Iju Makes a Pact with Death

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At Baza, Womdiu, and Wuba, the title of Hyel is used to refer to the supreme being; among the Margi of Bornu the supreme being is known as Tambi. Among the other Margi groups the common term for the supreme being is Iju. He is the firmament, the sun, the moon, the stars, the sender of rain. He is male, fertilizing the earth, Ii. The earth, Ii, female, brings forth. There is thus a form of dualism. But the earth is not definitely personified, nor are prayers addressed to Ii as they are to Iju.

In the beginning, Iju was so close to the earth that men could touch the place of his abode, the sky. In those days, men did not have to farm; they had merely to place clean calabashes on platforms outside their houses and Iju sent his children to fill the calabashes with food. Men were like the gods: they lived forever. But this state of bliss was ended: a woman set out a dirty calabash and caused a swelling to rise on the forefinger of one of the children of heaven. In his anger at this, Iju withdrew to a distance from men, who, left without food, began to make inroads on the farms of Death, Mptu. (According to another account, it was Iju who led men to the fields of Death so that they might break off heads of corn and eat them. But if they approached too closely to the abode of Death, Iju pulled them back by the chain necklaces which the first men wore.) When Death complained to Iju of the ways of men, Iju made a compact with him that if he would allow men to take seed-corn from his farm Iju would permit him to take the lives of a few men each year, one man here and one man there. Iju did this because he knew that he could restore men to life. So it is that men obtained corn, and death entered their midst. When Death took his first victim, the brother of the victim saw Death and followed him. But when he overtook him, he found him bathing in a field of fire, and fled in terror. A younger brother resolved that he would face Death and slay him. When he found Death bathing in fire, he attacked him with a sword and cut off one leg. So it is that Death is lame. He has two long teeth reddened with the blood of his victims. When Iju saw that men were taking the law into their own hands, he became angry and put dark coloring into their eyes so that they could no longer see Death, which is why the eyes of men are dark. Men did not know what they were doing, but Iju knew what he was doing. When men began to die, they sent a messenger to Iju to ascertain the cause. The messenger was a chameleon, and Iju told the chameleon to say to men that if they threw baked porridge on the corpse the corpse would come to life. But as the chameleon, being a slow traveler, had been absent a long time, men resolved to send another messenger, for death was rampant in their midst. So they sent a lizard, which arrived in the presence of Iju soon after the chameleon had departed. Angered at this second message, Iju told the lizard to dig a hole in the ground and bury the corpse. (According to another account, men sent the lizard to ascertain how to treat a man who was sick, and Iju in his anger ordered that hot gruel be poured over him. This was done, and the man immediately died.) The lizard arrived home before the chameleon and delivered his message, and the corpse was buried. But when the chameleon arrived with his message, men opened the grave in order to throw baked porridge on the corpse, but the corpse was not there. And so it is that men can no longer be restored to life. (According to another account, Iju gave the same message to the lizard he had given to the chameleon, but the lizard falsified the message.) See also: Hyel.


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