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J. Carl Dealy ( -
Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2005 - 4:07 pm:   

The Mango Tree and the Crossing Fee
J. Carl Dealy (Liberia, Inland Fisheries 84-87)

Once upon a time, long ago and not so long ago, there was a land so rich with natural appeal people would say, "This will last forever."

This is an old story. This is a new story. In the deep green forest there was a great river. So wide was the river, that you could scarcely see the other side. Next to the river grew a huge mango tree that was a million years old if it was a day. This tree was the prize of the forest. Even the biggest cotton tree marveled at the abundance of mangos hanging from its' great branches that stretched far over the water.

Because it was so full with mangos the animals visited the tree often. Never did they use up the supply of fruit. One great Baboon was proud to call it home. His name was Boss. Boss ate and ate. He ate so much he became careless. Quite by accident one day a small piece of the mango fell into the water. Boss watched it fall all the way down to the river below. He was surprised to see a fish gobble it up as soon as it hit the water. This was amusing to Boss. So he dropped some other small pieces.

The secret of the sweetness of the mango was revealed to the fish.

Boss had so much fun watching the fish eat, he lost interest in everything else. Early the next morning a fish named Big Mouth came and he was hungry for mangos. He had a special talent for eating. He ate the mango pieces with style. "If you bring more mangos then you will see something!" said Big Mouth to Boss.

Boss brought his monkey friend to help; together they tore into the mango tree and dropped small pieces into the river. Mango fell like rain.

Now they had a show!

The water boiled with fish. Big Mouth brought his entire fish clan to eat. Boss was truly impressed so he gathered more monkeys to help. "Surly with 10 monkeys working we will have these fish jumping for joy," thought Boss Baboon. The other baboons shook their heads and clicked their tongues, saying, "Old Boss has gone crazy this time."
However, in their hearts they were jealous of the fun Old Boss was having. By now, Boss had the monkeys stripping fruit from Mango trees deep in the bush. The fish kept coming.

Then a funny thing happened.

One early morning, after a night of heavy rain, one of the monkeys harvesting Mangos slipped on a branch. Even monkey can slip on a wet mango tree branch. He was lucky and caught hold before falling but he dropped his mango into the water. Big Mouth fish earned his name that day. As soon as the mango hit the water, the great fish opened his big fat mouth and 'gulp' he swallowed the mango whole! Big Mouth, what a fish.

Boss witnessed this calamity of events and straight away, he was rolling on the ground with laughter. He laughed and laughed until he could hardly breathe. "Oh," he said, "this is the most fun ever." Boss Baboon was amazed as he watched Big Mouth's amazing swallowing power. Big Mouth said, "That is nothing I can swallow other fish, bones and all, sometime even small animals."

Soon Boss had his 10 monkeys threw all the mangos they could find into the river. They held nothing back. Next was their big surprise that was not surprising. The mangos were finished for the season.

Boss sat by the river. He was very sad because he knew that Big Mouth fish and his fish clan would not come around to entertain him for a long time. He would wait and weep for the next mango season to come. Just at that moment, Big Mouth swam by. He saw the poor Boss Baboon and said, "No problem, I will show you more fun." Boss cheered up a little. What is your plan Mr. Big Mouth?"

Jump down from your tree and I can take you across the River to see the other side. Boss said, "no way." "You know us Baboons are land creatures and we don't like to get our fur wet." That is OK, said Big Mouth, surfacing above the water, you do not have to get wet at all.

I will swim close to the surface; you can hold onto my fin and stay high and dry the whole time." "Hmmm," said, Boss. "Come on, the fish said, don't you want to see the big village on the other side of the river? I just hate to see you so sad."

Boss Baboon jumped down and onto Big Mouths' back and away they went.

What a ride. This was more fun then feeding the fish. Together they traveled upstream and downstream. And for the first time in his life, Boss Baboon saw the great village on the other side of the river. Then it was time to return.

In mid-channel, as they approached the mango tree Big Mouth yelled, "Now, bring the crossing fee!" At first Boss thought the fish was joking, but Big Mouth was deadly serious. The poor old baboon was stuck. To add to his humiliation the monkeys saw the whole thing from the tree and laughed. Boss said, you know I don't have pockets, besides you never let me off on the other side." "The only payment I'm after is one baboon heart!" said Big Mouth.

Boss Baboon did not become chief of the great mango tree for nothing, he know he could outsmart this fish. Boss cleared the lump from his throat and said, "I would gladly pay, but my heart is at home. You see us land creatures are not like you fish. When we travel our heart always stays at home." Big Mouth then beached himself on the sand at the base of the mango tree, "All right then hurry up, I'm hungry." Boss was thrown off the fishes back. He was a little shaken. As he brushed the sand from his fur, he replied, "No problem I just have a small job to do, and then I will be right back."

So Boss brought the hearts of all ten of those ungrateful monkeys to appease Big Mouth. After all it is smart to be on good terms with such a creature. Surely ten monkey hearts are as good as one baboon heart.

Big Mouth smiled in his big fat fishy way, flashing his big white teeth saying, "That will do, throw them to me." And with a loud snap that fish swallowed all ten monkey hearts whole. This was another big surprise that was not a surprise. What happened next?

Big Mouth swam away.


In Liberia, back in the mid-1980's I had the great pleasure and privilege to take a canoe trip up the Sinoe River into the heart of the newly established Sapo National Park. The beauty of it was breathtaking. On the way back down river we saw ahead a small patch of
water agitated by some mysterious means. It took a moment to realize it was caused by fish near the surface. In a tree high overhead we caught sight of a Colobus monkey, the only one we had seen for the entire trip, though they were most likely there all the time. My thought at the time was even though the monkey and the fish are in very different worlds, one high and arboreal and the other aquatic and deep, they were inextricably linked. Not only linked, but aware of each other's presence.

The one thing you may count on; the fish have not forgotten the secret of the sweetness of the mango. Just read it in the news, on any given week some foreign national interest is proclaiming the under-utilization of natural resources in Liberia.


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