Spotlight

Anansi and the Golden Peacock

Dawne G. Zetterstrom

A long time ago before men walked the earth, Carrefour, the god of the cross-roads, fell in love with Erzuli, the goddess of beauty. He was not the only one who admired her. It was known that many had already died in their quest for Erzuli. However Erzuli felt no pity for them. In fact she would frequently laugh at their foolishness, for she had never been in love.

Every day she would gaze in the mirror, admiring her dark flawless skin that shone like melted chocolate, and her eyes like sparkling green pools of golden light. As her maidens combed her hair into coils of glossy ringlets, she would wile away the hours adorning herself, vowing that only things of beauty should enter her world.

So it was no surprise when Erzuli heard about Carrefour’s love, that her eyes flashed with an indignant fire. She did not care that Carrefour had strength of mind, that he was clear-eyed, and wise, and that his bow-shaped lips uttered gentle words. Erzuli saw none of these virtues. All she noticed was that Carrefour did not have muscles like the ox, and that he was not as fast as the moving wave. What she hated most all was his withered foot and dragging limp! He was no thing of beauty in Erzuli’s eyes, so she thought, ‘How could a broken-footed god like Carrefour think that I would honour him with my attentions?’

And so it came to pass, on the morning that Carrefour came to speak to her, Erzuli welcomed him into her garden with a careful smile. As Carrefour tried to convince her, he saw her cold eyes rest upon his twisted ankle.

"Erzuli, I know that I am not graceful in gait, but if you could look past my infirmity then you might see my kindness and gentleness."

Slowly Erzuli raised her head and considered Carrefour’s words. When she spoke, she spoke slowly.

"Carrefour, you have always shown yourself to be brave and creative. So here is what I will do. Go to my mother’s house and bring me a feather from her golden-eyed peacock. Then I will be your bride."

Carrefour’s face fell as he heard these words, and his shoulders drooped. As every creature knew Erzuli’s mother lived on a rocky pillar that sprouted out of a deep and menacing crevasse. No one had ever crossed that crevasse, unless Mama allowed them to. How would he be able to get this feather? He knew that this was an impossible task, even for Carrefour, who knew every path, and could figure out the mysteries of any cross-road.

Carrefour wandered through the forest, for days as he pondered this, and could find no rest. Then one day as he lay in his hammock under the banana tree thinking of his troubles, Anansi came walking by.

"Eh Carrefour, ca va bien?"

Anansi could see that Carrefour was worried and coaxed him to tell his story. For awhile Anansi thought about Carrefour’s problem, and suddenly a glint of excitement appeared in his eyes.

"I can help you Carrefour," he remarked with confidence, "What if I spin you a bridge with my web? Then you could cross over the crevasse and that golden-eyed peacock’s feather would be yours!"

Carrefour sat up and a smile blossomed on his face.

"Anansi, my friend, you are a genius!"

And the two friends clapped each other on the back. It was a good plan, but they must not get caught, otherwise Erzuli’s mother would destroy them both!

The next day Anansi and Carrefour journeyed all the way to Mama’s dwelling, set in the rocky canyon. All was still, as they approached the sheer crevasse that plunged into an abyss. There, at the centre of the crevasse, a massive pillar of rock stood and upon it Mama’s kingdom reigned; a verdant garden, with rounded stone buildings that glowed pink in the setting sun. Anansi and Carrefour gazed at this with admiration and fear, for they both knew that Mama commanded powerful magic. Then they made a camp to wait for night to fall.

When the moon came out, Anansi set to work spinning his gossamer web in the moonlight. Time oozed by like black molasses, and gradually over the dark canyon the silver bridge shimmered: a glowing string of pearls. Then Anansi and Carrefour crossed over and entered Mama’s enchanted garden.

The garden lay asleep. Carrefour warned Anansi “Touch nothing! Pick nothing and eat nothing! Do not make a sound, for each plant and flower in this garden is a friend to Mama, and they can think and act of their own free will. Stay close to me and nothing should harm you!’

Carefully and quietly Anansi and Carrefour searched and just as their hearts grew heavy, they found the golden-eyed peacock. He was fast asleep -nestled upon a wall bordered by lilies and roses whose scent filled the night air with fragrance. Then the roses sighed and fluttered their petals, and all was still again.

With great care like a whisper of smoke, Carrefour stole upon the golden-eyed peacock. The peacock’s head rested on his sapphire breast, his pleated feathers lay like a jewelled carpet behind him, cascading down the wall. Each feather had an emerald eye, which when opened could blind you with the promise of desires. However these eyes were closed in sleep, so Carrefour silently plucked his prize.

Anansi, who was at Carrefour’s side, watched attentively and when he saw the feather in the pure moonlight his eyes grew wide with wonder. Carrefour made his way back to the bridge immediately, but Anansi hung back. In that moment he burned for one thing only: the golden-eyed peacock’s feathers.

Instead of following Carrefour, Anansi crept across the layers of feathers, and quickly plucked a feather of out of the sapphire stillness. Instantly the golden-eyed peacock awoke, and thousands of black lids fluttered open, its tail fanned out, hissing and humming in the silver light. Anansi looked into those amber eyes that shone with fierce knowing. He had never seen such eyes and he felt an arrow-like pain pierce his breast, as a molten fire of longing engulfed him. Suddenly the golden-eyed peacock made a shrill cry that resounded through-out the canyon and Mama awoke. Carrefour on hearing this cry, raced back, and grabbing Anansi by the scruff of the neck, urged him to run to safety, over the bridge, as fast as he could.

