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Obassi Osaw and the First Fire


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(Ekoi/Niger, Nigeria)

There are two deities, Obassi Osaw, the sky god, and the earth god, Obassi Nsi, and there are less powerful spirits. Between them, Obassi Osaw and Obassi Nsi made all things.

They first dwelled together, but after a while agreed to have different lands. Obassi Osaw fixed his dwelling place in the sky, while Obassi Nsi came to earth and lived there. After this separation, Obassi Nsi grew in power, for when a child is born it falls to the earth, and when a man dies he returns to the earth, whence all things have sprung. Obassi Nsi is the governor of all crops that the earth ripens. The sky can be bad; it sometimes sends too much rain, sometimes not enough. Obassi Osaw's eyes are the heavens. The two biggest stars in the heavens are his son and his mother.

In the beginning, Obassi Osaw made everything, but he did not give fire to the people who were on earth. Etim Ne sent a lame boy to ask Obassi Osaw for fire. Obassi Osaw, angry, sent the boy back quickly to earth to reprove Etim Ne for asking for fire. In those days the lame boy had not become lame, but could walk like other people. Etim Ne set out himself for Obassi Osaw's town and asked forgiveness, but Obassi would not pardon him. Etim went home, and the boy laughed at him—a chief, yet he could get no fire. The boy set out to steal fire. When he reached the house of Obassi, the people were preparing food. He helped them, and Obassi, seeing that the boy was useful, did not drive him out of the house. After several days, Obassi sent him to get a lamp from one of his wives. Knowing that it was in the house of the wives that fire was kept, the boy brought the lamp back quickly. On another day, Obassi sent him again, and this time one of the wives told him to light the lamp at the fire. The boy took a brand and lighted the lamp, then wrapped the brand in plantain leaves and tied it up in his cloth. He asked Obassi for permission to leave for a time. The boy went outside the town where some dry wood was lying. He laid the brand among it, and blew until it caught alight. Then he covered it with plantain stems and leaves to hide the smoke, and went back to the house. That night, when all the people were sleeping, the thief tied his cloth together and crept to the end of the town where the fire was hidden. He found it burning, and took a glowing brand and some firewood and set out homeward. When earth was reached once more, the lad went to Etim and said, “Here is the fire which I promised to bring you.” The first fire was made on earth. Obassi Osaw looked down from his house in the sky and saw the smoke rising. He told his eldest son, Akpan Obassi, to find out who had stolen the fire. The boy confessed. Akpan told him that from that day he would not be able to walk. It was the lame boy who brought fire to earth from Obassi's home in the sky.

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Subjects: Religion.


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