Some of you may have realised that I love myths and folklore. Today’s brief was to write either a horror story or a revenge story or a story about South Africa, using the South African Tokoloshe as inspiration. I decided to create my own piece of African folklore about a woman who seeks revenge for her husband – although the crocodile god Effiom is my own invention, the names, clothes, plants and food are all indigenous to Africa as a whole.
How Kalifa Took Her Revenge
The sun beat down upon the small African village, baking the ground until it cracked with the heat. Lying under the shade of an acacia tree, Jawara watched the women as they made their way to the river. He was ready to take a wife. And when he saw the chief’s daughter, Kalifa, and how her hips swayed as she walked and how gracefully her neck arched as she carried the heavy water pot on her head on the return journey, his heart sang within him for her eyes were large and her bottom was round and he knew she would bear him strong healthy children.
Later that day, Jawara picked wild hibiscus flowers and wove a bridal crown and laid it at Kalifa’s feet. And Kalifa saw that his hands were gentle and his heart was true, and she knew that here was a man who would not beat her as some husbands do but sing to her and cherish her, and so she smiled at Jawara and he took her to his hut and there made her his wife. And all night long, they lay wrapped in one another’s arms, under a moonlit sky with the song of cicadas in the background.
The wet season came and the river Afrim swelled its banks. Effiom the crocodile god floated in the water, his eyes just above the surface, looking for all the world like a big, brown log. He watched and he waited – waited for the local children to scamper down to the river that he might feed. And while he waited, his eye caught sight of a woman in a brightly coloured kitanga with beaded bracelets and anklets. Her hips swayed as she walked, and her eyes were large and her bottom was round and he knew he had to have her, so clambering out of the river, Effiom shed his crocodile skin and stood before Kalifa in his man form, and she recognised him immediately as a god because he was arrogant and proud, and she turned her gaze away from him.
“Woman, look at me,” Effiom demanded. “I have chosen to lie with you. See how strong my thighs are and how magnificent my body is and tell me how grateful you are that I should bless you in this way.”
And Kalifa turned to look at Effiom, saying, “You do me an honour, sir, but I already have a husband. I cannot lie with you when my heart belongs to another.”
“Are his thighs as strong as mine, and is his body as magnificent?” Effiom asked.
Kalifa shook her head. “His thighs are not as strong as yours and his body is not as magnificent,” she admitted, “but his hands are gentle when they touch my face and his heart is true, and I will not lie with anyone else while I have such a husband.”
Then Effiom was angry, and he returned to the river, putting aside his man skin and becoming a crocodile once more. And Effiom the crocodile swam out into the middle of the river and thrashed his powerful tail and gnashed his terrible jaws, and the stars trembled in the heavens at his anger and the clouds whirled and twirled about them and lightning cracked the sky apart. But Jawara and Kalifa still lay in each other’s arms, even though the sound of distant thunder now drowned out the cicadas’ song.
And early next morning, Jawara went to bathe in the river Afrim while Kalifa prepared fufu and nkakra nkwan, and seeing his chance, Effiom thrashed his powerful tail and stirred up the waters so that Jawara was sucked beneath the river’s surface and Effiom ate well that morning, devouring the flesh from Jawara’s body and crunching the bones, but the teeth he spat out at the side of the river for teeth are indigestible.
And Kalifa waited for her husband but he did not come home, and so she walked to the river and when she saw the teeth lying on the ground, she knew what had happened and she picked up the teeth with a grim face, saying not a word, and when she walked back to the hut she had shared with Jawara, her hips no longer swayed.
That night, Kalifa took a piece of cloth and wrapped up her dead husband’s teeth and buried them in the ground as muti. She buried them under the light of the moon, and the song of the cicadas was Jawara’s funeral dirge and Kalifa’s heart cried out to Takhar Takhar, the god of vengeance. All night long, she sat beneath the acacia tree, her tears unshed and her heart like a stone inside her. And when morning came, she knew what she must do.
The dry season came once more and the sun beat down again upon the small African village, baking the ground until it cracked with the heat. And Effiom the crocodile god saw Kalifa walking towards the river, hips swaying, carrying her water pot on her head. So he clambered from the water and shed his crocodile skin and stood before her in his man form.
And this time, when he demanded to lie with her, Kalifa stared into his eyes and said, “I no longer have a husband, and my bed is cold. Come with me to my hut and I will make you eba and take you to my bed, and we will have strong, healthy children.”
And Effiom followed her swaying hips and her round bottom back to the hut she had shared with her husband, and Kalifa mixed cassava flour and water to make the dumplings, but she also added ground snakeweed leaves for she knew that these would induce sleep. And Effiom ate many eba, and the heavy dumplings and the snakeweed combined to put him in a deep sleep so that he lay on his back and snored and Kalifa looked at him with revenge in her heart.
She could not poison him and she could not stab him, for the only way to kill a crocodile god is to drown him in his own river. Instead, she took her dead husband’s dagger and she cut Effiom open while he slept and she filled his stomach with rocks and then sewed him up again. And when he woke, he felt the weight of the rocks inside him.
“Aieie!” he said to Kalifa. “Your eba are as heavy as stones!”
“You are weak,” she replied, “for my dead husband would eat twice as many eba as you, and then we would walk to the river and swim in the moonlight before making love at the side of the water.”
And Effiom looked at Kalifa and thought of her large eyes and her rounded bottom and how he would like to see the moonlight gleaming on her mahogany skin as she swam in the water, so he heaved himself to his feet and followed her swaying hips down to the river Afrim.
They reached the river, and Kalifa removed her kitanga and her beaded bracelets and anklets and stood before Effiom, and the moonlight danced on her rounded bottom and her swaying hips as she walked to the water’s edge. And Effiom wanted to put aside his man skin and become a crocodile once more so that Kalifa might admire his powerful tail and his strong legs, but his stomach was so heavy he could not bend to remove his skin, and so he slipped into the water in his man form and the stones in his belly pulled him beneath the current and his lungs filled with water and he drowned.
Kalifa left the water and wrapped her kitanga around her. Her beaded bracelets and anklets clicked as she walked back to the hut she had shared with her husband, and her hips swayed in the moonlight and her heart sang with the cicadas.