Aruan and the Bell Fastened to His Chest

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(Kyama/Benin, Côte d'Ivoire)

Aruan was a mythic king.

Two sons were born to King Ozolua on the same day by different wives. The one who cried first would become the heir to the throne. Aruan, born in the morning, was a perfect child; the king preferred him, but Aruan was quiet. Esigie, born in the afternoon, was a frail child, but he cried, and therefore became the heir. Aruan became a strong not very intelligent youth; Esigie remained weak, but bright. When they competed, Esigie won and Aruan despaired. Esigie was the rightful heir, but King Ozolua presented Aruan with the royal necklace and a magic sword: the place that he planted the sword would be the new center of the kingdom. Esigie, envious, tricked Aruan so that he planted the sword in undesirable places. Finally, the king told Aruan that when he died he should bury his body at the place where the new capital would be erected. Aruan lived in Udo, Esigie in Benin. When the king died, Esigie infuriated Aruan by stealing the body and burying it in Benin. Ugbeghe, a slave, showing Aruan a great empty pit in a forest, told him that he would prepare an everlasting home for him. When after three days Aruan returned to the spot he found a great lake where the pit had been, a magical lake formed of the slave's tears. Aruan threw a boulder into the middle of the lake. That evening, he heard a thunderous noise as the great stone hit the lake's bottom. Aruan gave orders that he was to be buried in the lake. When Esigie, who was now the king, insisted that Aruan give him the sacred necklace, Aruan refused, and they went to war. Aruan took into battle a large bell fastened to his chest by his hairs; he informed his servants that if he were defeated he would ring the bell, and his wives, slaves, and possessions should thereupon be thrown into the lake. As he marched on Esigie's capital, the bell worked loose and fell with a loud noise. The servants, hearing the sound, carried out their master's wishes. When Aruan discovered this, anguished, he prepared to die. Burying his sword, he cursed the place, forbidding anyone to come near the lake. Then he threw himself into it. When the moon was full, the handle of the sword could be seen above the ground. Aruan wandered about the town of Udo every fifth night, groaning, then returned to the lake. Powerful spirits lived in the lake, and if anyone approached the area, a thunderbolt from heaven would strike him down.

Subjects: Religion.

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