Toad, Snail and Hornbill

All the animals came together for a feast, and there was eating and dancing and drinking for a whole week. On the last evening of the feast three old men entered the town; and their names were Toad, Snail, and Hornbill. No one had ever seen people like them before, and no one knew where they came from; nor did any one know which of them was the oldest, so they were shown equal respect.

On the following day the Chief called all the criminals together and asked them to elect a new Chief, as he himself was about to die. The animals were not happy to hear this, for they loved the old Chief and feared his place might be taken by some young fool who would show no respect to the wise old men. Everyone agreed that the oldest animal among them should be elected chief; and since Toad, Snail and Hornbill were the oldest people anyone had ever seen, it was decided the oldest one of these should be elected.

“I’ll be the new Chief!” Toad croaked. “I’m the oldest, I’m the oldest!”“I have lived since time began!” Snail declared. “It is obvious that I’ll be Chief.” “I was old before time was,” said Hornbill; and none of the three could agree. The animals decided this important matter should be decided by a Judge. The Judge took his seat and demanded:

“Are you ready?”“Goo!” cried the animals, which meant “We have been ready for sometime.” Toad, Snail and Hornbill stood up. Turning to Toad, the Judge asked:

“Toad, can you tell us why you consider yourself older than Snail or Hornbill?”Toad said: “I am so old I knew the world when it was pimpled all over with little hills. Between the hills were holes where evil spirits dwelt, so that any living thing had to jump from hill to hill in order to avoid the spirit-holes. I was the only living thing, and that is how I learned to jump.”

Everyone clapped, and said among themselves: Truly, he is the most ancient of animals and must be our Chief.Snail’s turn came and he said:

“When the world was still a ball of soft mud, without hills or holes or anything else, no animal with legs would live. Only by sliding slowly on a slimy belly could one move, and that was how I moved, and still do. No other creature lived when I was young.”

The animals cheered. “Here indeed is the oldest animal in the world,” they said. “Snail must be our Chief!”But then Hornbill raised a wing for silence, and announced:“Of a truth, I am much older than either Toad or Snail. I was born before the world began. There was no mud, no hill, no hole and hornbills caught their food as they flew about the sky. And if a hornbill died he was buried in his beak, for there was no other place to bury him. So, look at my head! Do you not see my mother’s coffin there?”

The fact was evident, and the animals clapped and cheered. Hornbill had proved himself the oldest creature in the world, and was appointed Chief.


How Two Rich Maidens Sought a Naked Man

Long ago, beyond the memories of hundred men, there was a rich and powerful chief who had a son. The old chief did not know Ngala, and as he lay dying he saw famine and disease and war break up his powerful chiefdom.

The son of the chief found himself with no possessions, and though a proud and valorous son he was obliged to rob and lived by the edge of his sword. The enemies who held his lands called him Nyani, which means peer. Nyani had no clothes, and therefore he was naked; he lived in a hollow tree and was so strong and fierce that people avoided him.

Far to the north there dwelt a wealthy chief who had a lovely daughter; she was so beautiful that flowers reached out to touch her as she passed.

Far to the south there lived another chief who only daughter was as fair as the midnight moon — so beautiful that even the forest trees adored her.

Both of these two maidens grew weary of men who praised them with carefully polished words: for flattery comes easily to rich men who seek rich wives. It chanced that these two maidens, who lived very far apart, heard about the fierce but proud Nyani, and each decided to marry him.

One maiden traveled south, the other journeyed north, and each took a thousand warriors and slaves who carried riches. The maiden from the south arrived and asked people were Nyani lived.

“He lives in yonder hollow tree,” they said, and marveled that such a maiden should interest herself. but Nyani was not in the hollow tree; he had gone to look for food. She summoned five hundred warriors and said:

“Find this man Nyani, and bring him here.”

“How will we know him from other men?”

“He has no clothes,” she said.

Five hundred warriors marched on the nearby town to hung for naked men. They seized men bathing, men undressing, men who lay with wives; the town was in an uproar as warriors dragged men from huts and pulled them from the river. They found and bound a hundred naked men — and then the maiden from the north arrived.

She took five hundred slaves with food and clothes and riches and went looking in the town for Nyani; and when she saw the warriors with a hundred naked men she asked:

“Which among you is Nyani?”Nyani was struggling fiercely with twenty warriors. The maiden commanded her slaves to set food before the warriors, and Nyani was released. She persuaded him to bathe in the river, and then she rubbed sweet-smelling ointments on hiss body and gave him food and wine in golden bowls.

The maiden from the south appeared. She bore robes of gold and silver thread, precious jewels and perfumes, and with these she dressed Nyani, who stood silent and frowning at each of them in turn.

“Nyani, you are mine,” said one. “I found you and have dressed you, and I must be your wife. I kiss your feet.” She kissed hiss feet.
Nyani frowned a mighty frown.

“Silence!” he thundered. I’ll have no quarreling. I’ll marry both of you!”

They loved him for his honest manliness, and they loved him equally. But which of them had the right to be first wife?


A Riddle of Two Women

Two rich women who lived in the same town fell in live with a poor man who lived in the forest.

The first woman built him a fine house and garden, and put cattle and goats in the nearby fields, and sent a messenger to bring him in.

The second woman into the forest to find the poor man; she gave him rich food and wine, and brought him back to town.

