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Emmanuel Matateyou, An Anthology of Myths, Legends and Folktales from Cameroon. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997, 255 pp.
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The cover of An Anthology of Myths, Legends and Folktales from Cameroon by Emmanuel Matateyou. Courtesy of The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd.
Author of the Entry:
Daniel A. Nkemleke, University of Yaoundé 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Divine Che Neba, University of Yaoundé 1, email@example.com
Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe Tabi Ekema (Storyteller)
Age of Narrator: 52 (in 1992)
Bio prepared by Divine Che Neba, University of Yaoundé 1, email@example.com
Emmanuel Matateyou by Rama. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr (accessed: December 15, 2021).
, b. 1952
Emanuel Matateyou is a writer and a professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, University of Yaoundé 1. He is a former Fulbright scholar and has published widely on oral literature and Cameroonian culture and languages. Some of his publications include: An Anthology of myths, legends and folktales from Cameroon (1997), Les Merveilleux récits de Tita Ki (2001), Parlons Bamoun (2001), Problématique d’une conciliation du réel et l’irréel (1999), Les sociétés secrètes dans la littérature camerounaise le cas des Bamoun. 2. vol. (1990).
Bio prepared by Daniel A. Nkemleke, University of Yaoundé 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cultural Background*: Mamfe, Southwest Cameroon
The Ejaghams of Manyu Division are found mainly in Eyumojock Sub-Division. The Ejaghams are of Bantu stock and probably migrated because of wars and the need for a peaceful settlement. The majority of their population is found in Cross-River State in Nigeria. They are also known as the Ekoi. Like many other tribes of this part of the globe, they believe in the supremacy of the ancestors whom they worship in cults. As a custom, they do not sell land to strangers and new comers in the belief that the land is owned by their ancestors (the first settlers), and they are simply heirs and custodians to them. They hold the Lake Ijagham as their sacred cradle. As an art, the people are good sculptors but their produce ends at local consumption. Their main economic activity is fishing and farming (of yams, maize, plantains) both for subsistent and commercial purposes. Some remote villages in the Ejagham tribe still practice female genital mutilation.
Ekoi (Ejagham) People: Originators of Ancient Secret Nsibidi Writings and Famous for Their Traditional African Ritual Expressions, June 8, 2013, kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com (accessed: July 2, 2019).
This is a reprint of the story as it appears in: An Anthology of Myths, Legends and Folktales from Cameroon by Emmanuel Matateyou, published in 1997 (pp. 49–50) by The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd. We have the permission of the publisher and the author to publish up to 10 myths in this collection in the context of our project on “Our Mythical Childhood…”. We are therefore thankful to The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd and Professor Mataeyou for granting us this permission.
Many, many, many years ago, the various parts of the human body possessed the ability of speech. They could converse, quarrel and fight with one another.
One day all the fingers decided to go on a visit to a very distant land. The journey was very dangerous and tiring. They travelled for many days and night without resting or even chewing a morsel. One week had passed and Small finger could no longer preserve the hunger that had reduced him to the size of a broomstick. “I’m hungry!” spouted small finger. The Second finger was also dying of hunger and was waiting for the least opportunity to shout out his woe. “Let us go to that house” the Second finger groaning, holding his stomach and pointing to a house by the road-side. But the Third finger complained “If we go to that house and there is nothing to eat, what shall we do? “. The Fourth finger retorted, stooping and bending double with his hands holding his stomach and chin. “But if there is no food in that house. Then think of a better place where one can get even just a morsel.”
All of them were terribly hungry. They put their thinking caps together, but no solution was arrived at. In the midst of their misery, they resigned themselves to their fate and lay under a nearby tree. They all lay languidly and looked helplessly into each silence. “Let us go back to that farm which we passed in that valley and steal cocoyams”, he said to the other fingers pointing to a valley. His companion except the Fifth finger was very happy about this bright idea. “We can also steal a fowl and use it in preparing the cocoyams”, the Third finger added. “What do you mean!” he interrogated the First, Second, Third and Fourth fingers. “If you dare steal that man’s cocoyam and fowl, then I shall implicate you. I shall tell him, I swear “, he continued. The thumb’s negative reaction greatly infuriated his famished mates. They joined together and gave him the beatings of his life. He was beaten to near death and almost trimmed off the hand. He laid unconsciously for more than a week. The gravity of beating inflicted on The Thumb caused him to become short and a bit detached from the rest of the fingers. He has remained short and a bit detached since then.
That is why the Thumb is shorter and is further away from the rest of the fingers.
The myth underscores the paradox of morality and uprightness. On the one hand, it demonstrates the fact that people sometimes suffer unjustly and/or for being strict to moral demands. On the other hand, it raises philosophical questions about the rule of morality and/or what constitutes morality when one is faced with the bleak reality of hopelessness. This is exemplified in the above myth by the other fingers’ decision to steal in order to save themselves from dying of hunger, even with the knowledge that stealing is morally incorrect. This question may find answers in the imperfections of human and religious laws with respect to a hopeless human situation. Good and evil are therefore concepts that are relative to social conditions.
Agrawal, M. M., “Morals and the value of human life” in Emmanuel Eze, ed., African Philosophy. An anthology, Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, 146–154.
Matateyou, Emmanuel, An Anthology of Myths, Legends and Folktales from Cameroon, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd, 1997.
Collected by: Irene Mukeke.