Extract of the story “Fingers of Fire” from “Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me” by Dzagbe Cudjoe

fingers-of-fire1Fingers Of Fire

A tiny black speck surrounded by a great cloud of red dust came nearer and nearer and, as it did so, it became possible to make out what it was. The tiny speck turned out to be the most beautiful young boy. His most striking feature was his eyes. They were a deep indigo blue, the same color as the indigo-dyed cloths for rich mens’ turbans, which were traded across the Sahara. His complexion was a very dark brown, almost black in fact, with a beautiful blue sheen to it so that it seemed as if a thousand butterflies were dancing around and on him. It was difficult to tell his age. This little figure had not created the great cloud of red dust all by himself.

He was running around excitedly, trying to drive a group of twelve or so goats home for the night. His efforts only sent the goats scattering in all directions, their hooves send­ing the dust flying into the air. The goats milling around the boy, whose name was Falisimu (Simu for short), were of two different breeds. There were the black and tan short-haired dwarf goats with short, sturdy legs, and the goats with spindly, long legs, long faces and droopy ears, which were easily mistaken for sheep. Some of the nanny goats of the smaller breed were pregnant and their sides bulged enormously. If their owners were lucky, they would have twins, perhaps even triplets. But triplets were tricky because a nanny goat only has two teats and the last and weakest kid would have difficulty getting his turn to feed. This was, in any case, not a good time of year to be born. The rains had not yet broken and there was very little food to be found. The goats were kept for meat, to be sacrificed or to be bartered. The nanny goats produced only enough milk for their kids so their milk was not drunk by the villagers or eaten as cheese.

Once Falisimu had his herd of goats under control and walking quietly, he had time to think about his own life. He might only be ten or eleven years old, but he had already experienced momentous events in his short time in the world. The village and the house where he was now living were not, in fact, his real home. Falismu had been born in a vil­lage ten miles from Sansassa where he now lived. His father was a very ambitious man who wished to climb up the chieftaincy ladder. In order to do this, Falisimu’s father had to be elected to a more important chieftaincy.

The problem was that it was customary to offer the Kingmakers who decided such things large sums of money to influence them to look favorably on the giver. These gifts alone were not the deciding factor in the Kingmaker’s decision. The gifts were to show them that the candidate was both wealthy and generous. There was no doubt that Falisimu’s father was a very generous man, but he was certainly not an extremely wealthy one. If Falisimu’s

father was to advance his case, he would have to resort to an age-old traditional solution. All children belonged, legally, to the father and his side of the family. So Falisimu’s father decided to “pawn” him. This practice meant that Falisimu would be sent to a wealthy rela­

tive who lived some distance away. Falisimu would have to serve this relative, who in turn,

would provide Falisimu’s father with the necessary money for his chieftaincy ambitions.


Tales My Ghanaian Grandmother Told Me

Falisimu had been perhaps five years ~ld when he made the journey from his home to Sansassa. He could still remember it clearly. An elderly uncle had transported him on an old donkey. He had sat on the donkey’s back in front of his uncle with a large sack of yams stacked behind them. The yams were a present from his father to the uncle who was to give him a home. Falisimu and his unde had wobbled and bumped over the uneven track for what seemed like days to Falisimu, but was really the best part of a day.

At last, they came to the village of circular mud houses with thatched roofs and the main entrances decorated with plates set into the mud around the door frame. The houses were built around a cool inner courtyard. They blended so harmoniously into their sur­roundings that you had to be very close to the village to even realize that it was there. It was not large and had about two hundred inhabitants.

Falismu (or as we shall call him from now on, Simu) entered the circular entrance hall with his uncle. This uncle greeted Uncle Bendu who sat surrounded by a large group of children and a number of his wives. Simu was introduced to him, and being a well brought

up boy, greeted him respectfully. While his uncles talked eagerly, exchanging news about the two villages, Aunt Retutu, Uncle Bendu’s senior wife came and swept Simu off to eat with the other children. Suddenly Simu felt very small and lonely and he felt like crying. Aunt Retutu tried to comfort him and offered him a tasty meal of rice and chicken, which

she had cooked as a special treat for him and his other uncle.

Her adopted daughter Laliya, who was much the same age as Simu, came to sit beside him so that he did not feel so alone. Laliya was very tall for her age. She had a heart-shaped face and huge dark eyes which radiated intelligence and self-confidence. She was a very beautiful girl and the birthmark which covered the right side of her face did not alter this


That night Simu slept in the entrance hall with a group of boys aged about six to four­teen years old. So Simu was now part of a new household. Although Uncle Bendu was kind to Simu, he was somewhat distant, but Aunt Retutu made a great fuss of him. After a while, Simu felt truly part of the family and he became used to the routines of the house and the farm.

All children were expected to be hardworking, polite, and respectful. Any major falls from grace were punished by beatings with a leather switch, water up the nose, and the pulling of ears. Often when children were sent to live with other relatives it was because it was thought that the child’s true parents would love the child too much to be able to discipline him or her.

In this part of Northern Ghana, virtually everyone in the village was a farmer. True, there were people sitting in the courtyard making mats, rope twining, or weaving, and there were the drummers, fiddlers, and others who did not go to farm. All these people though, had sons or male relatives who were sufficiently mature to tend the farms on their


The sandstone soil surrounding the village was not very fertile. The men’s farms were only about two or two and a half acres in size and situated anywhere from one to five miles


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