Ajantala is the equivalent of the Frankenstein monster. While the former is supposed to be a myth without a scientific basis, the latter is supposed to be a complete scientific one. Both fictitious. It has been easy to dismiss the Yoruba one for what it was thought to be, but the fact of its retention in Yoruba folklore and culture attests to its resilience and its longevity has pointed to the fact of its having a basis of truth.
For those who do not know, Ajantala was supposed to be a child born to a mythical Yoruba couple, (it had to be so since it came to us in Yoruba), grew up the same day, and started to manifest wonders. The bane was that the wonders were malevolent streaks. He was even reported to have laid whips on the backs of everybody – including his parents! He was demonic.
The Birth of Ajantala
Once upon a time, a woman had a baby boy, and it was a very lovely child. But no sooner had the child been born that he began to speak and to complain.
‘Woe is me; so this is what life is all about. Why was I brought into this world; I never knew that it would be so difficult here. All I can see everywhere is filth and I certainly will not stay long here’
And even as he finished saying this, he rose from his crib, went into the bathroom, and washed thoroughly with soap and water. Then he covered himself with a soft warm blanket and sat on a chair. Not long after, he went into the kitchen and ate six large loaves of bread, and he would have eaten more, only there was no more bread. And he came out crying from the kitchen because there was no more bread.
All these were unusual things for a baby to do, and soon people came from all over to see the miracle child, and he was very angry with them all.
On the seventh day when he was to be given a name, his parents prepared a feast for guests and very many were invited to the naming ceremony.
‘My name is Ajantala,’ he said to all of them when it was time to give him a name.
Now when the food for the feast was being cooked in the kitchen Ajantala had ceaselessly complained. He complained about the food, he complained about the cooks, he complained about how slow they all were. After a while, he found a ladle and began to stir the stew in the fire, to the utter surprise and annoyance of the cooks.
‘What a horrible child’ they all complained. And when he heard this he found a whip and beat them all so severely that they fled the kitchen and the house. And even when the feast had begun, his anger had not abated. He he again found the whip and beat the guests so much that they fled in all directions, and he ran after them and whipped them all along the way. It was a day of much confusion.
After they had all gone away he returned home ‘I heard that you are all so foolish, but never mind I will make you wise,’ he shouted after them.
And even as he said this, he went into his mother’s room and broke six of her best dishes; then he went into the garden and trampled six large chickens to death.
‘This is a really dreadful child’; a bystander said to himself. Ajantala slapped him six times on the face, so hard that the man lost six teeth. As they were locked in wrestling, another man tried to stop the fight, but Ajantala kicked him six times, so hard that the man fell down unconscious. And looking over his shoulder, he saw a group of men watching a game of draughts; and so he abandoned the fight, took over the draughts challenge, and won six games in a row. His older brother watching all this was so amazed; he opened his mouth too wide and his face split right to the back of his head. And so did Ajantala become a terror to all.
All this continued for a whole month, during which the entire town lived in terror of Ajantala, and it became to be known as dangerous for anyone to confront him.
Ajantala and the Witchdoctor
There was a very powerful witch doctor in this town and he was indeed widely known for his magic skills. And ever since he had heard about this terrible child, he had boasted:
‘He’s only a difficult child; troubled by evil spirits no doubt, but on the very day that I meet him face to face, he will be cured.’
So one day the witch doctor dressed himself up in his magic charms and in black battle clothes and headed for Ajantala’s house. When he got there, he met Ajantala eating, but he paid no attention to the child. He went to the mother who sadly sat watching from a distance. It was quite an astonishing sight indeed to see Ajantala eating for he had enough food on his enormous plate to feed ten men, and his spoon was almost as large as a shovel. Clearly, nobody could eat from the same plate as this terrible child. As the witch doctor and Ajantala’s another conversation, they came to mention the child’s name in their conversation.
