Don't Look at the Mask

Adapted from The Potato story with permission from the publisher.


Ahou rolled over on her mat. She tried to draw her pagne (wrap) up around her head to keep the mosquitoes from biting. She could hear the fetish drums beating not far away. Tonight some of the village men were holding a secret fetish dance. A hideous masked figure would come out and dance around the village. No woman or girl was permitted to watch. Ahou knew that most of the village believed that if a female saw the mask, she would die.

Her friend, Amuen, didn’t believe that. She was a Christian. Her God was more powerful than any other, she said. She had even dared to watch the mask dance the last time it had come out. And she wasn’t dead! Ahou had often wondered if it was one of the villagers who danced, but she didn’t dare voice this thought. Amuen, however, said she knew who it was! She, had looked around the audience and figured out who wasn’t there.  

Thoughts whirled through Ahou’s mind, lithe mask could really kill women and girls who watched it, why was Amuen still alive? Was her God really more powerful than the fetish mask? Amuen's family had even burned all their protective charms and idols. They trusted only their God to protect them!

Suddenly the beat of the rums intensified until she could feel the pulse. The mask was dancing right in front of the house. Ahou's heart kept time with the pounding drum as she moved to the window. Her hand was on the shutter when her mother entered the room.

"Ahou! What are you doing? You surly aren't going to look at the masks!"

Ahou considered telling a lie, but realized that her mother would never believe that she had wanted a breath of fresh air. No matter how hot it got, the family always slept with their windows closed. After all, you never knew what spirits were roaming the village at night.

"Mother, haven't you ever wanted to see the mask? Amuen saw it and she's fine."

Her mother shook her head. "Amuen is foolish. She will surly bring the wrath of the spirits on herself. don't you ever try to do the things that are forbidden. The power of the spirits is s great, and you will bring sorrow to us all."

Ahou sank down on her mat and drew her pagne around her. Her mind was a jumble of fear, curiosity and despair.

The sun was barely up when the swish of the broom and the rooster's crowing awakened Ahou. She hurried to help her mother fetch water for baths. Usually on Sundays, Ahou’s family went to work in their fields.

Today was different, however. There was going to be a funeral in the village, and they were all expected to attend. Manmin Aya, a wise old woman, had died two months ago and had been buried immediately. Her funeral then had to be organized. Word had gone out announcing the funeral, and everyone who had known her was expected to attend. They would spend the time eating, drinking palm wine and dancing so that Manmin Aya’s spirit would be satisfied and would find rest peacefully.

“Hello,” Amuen called out as she passed by Ahou’s house. After exchanging news, Amuen said, “Come with me to church.” Ahou wanted to go, but her mother’s words put fear into her, and she refused.

When Ahou’s family had dressed and eaten a quick breakfast of toasted yams, they walked toward the center of the village. A large bamboo shelter with a palm leaf roof had been built there for the occasion.

 “Father,” Ahou asked, “can the fetishes protect us from everything?"

“Well,” her father answered, “I have many fetishes that protect us from many things. I have these rings. This one protects me from gunshots, and that one protects me from car accidents. This other one saves me from knife wounds, and these amulets guard against sickness.”

Ahou considered this and then said, “Manmin Aya had lots of fetishes, and she even had a relative who was a witch doctor. She often gave sacrifices of chickens and goats, but she died!”

“Yes, but there are no rings or fetishes to protect against death,” answered her father. He picked up a drum and began to play it, keeping rhythm with the chanting.

As soon as she could, Ahou left the dancing crowd and ran down the row path toward the church. She timidly entered and an usher squeezed her onto one of the backless benches. The people were singing songs about God and His power over Satan. They were singing that God was eternal—that He never died. Everyone clapped the rhythm as they sang, and they played drums.

Then a man got up to speak. He told how he had feared death before he had become a child of God. He explained that all people had sinned or done wrong things that separated them from God. Then God sent His own Son Jesus to be the sacrifice for their sins. Ahou had never heard of such a great sacrifice before. The best sacrifice in the village was a cow, but only the wealthy could afford that! God must have really cared a lot to give His only Son as sacrifice. The pastor explained how Jesus had been buried and how three days later He came alive again!

“No can do that,” thought Ahou. But as she listened, she heard that God had promised that those who believed Him would rise and never die. They, too, would live forever! After church, Ahou asked if Amuen would tell her what to do so that she could live forever. “You have to believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died for you. You have to confess that you are a sinner, and you have to ask Jesus to forgive you. Then you have to change your way of life and follow God. He will proved and take care of you."

After praying with the pastor, Ahou and Amuen started back to the village. Ahou knew it would not be easy to tell her parents about her decision, but she knew that God would protect and help her. She was truly free!


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