A long time ago there lived in a town a woman trader. She was a trader of petty articles. She used to go from one forest to another when going to the markets. Her town was also in the heart of the forest. Her going from one market to the other every day did not prevent her from becoming pregnant. But to the surprise of the people of the town, she was unable to deliver her pregnancy for twenty-six years. This was not only a burden for her but also a great grief to her.
One morning, as she was on her way to the market, something knocked in her womb heavily several times. She was shocked in fear and then she slowed down her movement. She heard a strange voice coming out from her womb: “My mother! My mother! My mother!” Her pregnancy shouted from her womb. “I am not an ordinary child at all!” The pregnancy cried to the woman, Adedoja, with a sharp voice.
“What kind of a child are you then?” Adedoja asked with fright.
“I am a noxious* guest who is not going to stay with you, and my real name is AJANTALA!”
“Ajantala，the Noxious Guest? ” Adedoja screamed in fear as she repeated the name.
“Yes, you are right. You shall call me Ajantala as soon as you have born me!"
Adedoja begged earnestly with fear. ‘‘Oh, let the time come quickly because you have kept yourself too long in my womb and that has been a terrible burden.”
“l have been too long in your womb? How many years now have l been staying in your womb? Tell me now!” the pregnancy asked, shouting horribly from Adedoja's womb.
“You have spent twenty-six years in my womb already, and the people of the town mock me and never sympathise with me!” Adedoja explained painfully to her talking pregnancy.
“And what kind of burden have l been to you? ” wondered the pregnancy.
“It is too great and strange for me to express!”
“You are a fool to tell me that l have been a terrible burden! You have not even experienced what are called burdens. Just wait and see how troublesome a child l am when you have borne me!”
At this time, Adedoja did not know that an old woman was following her and that the old woman had heard the exchange of hot words between Adedoja and her pregnancy. This old woman asked with great surprise: “But with whom are you talking hotly like that? ” Adedoja squirmed with fear when she looked behind her and saw the old woman.
“You --- you --- you see, my pregnancy is talking to me from my womb and I am really confused about the kind of preg -- !”
The pregnancy hastily stopped Adedoja and warned her, “Shut up your mouth there and don't tell my secret to anyone! This old woman is a treacherous person. A villain she is. Don't tell her the truth!”
Adedoja declined to tell the truth to the old woman. “Oh, thank you, my mother. But l am talking to myself! ” She feared her pregnancy's warning.
“What are you telling me? Are you in your dotage?* l have heard clearly that you were talking with somebody!” the old woman said in anger.
"Hmm. Well, l am talking to … !” Adedoja stammered.
Adedoja's pregnancy cautioned her once more, “Beware of yourself. Otherwise l shall show you the kind of a noxious child that l am. l have been lenient with you!”
Having heard the voice of this talking pregnancy again, the old woman was so afraid that she stopped immediately asking questions of Adedoja.
Adedoja and the old woman went on to the market. As soon as Adedoja had sold her wares and bought new ones, she returned to the town.
Adedoja had hardly walked heavily to the door-way of her house when her talking pregnancy shouted to the people of the house: “Eh, you people of the house, come and help my mother put her wares down!”
The people ran to Adedoja. They looked here and there with surprise and fear, but they did not see the person who had shouted to them. However, they helped Adedoja put her wares down.
“The voice that we heard was that of a man and not of a woman!” the people remarked with surprise as they craned their necks and fastened their eyes on Adedoja in confusion.
“Can a pregnancy talk?” one of the people asked.
"I have not yet heard in my life that a pregnancy talks like a person,” another one of the people said, hoping to clarify the confusion. But it did not help because Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, continued to threaten Adedoja every day.
One morning, at the very moment that Adedoja's pregnancy was exactly twenty-six years old in her womb, she was delivered of a strange male child before the people of the house.
“Ah, what a strange child is this? He has teeth in his mouth, bushy hair on his chin, and his moustache is full of bushy long hair. His eyes are as sharp and big as those of an old man, his head is full of plenty and strong hair and his chest is hairy!” The people of the house clapped with panic and shouted.
The people were still looking at him confusedly when he stood and shouted suddenly:
“Eh, my mother, tell the people that my name is Ajantala and that my nick-name is Noxious Guest". Willing or not, Adedoja announced his name and nick-name to the people.
