Darkness Comes Into the World (A Tale From West Africa)
Long ago, when the world was new, there was no darkness.
The Supreme Being made the sun to shine during the daytime, and at night the moon shone so brightly, the world was bathed in twilight. Everyone could always see clearly, and the forests were alive with chattering and dancing all night long.
One day the Supreme Being looked down on his world and decided some peace was needed. He would bring darkness to the world, and so he began to look about for a messenger to transport it.
After carefully studying all his animals, the Supreme Being chose Bat to be his messenger, for Bat could fly with fantastic speed. When Bat heard the call, he flew as fast as lightning to appear before the Supreme Being.
When Bat arrived, the Supreme Being handed him a large basket. “This contains a special gift for the world,” he said.
“What is it?” Bat asked for he was a curious creature.
“Darkness,” the Supreme Being answered. “With this gift, the world will change, and my creatures will sleep in peace. Listen carefully, Bat. You must follow my directions in order to make sure all goes as planned.”
“Of course,” Bat said. “I would do nothing to alter your plans. I’m listening.”
“Carry this basket carefully to Moon, but make certain you do not lift the cover, for if you do, darkness is likely to escape.”
“And what is Moon to do with the basket?” Bat asked. He could not contain himself, for he always wanted to know everything.
But the Supreme Being did not wish to give away all his secrets. “All you must do is make sure Moon receives my gift,” he said patiently. “Tell Moon I will come later to explain what must be done.”
“I will guard the basket with my life!” Bat promised, and with that, he placed it on his back and started on his journey to Moon.
The trip was long and difficult. As he traveled, Bat began to grow hungry and tired. Looking ahead, he saw he still had many many miles to travel, and so he said to himself, “Surely it will not hurt to stop for a bit. I’m so hungry.”
He flew on a while longer, but once he had begun to think of food, he could think of nothing else. “I’m certain the Supreme Being would not mind if I stopped to eat a small snack,” he said. “After all, he asked me to take care of and deliver the basket, but he did not say I couldn’t stop on the way.”
And with that Bat came to rest. He searched for somewhere to place the basket and finding a hilltop, he lay the basket down. “I’ll easily find the basket when I return, so it certainly is not lost,” he said, and off he flew to find some food.
While he was gone, some animals happened by the hilltop, and when they spotted the basket, they stopped to have a look.
“There must be food in this beautiful basket,” Hare said, and his whiskers twitched excitedly.
“It would be a shame to waste food,” Chameleon said.
“A shame indeed,” Spider agreed.
“Why don’t we peek inside?” Antelope said. “We can take a little bit for ourselves.”
The others all agreed, and so Hare reached to lift the cover.
Just as he raised one corner, Bat flew overhead.
“Wait!” he cried, but he was too late. Darkness escaped from the basket, and the other animals, stunned by the sudden blackness that surrounded them, lay down and fell asleep.
Bat was horrified. “I must capture darkness,” he shrieked.
He began to fly frantically about, this way and that, up and down, round and round, trying with all his might to recapture darkness.
Ever since that day, whenever darkness begins to blanket the world, Bat again begins to fly about, trying to capture the darkness and put it back into the basket so that he might, at last, deliver the darkness to Moon.
But he never succeeds. All night long he chases the darkness in all directions, and when daylight returns, he is exhausted from the chase. Only then does he sleep?
The Kono tribe of Sierre Leone tells this tale, though variations exist throughout West Africa.