How Quilla Humbled a Crocodile
In some unknown city by a river — the name was forgotten long ago — the people were so rich and lazy they spent all their time at gambling. They gambled day and night, and even animals and spirits came to join them.
A farmer whose name was Quilla came down the river in his canoe seeking land to farm; he brought his wife and baby girl with him. He built a house on the edge of the city and made his farm on the far side of the river. He also made a second canoe and taught his wife to paddle, so that she could bring him his midday food.
Quilla was a good and honest farmer.
One day a crocodile seized the woman and her child as she was crossing the river with Quilla’s noonday meal, and carried them under water. Quilla meal time came and passed, and he grew weary and impatient; but at length he decided his wife must be sick, and he continued working until dusk.
When he went home he found the second canoe was missing, and so was his wife and child. He became alarmed. He searched for his wife in the city, he cried her name in the forest; he ran to and fro in the darkness, and his heart was heavy inside him when he found no trace of either his wife or child. He wandered along the river bank and came to a place where he saw a curious thing.
He saw a crocodile undress and hang its skin upon a tree; and as the crocodile-man set off towards the city to gamble it sang a little song:
“Crocodiles are clever,Especially under water;Weaker beasts can neverCatch a woman and her daughter.”
Quilla immediately became suspicious. He stole the skin and hid it in his house, then went into the city and sat down beside the crocodile-man to gamble. The crocodile-man called himself Namol.
Namol threw the gamble three times in the air, and each time it fell to the floor he said:
“I win, as I won a man’s wife and daughter today.”
“What do you mean?” Quilla inquired.
“I mean what I said. Let us play.”
Quilla threw the gamble into the air three times, and each time it fell to the floor he said:
“I win, as I won a crocodile’s skin tonight.”
Namol became excited.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing special, let us play.”
But Namol hurried off to see if his skin was safe, and when he found it gone he returned to Quilla’s side and asked:
“What do you know of my skin?”
“What do you know of my wife and child?” Quilla asked, tossing the gamble again. And he sang a song:
“A crocodile is somewhat vileTo steal a woman and her child.I know well that such a sinMay cost that crocodile his skin.”
Namol burst into tears and at one offered to bring back Quilla’s wife and daughter. When he did this, Quilla gave him back his skin: and since then the crocodile has never taken anyone without first paying for him.
Or so people say.