When he heard this, Ajantala stood and hurled a large piece of yam at the witch doctor’s chest. Then he took his bowl of stew and emptied it onto the man’s head. Even as the witchdoctor sat surprised and dumbstruck, Ajantala took hold of his robe and tore it apart, and then he seized the witchdoctor’s bag of magic charms and whipped him over the head with it, so hard that the bag was torn into shreds; and the witchdoctor wept and screamed for mercy.
Somehow the witch doctor found a way to escape and fled the house; but Ajantala chased after him all the way to his home, before returning to his lunch. The witch doctor, his body covered in sores, and left with only his trousers looked a sorry sight indeed.
‘What happened to you?’ people came from all over to ask the witch doctor.
‘That child is extremely evil’, the witch doctor gasped. ‘Ever since I was born I have never met with as much misery as I did today. I have never been beaten so much in my life; the child nearly flogged me to death.’
‘Was it that bad?’ one of his friends asked ‘Did you not take all your magic charms with you?’
`What magic charms’, the witch doctor sneered.’ He took them all away
‘What about your clothes? Did you go there naked? Did he also take away your cap?’ Someone else wanted to know, and the witch doctor was very angry.
‘Stop asking me foolish questions’, he shouted at them.
‘Did I not just tell you how he took all my clothes and magic charms away, and here you stand asking me about my cap? If I did not run, do you think he would not have taken my trousers also? If there are any more of you going the way of that evil child’s house my advice to you is to make sure that if you do meet him, run as fast as you can else your death is near. And if you do come running to my house I will certainly push you back outside’ he advised them.
Ajantala’s Reputation and Stay with the Animals
So did Ajantala become to be known as a terror at home and in the streets; and so much an embarrassment that his mother was no more able to bear it. Therefore one day, she took Ajantala with her on a journey through the forest, and midway she told him to wait for her, while she goes to bathe in the river. But she headed back home instead, leaving Ajantala all alone in the forest and there was not a soul in sight.
As Ajantala wandered about in the forest, he found five animals living together in a very cordial relationship. They were an elephant, a lion, a leopard, a wolf, and a goat. And when he got to them, Ajantala pleaded to be allowed to live with them, and to be their servant,; and they agreed.
It was the duty of one of the animals to go out to look for food each day, and they all shared this task. Therefore when one of them goes out on a particular day, the rest would remain at home and when the food came, they would all share it. This was how they had lived in harmony for many years until Ajantala came. When he got to these animals, it was night, and it was Goat’s duty to look for food the next day. As he was still a guest Ajantala behaved himself on this night and was very pleasant to all.
The next morning, Lion gathered all of them together ‘Now that we have a servant, I suggest that every day when each of us goes out to look for food, our servant should go along.’
And all the other animals, including Ajantala, also thought that this was a very good suggestion.
Therefore when Goat set out to hunt for food on this day, Ajantala went along. But as Goat searched for food, Ajantala played. However Goat left him in peace: after all, he was a mere child and not wise yet, Goat thought. After he had put all the food in a sack, Goat called Ajantala to help lift it onto his back. But when Ajantala got to Goat, he seized Goat by the legs, pushed him to the ground, and began to kick him until Goat’s face was swollen all over. Goat shouted for help but there was nobody near. Ajantala beat him to an inch of his life.
‘When we get home if you tell anyone that I beat you I shall certainly kill you,’ Ajantala warned after he finally left Goat alone.
After Goat had stopped crying and cleaned himself up, he lifted the sack of food onto his back and headed for home; and Ajantala followed behind whistling cheerfully. They soon got home, and when the others saw Goat’s battered face, they shouted in horror.
‘What on earth did this to you?’ Lion demanded. But Goat did not dare tell them the truth.
‘When I was looking for food, I came across a bee hive and the bees stung me all over the head,’ Goat lied. ‘And as I ran, I fell upon a wasps’ nest and they again stung me from head to hoof. That is why my face and eyes are so swollen.’
The next day, it was Wolf’s turn to go hunting for food, and Ajantala went along with him. And when Wolf came home in the evening, his face was also swollen and his body was covered with sores.
