How Pride Destroyed a Beggar

Masa was a beggar who had no family or land, he begged food when he could, and when he could not he hired himself to labor in the fields of other men. One day when bearing a heavy bag of cassava to a distant town an overpowering weariness possessed him and he sat to rest beneath a tree. He fell asleep.

He slept for seven months, and since he was a poor and unimportant man no one came to look for him. As he slept he dreamed a dream in which he entered a great city, and here he met a fair maiden called Vona.

The two young people fell in love and Masa agreed to Marry Vona as soon as she had been accepted into the Sande Society. She was to be called to this important women’s society within two months.Now Masa faced a serious problem, for he had no presents to give the girl or her mother.

Since begging brought no wealth and animals abounded outside the city walls, he decided to turn trapper to secure both food for himself and skins for trade. He made fifty Traps and set them in the forest.

Near the first trap lay a large black rock, and when Masa came to collect the animals in his traps the spirit of black rock said:
“Every animal in you traps must be placed upon my head, or I will rise and swallow you!”

Masa was astonished to hear the rock talk thus, and being fearful of the threat, he placed his animals upon its head. The animals disappeared within the rock. He shifted his traps to another place, but next day the rock had moved there too, and again demanded and received all the animals in Masa’s traps. This went on for many days. No matter where he put his traps, the rock was sure to follow. Masa had no animals to take home, and Vona’s mother became angry.

“O worthless hunter!” she exclaimed one day. “Do you hunt animals, or do they hunt you? You ask to wed my daughter, yet you bring no gifts. You wish to have her as your wife, yet you cannot feed yourself. I will not have my daughter marry such a poor and worthless fool.

Masa and Vona grieved at this, for they loved each other dearly.
On the evening before the ceremonies of the Sande Society Masa went once more into the forest, though his hear was heavy inside him. His traps were empty, for he had angered all the animals in the forest and had been obliged to give them to the spirit of the black rock. In despair he sat down on the rock himself, hoping the spirit might devour him too.

But the black rock said to him:“O hunter for a month and more you have given me every animal you caught, and now I shall reward you for your labors. Beat me seven times with your stick.”

Masa took his stick and hit the black rock seven times. The rock opened, and out rolled seven heavy stones of gold — so heavy that he could scarcely lift the smallest. He was happy to see them, and thanked the spirit of the rock. He left his traps, hid six stones of gold and carried the seventh into the city.

Here he purchased the richest gowns and jewels, white horses and fine gifts, and attended by dancers and musicians he rode in glory through the streets to the dwelling of the maiden city. Here he purchased the richest gowns and jewels, white horses and fine gifts, and attended by dancers and musicians he rode in glory through the streets to the dwelling and her mother; and people marveled among themselves to see the lowly beggar riding like a king.

So Masa married his beloved and days of feasting followed. Two months of his dream had passed. He and his bride lived in a palace with honor and wealth and unaccustomed happiness, but as time passed and Masa learned the power of wealth he grew arrogant, as well as fat, and dealt harshly with his servants. Then he fell ill with a strange illness.

The most famous diviner in the city came, and after reading sands he said:

“A bag of cassava weighs heavily on your spirit. Eat no more cassava or your spirit’s strength will break.”

Masa ate no more cassava, and soon grew well, but he became so cruel and haughty that his servants came to hate him and one day they put cassava in his food. Masa ate the meal: and he completely disappeared. He who was rich and lived in a palace with the loveliest of wives was swallowed by air.
The dream had broken.

Masa woke up underneath the tree deep in the forest. His loincloth was rotten, pigs had long ago eaten his bagful of cassava, his body was dirty and his hair was the home of insects. He had returned to poverty and in poverty he remained, for he had destroyed his fortune with arrogance and pride.


The Power of Thieves and Liars

The Chief Thief and the Prince of Liar lived together in a house, and neither could agree which possessed the greatest power for causing mischief. They decided they would have a competition and Thief set out to do his best, or worst.

He entered a prosperous town by night, a town where many rich men lived. He crept into homes, stole money and jewels, carried off chickens and clothes and food, drove off the cattle and goats and sheep, took all the totems and kidnapped the Chief’s favorite wife.

What palaver there was in the morning! Women arose to light fires and raised the alarm instead: their husbands seized spears and rushed through the town seeking culprits and shouting excitedly; the Chief called for his wife, and his pipe, and his sword, but all had mysteriously disappeared. Thief laughed and laughed and went home to Liar.

“Is that all you can do?” asked Liar. “Can you only cause confusion in the town? Well, now I’ll show you what the Prince of Liars can do!