“Ah, Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, welcome to the world!". However, the people showed that they despised his strange name by repeating it in derision.
Then in the presence of the people, Ajantala stood up again by himself and shouted: 'Eh, my mother, give me the sponge. l am going to wash my body. It is too dirty!” Then after washing he asked for clothes and Adedoja, who was supposed to be his mother, hastily gave him the clothes. And he wore all as the people folded their arms and looked at him in fear and confusion.
Then, he went to the sitting room. He sat on a chair and then he shouted: “Eh, give me food and cold water. l am hungry badly!” After he had swallowed the food and drunk the water, he shouted, “Show me the way out!” The people hastily parted to the left and right and he passed between them to the door-way. But as he peeped outside, he shouted: “Ha --- ah! Look! the dung of the domestic animals is everywhere on the ground. Of course, l am not going to stay even a night in this dirty town! No! Not l!” As Ajantala was still shouting, hundreds of people heard his fearful voice and they ran to him. They stood in front of him and fastened their eyes on him. Everyone began to shout: “Ah, no doubt, this is not a human being. He must be an evil spirit!
These people were right; Ajantala was one of the evil spirits. He lived inside the lroko tree which was at the roadside on which Adedoja used to travel to the market. Unfortunately, one morning, as Adedoja was going to the market, she trekked by the lroko tree, Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, came out from the tree and entered her womb. He lurked there just to rest for twenty-six minutes.
In fact, Ajantala spent twenty-six years in Adedoja’s womb. But twenty-six years for the human beings were twenty-six minutes for the evil spirits.
Ajantala had hardly walked to the front of the house when he saw a group of red people who were playing ‘ayo’* He ran to them and he took the ‘ayo’ board suddenly and flung it far away. Then he abused them: “You hopeless old people, sitting down and playing 'ayo' in this dirty ground”.
The old people stood up at once and shouted angrily:
“You are a stupid fool! You, an ugly small boy like you, are insulting us like that! ”
Ajantala without hesitation, slapped one of the old people on the face. Having seen him do so, the other people who surrounded the players of ‘ayo' and were looking at them, started at once to beat him and he started to beat them in return.
But it was not easy at all to defeat Ajantala for he was as strong as iron. And within a few minutes, news had spread to every part of the town that a small strange man was beating a group of people. And thousands of people ran to the scene of the fight. They joined the other people and all were beating him. Yet, they could not overpower him.
When Ajantala had beaten more than one hundred people to death, all of the ‘Babalawo’*of the town came with their different kinds of magic spells to the scene of the tussle. With great anger, they drove Ajantala away from the town by means of their magic spells which were mainly prepared for driving away the evil spirits like Ajantala.
*Dotage --- weakness of mind and body due to old age
*Ayo = a traditional Yoruba game using seeds and a game board.
*Babalawo＝a priest of Ifa; Ifa is a god of divination
Ajantala and the Three Brothers
Now, Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, started to roam about from one forest to another, looking for those he could live with as his fresh prey. 0ne day, he saw a rough hut in a distance. When he got to it, he met in it three fellows who were the occupants of it. He entered and greeted them:
“Good afternoon to you all here!”
“Hello, good afternoon, old chap!” the lion, the tiger and the he-goat, who were the occupants, replied.
“Please, l shall be grateful if you will allow me to live with you as your guest. l promise, if you kindly allow me to be your guest, l shall teach you many things within a few days!” Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, thus begged and tricked the lion, tiger and he-goat, who were in those days human beings and were born of the same father and mother.
“With pleasure, we agree for you to be our guest”, the lion replied.
“I thank you all very much. Ah, l am grateful!” Ajantala said with smiles, and then he sat down.
“But you must be a good guest to us!” the tiger warned.
“Oh, don't worry about that. You will soon know that l am indeed a wonderful guest!”
“But what is your name, my friend? You look hostile and cunning.” The he-goat suspected Ajantala and he was right.
“My name is Ajantala. But the sons of men like you belittle me by calling me ‘The Noxious Guest'. But l am not noxious in any way.” Ajantala replied, pretending to be a nice and shy fellow.
