Sought and Found: Chapter 1 - An African Story

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 7
IT had been raining heavily for days, and the air was damp and chilly, for during the rainy season it can be cold sometimes even in West Africa. Two old women had met in the almost empty market-place. They had often met there before, and had enjoyed many a friendly gossip, but on that day there was a strangely troubled look on the faces of both, though perhaps it was most marked on that of Sholabi, who was some years older than her companion. Long salutations are dear to the Africans, but on that day their greetings were very brief.
Sholabi was the first to speak. "Ogunyabi, my heart is very heavy, because of these Christians who have come among us. I fear the anger of the gods we and our fathers have served so long will come upon us. And if our gods are angry what can we do?”
“My heart is sad, too," replied Ogunyabi. "Many times I have prayed to our gods to scatter them, and drive them from our land. Yesterday I offered a chicken to Shango that my two sons might be kept from learning their evil ways.”
“When you and I were young," said Sholabi, "it would have been very easy. The preacher who has been with the white men and learned their ways, and serves their strange gods, would never have dared to come to our town; or if he had, he would have been driven into the bush, where he would have died of hunger, or been eaten by wild beasts, but now the white man is too strong for us, and now, if we kill them, or even drive them into the bush, they have a great white king, who has many soldiers, and he would send them to eat us all up, and burn our villages. Even our brave warriors are in fear of them and their king. Ah! those were good days, when every one feared our gods, and many offerings were made to turn away their anger.”
“But cannot you tell us what we can do?” asked the other. "You are a priestess of Ifa, and the leader of us women. You have talked with the gods, you have sought their favor, you have made them many offerings. You ought to be able to tell us what to do to drive the strangers away, and so keep your place as our leader, or I fear all our young people will learn their ways, and who then will keep away the anger of the gods?”
“Yes, it is true I am a priestess of Ifa, and I have talked with the gods, and made them many offerings; but they do not answer me, or regard my offerings," replied Sholabi sadly. "But to-day I will kill a goat, and present it to Ifa, then perhaps the god will be pleased, and speak to me.”
“Is it true," asked Ogunyabi, “that your son Fakoyo went to the house of the preacher two days ago, and that he has worshipped with the Christians?”
Fear and anger were plainly written upon every feature of the old woman's face. Her limbs trembled with excitement as she gasped rather than said, "My son! my Fakoyo, did you say, a follower of the hated Christians? No, it cannot be true; I will not believe it. Did not I myself take him to the sacred grove, and give him to the gods when he was only a baby. No, if all the other young men in the village forsake the gods, I will not believe it of Fakoyo.”
“Ah, I said it could not be true," replied her companion. "Adesoro told it to me in the market yesterday, but we all know that she says many idle words.”
But with a hasty farewell Sholabi turned away, sad and sick at heart. She did not, and told herself she would not, believe what she had heard; and yet, if it should be true! her son, the joy of life, the darling of her heart, to have been even seen in the company of the Christians!
As she walked slowly homewards she remembered that several times lately he had made excuses for not going with her to worship the gods, and only two days ago, on the day the Christians called Sunday, when she knew that they met for worship at the house of the preacher, instead of going to his work in the fields, Fakoyo had put on his new cloth and gone out without telling her where he was going. When he returned he was in the company of two of their young men, who she remembered hearing had already forsaken the gods.
As she recalled these things she wondered that they had not troubled or made her uneasy. She felt like one who was staggering from the effects of a cruel blow. Could it be true, that she, a priestess of Ifa, the one who for long years had been the leader of the women, the one whom they had looked up to with such respect, not unmixed with fear, had not been able to guard her own, her only son, from this new, strange faith?
“If he has angered the gods they will punish him," she moaned to herself. "They will strike him with a thunder-bolt, or visit him with the small-pox, or lay him low with fever, and in his sickness he will die. Yes, the wrath of the gods is upon him, and I cannot save him.”
Poor woman! She did not know that the God whom her son was even then learning to love and trust was a "very present help in trouble," One "whose compassions fail not." She did not even know His name; He was not one of the gods of her fathers, and she did not wish even to think of Him.
It seemed a long and weary way, that day, but at last she reached the circle of mud and wattle huts she mis-called home, and after creeping through the low doorway she picked her way among the ill-smelling rubbish that lay in decaying heaps in the compound. She was tired and faint, yet she could not eat, but sat down to wait as best she could the return of her son, sometimes fearing, at others hoping, that he would laugh at her fears, and tell her he had not forsaken the gods.