Dog, guardian of the palace
Abomey Historical Museum
Why Dogs must be fed
Mawu created humans, the animals, and birds. All people talked
the same language. Humans and animals understood each other. In
those days people did not give presents to each other. Those who had
things kept them for themselves.
There was a man who had a wife who was pregnant.
Now this man never stayed at home. He was always away hunting.
While the husband was away, the wife went into labor. Now, there
was a dog beside the woman. The woman had a hemorrhage as
she was about to bear her child. She said, "If I only had someone
here I could send to call my husband."
The dog was there and he got up without saying a word and
took to the road in search of the husband. When he found the
man, he beat against the man's legs with his tail. The man did not
get up. He came back and did the same thing again and again. The
hunter thought he had trapped an animal, and so he followed him.
Because in those days dogs trapped animals when their master's
were away, and later came to find the master, and beat against
his legs with the tail to let him know.
After the man had walked a bit, he stopped to look about.
The dog, who was running ahead, ran back to his master and beat
against his legs again. The man stopped again, and the dog
came back to call him. He did this until he brought the man back home.
The man got back just in time to help his wife, as she gave birth
to their child. Now, in order to give birth, there was a medicine. The man gave
the medicine to the woman. Then the woman gave birth to a son.
He was called Hunsu.
The woman told her husband if it had not been for the dog, she
would have died. To thank the dog, the woman's husband killed
a cock and made a stew of chicken, meat and palm oil for him to
Now, this man has a junior wife, too. She is also pregnant. Now
this wife is stingy, and never wants to give anything to anyone.
When she ate, she never gave anything to the dog. Now her time
to give birth came. Now the dog is beside her. The woman is in pain,
and she cries, "If someone were only here, I'd send him to fetch my
The dog said, "You have only to tell it to the stew you like so
well and that you never share. Perhaps, it will go and bring your husband."
The woman said to the dog, "Ah, you know how to talk? And
you don't want to call my husband? I beg you, go for him."
As the woman pleaded with the dog, the dog went to call the
husband. But when he found the husband and brought him home,
it was already too late. The woman had given birth to a dead child.
The husband was angry with his first wife. He said, "Why didn't
you tell the dog to come for me?". The first wife said, "I did, but he refused,
because the other wife is so selfish".
Then the husband told the woman who bore the dead child to
feed the dogs. That is why today, when one eats, one never forgets the dog. In
those days, people never gave presents to dogs, but dogs gave presents
1. Mawu (Segbo) is customarily regarded as female
Adapted from: M.J. & F.S. Herskovits: Dahomean Narrative, Northwestern Univ. 1998.