Travels in West Africa, by Mary H. Kingsley

Appendix. The Invention of the Cloth Loom.

This story is taken down from an Eboe, but practically the same story can be found among all the cloth-making tribes in West Africa.

In the old times there was a man who was a great hunter; but he had a bad wife, and when he made medicine to put on his spear, she made medicine against his spear, but he knew nothing of this thing and went out after bush cow.

By and by he found a big bush cow, and threw his spear at it, but the bush cow came on, and drove its horns through his thigh, so the man crept home, and lay in his house very sick, and the witch doctor found out which of his wives had witched the spear, and they killed her, and for many days the man could not go out hunting. But he was a great hunter, and his liver grew hot in him for the bush, so he dragged himself to the bush, and lay there every day. One day, as he lay, he saw a big spider making a net on a bush and he watched him. By and by he saw how the spider caught his game, and that the spider was a great hunter, and the man said “If I had hunted as this spider hunts, if I had made a trap like that and put it in the bush and then gone aside and let the game get into it and weary itself to death quickly, — quicker and safer than they do in pit-falls — that bush cow would not have gored me.” And so after a time he tried to make a net like the spider’s, out of bush rope, and he did this thing and put his net into the forest, and caught bush deer (gazelles) and earthpig (pangolins) and porcupines, and he made more nets, and every net he made was better, and he grew well, and became a greater hunter than before. One day he made a very fine net, and his wife said “This is a cloth, it is better than our cloth (bark cloth) because when the rain gets to it, it does not shrivel. Make me a cloth like this and then I will beat it with the mallet and wear it.” And the man tried to do this thing, but he could not get it a good shape and he said, “Yet the spider gets a shape in his cloth. I will go and ask him again this thing.” And he went to the spider, and took him another offering, and said: “Oh, my lord, teach me more things.” And he sat and watched him for many days. By and by he saw more (his eyes were opened) and he saw the spider made his net on sticks, and so he went home and got fine bush rope that he had collected, and taken there, to make his game nets with, and he brought them to the bush near the spider, and fixing the strings on to the bush he made a new net and he got shape into it, and he made more nets this way, and every net he made was better. And his wife was pleased and gave him sons, and by and by the man saw that he did not want all the sticks of a bush to make his net on, only some of them; and so he took these home and put them up in his house, and made his nets there, and after a time his wife said: “Why do you make the stuff for me with that bush rope? Why do you not make it with something finer?” And he went into the bush and took offerings to the spider and said: “Oh, my lord, teach me more things!” And he sat and watched the spider, but the spider only went on making stuff out of his belly. And the man said: “Oh, my lord, you pass me. I cannot do this thing.” And as he went home he thought and saw that there are trees, and there are bush ropes, thick bush rope and thin bush rope, and then there is grass which was thinner still, and he took the grass, and tried to make a net with it, and did this thing and made more nets and every net he made was better. And his wife was pleased and said “This is good cloth.” And the man lived to be very old and was a great chief and a great hunter. For it is good for a man to be a great hunter, and it is good for a man to please women. This is the origin of the cloth loom.

It was in the old time, and men have got now thread on spools from the white man, for the white man is a great spider; but this is how the black man learnt to make cloth.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56