THE WOMAN WITH TWO SKINS

EYAMBA I. of Calabar was
a very powerful king. He fought and conquered all the surrounding countries,
killing all the old men and women, but the able-bodied men and girls he caught
and brought back as slaves, and they worked on the farms until they died.

This king had two hundred
wives, but none of them had borne a son to him. His subjects, seeing that he
was becoming an old man, begged him to marry one of the spider’s daughters, as
they always had plenty of children. But when the king saw the spider’s daughter
he did not like her, as she was ugly, and the people said it was because her
mother had had so many children at the same time. However, in order to please
his people he married the ugly girl, and placed her among his other wives, but
they all complained because she was so ugly, and said she could not live with
them. The king, therefore, built her a separate house for herself, where she
was given food and drink the same as the other wives. Every one jeered at her
on account of her ugliness; but she was not really ugly, but beautiful, as she
was born with two skins, and at her birth her mother was made to promise that
she should never remove the ugly skin until a certain time arrived save only
during the night, and that she must put it on again before dawn. Now the king’s
head wife knew this, and was very fearful lest the king should find it out and
fall in love with the spider’s daughter; so she went to a Ju Ju man and offered
him two hundred rods to make a potion that would make the king forget
altogether that the spider’s daughter was his wife. This the Ju Ju man finally
consented to do, after much haggling over the price, for three hundred and
fifty rods; and he made up some “medicine,” which the head wife mixed
with the king’s food. For some months this had the effect of making the king
forget the spider’s daughter, and he used to pass quite close to her without recognizing
her in any way. When four months had elapsed and the king had not once sent for
Adiaha (for that was the name of the spider’s daughter), she began to get
tired, and went back to her parents. Her father, the spider, then took her to
another Ju Ju man, who, by making spells and casting lots, very soon discovered
that it was the king’s head wife who had made the Ju Ju and had enchanted the
king so that he would not look at Adiaha. He therefore told the spider that
Adiaha should give the king some medicine which he would prepare, which would
make the king remember her. He prepared the medicine, for which the spider had
to pay a large sum of money; and that very day Adiaha made a small dish of
food, into which she had placed the medicine, and presented it to the king.
Directly he had eaten the dish his eyes were opened and he recognized his wife,
and told her to come to him that very evening. So in the afternoon, being very
joyful, she went down to the river and washed, and when she returned she put on
her best cloth and went to the king’s palace.
Directly it was dark and
all the lights were out she pulled off her ugly skin, and the king saw how
beautiful she was, and was very pleased with her; but when the cock crowed
Adiaha pulled on her ugly skin again, and went back to her own house.
This she did for four
nights running, always taking the ugly skin off in the dark, and leaving before
daylight in the morning. In course of time, to the great surprise of all the
people, and particularly of the king’s two hundred wives, she gave birth to a
son; but what surprised them most of all was that only one son was born,
whereas her mother had always had a great many children at a time, generally
about fifty.
The king’s head wife
became more jealous than ever when Adiaha had a son; so she went again to the
Ju Ju man, and by giving him a large present induced him to give her some
medicine which would make the king sick and forget his son. And the medicine
would then make the king go to the Ju Ju man, who would tell him that it was
his son who had made him sick, as he wanted to reign instead of his father. The
Ju Ju man would also tell the king that if he wanted to recover he must throw
his son away into the water.
And the king, when he
had taken the medicine., went to the Ju Ju man, who told him everything as had
been arranged with the head wife. But at first the king did not want to destroy
his son. Then his chief subjects begged him to throw his son away, and said
that perhaps in a year’s time he might get another son. So the king at last
agreed, and threw his son into the river, at which the mother grieved and cried
bitterly.
Then the head wife went
again to the Ju Ju man and got more medicine, which made the king forget Adiaha
for three years, during which time she was in mourning for her son. She then
returned to her father, and he got some more medicine from his Ju Ju man, which
Adiaha gave to the king. And the king knew her and called her to him again, and
she lived with him as before. Now the Ju Ju who had helped Adiaha’s father, the
spider, was a Water Ju Ju, and he was ready when the king threw his son into
the water, and saved his life and took him home and kept him alive. And the boy
grew up very strong.
After a time Adiaha gave
birth to a daughter, and her the jealous wife also persuaded the king to throw
away. It took a longer time to persuade him, but at last he agreed, and threw
his daughter into the water too, and forgot Adiaha again. But the Water Ju Ju
was ready again, and when he had saved the little girl, he thought the time had
arrived to punish the action of the- jealous wife; so he went about amongst the
head young men and persuaded them to hold a wrestling match in the market-place
every week. This was done, and the Water Ju Ju told the king’s son, who had
become very strong, and was very like to his father in appearance, that he
should go and wrestle, and that no one would be able to stand up before him. It
was then arranged that there should be a grand wrestling match, to which all
the strongest men in the country were invited, and the king promised to attend
with his head wife.
On the day of the match
the Water Ju Ju told the king’s son that he need not be in the least afraid,
and that his Ju Ju was so powerful, that even the strongest and best wrestlers
in the country would not be able to stand up against him for even a few
minutes. All the people of the country came to see the great contest, to the
winner of which the king had promised to present prizes of cloth and money, and
all the strongest men came. When they saw the king’s son, whom nobody knew,
they laughed and said, “Who is this small boy? He can have no chance
against us.” But when they came to wrestle, they very soon found that they
were no match for him. The boy was very strong indeed, beautifully made and