He went to a place where two great town lay close together; they were ruled by powerful chiefs called Saa and Numa. In one of these towns he befriended the wife of Chief Saa. This woman often quarreled with her husband, who was cruel, and Liar confided to her that he had magic powers which could make her husband respect and love, and cause him to agree with anything which she suggested. The woman was delighted to hear this.

“I know a certain medicine,” said Liar, “which will make your husband love you as he never love before. But to make this medicine I must have some hair from his belly.”

He urged the woman to take a knife cut hair from her husband while he slept, and she agreed to do this that very night.

Liar approached Chief Saa, the woman’s husband and to him he said:“O Chief, I heard the women talking, and I know your wife is planning to murder you tonight. Take care, and watch her closely lest you die!”

Chief Saa was surprised to hear this, and decided to wait and see if Liar’s words were true. Chief Saa’s wife was the sister of Chief Numa who ruled the neighboring town, and now Liar went and talked with the second Chief.

“Chief Numa,” he said, “your sister is married to Chief Saa, and Chief Saa intends to murder her tonight. Send guards in secret, after dark, so that your sister may have aid if she should need it.”
Chief Numa frowned in wonder when he heard this; for if his sister was thus murdered the two great towns would go to war. He sent guards secretly to hide by Chief Saa’s house.

That night Chief Saa and his wife lay down on their bed to sleep; and when she thought her husband slept she took a long sharp knife from underneath the bed. But the Chief was not asleep, and he saw the long blade gleaming.

She began to cut hair from his tender belly.

“Warrgh!” he cried. “Fiend!”

He swept her hand aside, and as the blade slashed her leg she shrilled in pain. Chief Numa’s guards became alarmed and beat upon the door. Chief Saa’s own soldiers came. Fighting broke our. A courier ran to Numa, and he assembled his men and rushed headlong into battle with the warriors of Saa.

A violent battle ensued and lasted for seven days and nights. Both of the towns were burned and the women and children killed. Other peoples entered the fight and heavy slaughter followed until all villages and towns were burned and the land was ravaged, dead and smelled of blood.

Thieves can steal and plunder, but the wickedness of liars know no end.


The Man Who Scorned Spirits

Near to a town there was a small area of bush land which, the people said, was the private property of the forest spirits. A man decided he would make his farm on this land, and only laughed when his friends begged him not to. He had no respect for either spirits or the opinions of other people.

On the first day he cut some bushes and went home. Next morning he found all the other bushes had been cut. He felled a tree and on the third day he discovered all the other trees had been felled.

“I am the happiest and luckiest of men,” he thought; “I won’t have to work hard this year, for the Forest spirits are my slaves.”

He lit a small fire and went home. During the night all the bushes, trees and stumps were burned.

In the morning he told his wife to plant one seed of rice, and leave a basket of rise grain there overnight. During the night the seed was planted throughout the field.

At harvest time he cut one stalk of rice, and then went home already counting the profits he would make.

But when he returned in the morning he found all the rice crop had been harvested…and taken away. His crop had disappeared.

Which proves the people as a group are wiser than any single man.


The Baby Star Who Visited a Fish

  • “O Star, my pond is a small and unimportant pond. Why did you choose to come here?”

“No special reason,” said the star. “The water here is clear and sweet, and I am only a baby star.” An then, thinking the fish was a simpleton, he added: “Tell me, will the moon bathe in the sea tonight?”

“I will tell you,” answered the little fish, but first you must tell me why one of my crabs lives with a water-snail.”

The baby star laughed at such foolishness.

“How stupid you are,” he said. “I live up in the sky. What could I know of such things?”

“And you are two fools,” the little fish declared; “for I live in this pond, and what could I know of the sky, or the moon, or if she will bathe in the sea tonight?”

The little star blushed with shamed and flew away. Wise men treat strangers with respect, and save themselves much trouble.


The Girl Who Rose From Her Grave

In a village on a hill there lived a beautiful young girl called Duakma; she was the only child of her mother, who loved her well. When the time came for Duakma to join the women’s secret Sande Society she was taken to the gree-gree bush with many other maidens, far from the eyes of men, and certain ceremonies were performed.

Duakma was the best dancer in the land; when she danced the other girls watched in fascination, and event birds and animals came to watch, but there was one wicked woman who was jealous and hated Duakma because she danced better than her daughter.

This evil woman poisoned Duakma and she died. When the Sande ceremonies were over and Duakma failed to return with the other maidens the whole town mourned, and Duakma’s mother wept for days and could not be consoled. One night she dreamed, and in her dream Duakma appeared to her saying:

“Beloved Mother, if you wish me to live again, arise at dawn and summon the best singers of the town. Let each one sing the Sky-god’s praises as they walk across my grave, and I will live again.”

