Many, many years ago a very wise man lived on earth. He never tired of giving advice to other men, promulgating righteous laws, organizing men into tribes, and assisting them as needed. Thanks to him, men had a peaceful and tranquil life. This sage was called Bayame.
At that time the earth was flowering like a garden and the men were happy: they listened to the wise words of Bayamé and followed his example.
But on a sad day Bayame died. Their disappearance led to the disappearance of good morals. Men became hard on each other, failed to obey the law, surrendered to violence. Everything has changed, everything has become bad in human society.
The earth itself has changed its appearance. The flowering plants dried up little by little and, after a few years, stopped flowering forever. Not a single flower bloomed! Of course the trees and herbs survived, but all the vegetation was the same shade of green, without any other hue, a green of deadly monotony and sadness.
Soon the bees, which no longer had flowers to collect pollen from, made honey no longer. Now honey was the favorite food of all and the most nutritious. The bees, gathered in huge swarms, left the land to never return.
It was then that men realized how grave was the absence of flowers on the earth.
The jars of honey that the women jealously kept in their huts were emptied, leaving no sign of this wonderful nectar. Honey from now on was just a memory.
The years went by … the land continued to produce no flowers, and these, like honey, became a legend. The elders of the tribe spoke of them to the children and their grandchildren.
“Our parents,” they said, “once spoke to us of the delicate and colorful shoots that made the fields and woods happy.” Wonderful insects came to suck a delicious powder into a food of incredible sweetness, capable of giving both vigor to the body and pleasure to the taste…
The children, amazed, listened to these stories but could not imagine what such flowers would be. Some adults tried to draw flowers on the whitewashed walls with the help of bits of charcoal, but they never translated the delicacy of corollas or, above all, the wide variety of colors.
As for bees, the legend described them as golden-winged insects, fluttering from one corolla to another in a wonderful musical whisper.
It was even harder to convey the idea of honey to anyone who had never seen or tasted it. And it was not uncommon to see the children crying, because they wanted to taste this legendary nectar.
Some mothers, pitying, would take their pot of honey, made from their mothers, and go into the forest hoping to collect a trickle of honey from a tree cavity.
“It’s not possible all the bees are gone,” the elders lamented. “Maybe they hid the hives in faraway places we couldn’t find.”
And the women, encouraged by such speeches, searched endlessly for bees in the deepest places of the forest. But at night they returned to the village, disillusioned and discouraged, their pot of hopelessly empty.
Of course the legend recalled that the flowers had disappeared following the death of wise Bayamé. And there was talk of him, of his generosity, of his great wisdom. If a child naively asked, “But where did Bayame go?” – the elders answered:
– To the Land of Great Rest.
They then evoked a wonderful place called Boullimah, which was far away beyond the Oubi-Oubi hills, whose peaks lurked behind the clouds.
“Beyond the horizon,” they continued to respond to the insistence of those most amazed by these narratives, “is Boullimah.” The horizon is not the end of the earth, but the limit of the vision of men.
“And why can’t you go to the horizon?” – asked one of the young people.
“Because the more we walk, the farther the horizon goes.” That is why no one has yet managed to reach Boullimah.
The children then fell asleep dreaming that a beautiful day would come to the land where wise Bayamé rested. And this one offered them delicious honey… But they always woke up at the very moment when they brought wonderful foods to their mouths; even in dreams, they never tasted honey!
Among the young, the one most in love with the missing flower legend was Néki, a kangaroo hunter!
Armed with his boomerang, he roamed the vast grasslands all day long! One day, he chased a group of kangaroos for hours without being able to catch one. He was even unpleasantly surprised not to see his boomerang come back after launching it for the hundredth time.
Everyone knows that boomerang, when properly used, always comes back to the thrower: it was what usually happened to Néki. That day he waited in vain. Surprised, he went looking for the gun.
To return to the village with waving hands and, without the boomerang, seemed a disgrace to him. All searches went in vain. Tired, Néki decided to resume the village path.
But as night fell quickly, he could not make out the way. He found himself in a clearing surrounded by giant trees. Nearby was a river whose waters were infested with starving crocodiles.
Néki, unarmed, found it more prudent to stay around, try to sleep, and resume his search at dawn.
He lay down on the soft grass of the clearing and immediately fell into a deep sleep. He was exhausted after running after the kangaroos.
In his sleep, he seemed to hear a voice calling, “Nee-ki! Nee-ki! Nee-ki!” It was a deep voice that seemed to come from far, far away. The call was repeated several times. Néki, in his dream – because he was dreaming – had the feeling that someone was approaching and whispering in his ear: “I brought your boomerang!”
