what a fine village it is. But I was especially astonished to see this compound, which I do believe is the finest compound I have ever seen in all my travels.”
At this Gorgui swelled with pride. He sat up and welcomed the stranger, as is the custom West Africa.
“Hello, friend Hyena,” Gorgui said, shaking hands with the visitor. “My name is Gorgui. Do come in. Is there anything I can get you?”
Of course Hyena wanted to see Gorgui’s four beautiful wives, but he couldn’t say so, so he said, “I am thirsty, friend Gorgui. Would you be so kind as to spare me some water to drink?”
Gorgui looked up from his comfortable hammock. “Why, of course, Hyena. Come in and sit beneath the shade of this mango tree. I will send for some water for you.”
So Hyena sat beneath the mango tree alongside Gorgui, and Gorgui called out, “Yeela, please fetch some water for my new friend, Hyena.”
Minutes later Yeela, Gorgui’s first wife, returned with the water, which Hyena gratefully drank.
“You are very kind,” said Hyena. “You must be Gorgui’s daughter,” he said to Yeela.
Gorgui laughed. “No, friend Hyena, this is my dear wife Yeela.”
Hyena stared in admiration at Yeela. Hyena was thinking, My, my, Yeela, you look very tasty indeed. You would fit nicely into a big cooking pot filled with hot spices and cassava and sweet potatoes.
But of course he could not say this. Instead Hyena said, “Why, you must be the luckiest man in the whole village to have such a young and beautiful wife, friend Gorgui,” and Gorgui swelled with pride.
When Yeela had gone Hyena said, “Why, I do not think I have ever seen a woman so beautiful in all my travels.”
At this Gorgui swelled with pride again. “Friend Hyena, you speak the truth. But I am even luckier than you think.”
“How is that so?” Hyena asked, not wanting Gorgui to know that he, Hyena, had already heard about Gorgui’s splendid compound and his beautiful wives from the other villagers.
Gorgui wanted Hyena to see all his beautiful wives, but he did not want to appear boastful, so he said, “Friend Hyena we must have green tea now,” as was also the custom in West Africa.
“Green tea?” said Hyena. “Why, I have not had green tea for many days,” he lied, for the villagers had served him green tea just an hour earlier, beneath the baobab tree at the village bantaba. “That is very generous of you to offer me green tea,” said Hyena, and Gorgui swelled with pride.
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