The Tale of Samba Gana

The ancient town of Gana was located north of the modern nation-state Ghana. Archaeologists have long searched the vast areas of West Africa for remains hinting at its exact location – in vain. Many stories are woven around its wealth, the power of its kings and the beauty of its architecture. Other stories are told about its fall. One of them goes as follows:

Annallja Tu-Bari was the daughter of the king of Wagana. She was a very beautiful and very clever woman. But none of the noble men living in the kingdom was able to win her heart. One day, her father had a dispute with another local king about one of the villages he owned. He lost the fight and died out of shame of his failure.

Annallja Tu-Bari was left behind. She inherited her father’s kingdom and promised to marry any man who would be brave and strong enough not only to regain the lost village, but also to subdue 80 other village chiefs in the surroundings.

Years went by, but there was no prince, no noble man or king who dared to raise to the challenge. Annallja Tu-Bari became more and more beautiful over the years. But she lost all her cheerfulness and her laughter. With her, everyone else in the kingdom stopped laughing and eventually, there was no laughter in Wagana anymore.

At the same time, a young prince called Samba Gana left his father’s kingdom together with his djalli (bard) Tararafe to look for adventures. He was a brave and cheerful man. Whenever he challenged another prince, he won the fight, but he never took the possessions or the land he was entitled to after having defeated his enemy.

One day he was lying on the shore of the river Niger when Tararafe started to sing about Annallja Tu-Bari’s beauty, her loneliness and her sadness. Without thinking twice, Samba Gana jumped up. “We have to find her!” he told Tararafe.

They rode their horses for several days without taking a break until they arrived in Wagana.

When Samba Gana finally stood in front of Annallja Tu-Bari, he was enchanted by her beauty and sad because she didn’t laugh. He left Tararafe with her to cheer her up and set out to do what she had demanded.

Samba Gana conquered the 80 villages, one after the other, and sent each village chief to Annallja Tu-Bari to submit to her rule. Annallja’s kingdom grew bigger and bigger. After the last village chief had surrendered, Samba Gana returned to his princess.

“You did what you promised”, Annallja Tu-Bari said. “So marry me then.” But she still didn’t laugh.

“I can only marry you if you laugh”, Samba Gana answered. “What is the reason for your sadness?”

“I am sad because the dragon Issa Beer drinks from the river Niger, thereby causing floods and droughts. One year, my people have too much to eat. In the next, they are starving. Only if you kill the dragon, I will be happy.”

Thus Samba Gana set out again to fight the dragon and to make Annallja Tu-Bari laugh.

When Samba Ghana finally found the dragon in the mountains, he fought against it for eight long years. He broke 800 lances and 80 swords to pieces against the dragon’s hard, flaky skin. With his last sword, he eventually defeated the creature.

Samba Gana gave the bloodstained sword to Tararafe and told him to bring it to Annallja. “See if she’s laughing now”, he said to Tararafe.

But Annallja Tu-Bari still didn’t laugh. “Tell Samba Gana to bring the dragon here, it shall be my slave. Then I will laugh”, she said.

When Samba Gana heard Annallja’s words, he took the sword full of blood, pushed it into his heart and died.

Annallja Tu-Bari commanded to build a large monument where Samba Gana had died to honour his courage. She did not rest until it had reached a size that enabled a person standing on top of it to see Wagana.

Then she laughed and died. She was buried next to Samba Gana.

But Wagana, left without ruler, decayed.

(Free translation from Leo Frobenius: “Schwarze Sonne Afrika. Mythen, Märchen und Magie”, pp. 43-46)

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