The Black Snake Bida

The ancient kingdom of Gana, also called Wagadu, was famous for its gold riches. The gold mines at Bambuk, on the upper Senegal River, provided the kingdom with a steady supply of the precious metal. According to the myth though Gana’s wealth depended on the benevolence of a black snake.

The kingdom of Wagadu had been lost for seven years. When Lagarre, the grandson of the former ruler of Wagadu, eventually found the kingdom again, he saw the coils of a big black snake lying in front of the town gates. It was the snake Bida.

“Where are you going?” Lagarre asked the snake.

“Who is your father?” asked the snake.

“My father is Dinga” Lagarre replied.

“I don’t know your father”, the snake said, “but I know your grandfather. He used to give me ten young girls every year. In return, I made it rain gold three times a year. Will you do the same?”

Lagarre knew he had to negotiate with Bida, so he said “No, I won’t do the same.” The snake demanded nine, eight, seven girls, but Lagarre kept refusing. Finally he said: “I can offer you one girl every year if you provide three showers of gold in return.” Bida accepted the offer.

The citizens of Wagadu thus decided that a young girl called Sia Jatta Bari was to be given to Bida. Sia Jatta Bari was the most beautiful girl in the whole kingdom. She was so beautiful that even today the greatest compliment to praise a girl’s beauty is to say: “She’s as beautiful as Sia Jatta Bari”.

But Sia already had a lover. His name was Mamadi Sefe Dekote and he was very proud of Sia’s beauty. When Sia told him she was chosen to be sacrificed, Mamadi was terrified. “I won’t let it happen”, he told Sia. But Sia said: “You can’t change it, it is our custom and we have to comply with it. I’ll have to become Bida’s wife.”

The next day, Sia Jatta Bari put on a beautiful dress and her finest jewellery. Everyone living in Wagadu accompanied the beautiful bride to the big, deep well outside of town where Bida lived. Mamadi was riding among the people, his sharpened sword at his side.

Bida was wont to stick out his head three times before reaching out to grab his victim. When the wedding procession arrived at the well, Mamadi sat down quietly next to the well and the black snake lifted up his head for the first time. The people of Wagadu said to Sia and Mamadi: “Quick, say good bye to each other! It will be too late soon!”

Bida lifted up his head a second time. “Quick, say good bye”, the people urged the lovers again.

Then Bida’s head appeared a third time, but before the snake could take hold of Sia, Mamadi took his sword and beheaded the snake. Its head flew up high in the air. Before reaching the ground, it said: “For seven years, seven months and seven days Wagadu shall be without golden rain”.

Then the head fell down far away in the South and one can still find gold where it had touched the soil.

When the people of Wagadu heard the curse, they chased Sia and Mamadi out of town. Mamadi took Sia on the back of his horse and they never returned.

(Free translation from Leo Frobenius: “Schwarze Sonne Afrika. Mythen, Märchen und Magie”, pp. 34-42)

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