Effion Obassi Creates the Moon

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Mythic Commemoration of Man's Godly Activities.

The dividing line between myth and tale is as blurred as it is between myth and epic, between tale and epic. In fact, all storytelling involves characteristics of both tale and myth. The narrative movement of each of the genres incorporates the linearity of the tale, and at the core of each is the mythic image, which evokes emotional responses from members of the audience and thereby animates the complex of images that comprise the story. The rich performance of story involves the linear movement, the cyclical organization of images, and the emotional center, all of which comprise myth. This is a story that clearly begins as a tale and ends as a myth, vividly dramatizing the overlapping of the two.

(Ekoi/Nigeria) Sheep and Antelope are farmers, and they share their plantains and coco-yams with the other animals. But when Crocodile requests food, Antelope refuses while Sheep is generous. Crocodile takes the plantains back to his river home, which he shares with Python. They like the food so much that Python takes from his head a shining stone, and Crocodile takes the stone in his jaws and returns to Sheep, the stone lighting the darkness along the way. Sheep is so entranced by the beauty of the stone that he sells his farm to Crocodile in exchange for the shining stone, which he places on the lintel so that it might shine for all the world. But now, without a farm, Sheep becomes hungry. Antelope and the other creatures refuse to share their food with him. Only a fool, says Antelope, would give his all so that a light may shine in the dark. Sheep, weak and faint, seeks food, and comes upon Effion Obassi, God, who is gathering palm kernels. Effion Obassi shares the food with Sheep, and in return Sheep, having returned to his home and once again being refused food by his neighbors, gives God the shining stone. Effion Obassi takes it into the heavens to the sky-people. The lords of the sky place it into a box so that it can shine from only one side. Now the stone is the moon, and it glows for all the world. But sometimes the lid of the box is closed, the moon is dark, reminding the people of the necessity to be generous. In the first part of this story, a tale is told: Sheep and Antelope establish a pattern of generosity, a pattern that is then broken when Sheep sells his farm for a splendid shining stone and all others thereafter refuse to share their food with him. It is at this point that tale becomes myth: Sheep gives the magnificent stone to God, who takes it into heaven and, with it, creates the moon. To bind the myth to the tale, the mythmaker develops the image of the waxing and waning moon: God provides light to remind humans of the generosity of Sheep and Antelope, then withholds light as a warning about selfishness. (See pages 275–79 for the full text of this story.)


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