|Bukusu Folktales (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1986, 134 p.)|
Once upon a time, there lived a man called Wanakhatandi who had many daughters but had no sons. In the Bukusu society of those days people were not happy with the idea of having a family predominated by female children; in fact this was regarded as a misfortune. When one had too many girls in the family people frowned on him saying, Ahaa, this one has bad luck. What was even worse for Wanakhatandi was that his firstborn was a girl, contrary to the desire of his clansmen. If the firstborn was a son, people said he could defend his father in war. Moreover, through a male child, not only was a man's lineage perpetuated but the entire clan tended to expand numerically. The latter aspect was regarded as the only way of guaranteeing the survival of a particular ethnic group in such turbulent world as the Bukusu people lived.
Thus, Wanakhatandi's family circumstances became the source of strained relations between himself and his wife. Everyday there were brawls in the family and whenever this happened Wanakhatandi ran to seek consolation from his other wife who unfortunately was barren. When he went out hunting he took all the meal to the childless woman. He enjoyed doing this as a punishment to the woman who had many unwanted mouths to feed. Only very occasionally did he ever think of taking a piece of meat to his first wife, the woman with many daughters. Indeed Wanakhatandi was a mean man showering all his favours on the childless woman and treating the woman with children as nothing more than a parasite.
Famine broke out in the country and Wanakhatandi deserted his family completely and went to stay with the childless wife. The poor woman who had too many mouths to feed lived like a beggar. She went out with her children everyday to collect leaves and fruits of various wild plants in order to procure a day's meal. This went on until another disaster broke out in the country. Ogres invaded the land and the human kind was threatened with complete extinction. The ogres went from door to door, eating up the hunger-stricken folks who had no strength left to flee for their lives. Now, instead of seeking the benevolence of wild plants, people could no longer venture out for fear of being caught by ogres. Whenever the ogres saw smoke rising from a roof somewhere they rushed there to investigate. If they found any survivors in the house they ate them up.
One day the ogres came to Wanakhatandi's house. On seeing them, he trembled with fear and fell on his knees, pleading. Please, please, he cried, spare my life, I will help you to get more meat. Oh, please do spare my life....please. The ogres stared at him more out of amusement than astonishment. And how many people do you have under your roof? they asked. Wanakhatandi stammered helplessly, I...I... I have ...I have many, many daughters whom I can give you. The ogres laughed and said, But we shall eat you as well. They ordered him to kill one person each day so that they could have something to eat on their return from hunting.
Wanakhatandi went to his wife and said, Now you must do as I tell you. I have promised the ogres that you will cook one child each day, so today you start with the big girl and.... The wife said, What is wrong with you old one? And Wanakhatandi motioned her to stop, shouting Wa.. it, I have not finished speaking yet! And last of all you will cook yourself.
The idea of having a mother kill her own children was too horrifying for the wife of Wanakhatandi to accept, not even under the threat of death. To kill her own children? No! Never! Not the children born of her own womb. Not the children whom she had carried in her womb for nine months; not the children whom she had reared all along with such fondness... Not my own children, she said in her heart as she sobbed and wept quietly. But she could not dare remonstrate with Wanakhatandi any further; not with that heartless man! But what could she do under the circumstances? She could not talk to him about escape because that would only worsen things. He would definitely betray her. Without protesting any further she simply nodded her head effectively feigning co-operation. Believing that his instructions had been obeyed to the letter, Wanakhatandi went back to live with his barren wife and only made regular visits to come and check on what this woman had cooked for the ogres.
Wanakhatandi's Wife located a hole in a giant tree where she hid her children. She collected bones of dead animals, skins and decomposed carcasses which she boiled in a big pot until the stuff was tender and tasty. When the ogres came Wanakhatandi showed them the big pot saying, Today I have cooked my big daughter. The ogres danced in the yard singing. Lelo nduurire endiriri, muchuli kharure ye bubwoya... Lelo nduurire endiriri muchuli kharure eye bubwoya. (Today I bagged a heavy one, tomorrow I will bag a hairy one.) They settled down to eat the mixture in the pot believing that it was Wanakhatandi's first daughter. They munched and munched the mixture humming approvingly: Umm, um, um, um! This old man knows how to cook. This is really tasty meat.
Wanakhatandi's wife collected the same stuff for the successive meals and each day the ogres came back Wanakhatandi reported to them on whom they were eating then and so forth. When at last Wanakhatandi told the ogres that he had finally cooked his wife the ogres told him that he should cook himself next. Wanakhatandi wept and wept not knowing what to do to cook himself. He filled the pot with water and put it on the fire. The water boiled and boiled and boiled. Wanakhatandi was in the meantime thinking of how brave his wife and children must have been to manage boiling up themselves like meat. He decided that the best thing was for him to close his eyes and run very fast and throw himself into the boiling water. In this way, he believed he could not feel the pain of death. So he ran fast towards the pot singing and crying:
Wanakhatandi khetekhe ndiena?
Bana bange betekha bariena?
Omukhasi wange ketekha ariena?
Wanakhatandi khetekhe ndiena?
(Wanakhatandi, how shall I cook myself?
How did my children cook themselves?
How did my wife cook herself?
Wanakhatandi, how shall I cook myself?)
Each time he ran to the pot he came back more terrified and shaken. He could not even manage to close his eyes any more as he approached the pot. He was scared. Whenever he made for the pot, he ran so fast that his simolo flapped in the air leaving him half naked. This so amused the family who were watching the drama from the tree hole that they could not help laughing derisively at him. The wife and the children had a big laugh at the whole episode. The wife laughed gleefully and mumbled jeers, Bastard...let him cook himself now, so that we can see it...bastard...that is what he desired for us ... silly man, he wanted us to be killed... One person, however, did not find amusement out of the drama; the eldest daughter. She felt sorry for her father, nudging her mother from time to time she said, Mother, mother...let us call father to come here and join us, mother please...mother, the ogres will eat him! She persisted in her pleas until she prevailed upon her mother. And so with her mother's consent she called out, Father, father, we are not dead! We are all alive and living here in a tree hole...please come and join us.
At first Wanakhatandi could not believe his ears. He thought it must be the ghost of his eldest daughter calling to him. He looked up and, lo! there was his daughter beckoning him to take refuge in the tree hole. It was she whom he had first sacrificed to the ogres. What a humiliation it was for Wanakhatandi to face the family he had deserted and wished all of them dead! He was so confused and ashamed that he stood still not knowing which way to go. He had to accept the bitter truth that his life was now at the mercy of those whom he had unashamedly offered to the ogres. He took one step, and then increased the pace hesitantly, walking towards the tree from which his daughter was shouting and crying to him to make haste. The wife he had so ill treated came down and tore from him the simolo, leaving him completely naked! She cut it into pieces and cooked it up to provide the ogres with their next meal. When the ogres came back from hunting they ate it and said. Umm, umm, umm... even old Wanakhatandi is sweet.
Believing that they had consumed the whole family the ogres migrated to another area. Meanwhile, food became plentiful in the country and people's lives were saved. Wanakhatandi and his family came down from the tree hole and lived together happily thereafter.
the loin cloth usually worn by poor among Bukusu.