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The Sacred Door and Other Stories

Cameroon Folktales of the Beba


Publication Year: 2008

The Sacred Door and Other Stories: Cameroon Folktales of the Beba offers readers a selection of folktales infused with riddles, proverbs, songs, myths, and legends, using various narrative techniques that capture the vibrancy of Beba oral traditions. Makuchi retells the stories that she heard at home when she was growing up in her native
The collection of thirty-three folktales of the Beba showcases a wide variety of stories that capture the richness and complexities of an agrarian society’s oral literature and traditions. Revenge, greed, and deception are among the themes that frame the story lines in both new and familiar ways. In the title story, a poor man finds himself elevated to king. The condition for his continued success is that he not open the sacred door. This tale of temptation, similar to the story of Pandora’s box, concludes with the question, “What would you have done?”
Makuchi relates the stories her mother told her so that readers can make connections
between African and North American oral narrative traditions. These tales reinforce the commonalities of our human experiences without discounting our differences.

Published by: Ohio University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Makuchi is right in observing, in her preface, the “dearth of Cameroon oral narrative collections in English.” The phenomenon is not limited to Cameroon, and there are two possible reasons for it. The first is the sad decline in intensive scholarly...

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pp. xvii

Storytelling was a fact of life, intrinsic to my early upbringing in Cameroon. I heard stories about my country, but I also learned about my people, the Beba.1 Because my father was a teacher, we traveled a lot when I was a child. We moved to Beba for the first...

Part 1

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The Story of Bat and Sun

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pp. 3-4

Once upon a time, Aleleb-the-Bat and Neneb-the-Sun had a good friendship, a friendship stronger than ngwalii. They were like finger and nail. It is said that they were such good friends they were always visiting one another. Sometimes, they’d...

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The Story of Hawk and Hen

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pp. 5-7

There once lived two inseparable friends, Magheb-the-Hawk and Nguh-the-Hen. These two were likened to the hand and the head: neither sleeps without the other. Indeed, Hawk and Hen were known to go on trips together, sleep in the same...

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The Story of Pig and Tortoise

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pp. 8-11

A long time ago, Ankwunyab-the-Pig was one of the wealthiest members of his community. He owned big farms from which he harvested and sold much of the crop. Rumor had it that Pig was such a successful farmer because he had a big appetite and...

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The Story of Cat and Rat

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pp. 12-14

This happened many many years ago. It was the year when the rains ravaged the landscape and floodwaters rotted the crops before they could be harvested. Famine and illness claimed many lives. Entire families were wiped out. Bushi-the-Cat and...

The Story of the BirdsThat Went to the Sky

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pp. 15-19

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The Story of Cat and Dog

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pp. 20-23

Our people say that a man once killed his friend because of money; that because of a woman two brothers disowned one another; and that the friendship between Bushi-the-Cat and Mbothe- Dog ended because of a gourd of honey....

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The Story of Monkey and Bee

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pp. 24-26

Have you ever heard the saying that Antelope hates the person who reveals, even unintentionally, her hiding place more than the person who eventually traps or kills her? One of the animals...

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The Foolish Leopard

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pp. 27-33

A long time ago, a group of farmers lived in a land far, far away. These farmers grew different types of crops: plantains, cocoyams, bananas, yams, cassava, maize, pumpkins, njankah— sweet and bitter vegetables; in fact, anything that could grow...

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Tiger Kills His Mother

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pp. 34-40

Ndafo-the-Tiger and Torokee-the-Tortoise were once very good friends. Their friendship had survived the year of the locusts, and it seemed it would survive the famine that was currently ravaging their land. It had happened unexpectedly. The rains...

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A Tug-of-War

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pp. 41-44

Torokee had a big mouth. All the animals in the kingdom knew that. He would boast about things he had done such as tricking and killing Ndafo and his mother the year of the famine. He would brag about the things he planned to do, including flying..

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The Race

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pp. 45-50

The Beba have a saying that one who has a sibling is never beaten to death. It is also said that in the animal kingdom, Tswethe- Hare and Torokee-the-Tortoise were never friends. Some contend their dislike for each other was legendary. Apparently...

Part 2

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Metse-Tsate-Nfo, aka Sense-Pass-King

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pp. 53-58

A long time ago, Nfo1 Atabe ruled over a large kingdom. He was an arrogant and authoritative man. A man who wanted every festival, every monument, every funeral, every marriage or birth celebration, every ceremonial activity performed in his kingdom...

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The Man-Eating Lion

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pp. 59-62

There once lived a palm nut cutter. He had one wife and one child, a girl. The man dearly loved his daughter and often took her with him on short visits within the village. He sometimes let her carry his raffia bag, slung across her chest as if she were...

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The Flutes

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pp. 63-70

This story was passed down to me by my mother, who heard it from her mother. I learned to play the flute because of the boys in this story. “Are you listening?”...

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The Boy and the Dish

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pp. 71-75

A long time ago, there lived another man who also had two wives. The first wife had a son. The second wife was also blessed, for she too had a son. But the first wife did not live to...

