In Ishmael Beah's memoir A Long Way Gone, what is the cultural purpose of the wild pigs and the "Bra spider" stories? What other myths and legends can be found in the book?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It is in chapter 8 of Ishmael Beah's memoir A Long Way Gone that we find the fable about the wild pig hunter. Prior to this chapter, Beah and his friends had escaped their village of Mogbwemo that had been attacked by the rebel army, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
 
They traveled from village to village, not being trusted, until they were finally taken in by villagers in Kamator, where they lived in peace for three months. However, soon, the rebels invaded Kamator, and Beah and Kaloko were separated from the other boys they had escaped with, including Beah's brother Junior and Beah's friends Mohamed and Talloi. Beah and Kaloko hid out in the swamps for a while, frequently returning to the village of Kamator to see if it again looked inhabited and safe. However, Beah became fed up with hiding and decided to set out to find some place safer. However, his friend Kamator was too afraid to leave the relative safety of the swamp outside of Kamator and opted to stay behind. Just prior to the moment Beah relays the fable of the wild boar hunter to his readers, Beah had been roaming the forest for months, sleeping in trees. Once Beah relays the fable, it becomes clear that it serves as a metaphor to capture his country's current culture as his people suffer under the terrorism of the RUF.

Beah relays the fable of the wild pig hunter his grandmother once told him after surviving a narrow escape of being attacked by a herd of wild pigs. He managed to save himself by climbing a tree he was "able to mount in one jump." However, to his surprise, the wild pigs did not move on after his escape. Instead, they began charging and chewing at the bottom of the tree, forcing him to climb "higher and higher." The wild pigs pursued their captive until nightfall; then, finally gave up. It was the wild pigs surprising and relentless pursuit that called to mind the fable his grandmother told him, a fable that parallels the RUF.

The fable tells a tale of a ruthless hunter of wild pigs who used magic to transform himself into a wild boar, a specifically male wild pig. In the form of a boar, the hunter would lure the rest of the heard into a clearing in the forest where it would be easy to kill many pigs. He would then transform himself back into a human and kill every pig of the herd. However, one day a pig discovered how the hunter performed the magic, and the pigs of the herd used that to their advantage to trick and destroy the hunter. Hence, according to the fable, ever since their encounter with the magic hunter, wild pigs have felt a major distrust of humans and have wanted to destroy every human they come into contact with should that human be there to seek revenge on the destroyed hunter. Beah uses this fable to explain why the wild pigs were so relentless in their pursuit of destroying him.

The fable of the wild boar hunter parallels the RUF in terms of the RUF's animalistic, relentless violence. The RUF had rightly acted out in protest of Joseph Momoh's corrupt Sierra Leone government just like the wild pigs acted out against the corruption of the hunter. The RUF had especially complained of the government failing to share the wealth from discovered alluvial diamond and mineral resources. However, at the start of the civil war they initiated, the RUF became even more guilty of corruption than the government they overthrew. The RUF's war crimes include the rape, murder, mutilation, and displacement of thousands of innocent village citizens. The RUF enacted their war crimes as they underwent their relentless pursuit of government corruption just like the wild pigs underwent their relentless pursuit of taking human life (Global Issues, Shah, "Sierra Leone").

Hence, the fable uses wild pigs to represent both the fight for corruption the RUF undertook and its base descent into corruption itself. The fable also helps paint the war-torn culture of innocent Sierra Leone village citizens as they fled for their lives.

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