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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

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The Great Hole

Africa, Togo
Folk Tale


Long ago, the chief of the Moba tribe gathered together 300 of his best hunters. It had rained very little that year, and the dry season was fast approaching. But the chief was not worried. He knew of a place where his men could fish, hunt, and collect water for the coming months.

"In the sacred forest of Doong," he said to the hunters, "cross over the mountain to the river below. Where the mountains turn west, the river plunges over a cliff and into a great hole that has no bottom. The hole is connected to the ocean. Because it has no bottom, it never goes dry."

The next day, the hunters journeyed to the sacred forest. As the chief had advised, they crossed a mountain and turned west. But as they approached the great hole, the skies turned dark. Suddenly, great torrents of rain poured down upon them.

Pulled by the storm's intense grip, the hunters fell down into the riverbed. Water rushed upon them from every side. All of the hunters were swept into the great hole—all, except one.

The lone survivor ran back to the village to tell the chief what had happened. Upon hearing the news, the chief was overcome with sorrow.

"I must go to the great hole to honor the spirits of our men," he declared. And as dawn broke the next morning, the chief set out.

The chief rode his camel into the sacred forest of Doong, crossing the mountain to the river below. Steering his camel to a rock on top of a waterfall, he got off his camel and looked down at the great hole below.

While the chief was gazing into the water, he felt a tap on his shoulder. The chief turned, slowly and hesitantly. He had seen no one in the forest all morning.

A beautiful woman dressed in a shimmering white cloth stood before him. In her hands, she held a gourd of water flavored with ground millet. Kneeling before the chief, she offered him the gourd and smiled. The chief thanked her, took a sip of the sweet water, and spilled what remained on the rocks.

As quickly as she had appeared, the woman vanished.

The chief then spoke in a sacred language, telling the spirits of the river about the brave deeds of the hunters who had died. As he spoke, the animals of the forest gathered around him. One by one, they came to tell the chief that they were sorry for his loss. The birds came first, then the lions, antelope, and elephants.

From deep down in the hole where the men had died, the animals of the water—the fish, crocodiles, and snakes—rose to the surface. They were moved by the chief's words.

All at once, the animals disappeared back into the air, forest, and water, and the chief turned to leave. But as he climbed back on his camel, he noticed that the hoof prints of the camel were embedded in the soft, young rock, as were the knee prints of the woman who had knelt before him with the gourd of water. The stain from the water he had spilled on the rocks also remained.

If you go to Doong today, you will find those imprints and that stain. And when the chief of the Moba tribe stands before the great hole, all the animals come again, just as before, to show that they have not forgotten. 

About the Author

Josh Crosslin

"Soon after I arrived in my village," says Josh Crosslin (Peace Corps Volunteer, Togo 1997–1998), "I heard that there was a waterfall nearby. But the chief of the village told me that I could go there only if he first performed a ceremony to ensure my safe return.

"A friend of mine in the village guided me through the forest to the great hole. As we stood on top of the waterfall, covered with black flies and mosquitoes, it started to rain. My friend pointed to camel prints, knee prints, and a water stain on the rocks and recounted this story.

"In Moba culture, ancestors are extremely important. The people remember their ancestors with small acts every day, such as purposely spilling a bit of drink on the ground as an offering before drinking."

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