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close this bookBukusu Folktales (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1986, 134 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe Boy Who ate the Elephants' Rumps
View the documentThe Hare and the Leopard
View the documentMwambu and Sella
View the documentThe Story of Apelu
View the documentHare Steals a Hen
View the documentSimbi and Namakanda
View the documentKhole
View the documentWanakhatandi
View the documentA Father and His Son
View the documentAn Old Woman and Her Deformed Son
View the documentThe Dog and the Leopard's Children
View the documentNasio and her Brother
View the documentHare, Hyena and Lizard
View the documentKasawa and his Forbidden Pumpkins
View the documentA Woman and Her Daughter of Clay
View the documentHare leads Leopard to a Hive
View the documentHyena and Baboon
View the documentHare and Elephant Pay a Visit
View the documentLemata and Katamba
View the documentThree Men meet a Strange Old Woman
View the documentA Hyena Ate His Protector
View the documentThe Secret of a Murder
View the documentA Bull Newt Who Refused to heed his wife's advice
View the documentA Dying Old Woman earns Bridewealth for her Sons
View the documentFortuity is like Dew Drops
View the documentA Basket Maker Declares Himself Free from the Burden of Debts
View the documentThe Thirsty Intruder
View the documentBack Cover

The Boy Who ate the Elephants' Rumps

Once upon a time a herd of elephants were invited by their friends to a big party where they were going to eat, drink and dance throughout the night. “This will be a great occasion for us,” thought the elephants as they set out on their journey. Every now and then, they stopped on the way to admire their garments and dance in practise for their great occasion. However, during one of their dancing rehearsals, one of the elephants remarked, “It appears King Elephant is not going to please his hosts this time!”

“Why?” exclaimed the others in surprise. “Because,” replied the first speaker, “I see that instead of dancing properly, each one of us is merely wobbling back and forth as if he is about to collapse dead.”

“The problems is with our rumps, comrades,” said the second elephant.

“They dangle on the backside like pumpkins on the creeper.”

“Yes!” said the third elephant amid laughter, “it may be the rumps which are clumsy, but what can you do about it?” “Cut the rumps off,” replied the first elephant, “and deposit them with a friend who shall keep them for us until we return.”

“Yes,” said the second elephant, “In this way we shall not feel heavy when we dance singorio.

“Agreed, agreed,” shouted the rest.

And so the elephants went about looking for a person with whom they could entrust their rumps for safe-keeping. After walking for a long time, they came upon a hamlet which lay on the edge of a forest.

“There, there,” one elephant pointed at a hut from which smoke was rising up in a steady cloud. “We have found what we are looking for.” So they all went in the direction of the hut. A young man was sitting in the courtyard, dressing a handful of ruffia palms for scouring milk-gourds.

“Vu-uu-ut, young man, don't run away,” trumpeted the elephants.

“Vu-uu-ut, we want to make friends with you. Vu-uu-ut, we shall reward you if you do what we want you to do.”

The young man was dumb-founded with fear. He stared incredulously at the sight before him, the ruffia-palm dropping from his hands. “This is my last day to see the sun,” thought the young man. “Poor mother has lost her only son.”

“Vu-uu-ut, young man. Pick up that knife and start carving off our rumps, beginning with King Elephant,” one of the elephants said pointing at the largest of the elephants. “We are visiting somewhere on a very important occasion for which we don't need our rumps. What we want you to do therefore, is to chop them off and preserve them securely for us until we come back for them. Are you ready for this task young man?”

“Y-y-yes,” stammered the young man.

“Vu-uu-ut, and remember, if you fail in your mission,” trumpeted the elephants in chorus, “we shall trample you under our feet and reduce you to dust, eh!”

“Y-y-yees,” stammered the young man again.

“Now be quick; for we should be moving....vu-uu-ut......vu..uu-ut...vu-uuu-uut.”

So, with trembling hands, the young man took his knife and set about cutting off the elephants' rumps one by one until he finished the whole lot.

“There,” he whispered. “I will keep them securely until you return.”

The elephants proceeded on their way feeling so light and happy. They were sure they were going to give the best performance at the party.

It took him time to be reconciled to the idea that he had struck such a good fortune. Suddenly he realised it was evening. He could already make out the silhouette of his mother approaching from the direction of the garden where she had been working the greater part of the day. Soon she would be within ear-shot.

“Mother!” called the boy. “Guess what I have got for you today.”

“What is it my son?” replied the tired woman. “Did you get any luck with your bird-traps?”

“Oh, no!” cried the boy. “You won't believe your ears. We have here enough meat to feast on for many days to come; see.”

