By Saah Millimono
Once upon a time there lived a certain hunter named Gotokai. He had four dogs: Tin, Kin, Roll, and Rally. The dogs were very loyal to the hunter and were known for their bravery, daring, and skill in hunting. But they had a weakness: They couldn’t be fed pepper. Although this was known to everyone in the village, Gotokai never told anyone why his dogs wouldn’t eat pepper. He kept that a secret.
In the village of Bampley, where Gotokai lived together with his dogs, there was a jealous old woman who lived alone in a rickety zinc hut. Nobody ever visited her because they were afraid she was a witch. And they might have been right. Because at midnight, Kintie, for that was the old woman’s name, sat together with wicked spirits and plotted to kill people she hated.
One of those people she hated very much in the village was Gotokai. She thought he was too honest, friendly, and generous in a way that made everyone else in the village seem like a goat, with Gotokai being the only sheep. So whenever Gotokai came from hunting, sharing his meat with the villagers, Kintie would grow livid with rage and wish he would just drop dead on the spot. Fortunately for Gotokai, his dogs were always around. And Kinte seemed strangely afraid of the dogs. That was because she thought they had some supernatural power that made Gotokai immune to witchcraft.
Gotokai hadn’t an inkling of what Kinte was plotting. He was, of course, a very friendly man who trusted everyone and was always doing his best for the good of all. Indeed, it was known far and wide that Gotokai would even give his life as a ransom in exchange for the villagers.
One evening, as Kinte was returning from the bush carrying a bundle of firewood, she and Gotokai met each other on a footpath. Behind Gotokai walked his dogs, loyally following their master. Kinte recoiled in horror.
“Get your dogs out of my sight, Gotokai!” she shouted, with great trembling and fear.
Gotokai was surprised by the old woman’s reaction and didn’t know what to make of it. However, he commanded his dogs to go away from him at a distance so they wouldn’t frighten the old woman. Immediately the dogs obeyed. They went away from Gotokai at about a stone’s throw and lay flat on their bellies, never taking their eyes off their master.
Kinte sighed with great relief.
“What is it about the dogs that frighten you so, old lady Kinte?” Gotokai questioned.
“I just don’t like dogs,” Kinte told him.
“Well, my dogs wouldn’t harm any soul,” Gotokai said, “except the animals they are fond of hunting. I have taught them that man is their best friend.”
“Is that so?” Kinte asked in surprise.
“Yes, that is so,” said Gotokai.
“Well, I’ve always been very much afraid of your dogs,” Kinte said.
“Why?” Gotokai inquired.
“I think they make you seem a very dangerous man.”
Gotokai laughed, “I’m sorry, old lady Kinte.”
“Well, why don’t you feed your dogs pepper?” Gotokai smiled but said nothing.
Aha, he wouldn’t answer because that would make him vulnerable, Kinte thought.
Gotokai said, “I must leave you now, old lady Kinte. I have got to set some traps in the forest.”
“Don’t leave yet,” Kinte said.
“You haven’t answered my question at all. Now tell me why your dogs shouldn’t eat pepper.”
“I’ll tell you another time,” said Gotokai, smiling broadly. And then, without another word, he turned and walked toward his dogs, who instantly sprang to their feet and followed their master into the forest.
Kinte was dismayed and called down evil upon Gotokai.
From then onward, Kinte sought to discover Gotokai’s secret. But whenever she met Gotokai and asked him over and over why his dogs didn’t eat pepper, Gotokai would politely dismiss the question and walk away with a smile.
One day, when Gotokai was leaving the village to visit a cousin of his, he took his dogs to Kinte.
“Old lady Kinte,” Gotokai said, “I would like you to please watch over my dogs and make sure they don’t eat any pepper.”
Kinte was surprised but didn’t show it. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I’m leaving the village to visit a cousin of mine,” Gotokai told her. “He lives hundreds of miles away, and I wouldn’t like to tire the dogs on such a long journey.”
“But I am afraid of the dogs,” Kinte said.
“They wouldn’t do you any harm,” Gotokai assured her. And then, gesturing at Kinte to wait a moment, he turned and walked toward the dogs, who were waiting for him under a mango tree a few distances from Kinte’s hut.
As Gotokai reached the dogs, he said, “Tin, Kin, Roll, and Rally?”