This thing was done. The singers walked across the grave singing the Sky-god’s praises, and Duakma rose from her grave clad in garments of gold and silver cloth, with precious stones about her and a golden bowl of riches in her hands. She gave half her riches to the singers who had sung her back to life, and danced into her village while her mother and the people all rejoiced.

The wicked woman who had poisoned her became more jealous than before, for now Duakma and her mother possessed happiness and wealth. Therefore she poisoned her own daughter, hoping that fortune would also come to her, and in the time of mourning she also dreamed the dream.

She called the singers at dawn and let them walk across her daughter’s grave singing the Sky-god’s praises, and waited greedily for her girl to rise with precious stones and gold, and other things.

The earth of the grave began to stir, and her daughter’s head appeared: but being greedy the woman ran to pull her out, and pulled her head right off. The head, which had been living, became dead and rotten in her hands: she screamed and ran into the forest, and was never seen again.


Spider, Leopard, and Lightning Bug

Leopard is fond of fish, and once he build a water fence cross a stream and set fish traps therein. With this simple but clever device he caught many fish, and hunger was a stranger to his house. It happened that Spider heard of this, and one night he called on Lightning Bug.

“I know of a place,” he said, “where we can find many fish, and easily, but they must be caught at night. Therefore bring your light, and let us go.”

Lightning Bug agreed to this, and they went to the water fence.
“These are Leopard’s traps,” said Lightning Bug.

“Fish belong to those who find them,” Spider answered.

They collected all the fish and went away; but Spider, being greedy, gave very few to Lightning Bug. Each night for a week they went to the traps, and finally there came a night when Spider decided to keep all the fish for himself.

Lightning Bug protested, but Spider held to his decision; therefore the little fly resolved to teach some manners to his greedy friend. With his light he led him to Leopard’s house, and Spider, thinking it was his own, walked through the door and said:

“O wife, here are some more of Leopard’s fish.”

Then he saw Leopard sitting by the fire, staring at him with big eyes; and Leopardess lying on the bed, staring at him with big eyes; and the two young leopards, who had ceased their playing and were staring at him with small-big eyes. Leopard rose to his feet and cleared his throat.

“So you are the thief!” he growled. Spider trembled with fear, and dropped the fish. He moved quietly towards the door, and Leopard sprang. He missed his mark, and Spider scurried out of the house and fled into the night: and not daring to go home went far into the forest and made a house of banana leaves. He lived in the forest for some time, and one day Leopard chanced to find the house. He looked carefully at the leaves, walked twice around the house, and sniffed inside it. No one was at home.

“It must be Spider’s home,” he said. “Fat, lazy, thieving Spider. I will wait for him. We shall have a talk.” He crept inside the house and waited for Spider to return. But Spider saw the marks of Leopard’s feet, and noticed that the marks led into his banana-leaf house and did not come out again. He thought that Leopard might be waiting inside for him, so he went a little way off and cried out:
“Ho, my banana-leaf house!”

There was, of course, no answer.

“Ho, my banana-leaf house!”

Spider waited a little while, and then remarked quite loudly:
“Here is a strange thing. Every day when I come home I call to my little house, and it answers me. But today it does not answer. Can it be because some enemy is inside? I will try again. . . Ho, my banana-leaf house!”

Leopard cleared his throat and tried to say in a banana-leaf voice:
“Ho, Spider, welcome home!”

Spider laughed and laughed, for now he knew for certain that Leopard was in his house.

“Just sit there, foolish Leopard,” he called out. He ran far, far away until he came to the house of Man: and since Leopard could not come here he crept inside and there he lived, and still lives to this day.


How the King of Monkeys Became Their Slave

When the world was made all the various kinds of animals had their kings, but the monkeys were so foolish and disobedient that Skygod gave them a special king called Quilpu-nine.

Quilpu-nine was a bird with gray hair on his head: Skygod placed him in a hole in the ground where nobody could see him.

The monkey-people were afraid of the Thing-in-the-hole-in-the-ground; since no one had ever seen it and its voice was so loud and harsh, it was thought to be some powerful devil-god and all the monkeys respected and obeyed him.

It was the custom of those times for the animals to render tribute to their kings, bring their best food to them and honoring them with gifts; so Quilpu-nine lived well, growing sleek and fat on nuts and succulent fruits and the choicest of forest fare.

But there came a time of famine in the forest, and although many monkey-people tried to bring rich foods to Quilpu-nine as usual, they found this increasingly difficult to do.

In time the gray-haired bird came to feel the famine too, and one day when the older monkeys were away searching for last season’s nuts and withered fruit he came forth from his hole and stole the little food the monkey-children had.