She felt a hot heat on her face, opened one eye and realized that the sun was already high and its rays flooded the entire clearing.
Néki stood up and looked around. Oh, what a surprise! In the middle of the clearing were three trees the young man was sure he had not seen the day before. These trees were extraordinary: the branches were covered with beautiful red and pink flowers that filled the air with a delicate scent.
Around the trees, numerous flowers brightened the prairie green with its multicolored corollas.
Néki then remembered the dream. He remembered that deep voice that had called him from far, far away: “Ne-e-ki! Ne-e-ki! Ne-e-ki.” After a while he could remember the voice that had whispered in his ear, “I brought your boomerang to you!”
Was it a dream? He wondered. “But then I keep dreaming!” He said, staring incredulously at the three magnificent trees that stood before him and the splendid carpet of flowers that surrounded them.
Just then his gaze fell on something that was in the trees: the boomerang! It was all so incredible that he lacked the courage to pick him up.
But it was really your boomerang! Happily, he raised his arms as if to throw him but stopped: in the midst of the flowers he had noticed thousands of small golden dots that fluttered from flower to flower, as if in a dance.
At the same moment, he heard a subtle hum, similar to the music a singer of his tribe played on the stringed instrument.
– Bees! They are bees! Exclaimed the young man in wonder.
Immediately he remembered all the stories of the elders about the prodigious insects that produced the delicious honey.
After the surprise, he looked closely at the insects and saw that they collected nectar in small cavities in the trunk of the trees.
“Exactly as in legend,” exclaimed Néki.
It vibrated with joy but also with pride, because only he, a simple kangaroo hunter, had the privilege of seeing what others had never seen!
But who would have chosen him? Who was the mysterious voice that had whispered to her in her sleep? Who was the stranger who had brought her the boomerang?
He realized then that the lost weapon had been nothing but a pretext: for him to look for it for a long time, to get lost on the way, to finally reach this enchanted clearing. He, Néki, the young kangaroo hunter. He, the only one in the whole tribe!
He said to himself, “It’s a sign for me to do something important.” And Néki waited for the unknown being who had organized all these events to manifest his will.
But nothing happened. Then the young man approached the flowers that fascinated him with their splendid colors, and reached out to pick one.
He was surrounded by a strong wind that made him shudder as a deep voice shouted:
– For! Do not touch these flowers! – Néki felt forbidden, and looked through the trees trying to understand who belonged that voice. But you saw no one.
The voice went on: “The trees before you are consecrated to Bayamé, as are the flowers and the bees that suck the nectar of the chalices.” Woe to him who dares to touch them!
Néki then fell to the ground in a gesture of penance and submission.
“Get up,” his voice resumed. – You’re not afraid! I am the Messenger Spirit of Bayame and I must make known to you His will. Listen carefully to what I will tell you, because it concerns you as well as all your tribe.
Néki stood with an expression of great respect for his invisible interlocutor. The messenger Spirit continued:
– Sage Bayamé, in his great generosity, decided that these trees, flowers and bees would live in these places to the delight of yours. However, no one – do you hear well? – No one should pick a flower, or catch a bee, or taste a drop of honey. You must make sure of this. If you follow these recommendations, you will be rewarded. If you disobey, you will be subject to terrible evils and you will bitterly repent.
The whirlwind that had enveloped Néki calmed down and stopped when the voice fell silent.
Néki, still confused by all these wonders, thought with joy: “From now on, my people will be able to enjoy this magnificent show!”
He gazed for a long time at the flowers and the dancing of the bees in the clearing, then set off to find his way home. He found him right away. The village seemed closer than she thought.
Impatient to tell everything that had happened to him, Néki came very quickly to the cabin where the sages of the tribe were. He commented in front of everyone what he had seen and heard. At the end, he saw the elders shake their heads in disbelief.
– Trees covered with flowers consecrated to Bayamé! Flowers and bees! These are legends! If this prodigious clearing existed so close to the village, we would have seen it too! Exclaimed one of them.
The village chief added, “And why would the messenger spirit address Néki?” A mere kangaroo hunter? And that’s not even the best?
“Something has gone to your head!” Commented another elder.
By contrast, the young people soon believed in Néki. The women and children, certain that he had told the truth, surrounded him, dancing and shouting to show his joy.
“Let’s run to get our jars of honey,” the women said.
They turned the huts up and down to find the old containers, long unused.
The youth, the women, and the children asked Néki to guide them to the clearing and all set out. The elders, though incredulous, also decided to follow them.
– So we can prove that all this was a dream! – They said to justify themselves.