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The Unhappy Stepson

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pp. 76-79

A woman died, leaving her only child with her husband. She surrendered to the wrath of the gods the year of the great floods. Her husband later married another wife. She had five sons and...

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The Disobedient Son

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pp. 80-82

It was the beginning of the dry season. It was that time of the year when the last achu-cocoyams were dug out of the ground before the land was prepared for the new planting season. That morning the woman in our story took three of her children with...

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The Two Sisters

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pp. 83-95

Tachi Nanga was known the world over because no one could match his dexterity at making drums. He could stretch animal hide to the exact pitch so skillfully that people came from far and wide, traveling for days, sometimes months, to place their...

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The Girls Who Refused Suitors

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pp. 96-106

For as long as I can remember, our people have always told ble recounting the lives of beautiful young women who foolishly believe that marriage is a contract between two people. They..

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Mbaka and the Magic Ring

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pp. 107-110

A man and his wife lived happily with their son. The boy’s father died while he was still a young boy. His mother died not long after. Mbaka was already of school-age when both his parents died. The aunt who was now raising him...

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The Dance in the Sky

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pp. 111-115

This is a story about four daughters. One is an orphan. She lives with her three stepsisters. The sisters constantly snap at her. People say her sisters hate her because she is the prettiest of them all. One day, their mother sends them to the forest to...

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The Quest

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pp. 116-125

“Are you listening?” “Yes.” “Can an egg earn a young man a companion for life?” “What?” Many would laugh at this question the way you are laughing right now. They’re right. So are you. An egg can do no such thing. But here is a story about a boy who grew up a long, long...

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Union Is Strength

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pp. 126-128

There once lived an old man who had three sons. He named them Anyindep, Mbaka, and Jikwu after his father, his uncle, and his older brother. This father was unhappy for most of his life because his sons lived like cats and dogs. They were always...

Part 3

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Penis, Testicles, and Vagina

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pp. 131-133

“Nderr-the-Penis and Mberr-the-Testicles were very good friends. It was rumored that you could not see one without the other. They were like a palm branch and a cluster of palm nuts, for is it not known that the cluster rests on the branch?”...

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When You Eat Today,Remember There Is Tomorrow

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pp. 134-136

There was once a small village. A man lived in this village of a few hundred people. His name was Chebe. Hmm, Chebe was known throughout the village for his long throat, his greed. Every edible thing that crossed his path, that he laid his hands...

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The Greedy Mother

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pp. 137-139

A mother once went to a feast organized by one of her friends; a feast in honor of her son’s naming ceremony. This mother had had her own baby a few months earlier. The baby was now learning how to creep. She didn’t want to leave her baby...

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The Ring and the String of Beads

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pp. 140-144

It was toward the end of the dry season, the period when women gathered grass, burned their farms, tilled the land, and planted seeds. One woman wanted to sow pumpkin seeds but she didn’t have enough nkra. These wooden or earthenware rings were...

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The Huntress

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pp. 145-149

Once, a woman lived with her three children, two girls and a boy. Every evening she’d feed them, put them to sleep, then transform herself into one animal or another and go hunting. One day, as she was about leave for the hunt, she asked her...

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pp. 150-157

Our people say a hyena does not eat its young, irrespective of hunger or greed, but this story is about a people who, like lions, feed on their kind. A long time ago, in a village about eight days’ trek from here, there lived a people who ate human flesh. This...

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Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Back to the Stem

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pp. 158-163

We hate it when Sun’s rays burn hot on our skin. We complain when Sun hides his warmth in the folds of his face. No matter what we say, think, or do, Sun will always be a part of our lives. That’s probably why Sun married one of our daughters, some...

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A Secret Is Difficult to Keep

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pp. 164-166

This hunter went hunting every day. He hunted even on Nshialah, the day of rest. One Nshialah he was alone in the forest when he smelled the path of a deer. A lion had also seen the deer’s footprints. He was lying down on his belly, a well-sharpened...

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The Test

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pp. 167-169

A man had two wives, Masafi and Ajientoh. Masafi was known as the village gossip. She always had complaints for her husband whenever he came home; complaints about her co-wife: “Ajientoh is a bad wife,” she’d begin. “She isn’t a good cook...

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The Sacred Door

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pp. 170-172

So, this is how it is. It’s all about a poor man. His father and his mother die, leaving him with nothing. He has no crops in his farm. Not one young woman will look at him or think of marrying him. Some call him the village scarecrow. For that...

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Hunting Elephants

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pp. 173-176

At the time when our story begins, Adieh is known as the best elephant hunter in the village. He owns a scraggy, badtempered- looking dog. That scrawny, rangy dog is worth more than an army of good hunting dogs. This cantankerous dog...

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pp. 177-206

My earliest impressions of Cameroon were gleaned from the stories I was told by older people. Their comments revolved around two things: first, that Mount Cameroon—also known as Mount Fako, the Throne of Thunder, and the Chariot of the...

E-ISBN-13: 9780896804586
Print-ISBN-13: 9780896802568

Publication Year: 2008

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  • Tales -- Cameroon.
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