When the monkey-fathers and monkey-mothers came back to their homes and children they were astonished to learn that their king was merely a gray-haired bird: they pulled him from his hole, and he was obliged to be their slave. One can often hear the monkey-people laughing in the forest, and that is because they still remember that a gray-haired bird called Quilpu-nine was formerly their king.


The Desmode and the Deer

Deer had her home in a pleasant forest glade close to a tall Desmode, or Dicot tree. No grass grew near the Desmode, and the ground there was quite bare; one day Deer saw that her tracks were plainly visible on this bare ground, and fearing a hunter might notice them she said to the Desmode:

“Good friend, please cover my tracks with your leaves.”

The Desmode refused to do this.

“I beg you, cover my tracks. Some hunter may see them there and know this place to be my home, and so kill me.”

“Whether you live or die is no concern of mine,” the Desmode said.

“Then so be it, “ the Deer exclaimed. “But that thing which kills me will kill you too.”

“You are foolish, Deer,” said an Oweh bush nearby, “and your life is shadowed by foolish fears. No hunter will come here.”

“Men eat animals,” Deer protested, “and they also cut down trees. If my tracks betray us all, then don’t blame me.”

Some days later a hunter discovered the tracks of Deer, and he saw that she walked often, and slept, close to the Desmode. He waited in hiding, and killed Deer when she came, then carried the meat and the skin back to his town. The Chief there said:

“That is a very fine skin you have. Let a tree be cut, and we will make a drum.”

“O Chief,” the hunter said, “there is a Desmode at the place where I killed the deer, and the wood of a Desmode is fine for making drums.”

“Such wood holds a pleasant tone,” the chief agreed. “Then let this Desmode be cut.” Woodsmen went to cut the Desmode tree, and noticed the Oweh bush nearby. They said:

“We also must have resin to rub on the skin of the drum. Let us take this Oweh bush, for the resin it has is good.”

The Oweh bush was also cut and taken to town with the Desmode. The drum was made, using the skin of Deer, the wood of Desmode, and the rosin of Oweh bush. Deer quarreled with Desmode and Oweh abused them both: and when the drum was beaten the echoes of their quarrel filled the air.


The Terrible End of Catfish

Catfish and Rice Bird were once firm friends. One day Rice Bird said:

“I just saw a farmer cut a hole in the top of a palm wine tree, to catch wine in a bowl. Let us go and steal some.”

“It would be nice,” Catfish agreed, “I am tired of always drinking the same old thing. But you know I cannot fly.”

“I will lend you feathers,” Rice Bird said.

He gave Catfish almost half his feathers, and they managed to fly up to the top of the wine palm, where they drank wine. Then Catfish returned to the river, and gave Rice Bird back his feathers. Thereafter they would fly up to the palm and drink whenever they wished.

There came a time when they drank too much. They became very, very drunk, so drunk that they could hardly move, and while they were lying in the bowl the owner of the wine came. He began to climb the tree.

Catfish and Rice Bird stopped their singing and listened. The farmer climbed closer. They became scared. Rice Bird knew that he could not fly now with only half his feathers, for he was too foolish and full of wine: so he pulled his feathers from Catfish, despite the tearful protests of his friend, and managed to flutter away.

Poor Catfish lay there helplessly in the bowl, sobbing and sobbing. The farmer found him there, and was so astonished to find a fish in his wine bowl at the top of a palm that he almost fell down again. But eventually he just shrugged, carried Catfish home and put him in a pot to cook.

As Catfish was cooking he sadly sang a song: “Sometimes a friend does not intend to help one faithfully. Those with such friends will meet their ends and terrible ends they’ll be.


A Tale of Two Feasts

All the animals of the forest decided to have a grand feast. Spider was appointed Master of Ceremonies, for everyone knew he was the greediest animal in the forest and they felt confident he would make sure there was more than enough to eat.

After much dancing and drinking of palm wine everyone sat down to eat; but Spider announced that everyone must first wash their hands clean.

All the animals went to the river and washed their hands — but Monkey could not get his hands clean no matter how much he wished. He rubbed them with leaves, and sand, and oil, but they remained dirty; Spider knew quite well that Monkey’s hands can never be washed clean.

So Monkey was obliged to leave the feast; he was forbidden to eat anything, and returned to his home still hungry. He was disappointed, and sat down to think how he could have revenge. Next day he announced to all the animals that he himself would give a feast, and that it would be held under the waters of a pond.

On the appointed day the animals arrived, and one after another they splashed in to the water and let themselves sink to the bottom. Here the fund a fine array of luscious fruits, fish, herbs and nuts and roots spread before them.