“Oh, my son! What could I do without you? Your father has neglected us for a long time. He provides us with neither meat nor milk, and so we have to go on living on lifwafwa like the outcasts of the land. He only cares for his other woman while we sniff about for signs of kuronya. I tell you my son, this is a gift from God himself.”

Thus, for many days, mother and son feasted on elephant meat, just the two of them, not caring to invite the oldman to any of their meals. The nice smell emanating from kimiranda sent the population of the hamlet talking.

“Have you noticed,” observed a woman as a group passed by the hut on their way to draw water, “that our neighbour here looks more cheerful than ever before?”

“Yes,” replied another, “and have you heard that every evening for several days now a scent of roasting meat can be caught apparently coming from that direction?”

“Who knows,” added a third, “maybe the oldman has decided to reconsider his long neglected wife.”

“Eee,” said another, “it is possible he fears her only son who will soon be a man.”

The days went by and the young man became more and more obsessed with fear. The elephants should be on their way now. It won't be long before they arrive to retrieve their rumps.

At night he lay on his back and wept silently counting the rafters in the roof of his esimba over and over again. He could not sleep a wink.

When he did sleep at all, he would have nightmares. In his dreams the elephants would appear trumpeting loudly.

“Young man,” they would say, “we have come for our rumps.” He would stand there trembling. Then as they approached to trample him into dust, he would wake up with a start. Gradually, his mood changed and he began to draw away from his mother. He hardly spoke to her when they were together.

“What shall I say to my father when the elephants come back, and he has not as much as tasted this meat?” he contemplated as he went about his daily work. “Where shall I hide myself to avoid the wrath of the elephants? Shall I run away to my uncle's? But then what will become of my poor mother?”

He felt like crying out but he held back his tears because he was a circumcised man and it was taboo for a Mubukusu man who was circumcised to cry like a woman. One day, noticing the sombre disposition of her son, the mother said to him, “Your eyes are as red as an ox-pecker's beak. Have you been crying?”

The boy looked away. He could hardly hold back the tears that came welling in his eyes.

“Now my son,” went on the mother, “what is it that is worrying you? Are you ill or something? If you want to marry, I can speak to your father about it.”

“No, mother,” said the son, “it is that meat. I cannot sleep even a wink.”

“What? Have you been eating bad meat? How is it that I am not affected myself?”

“No. It is not that the meat was bad. I am worried about the elephants they will kill me because we have been eating their rumps.”

“Elephants? Surely, the elephants cannot be alive if we have been eating their flesh! It is only a bee which can follow you when you have eaten its honey. I have never heard of this about elephants.”

“Well, you never asked how I got all that meat. So thrilled were you at the thought of putting aside our usual diet for something better, that you never came to know that elephants came here and asked me to keep their rumps which they would collect on their return from a long visit. They threatened that they would trumple me under their feet and reduce me to dust if I did not restore to them the rumps.”

“Oh dear!” cried the mother in despair. “That's a big problem. I am only a woman. You better speak to your father about it.”

The mother's words were no consolation to him. How can a disobedient son face his father with a request for a favour? “I wish I had consulted my father before everything happened,” he pondered to himself. Nevertheless, he rose and went to see his father for advice.

The oldman was living with a younger wife in a different lukoba, which lay in a banana grove several paces beyond the brook. When the young man arrived at the homestead he found his father sharpening his favourite sword whilst basking in the gentle rays of the morning sun. As soon as the oldman saw the young man approaching closely, a quick thought flashed through his mind.

“There must be some trouble,” he conjectured. His son could neither desire his presence nor seek his advice, unless he was faced with some knotty problem.

After exchanging greetings the young man said, “Father, I am facing imminent trouble. Father, I pray, you must help me.” The oldman went on sharpening his sword quietly, without paying much attention to his son's presence. After a long pause the young man opened up his mouth to speak again but the oldman interrupted him.

“Trouble indeed! What trouble? It must be only trouble that sends you seeking my advice! You have been so disobedient to me, as if I never begot you! Go back to your mother with whom you eat grasshoppers!”

“Father,” pleaded the son, “we have eaten the elephants' rumps, and I am afraid the elephants will kill me. I promised to preserve the rumps for them until they...............”

“I said go back to your mother, didn't you hear me?”

With that discouraging message the young man returned to his mother's hut. The mother was already wailing pathetically as if she had sensed the outcome of her son's encounter with the oldman. The young man looked dejected and desperate. He wished his father had forgiven him every mistake he had made in the past. He was, at least in his heart, prepared to do anything in his power to reform his character. But, he wondered, would he pardon all my past misdeeds? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, my own father cannot let me be killed by elephants.