good to look upon, and all the people were surprised to see how like he was to
the king.
After wrestling for the
greater part of the day the king’s son was declared the winner, having thrown
everyone who had stood up against him; in fact, some of his opponents had been
badly hurt, and had their arms or ribs broken owing to the tremendous strength
of the boy. After the match was over the king presented him with cloth and
money, and invited him to dine with him in the evening. The boy gladly accepted
his father’s invitation; and after he had had a good wash in the river, put on
his cloth and went up to the palace, where he found the bead chiefs of the
country and some of the king’s most favored wives. They then sat down to their
meal, and the king had his own son, whom he did not know, sitting next to him.
On the other side of the boy sat the jealous wife, who had been the cause of
all the trouble. All through the dinner this woman did her best to make friends
with the boy, with whom she had fallen violently in love on account of his
beautiful appearance, his strength, and his being the best wrestler in the
country. The woman thought to herself, It I will have this boy as my husband,
as my husband is now an old man and will surely soon die.” The boy,
however, who was as wise as he was strong, was quite aware of everything the
jealous woman had done, and although he pretended to be very flattered at the
advances of the king’s head wife, he did not respond very readily, and went
home as soon as he could.
When he returned to the
Water Ju Ju’s house he told him everything that had happened, and the Water Ju
Ju said–
“As you are now in
high favour with the king, you must go to him to-morrow and beg a favour from
him. The favour you will ask is that all the country shall be called together,
and that a certain case shall be tried, and that when the case is finished, the
man or woman who is found to be in the wrong shall be killed by the Egbos
before all the people.”
So the following morning
the boy went to the king, who readily granted his request, and at once sent all
round the country appointing a day for all the people to come in and hear the
case tried. Then the boy went back to the Water Ju Ju, who told him to go to
his mother and tell her who he was, and that when the day of the trial arrived,
she was to take off her ugly skin and appear in all her beauty, for the time
had come when she need no longer wear it. This the son did.
When the day of trial
arrived, Adiaha sat in a corner of the square, and nobody recognised the
beautiful stranger as the spider’s daughter. Her son then sat down next to her,
and brought his sister with him. Immediately his mother saw her she said-
“This must be my
daughter, whom I have long mourned as dead,” and embraced her most
affectionately.
The king and his head
wife then arrived and sat on their stones in the middle of the square, all the
people saluting them with the usual greetings. The king then addressed the
people, and said that he had called them together to hear a strong palaver at
the request of the young man who had been the victor of the wrestling, and who
had promised that if the case went against him he would offer up his life to
the Egbo. The king also said that if, on the other hand, the case was decided
in the boy’s favour, then the other party would be killed, even though it were
himself or one of his wives; whoever it was would have to take his or her place
on the killing-stone and have their heads cut off by the Egbos. To this all the
people agreed, and said they would like to hear what the young man had to say.
The young man then walked round the square, and bowed to the king and the
people, and asked the question, “Am I not worthy to be the son of any
chief in the country?” And all the people answered “Yes!”
The boy then brought his
sister out into the middle, leading her by the hand. She was a beautiful girl
and well made. When every one had looked at her he said, “Is not my sister
worthy to be any chief’s daughter?” And the people replied that she was
worthy of being any one’s daughter, even the king’s. Then he called his mother
Adiaha, and she came out, looking very beautiful with her best cloth and beads
on, and all the people cheered, as they had never seen a finer woman. The boy
then asked them, “Is this woman worthy of being the king’s wife?” And
a shout went up from every one present that she would be a proper wife for the
king, and looked as if she would be the mother of plenty of fine healthy sons.
Then the boy pointed out
the jealous woman who was sitting next to the king, and told the people his
story, how that his mother, who had two skins, was the spider’s daughter; how
she had married the king, and how the head wife was jealous and had made a bad
Ju Ju for the king, which made him forget his wife; how she had persuaded the
king to throw himself and his sister into the river, which, as they all knew,
had been done, but the Water Ju Ju had saved both of them, and had brought them
up.
Then the boy
said–“I leave the king and all of you people to judge my case. If I have
done wrong, let me be killed on the stone by the Egbos; if, on the other hand,
the woman has done evil, then let the Egbos deal with her as you may
decide.”
When the king knew that
the wrestler was his son he was very glad, and told the Egbos to take the
jealous woman away, and punish her in accordance with their laws. The Egbos
decided that the woman was a witch; so they took her into the forest and tied
her up to a stake, and gave her two hundred lashes with a whip made from
hippopotamus hide, and then burnt her alive, so that she should not make any
more trouble, and her ashes were thrown into the river. The king then embraced
his wife and daughter, and told all the people that she, Adiaha, was his proper
wife, and would be the queen for the future.
When the palaver was
over, Adiaha was. dressed in fine clothes and beads, and carried back in state
to the palace by the king’s servants.
That night the king gave
a big feast to all his subjects, and told them how glad he was to get back his
beautiful wife whom he had never known properly before, also his son who was
stronger than all men, and his fine daughter. The feast continued for a hundred
and sixty-six days; and the king made a law that if any woman was found out
getting medicine against her husband, she should be killed at once. Then the
king built three new compounds, and placed many slaves in them, both men and
women. One compound he gave to his wife, another to his son, and the third he
gave to his daughter. They all lived together quite happily for some years
until the king died, when his son came to the throne and ruled in his stead.

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