Spider came to the pond, but try as he would he could not sink down to the bottom. He borrowed a kaftan, which is a long Mandingo robe striped blue and white, and by filling the pockets with stones he managed to sink to the bottom. As all the animals were about to begin eating, Monkey stood up and made an announcement:

“This is an under-water feast.” he said. “No one may wear a coat with stripes. Off with all striped coats!”

“Off with all striped coats!” echoed the animals, and looked around to see who was wearing one. There was only Spider, in his borrowed kaftan, and of course he was on the surface of the pond, while the other animals looked above their heads at him and laughed. Monkey was delighted, but since Spider was his guest he did not laugh.

“Why do you leave so early?” he gravely asked. “The feast has not yet begun. Have you already so much wind you cannot stay?”

Spider danced helplessly on the surface of the pond from time to time poking his head beneath the surface to gaze in hungry disappointment at the lavish feast below.

An evil deed always comes home to roost. Even today one may see Spider on the surface of a quiet pond, skating about on the water and anxiously peering into the depths below.


How Jackal Saved His Wife

Jackal’s young wife lay dying of a strange and deadly sickness, so he went to Weasel for advice. Weasel was a country-doctor, or medicine man, and reputed to be wise in the ways of healing herbs and magic powders. He said to Jackal:

“For medicine strong enough to kill the devil in your wife I must have a white powder for the Witch People; and also a load of yams.”
Jackal gave him the yams and went to the Witch People for the white powder. He said to them:

“Please give me a white powder so that Weasel can make medicine to save my dying wife.”

“To make the powder,” the Witch People said, “We will need the liver of a monkey which died when the moon was full. Also a load of corn.”

Jackal gave them a load of corn and went to Hunter.

“Please kill a monkey when the moon is full so that I can give its liver to the Witch People and they can make a white powder to give to Weasel for him to make medicine to save the life of my dying wife.”

“Well,” said Hunter, “It is difficult to find monkeys when the moon is full. They only gather when the plums are ripe. You must find me a plum tree with ripe fruit; and also a load of cassava.”

Jackal gave Hunter a load of Cassava and went to a plum tree.

“Please ripen your fruit,” he begged, “so that the monkeys will come when the moon is full and the hunter can kill one to get the liver to give to the Witch People who will make a white powder which Weasel must have to make medicine for my dying wife.

“I can’t just ripen my fruit like that,” the plum tree complained. “I depend on the sun. A big gourd of palm-wine would help, too.”
Jackal gave plum tree a gourd of palm wine and went to the sun.

Be so good as to shine on plum tree to ripen the fruit so that monkeys will come at the full of the moon and the hunter can kill one to get the liver to give to the Witch People so they can make a white powder which Weasel must have for medicine he will make to save my dying wife.”

“I am the servant of God.” said the man. “Only he can make me shine.” Jackal prayed to Nyiswa, telling him the whole story and begging his assistance. Nyiswa made the sun shine. The plums ripened. Monkeys came at the full of the moon.

The Hunter shot a monkey and Jackal gave the liver to the Witch People. The Witch People made a white powder. From the white powder Weasel made a strong medicine, and Jackal carried the medicine home to save his dying wife.

But when he arrived home he found Nyiswa had already saved her, and she was well: which shows that Jackal might just as well have prayed to God in the first place.


How a Farmer Lost His Bowels Through Ingatitude

The farmers who were friends were accustomed to helping one another in their fields. They cut rice side by side, felled trees, planted crops and shared them, and were as brothers. One morning when they went into their fields to work they saw wild hogs rooting among the crops.

One of the farmers ran towards the hogs to chase them away. He slipped and fell on a stake; the stake pierced his stomach and his bowels began to spill out of his skin.

His friend quickly caught them in an empty gourd, and the wounded man was able to hold his stomach in place and save his life.

“Lend me your spear,” said his friend, “and I will kill those hogs who have caused us such great mischief! He killed three hogs, but he broke the spear on the fourth and the beast fled into the forest with half the spear.

The farmer returned with the broken piece of spear.

“Friend, I killed three hogs but broke your spear on the fourth. Forgive me.”

“You broke my good spear? And you lost the iron head?”

“The iron head is lost.”

“Then you will pay for this! You will give me half your crop for this. Oh, I will make you pay for my good spear!”

“So?” asked his friend. “You would make me pay so much just because I broke your spear?”

“I will make you pay even more!” cried the other.

“Then I must ask now for my gourd which is holding in your stomach, for we are friends no longer.”

He took the gourd; and the wounded man, who had proved so ungrateful, lost his bowels and died.