Dahomey, Africa 1842 - In a small village near Africa's west coast heads-on-a-stick were near epidemic. The first one appeared stuck dead center in the communal fire pit. Suspecting spiritual interference the tribe squabbled over whether this intrusion was mischievous, vengeful or of the portending type when the Gods presaged evil with silly, vague puzzles instead of just coming right out with it.
The holy man was quick to claim adumbration and the village vamoosed. After a decent amount of time nothing bad happened so everyone moved back and the chief's wife was sent off on a hard day's hike to dig a hole and bury the head-on-a-stick.
When the second head-on-a-stick showed up a few weeks later it didn't have the same jounce as the first one. The holy man tried to whip up the same disquietude he'd enjoyed with the first head-on-a-stick. But there had been a rumor that it was him who'd planted the first head-on-a-stick so while the village was vacant he could sneak back and play with any of the extra loin cloths the women might have forgotten to take with them.
This time when he went hut to hut trying to trade his blessed insight for a few aZZanddis, a wild potato that tasted like a manioc but grew in the shape of a kohlrabi, he went away hungry.
The holy man's credibility had soured and this time the head-on-a-stick was ignored until it fell over all on its own. The chief's wife had to take another trek out through the wilds to bury this head-on-the-stick in the same hole as the first head-on-the-stick. She wasn't happy about any of it.
When the third head-on-a-stick showed up the chief's wife had had enough and yanked the head-on-a-stick off its perch by the hair. She went to each and every dwelling demanding answers. She held it up to the face of every villager looking for any resemblance in an effort to track down who it might be and put a stop to it. Some were close but the earnest faced denials tried her patience. When she got back from burying the head-on-a-stick this time she gave everyone a stern warning that there had better not be another one or else. It wasn't easy being the chief's wife.
A year passed with no more heads-on-a-stick but it was a very bad year. The aZZandis refused to grow, illness took a despairing number of young people and a promising new tuber proved to be nothing more than a foul flavored emetic. The only animal they'd managed to domesticate that year was a wild goat with scraggly hair who turned against them when for some reason it decided the fire pit belonged to him. He bit anyone who went near it.
This deprived the village of its ability to elicit solicitude by dancing around the soothing fire. One of the few things left that would bring any solace whatsoever to the suffering village. Things were going very poorly for everyone.
While deep in their spiritual nadir another head-on-a-stick appeared. There were two things about this head-on-a-stick that were different from the others. First, it wasn't found in the center of the village. It had been set out in front of a hut. The second was its countenance. The first two had the sort of expression you would expect a severed head to display. But this one was grinning, looking as if it was actually enjoying its predicament. Though the case was made that the smile did look somewhat forced.
Within a week the deathly ill child living in that particular hut miraculously got better. A week after that the man of the hut managed to spear the largest wildebeest ever bagged and the mean goat guarding the fire pit went to live with the people of the fortunate domicile. Now allowing only them to dance around the fire pit whenever they wanted.
When things went from so bad to so good so fast, the villagers encouraged more good fortune by deciding the woman of the lucky hut would never have to cook again. All their family meals were prepared and delivered in an outdoor version of room service. She was also relieved of having to wash her family's clothes and everyone took turns tending to her children.
It was once believed that when the less fortunate pamper those who are more fortunate good things will happen. It didn't take long to prove it true.
Soon another head-on-a-stick appeared in front of the dwelling occupied by the man who had learned a new sound that seemed to frighten off the larger chimpanzees when they hustled through the village now and again stealing food. He acquitted himself with honor by not complaining when everyone else started to make the same noise without his permission.
His wife was accorded the same honors along with an additional one that freed her from ever having to wear the poorly scraped out giraffe's head while dancing around the fire during times of celebration and spiritual cleansing.
The next head-on-a-stick went to the family of the fellow who found a new berry and ate it without dying. The one after that to the alert villager who was the first to see a big swarm of bugs and ran fast enough to beat them back to the village so everyone could batten down the huts. With neither stink nor rancor the village quietly became a meritocracy with efforts rewarded and dullardry snubbed.
The only one who wasn't doing much celebrating was the well-known village malcontent. She'd been stuck wearing the smelly giraffe's head four times in a row. Married to a slackard who'd failed time after time to merit the head-on-a-stick, she finally nagged him into being the head-on-a-stick and planting himself out in front of their hut.
Amidst the cries of foul, the chief was forced to take action but acquiesced in the face of the argument that the head-on-a-stick had sacrificed himself for the good of his family. The new widow pushed it further by demanding a double prize. She maintained not only did her husband willingly dispense with himself for the benefit of his family but she was also the first known widow of a head-on-a-stick.
Tough to argue with that and the second half of the double prize was to unburden the woman from having to go anywhere under her own locomotion. When she went out to visit past winners, now women of her own ilk, she was piggybacked by those unfortunate wives whose own husbands lacked the gumption required for self-sacrifice.
Soon men were turning up as heads-on-a-stick in front of their own huts with great frequency. The village now contained nothing but double winners. There were few under-achievers left to cater to the growing list of over-achievers. The village became a virtual femaleocracy forcing the chief to declare a moratorium on self-sacrifice until the population normalized again.
As one of the last two remaining males capable of producing children the chief was rarely at home now. His wife began to suspect he'd cooked up the whole thing right from the beginning. Now, when they passed each other, him off to another hut and her the only one left to piggyback past winners around the village she could do little more than give him dirty looks which he pretended not to see.