November 24, 2011

"A Thanksgiving Fable" by Geoffrey Philp

After a terrible hurricane destroyed their village in Benin, the children of Olokun awakened on a strange land across the sea.
"What shall we do?" asked Agana Erí, the youngest. "We can't go back across the water and if we stay here, we will die."
"I agree," said Olona, the middle child. "We are doomed."
"Our mother would never leave us here alone," said Osupa, the eldest. "We must find a way to get her attention and win back her favor."
So the three daughters travelled into the heart of the land and lived off what they could find. As the months passed, they made their homes, each with her own garden. Agana Erí grew corn; Olona planted yams, and Osupa raised poultry. 
At the end of the year, the children of Olokun gathered by a palm tree that faced the east and placed their offerings at the foot of the tree.
Agana Erí, offered hominy cooked with garlic; Olona boiled yam with coconuts, and Osupa, stewed a white rooster in coconut oil. The children placed their offerings in a large blue clay jar, the color of the seawater, and waited for a sign from their mother. 
Osupa faced her two sisters and from what she could remember, picked up a shell, and placed it next to her ear. Then, she turned to Agana Erí and Olona.
"What would you like to ask our mother?" 
"We demand to know why we are here?" inquired Agana Erí.
"We want to know why she has left us?" Olona pleaded.
Osupa held her breath and placed the shell next to her ear. Then, she faced the sea and exhaled.
"Oh, mother," she said, "your children have asked me, 'Why are we here?' 'Why have you abandoned us?' Please, answer us."
Osupa covered the jar with leaves from the palm tree and took three steps back. She circled the tree with flour and made a sign for the four winds in the sand.
Olokun's children waited in the silence, but nothing happened. They waited and waited for days for something to happen, but nothing ever did. They watched and waited until the offerings began to rot and ants feasted on the corn, yams, and the chicken.
"She did not accept our gifts," said Agana Erí. "She must still be angry with us."
"We are lost," said Olona. "We will never go home."
"I am not sure what this means," said Osupa as she cradled the shell. "But I do know our mother would never abandon us."
"I am tired of waiting," said Agana Erí and she went off to her hut, where the corn towered over the rows of flowers around her front door.
"Me, too," said Olona and she marched off to her hut, where the vines from her yams climbed over the branches of the gumbo-limbo.
Osupa said nothing, but kept the shell to her ear, waiting for an answer.
Olokun's daughters worked and worked and worked and soon the land was transformed into a garden. Flowers grew along the sides of the hills and streams became as clear as mirrors.
But then, one day the wind shifted and the ants began crawling up into the top of the palm tree. Osupa's chickens roosted in the eaves of her hut. The vines from Olona's yams flailed wildly in the air.
The winds uprooted the corn and broke off the vines of the yams. The rains lashed their houses and one by one, they fell. Olokun's children ran out into the open spaces toward the sea.
"We are doomed," cried Agana Erí.
They gathered around the palm that faced the east and looked out at the clouds, which gathered like a dark fist over the land. Afraid, the children said a prayer they thought they had forgotten:
I praise the Spirit of the vast Ocean. I praise the Spirit of the Ocean who is beyond understanding.

Spirit of the Ocean, I will worship you, as long as there is water in the Sea.

Let there be peace in the ocean. Let there be peace in my soul.

The Spirit of the Ocean, the ageless one, I give respect. Ase.
The winds continued howling across the land and up the sides of the hills. Lightning flashed across the sky and then thunder, like a thousand trees falling in the forest.
"It is a sign from our mother, she has come to destroy us," said Olona.
"We have offended her and now she shows her displeasure," cried Agana Erí.
"Let us see if this is true," said Osupa, and once more, she placed the shell next to her ear and listened.
Suddenly rising out of the water, there was the most beautiful woman they had ever seen. She had cowrie shells in her hair, red opals around her neck, and her dress was as white as coral. Her voice was like the sound of the ocean rising out of the depths where no light has ever entered.
"Mother, do not kill us," cried Agana Erí.
"Why would I do that my children?" asked Olokun. The sea crashed down behind her. "Your prayer brought me here. I am only here to answer your questions."
"Why have we suffered so much?" asked Olona.
"Why have you rejected our gifts and why haven't you answered our prayers?" asked Agana Erí.
Olokun laughed and once again the sea rose up behind her and the wind swirled around her dress.
"You are the answer to your own prayers," she said. "Look at this land. Count the gifts with which you were born and the blessings you have multiplied with your own hands. You are the gifts that have pleased me. I will never leave you and nothing you do can ever displease me. I love you, my children."
"So why did the hurricane come and take us away?" asked Agana Erí.
"Hurricanes come and go. Don't pray for hurricanes to go away. Pray to be strong when they come and stronger when they leave."
And with that, Olokun disappeared back into the depths of the sea and everything returned to normal--as if nothing had happened.
And from that day on the grateful children of Olokun gathered on this day to give thanks to their mother for the bounty of the seas, the land, and the air

Olokun was pleased and continued to bless them for the rest of their lives.

Image: "Olokun" by Christina Philp