Soon they reached the clearing where everyone could see the flower-covered trees, enjoy the delicate scent around them, and watch the continual work of the bees. They prostrated, thanking Bayame.
– Neki was right! Exclaimed a young man.
“Some would not believe him and thought he was a liar or a dreamer!” However, Néki was telling the truth! Added another.
The elders were very embarrassed and murmured among themselves:
– How is it possible that we have never seen these three trees that are so close to our village?
“This young man was telling the truth, and we didn’t want to believe his word!”
It was then that the voice of a child was heard asking:
– And now, can we eat honey?
– Yes, yes, let’s eat the honey! Shouted the other children in chorus.
The women also shouted that they wanted to fill the jars with honey and pick flowers to beautify their homes.
They all approached the trees, but Néki blocked their path. He stood before them and with open arms shouted in a powerful voice:
– Stop it! It is forbidden to touch these trees consecrated to Bayamé!
The small group came to a halt, but murmurs of discontent began to be heard, and soon afterwards shouts:
“Why would Bayame have made them grow here?” Just so we could look at them?
– Get out of the way, Néki. Let us pick the flowers!
– We want honey! We want honey!
Without leaving the site, Néki spoke louder and said in a tone both threatening and pleading:
“The messenger warned me that our tribe would be seriously annoyed if we transgressed his orders. He also told me that we would be rewarded if we touched neither the flowers nor the bees nor the honey. And I gave you my word!
For a moment everyone was banned from what had been so resolutely spoken. So far, no one had attached much importance to the young kangaroo hunter. But now his attitude was worthy of a boss.
One of the elders then took the floor in the name of all his friends:
– You’re right, Néki. Accept our apologies for doubting you. It is true that the promise you made to the messenger Spirit concerns us all. We elders will stay here to guard the three trees and make sure no one in the tribe disobeys Bayamé’s orders.
Then he questioned the crowd around him:
– Do you all agree?
A little unwillingly, they signaled that they were in agreement with this wise decision. Then they scattered in small groups, turning back from time to time to glance greedily at the ever-wonderful-looking sunlit trees. The old men then set themselves in a circle around the trees, while the young men brought them food and drink.
The days went by … The elders stayed in the clearing because they had decided that no one should disobey Bayamé. If anyone needed advice or opinion, he would seek the advice of the elders, sitting under the trees among the flowers.
Children who wanted to become kangaroo hunters also went to the trees to listen to the teachings of the elders. Thus a continuous shuttle was established between the village and the clearing. What would have gone unnoticed in the life of the tribe had a great melancholy not fallen upon all the inhabitants of the village.
In fact, the women lamented that they could not transplant a flower into their increasingly sad and monotonous gardens.
“How nice to water our flowers at twilight, when the air is so sweet!” They often exclaimed.
The children, for their part, always spoke of honey whose taste none of them knew.
And one of them asked, “Have you seen the golden bees that fly from flower to flower to suck nectar and hide it under the trees?”
And another answered: – Yes, but honey, we have never seen it. They say it is sweet and golden and that it has the taste of flowers in its mouth.
And they sighed sadly, remembering the delicious food forbidden to them.
One day two village children, two brothers, became ill because they wanted unreachable honey. In their feverish state, they continued to insistently claim honey. Her mother, desperate, unable to take any more of her complaints, picked up the quilt pot and, in a rebellious manner, headed for the clearing. Many other women and children followed her. Then came the men.
When the elders saw them come, their faces dark and angry, they all rose to their feet. The oldest asked in a harsh tone:
– What they want?
“We want honey for our children,” the mother of the sick children answered on behalf of all.
– This is not possible, and you know it! This honey is sacred. It belongs to Bayamé! Come back home!
“And you, sitting around night and day, have you perhaps not tasted some of the honey so abundant that it drips from the trees?”
“We are old, and we can resist temptation,” said the chief. “But it’s true that we too had a hard time resisting.” I understand that because you are weak like children, such a strength of soul is difficult for you.
A young woman came to cry: – Could we at least pick a flower? Only one! There are thousands growing around these trees.
“I would settle for a seed to plant in my garden!” Said an old lady. – I live alone and a flower would be of great comfort to me.
– Not! It’s not possible! Repeated the elders with a stern voice and hearts full of pity for seeing all that sadness. – Go back to your houses.
No one moved. Stubbornness and defiance were inscribed on their faces. The women continued to shake the pots. The children ahead fixed the three great trees in despair. The men behind them remained silent and motionless, determined not to leave the clearing. (continued …) Michel Langrognet et al. (org.) Le chat botté et autres contes merveilleux Paris, Le Livre de Paris, 1980