‘What on earth did this to you?’ Lion again sought to know.
‘What happened to Goat yesterday also happened to me, and I think it shall certainly happen to all of us,’ Wolf said with a bitter laugh. Wolf’s eyes met with Goat’s and both sadly shook their heads, but Ajantala whistled nonchalantly.
So did Ajantala do with all the animals until it became Lion’s turn to go hunting for food. After being beaten nearly to death, Lion gathered the rest to a secret meeting that night.
‘Let us run away and leave the evil child behind’ Goat desperately advised.
‘Yes, let us run away before dawn and before he wakes up’ the rest of them agreed. Therefore in the night they packed their belongings into a cart and prepared to quietly sneak away at dawn. But while they planned, little did they know that Ajantala had been listening. And when Ajantala saw that they had gone to sleep, he hid inside the cart in which they had packed their belongings. This was not too difficult, because Ajantala was no more than a foot and a half tall.
Before day broke, the animals stealthily left the house and headed for deep inside the forest, as they ran away from Ajantala. After a while Goat got hungry and planned to steal some of the food inside the cart.
‘Go on, I need to rest for a few minutes’ Goat told the others; but it was a lie and all he wanted to do was steal the food. After they had gone, Goat began to look for the food box that was inside the cart. But out jumped Ajantala and beat him so much that Goat would never forget this day for the rest of his life. Finally, he left Goat to go and again warned him to say nothing about what had happened.
‘When you catch up with the others give the cart to Wolf, and let me see whether he is also as foolish as you’ Ajantala told Goat.
The goat ran with the cart and soon caught up with the others, and handed it to Wolf.
‘I am weary, take this cart for a while,’ he said to Wolf, who agreed.
Soon after the same thought occurred to Wolf – to stay behind and steal some of the food. Ajantala again seized him and Wolf had never suffered so much in his life as he did on this day. He could have screamed to call his friends to help him but Ajantala held him by the neck and would have strangled him. It was a terrible day for Wolf. When Ajantala was tired, he left Wolf to go. Again he told Wolf to hand the cart over to someone else when he catches up with the rest. This was how this terrible child tormented the animals. The elephant was the last to fall into his hands, but as he took hold of the Elephant by the ears, Elephant trumpeted in fear and fled after the rest and together they raced madly away with Ajantala in hot pursuit.
In utter fear, the animals cried aloud as they fled and the forest echoed their cries and footfall. But Ajantala was wiser. He took a shortcut and arrived ahead of them further up the forest path. And finding a leafy tree, he climbed up this tree to wait for the fleeing animals.
They soon arrived, even as he had expected, quite exhausted.
‘He is no more chasing after us’ Wolf observed ‘I think he’s gone away, let us rest in the shade of this tree’. All the others agreed, and as they rested they cursed and insulted Ajantala.
‘We would not have been in this mess if Goat had not asked that we allow the little demon to stay with us’ Wolf accused; but Goat denied it.
‘Shut up, or I will trample you to death; Elephant warned Goat.
‘And remember, all that running has made me very hungry right now and goat meat sounds delicious’ Lion growled at Goat.
But Goat rose and nonetheless made a passionate defense of himself:
‘If it was I who suggested that Ajantala be permitted to live with us, let the ground open and swallow me up ‘Goat swore. ‘ But if it wasn’t me, let that same evil wind that brought Ajantala into our midst bring him again this very instant.’
When Ajantala heard this, he gleefully jumped down from the tree into their midst, and they fled for their lives. And since that day Goat fled to the safety of places where human beings live; Elephant fled to Africa and to India, Leopard, and Wolf fled into the jungle and Lions into the grasslands.
What happened to Ajantala thereafter? Did he begin to wander ceaselessly in the jungle? No, God finally saw that he had no human qualities and he sent for Ajantala to be brought back from the world.
- Ajantala the Terrible Child and Other Stories by Rotimi Ogunjobi
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