When Mama discovered that her treasured peacock had been touched, she flew into a rage. When she further discovered the flimsy web bridge, she knew that Anansi was to blame. In her fury she cast a spell upon him.

"Gaze upon your golden prize
The eye that sees never lies.
Doomed you are to ponder still
Upon a glassy water’s rim
Your reflection
Day and night
Doomed you are to that one sight."

Well, the news of Carrefour’s victory finally reached Erzuli, who now knew she had been out-witted by both Carrefour and Anansi. Like her mother, she seethed with rage as she thought of Carrefour’s clever plan. She would not marry this fool-hearted, limping god! She would be the laughing stock of the entire world! So she flew, wailing to her mother; telling her all that had passed. Her mother pondered long and hard and finally they both hatched a masterful plan.

Sending her maidens to Carrefour, Erzuli instructed thus: "I will consent to marriage only if you follow my every instruction."

Carrefour agreed. He then consented to go to Erzuli’s mountain and allowed her maidens to blind-fold him.

"She wants you to be surprised on your wedding day!" The maidens crooned.

Little did Carrefour know that the maidens would lead him to a place called The Caverns, a set of caves deep below Erzuli’s mountain, from which no one had ever escaped. Once you were led to its core there was no way of getting out. The maidens instructed Carrefour to wait there for Erzuli and leaving him only a burning torch, they hurried back to their mistress. Carrefour heard their giggles grow distant and after several minutes he removed his blind-fold. To his horror he realised what Erzuli had done.

Meanwhile Anansi had rushed home. There he took out his feather to stare at it. Day and night he could not eat or sleep. He placed the feather in a hat, which he wore on his head, and journeyed down to the river’s edge to stare at his reflection in the still pool. This he did until light faded. Then, by the weak light of the moon, he tried to catch a glimpse of this wonderful creature he saw reflected there, whose eyes shone like the golden-eyed peacock. Days passed and nights stretched out like a lazy cat, but Anansi never budged from his rock on the edge of the river.

Carrefour wandered the labyrinth looking for a way out, but the god of the crossroads could find no escape. He carried a torch, but the flame finally burnt out and in the darkness Carrefour grew weak with sadness. In his darkest moments he remembered he was a god, and he summoned by magic his friends of the dark road. Fireflies appeared and lit his way and bats brought him a blood soup that kept him strong. Then Carrefour had a plan. He sent a whisper that flew into the ear of Praying Mantis "Find Anansi and bring him to me!"

Praying Mantis searched everywhere, and finally he found Anansi sitting beside his reflection. He also saw the golden-eyed peacock’s feather as it titled this way and that in the breeze.

"Hey Anansi! What troubling you boy?"

"Don’t you see that lovely creature in the pool? I have been talking to this creature day and night yet she takes no notice of me. I am afraid Mantis, that I am completely lost without her."

Praying Mantis looked at the water’s surface. Then he crumpled his brow, crinkled his mouth and rubbed his chin. The reflection was merely Anansi’s own image. This was a strange thing.

"Why don’t you go after this creature? Jump in –as you can see she is very close."

For the first time Anansi took his eyes off the pond and looked at Mantis for the briefest moment. Then he plunged into the pool. At that moment Anansi’s hat along with the feather fell into the water and floated down the stream. As quick as he could Mantis grabbed Anansi by one of his legs and pulled him out. Anansi tried to leap after the feather but Praying Mantis held him tightly and the spell was broken! He then told Anansi what he had to do to help Carrefour.

With great haste Anansi and Praying Mantis made their way back to the Caverns. Anansi spun a long rope and told Mantis to hold tight whilst he crawled carefully along the cave walls calling out to Carrefour. After many hours Anansi heard a thin voice and sure enough they had found Carrefour. Then, with great care, for there was no light for Carrefour to see, they found the entrance to the cave. And Carrefour was free!

The three friends left the Caverns, but Carrefour never forgot Erzuli’s cruel trick. In that moment he realised that Erzuli’s beauty was just an illusion, like an image on a still pool of water. Erzuli lacked kindness and compassion. Therefore, her beauty was of little value. Thus his heart took courage and he thought of love as a cavern of great mystery within him: the deeper love took you, the more expansive the space inside became. And he knew that love would find its way out once again, but that my friend is another story.

Crick Crack Monkey break his back for a piece of pommerac.


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About the author...

Dawne G. Zetterstrom is a Trinidadian writer living in the UK.
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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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8 comments:

  1. Takes me back to a 'nicer' time, a simpler time...
    I'm remembering all those great stories we were told as children,stories that captured the imagination with the fantasy and the hint of romance...great story!

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  2. Takes me back to a simpler time, when families spent time together sharing stories....sometimes scary, always fun, filled with fantasy and a hint of romance...great read!

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  3. I love Anansi stories and this one is told very poetically. The description of Erzuli's cold hearted beauty is great.

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  4. Enjoyed this magical fable - particularly the imagery relating to the awakening of the peacock feathers.

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  5. I love the style and moral of this story, just like the ones my Mum used to read to me when I was little...

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  6. Deirdre O'SheaNovember 10, 2011

    Deirdre O'Shea (Ireland). A lovely fable with more than one lesson to be learned. Authentically exotic atmosphere created and magical imagery expertly portrayed. Perfect for reading out loud.

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  7. LOVELY story, so well told; your use of language is so beautiful Dawne, i could actually feel time slipping away like black molasses! i shall definitely be reading this to my girls:)

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  8. Very well written story with a good moral and exciting atmosphere! I´m impressed, Dawne!

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