Yataa Puts Darkness in a Hamper

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(Kono/Sierra Leone)

Two names are employed for the supreme being: Meketa and Yataa. Meketa, the old name, is used only occasionally now. Yataa is more commonly used: he is the great one, above and over all. He is above humans, far away in the sky.

In the beginning, when Yataa made the world, the sun and the moon were in the sky, day and night were thereby defined, and the nights were pleasant, not dark and cold, and people were able to see clearly at night. Then, one day, God put the darkness into a basket and told the bat to take it to the moon. With the basket on his shoulder, the bat began his journey to the moon. But he became tired and put the basket down, and looked for food. In his absence, other animals found the basket, thought it might contain food, and they opened it. The bat returned as they did so, and he saw the darkness escape. Now, the bat sleeps during the daytime, and, when it gets dark, he flies about, attempting to catch the darkness, put it back into the basket so that he might carry it to the moon as God had instructed. But he is never able to do this, because the sun comes back and chases him away. Then the bat has to sleep until the darkness comes again, so that he may try once more to catch it.

The first man and woman had one child, a boy, and Yataa told the three of them that they would never die, that when their bodies grew old he would give them new skins: the old ones would be shed, they would put on new ones, and they would become young again. God wrapped the new skins in a package and gave it to the dog to carry to the people. The dog carried the package until he met other animals who were eating, and the dog, anxious to share in the feast, put the package down and went to the food. One of the animals asked him what was in the package, and he told the story of the new skins. The snake heard the story and, when the dog was not looking, he stole the package, carried it home, and shared its contents with other snakes. When the dog reached home, the man asked him for the skins, and the dog told him how the snake had stolen them. They told Yataa about it, and God said that he could not take the skins from the snakes; from then onward the snake would not be allowed to live in the town with other animals, but would be driven out to live by himself. So now, when man grows old, he must die. Because the snake stole the skins, man always tries to kill him. See also: Dugbo, Meketa.

Subjects: Religion.

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