The Way of a Woman’s Tongue

A certain hunter was married to a lazy and quarrelsome woman whose acid tongue made him most unhappy. His meals were badly cooked and sometimes not cooked at all, the house was always dirty and the children were never clean. The hunter searched the forests every day for food and meat, but his lazy wife was never satisfied and her tongue was always wagging.

“Good-for-nothing-fool!” she would rant, “I-work-my-fingers-to-the-bone-cooking-food-and-cleaning-house-and-you-never-thank-me-you-just-idle-in-the-forests-I’m-sick-and-tired-of-work-I-wish-you’d-find-another-wife-to-do-the-work-we-need-another-woman-in-the-house.”

The hunter agreed to find another wife and he went visiting the young girls, but all of them seemed to be already promised to other men. Discouraged, he returned to his wife and admitted he had failed; she scolded him and jeered and him, saying the young girls showed good sense in refusing to marry such a worthless man.

The hunter was annoyed, both by his own failure to find a second wife and by the bitterness of his woman’s tongue. He began staying away from home longer and longer, and going further and further each day into the forest. One day he sat to rest beneath a tree and said:
“Oh, I wish I had a better woman. Is it better to live in misery or to lie down dead in peace?”

One of the Forest Spirits heard the hunter’s wish, and since he was a good and honest man she appeared before him in a gree-gree bush, in her usual monkey form.

“You see I am a monkey,” said the Spirit to the hunter.

“So I see. Yes indeed, it is a monkey which I see.”

“But I can be other things.” “What other things?”

The monkey shivered and grew misty, and slowly changed into a maiden — such a rare and lovely maiden that the hunter’s heart swelled and swelled with sudden love.

“I would like to be your wife,” she said, “but I fear the shame that you might bring on me by telling people I am just an ape.”

“I swear I would not!” cried the hunter. “Oh, promise to be my wife and I swear I will not tell a single person!”

“Then I will be your wife,” she said. “Your second wife, I know. But if you should ever tell my secret you will lose me . . . Give me a kola nut; that will be your gift to me.”

The hunter quickly found her a kola nut, and she kept it. Her Zoe name was Kahn, but her common name was Tabe, which means yam. In great happiness the hunter took her home and showed her to his wife.

“This girl has agreed to be my second wife,” he said. “Be kind to her.”

“Where did you get her?” asked his wife.

“She comes from another place. You asked me to take another wife to help you. This is she.”

“But where did you get her?”

“From somewhere else, not here. She will help you with your work. Be kind to her.”

The hunter would not tell his wife where he had found Tabe; and the girl herself refused to say anything about it. But in all other ways she was willing and obedient: she cooked food well, cared for her husband’s children, cleaned the house and planted rice. The head-wife was lazy and did nothing. She passed her days abusing and scolding the beautiful young Tabe while the hunter was away, and every night she asked her husband where he had found his second wife.

One evening she prepared palm wine and gave it to him to drink, and when they went to bed she was nice to him and made him happy which is not a usual thing. Again she asked him what the secret was, and finally he told her.

“She was a monkey in the forest, but changed into a girl.”

When several days had passed and Tabe was busy pounding dumboy in a mortar, the head-wife kicked over a bowl of rice and snapped:

“Woman, pick up that rice!”

Tabe gathered the rice.

“Now scratch my back!”

Tabe scratched her back.

“Now wipe my breath from the air!”

Tabe hesitated, and then asked:

“Good woman, how can I wipe your breath from the air?”

The woman became angry.

“You-useless-stupid-fool-of-a-girl!” she scolded. “I-slave-and-drudge-and-work-my-fingers-to-the-bone-but-how-can-I-possibly-run-the-house-when-my-worthless-husband-insists-on-bringing-monkeys-into-the-home?”

The beautiful Tabe gave a terrible cry of despair and ran into the forest. When the hunter came home he asked:

“Woman, where is Tabe?”

“She has gone into the forest to be idle, as usual,” she said. The hunter saw a kola nut lying on the ground. It was an old kola nut, and looked familiar.

“Whose is this kola nut?” he asked.

Then the hunter knew at once what had happened. He slew his wife with a single blow and went into the forest to search for Tabe. He asked all the monkeys if they had seen her, but they only chattered and cracked nuts. The hunter wondered through the forest for many days and nights, and then died of a broken heart. Never expect a woman’s tongue to rest, for women’s tongues have legs and run about.