Naba, the Mossi emperor in Burkina Faso, had conquered the Kasena. He regularly
extracted tribute from this powerful ethnic group to the south that his armies
have subdued. One year at tribute collecting time, the emperor made the mistake
of sending his son Nabiiga (the prince and heir apparent). When the Kasena saw
the heir with a very small entourage of guardians, they overpowered the group
and took the prince hostage.
his kingly robes were stripped from him, and he was forced to walk around with
only a loin cloth. The prisoner was given but one meal a day, and every morning
forced out into the fields to hoe. Now the royal heir does not do manual
labor. It is beneath his royal dignity. But the Kasena made great sport of
him. The women of the ethnic group would come by and belittle his manhood by
accusing him of not being a virile male. The children would come by while he
was hoeing in the field and throw small pebbles at him while he worked. This was
a significant act of derision.
the surprise of all those watching the scene from day to day, the Mossi prince
would work and sing. He sang cheerfully and with a loud voice as his back bent
to the hoe from sunup to sundown. At first his soft hands bled when blisters
broke, being unaccustomed to the manipulation of a short-handled hoe. He lost
much weight, but continued to be cheerful and to sing. The elders of the Kasena
Ethnic Group were much troubled by his singing and buoyant attitude. "How can
he possibly sing," they would ask, "since we make him sleep on the ground? We
give him very little food, and he is forced to work. Our women and children
mock him — but he still sings!"
a month of this treatment, they finally called him before a council. He stood
with only his loin cloth, straight and proud, in their midst. The elder
spokesperson for the Kasena people publicly asked the Mossi prince about his
behavior. "Why do you sing?"
"It is true. You have taken away all my fine clothes. Everyone can also see
that you have made me work, that you give me very little food and that you make
me sleep on the ground in a common hut. You have tried to take away all my
pride and all my earthly possessions. You have brought me great shame. Now you
ask me why, in spite of all this, I can sing. I sing because you cannot take
away my title. I am Moro Naba’s first son and need not react to your shameful