Which of these two rich women deserved to have the man?


Two Maidens and Their Lover

Orphan fell in love with two young girls who lived in different towns; he loved them equally, and they loved him too.

All the young girls in these two towns were to be joined to the women’s powerful Sande Society on a certain day; on that day each town would hold a feast, with song and dance and palm wine, and Orphan wished to be present at each feast.

On the appointed day he set out from his village and came to a place where the road forked, leading to each of the towns where he wished to go.

“What shall I do?” he asked himself. “Which way shall I go?”

“If I go to one girl and other will think less of me, and I could not hear to lose the love of either. Better to die in happiness than live in disappointment.”

He decided to kill himself; he ate a poisonous fruit from a nearby tree, and died. In their different towns each of the two girls waited for their lover, and when he failed to come the first went forth to meet him. When she found him dead beside the road she grieved until her heart seemed near bursting; and being unable to live without her lover she, too, ate a poisonous fruit from the tree, then flung herself on Orphan’s body, and so died.

Soon after the second maiden came and found her lover and her rival dead beside the road. She cast herself upon the ground beside them wailing and weeping, and swooned away. After a time she rose, and wild with grief she fled back to her town and summoned a powerful medicine man. With haste she hustled and hurried him to the place and begged him to bring her lover back to life.

The medicine man took leaves form the poisonous tree and crushed them. He caught the juice in a snail shell. He cut the flesh above the heart of Orphan and the lifeless girl, poured in the juice, and uttered certain magic words.

For some moments nothing happened, and the second girl decided she herself would die if Orphan could not live again; but then the bodies began to stir, and Orphan and the girl with him came back to life.

The two girls and their lover shed tears of happiness; Orphan embraced both of them, and they clung to him. But then the girls drew away, glancing jealously at each other, and turned beseeching eyes on Orphan.

“You must choose one of us,” they said to him. “You cannot have us both, we love you too much for that. Oh Orphan, you must choose!”

One girl had killed herself for love of him. The other girl had saved his life, and saved her rival’s too.

Which girl should he choose?


The Riddle of Four Wives

Once upon a time three poor brothers lived at the edge of a forest in poverty and want. Their land was sour and would not yield a crop, and no animals or fruits could be found inside the forest. One day the youngest brother said:

“Let us go to the Chief and ask if he will agree to give us anything we want for five days, and in return we will give our lives to him on the sixth day.”

The three brothers all agreed to do this; for at least five days of their lives they would know happiness. The went to the Chief, and he agreed to give each brother any single thing for five days, on condition that they would give him their lives on the sixth day.

The eldest brother chose wine. For five days he drank wine, and when his life was taken there was little of it left.

The second brother chose food. For five days he stuffed himself, and when his life was taken there was little of it left.

The youngest brother chose cloth. He was a handsome man, and when dressed in rich robes and raiment he was very handsome indeed, and all the young maidens fell in love with him. Now, the Chief had a very lovely daughter who was too beautiful for ordinary men to look upon, and he kept her shut inside a tall fence.

The young man, whose name was Talwa, bribed the guards with bundles and bales of the richest cloths, and on the fifth night he crept inside the fence. He found the daughter of the Chief in bed, and Talwa was so handsome she fell in love with him at once: and she was so desirable he made love to her without delay.

After a time they began planning their escape. They gathered riches and fine cloths and put them in a box, then crept away in the shadows of the night of the forest. They walked to a distant place, then beyond and even further, and here there was no food.

Such hunger came upon them that they feared to die, until they met a maiden with a hamper full of rice.

“O maiden, give us rice to eat,” said Talwa, and offered her some gold. But she looked at him, so tall and brave and handsome, and she said:

“I want no gold. Take my rice and eat, and let me be your wife, or I will die.”

Talwa took her as his wife; and the three of them ate and traveled on. they wandered far into a swamp and lost their way, and they were nearly dead when they chanced to meet a maiden who followed a secret path.

“O Maiden, lead us from the swamp,” said Talwa, and offered her fine cloth. But she gazed at him with love and longing in her eyes, and answered:

“I want no cloth. I will lead you from the swamp, but you must take me as your wife, or I will die.”

She led them from the swamp; and now Talwa had three wives.

They came to a certain town and there they slept. the Chief of this town did not like strangers, and any man who came was obliged to pass a test; if he could not, he was killed. The Chief had a hundred boxes of gold, and the test was in choosing which one of the boxes the Chief had owned in his youth.

The daughter of the Chief fell in love with Talwa, and during the night he took her as his wife. She told him which of the boxes her father had owned in his youth. Next morning Talwa was hailed before the Chief and shown the hundred boxes.

“Choose the box I owned in my youth,” the Chief commanded, “or your head will be cut off, and you will die.”

Talwa walked among the boxes pretending to make magic signs, and at length he pointed to a box and said:

“This is the one. I am right, I am not wrong, I know it is the one. It is the box you owned when you were young.”

The old Chief was astonished, for Talwa was correct. He summoned his council and said:

“My people, he will marry my daughter and share my lands.”

And thus it was; Talwa abided in that land with all of his four wives.

The first had abandoned her family for love of him.

The second had saved him from starving to death.

The third had saved him from dying in the swamps.

The fourth had saved him from having his head cut off.

What order would these wives take in Talwa’s household?