“But will you be our servant?" asked the tiger. “Do you agree to that?”
“Ah, why, with pleasure. l agree to be your servant!” Ajantala promised as he was pulling the long hair of his chin.
“But Ajantala, if l am not mistaken, you look older than your size or stature? Why?” He-goat fastened his eyes on him, for he was confused.
“You know, l have not had anything to eat since a few days ago and that is why l have shrunk to the small size you see now!”. As he replied, he was scratching his head in a way that showed he was telling a lie.
The lion, the tiger and the he-goat were happy to have Ajantala as their guest and servant. So the tiger stood up, and he brought food and water to Ajantala. He ate the food and drank the water to his satisfaction.
The following morning, it was the tiger’s turn to go and fetch their food from the bush. He gave one big basket to Ajantala: “Ajantala, take this basket and let us go and fetch our food”. Without argument, Ajantala took the basket and followed the tiger to the bush. When the tiger had filled up the basket with yams, he told Ajantala to carry it. This time, Ajantala showed the tiger that he was noxious. He slapped at tiger’s eyes suddenly. The tiger fell down helplessly at once, Before he was again conscious, his eyes and face had swollen up so much that he could hardly see.
“Why did you slap at my eyes and face? I shall show you that l am a tiger”, the tiger shouted angrily.
“What are you going to do to me? You, hopeless man who has turned into a beast, as you are!” Ajantala stood ready to fight and shouted terribly. Without hesitation, the tiger gave him a number of heavy knocks on the forehead with his fist. This did nothing to Ajantala. Instead, he became more noxious. He raised the whole of the tiger up and he threw him into a nearby rough ditch. The tiger was so wounded that he was unable to come out from the ditch. Ajantala went into it and dragged him out.
“Bend down! Bend down! And let me put the basket of yams on your head! You hopeless thing!” Ajantala forced the tiger to carry the basket of yams. “Now, tiger, l warn you. You must not tell the lion and the he-goat that l threw you into the ditch, but tell them that you fell into it by mistake! Do you hear? ”
“I hear,” the tiger replied with a weak voice.
But when the tiger had carried the basket nearly to the hut, Ajantala took it from his head and put it on his own head. Then he carried it to the hut as if he had carried it right from the bush.
“Ah! Ah! But tiger, why are your eyes and face swollen up like this, and why is blood dripping from every part of your body? ” the lion and the he-goat shouted, astonished.
“Hmm, I fell into the ditch by mistake,” the tiger replied sluggishly. Ajantala had fastened his sulky eyes on him lest the tiger should tell them that he had slapped and thrown him into the ditch.
Ajantala treated the lion and the he-goat badly in the same way when he followed them to the bush on different occasions. Now, the tiger did not know that it was Ajantala who had wounded the lion and the lion did not know that it was Ajantala who had wounded the tiger and so too the he-goat. Thus Ajantala, with his cunning, wounded the three fellows.
At last, however, the three fellows knew that it was Ajantala who had hurt each of them. And they also knew that Ajantala was the most clever noxious guest that they had ever received into their hut.
By this time, Ajantala was the great fear of fears for the tiger, the lion and the he-goat. One night, when they thought that Ajantala was fast asleep, they sat down and began to plan how they would escape to save their lives.
“Ajantala is a cruel person," the tiger whispered painfully to the lion and he-goat.
The lion supported the tiger, “he is exactly like that. But we must try one way or the other to escape to somewhere now.”
“But how can we escape from him without his seeing us? ” the he-goat asked confusedly.
“If he sees us when we are escaping, he will follow us and then he will hurt us even to the point of death,” the tiger said, for he was afraid.
“I suggest that as he is already fast asleep, it will be safe to pack all our food into the big basket and cover it with the rest of our belongings,” the he-goat said. “And then we can escape with it to somewhere in the faraway forest.” He glanced at Ajantala just to be sure that he was still asleep.
"Your suggestion is good,” the lion and the tiger whispered.
“Let us pack our food and our other belongings at once,” the tiger whispered.
“And when we have got everything ready, we shall have a short sleep before we start our journey,” the lion whispered fearfully.
They stood up, they packed all their food which they had wrapped with leaves inside the basket and they put also all of their clothes on top of the food. After, they lay near the basket and they were fast asleep at once.