While thus distraught in this dilemma, he heard his mother ask in a low and rather painful voice, “What has he told you?”

He did not answer.

“Tell me,” the mother insisted, “has he forsaken you? You mean.....?”

There was still no answer. The young man remained tightlipped, not knowing how or where to begin the disheartening news. When the mother persisted in asking questions, he simply looked away from her and said, “Nothing!”

“You mean......?” the mother stammered.

“Yes,” said the son. “He doesn't care whatever happens to me.”

“Oh, no!” The mother burst out crying and sobbing. “What shall I do? This cannot be true. I will go with you to hear what he says with my own ears.”

Once again an attempt was made to persuade the oldman to intercede in the trouble that was looming. The mother and son trudged along wearily heading for the lukoba that lay hidden behind a banana grove. Their own lukoba was surrounded with an euphorbia fence. They exchanged no words on the way as they shuffled their feet rhythmically, walking one behind the other like blind sheep. O yes, you should have seen them looking miserable! Indeed, they resembled termites that had lost their wings.

When they got there, they found the oldman still sitting in the same place and whetting his favourite sword dutifully as the young man had previously found and left him doing. He looked at the downcast couple and smiled with a grin. “Old One,” he said addressing himself to the omukhaye, “you must teach your son how to behave.” Then there was a short silence.

“Look here,” the oldman said as he turned to his son, “if you will in future sleep in trees like birds that have no home, you will claim that you had no father to advise you. Old One,” he nodded to the omukhaye, “draw aside, I want to have a word with him.”

The omukhaye retired to her co-wife's hut, leaving the two men talking. The son sat down on the ground while the oldman sat on the traditional three-legged stool.

“You hear, my son?” said the oldman, “you will take a bill-hook and go to cut the flax-seed of speargrass. Cut as much as you can; then spread them in the yard, just as you do when drying millet or eleusine in the sun. When the elephants come, give each one of them a rungu for guarding the seeds against windstorms and birds. Tell them that they must boo and scare away these two enemies while you go to get their rumps. Warn them that should any of the seeds be eaten by the birds or blown away by the wind, you will wage a punitive war against them and you will in the circumstances not give back their rumps. Do you hear? Go now, go and do as I have told you.”

So, the young man went and did as his father had bid him to do. No sooner had he finished spreading the flax-seed than he heard the noise of stampeding approaching. There, indeed, were his friends the elephants, coming for their rumps.

“I am delighted to see you my friends,” the boy called cheerfully. “Everything is alright with that little promise. I was beginning to wonder whether you were going to come at all! It was a great trust you put in me eh! You must have had a good time, staying away so long?”

“A gorgeous time we had,” they cried “oh, the food!.... and the dancing.....! We are sure the absence of our rumps greatly contributed towards our success!”

“Look here, friends,” the boy continued. “I kept the rumps in a very secure place where rats could not pose a problem. Now I must go and fetch them. In the meantime,” he continued, “you will have to watch over my property, while I am away. Here are some sticks for beating off birds and the wind which may threaten to rob you of the grains in the yard. I tell you, these two chaps are a big nuisance in this area. Make sure, therefore, that not a single grain is taken away. If on my return I find that you have not been wary over this, I will wage a big war against you in revenge, and you will consequently not get back your rumps. Alright?”

Having given instructions to the elephants, the young man put on a warrior's garb and scurried off to a nearby thicket. He hid himself behind an ant-hill and waited anxiously for the wind to come and disturb the elephants. He waited and waited, but nothing seemed to bestir. Suddenly, however, a whirlwind came and blew off the speargrass seeds from the yard. The elephants whipped sticks in the air wildly, trying to stop the whirlwind from its mischief but to no avail. In the course of the commotion, the young man dashed from behind the ant-hill with a bunch of twigs which he had gathered, and created more pandemonium by shouting and ululating at the top of his voice, and throwing up a twig in the air each time he shouted a word. He created such a noise that one would have thought there were a hundred soldiers in the attack.


Figure

“Boo, boo, boo! There.....there......there! You bottomless scoundrels......you vermin......how can you let my property disappear in the air like that? Boo, booh.......get out of here you clumsy fellows!”

Soon the father joined in the ululating, then the mother, then the co-wife. The elephants got so terrified that they felt they could no longer withstand the odds against them. They fled in different directions amid the noise and confusion.

VOCABULARY

singorio

wild jumping style

lifwafwa

kind of green vegetable supposedly eaten by the poor

kuronya

meat for barter

kimiranda

meat which is smoked on skewers

mzee

elder (respectable title for family man)

omukhaye

respectable lady

esimba

bachelor's hut

lukoba

homestead

rungu

club, knobkerrie