“Yes, master,” the dogs answered in unison.
“I am going to visit a cousin of mine,” Gotokai said as he sat on the grass opposite the dogs. “However,” he went on, “I wouldn’t like to take any one of you on the journey. It is miles away.”
“No problem, master,” the dogs echoed in one voice.
Gotokai held up his hand for silence. The dogs obeyed and fell quiet.
“The journey is very long,” Gotokai told them. “I wouldn’t like to get you all exhausted. That would be very selfish of me, as the journey has nothing whatsoever to do with hunting.”
“So, master, where do you intend to keep us?” Roll asked.
“I’ll leave you all with old lady Kinte,” Gotokai replied. “She has been nice to me and I’m sure she would take good care of you all.”
“What if she feeds us pepper?” Tin asked.
“She wouldn’t do anything of the sort,” Gotokai explained. “She’s a nice old woman.”
“She’s known in this village to be a witch,” Kin suggested.
“That is only gossip,” Gotokai said calmly. “I have lived in this village for as long as I can remember and yet have never found old lady Kinte to be a witch.”
“She might be careful to keep it secret,” Rally said.
“All the same,” Gotokai said, “she has never been caught making witchcraft on anybody. So I would just put that down as foolish gossip. Now, I had better be leaving for my journey. I must reach the nearest village before sundown, so that I might rest and continue my journey the next morning.”
The dogs nodded their heads and murmured their approval. Quietly, they followed Gotokai back to Kinte’s hut.
At last bidding his dogs farewell, Gotokai told Kinte to have no fear of them whatsoever.
Now it came about that as soon as Gotokai left the village, Kinte cooked a large pot of meat soup and added a bag of cayenne pepper to it. The dogs gulped it down, believing Kinte would never feed them pepper, for their master trusted her and had told them so. Well, the dogs all fell sound asleep as soon as they had eaten the meat soup. In fact, they were so sound asleep it seemed they were as good as dead. Kinte was so happy she couldn’t even believe it. Now she would deal with the hated Gotokai.
Summoning all her magic powers, she disappeared into the forest at full speed. Gotokai, walking along a footpath, heard a rustle in a bush nearby. His hair stood on end and he immediately became afraid. Suddenly out of the bush walked Kinte, looking horrible beyond measure. Her eyes were red as palm nuts, her hair had grown long and matted, her teeth and fingernails had grown as long as elephant tusks and sharp as razors. Gotokai cried out and broke into a run. Kinte was after him in a flash. The poor hunter was lucky to scramble into a tree just before the witch could grab him. He then went way up into the tree, where Kinte couldn’t reach him, and sat between two branches. Kinte tried to climb the tree but couldn’t. Her nails were too sharp and long. They kept getting stuck into the tree and were very difficult to pull out whenever she attempted. So she began gnawing at the tree with her teeth. Gotokai broke into song. It ran like this:
Tin… Kin… Roooooooll… Tin Kin Raaaaaally, your poor master is gone. Tinkin Rinkin Tink Bamb, Tinkin Rinkin Tink Bamb.
Kinte went on tearing at the tree with her teeth. The hunter sang still: Tin… Kin… Roooooooll… Tin Kin Raaaaally, your poor master is gone. Tinkin Rinkin Tink Bamb, Tinkin Rinkin Tink Bamb.
By then the witch’s sharp teeth had almost succeeded in chopping down the tree, and it was leaning to one side and threatening to collapse to the ground. The hunter broke into tears and yet he sang.
Meanwhile, at Kinte’s hut, the dogs were still sound asleep. Indeed, ever since they had eaten, none of them had even moved a muscle. Now their master was surely going to die without their protection. In the forest the tree grew thin as a needle, but because it was leaning against another tree stouter and bigger than it, it hadn’t yet fallen.
Suddenly, there was a miracle. The dogs, as though they had heard their master’s voice, instantly sprang to their feet and charged out of the witch’s hut. They stopped in the yard and listened, just to make sure they had really heard their master. Just then Gotokai’s mournful voice came along with the wind, and the dogs went mad with rage. They raced down a footpath that led into the forest.
As the tree finally came falling, Kinte opened her wide mouth to swallow Gotokai. But in that instant the dogs appeared in a flash and tore her to pieces. Gotokai embraced his dogs and wept with joy. And then together they happily returned to the village