Unfortunately, Ajantala who they thought was asleep, was not asleep at all. But he heard all that they had planned to do. Ajantala was very cunning as well as noxious. As he was as small as a baby one year old, it was quite easy for him to enter the basket and hide himself at the bottom of it. Then he expected them to carry the basket together with him to their proposed hiding place.
It was hardly after mid-night, when the tiger, the lion and the he-goat woke up and were so impatient that they did not bother to see whether Ajantala was still sleeping or not. And Ajantala was speechless and motionless inside the basket when the tiger and the lion hastily put the heavy basket on the he-goat's head. Thus, the three of them started their journey without knowing that Ajantala was inside the basket.
“Yes, we are quite safe now from cruel Ajantala!” shouted the tiger happily, as soon as they had travelled a bit far from their hut.
“Ajantala is so noxious!” the lion added with a smile.
“Perhaps Ajantala is not a human being as we were before!” the he-goat said with suspicion.
The lion said, “I am afraid, Ajantala must be a noxious immortal being. His strange bushy beard and long bushy moustache and his small size prove him to be so!” The lion spoke loudly and he was fairly correct.
“But I am sure he is one of the evil spirits who live inside the trees!” said the he-goat quite loudly. He had reconsidered Ajantala’s appearance, and he was very correct.
Now, the three of them were of one opinion that there was no doubt, Ajantala was an evil spirit who lived inside the tree. But all of them were so afraid even at that moment that they looked behind with half an eye, just to see whether Ajantala was coming.
When they had travelled till twelve noon, the he-goat who carried tbe basket of food, stopped suddenly and said:
“Now, my comrades, l must stop here to relieve myself. You go along and l shall catch up with you soon!” He-goat put the basket of food down. He stole from the food and ate it to his satisfaction. After, he put the basket back on his head and then he walked faster and caught up with them.
“Ah, woe unto Ajantala, the Noxious Guest and the son of the evil spirit!” The he-goat cursed Ajantala with a relieved voice when he remembered how the spirit had hurt him badly. But Ajantala heard him as he hid inside the basket on the he-goat’s head.
“If Ajantala is a mortal being, he will not die better!” the lion shouted painfully as he examined the spots where Ajantala had hurt him badly. He did not know that Ajantala heard him.
“Now, comrades, it is sure now that we have escaped successfully from Ajantala, the Noxious Guest. But as that is sure, let us stop under this tree and eat from our food!” the tiger said cheerfully.
“Yes, you are right, tiger. l am badly hungry and tired!” the lion agreed.
They stopped under one big tree. They put the basket of food down and all sat round it. They did not know that Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, was hiding inside the basket and that he had heard them as they cursed and abused him along the way.
The tiger fastened his sulky eyes on the he-goat and shouted angrily. “What? Somebody has eaten from this food!”.
“He-goat must be the one who has eaten from it when he stopped to relieve himself some minutes ago!” the lion shouted with anger as he too fastened his eyes on the he-goat.
But as the lion and tiger were sulky and stared at the he-goat, he denied the charge loudly: “No! l have not stolen from the food at all. If l did, then let something bring Ajantala to us now and judge the case for us!”
The he-goat had hardly mentioned Ajanala, when Ajantala jumped from the bottom of the basket into their circle, and all of a sudden, the tiger, the lion and the he-goat were so afraid that they scattered to different places.
The lion fled to a far country and there he has lived ever since. The tiger fled to a faraway forest and there he has lived ever since. The he-goat fled to the town and thus he has been one of the domestic animals since that day.
That was how Ajantala, the Noxious Guest, separated the lion, the tiger and the he-goat from one another, although the three of them were once, in the days gone by, born of the same father and mother.
As soon as Ajantala had eaten the whole food, he started to roam about in the jungles and forests, looking for another living creature or human being whom he would punish to his satisfaction and then return to the lroko tree inside of which was his place of abode.
Ajantala, The Noxious Guest, Is Born and Ajantala And The Three Brothers are from the book “Yoruba Folktales” written by Amos Tutuola, which was originally published by Ibadan University Press in 1986.
*Here you can read an interview with Yinka Tutuola who is the author's son. (Wierd Fiction Review)