|Bukusu Folktales (Kenya Literature Bureau, 1986, 134 p.)|
A long time ago, there was a beautiful girl called Simbi who turned down countless suitors. She eluded the marriage bait of many an adoring admirer. One young man after another visited Simbi's home, but Simbi would not relent. To avoid all contact with prospective suitors who hovered around her home, she used to work in the fields for very long hours. Whenever visitors called in they had to depend on the service of a hunchback half-sister of Simbi's called Nakitumba. Nakitumba did not work in the fields with her sisters because she was unable, due to her deformity. She was an ugly-looking midget of a girl, despised by everybody around, even by Simbi. But she was very intelligent and kindhearted.
Each time Simbi's visitors dropped in Nakitumba greeted them warmly and ran out to pass a message to Simbi in the form of a song which went like this:
Simbi, Simbi, bakeni bali engo
Aah, Nalung'unyo, semanya barula waena (Simbi, Simbi, visitors are at home, Aaah, the Nagging Grumbler, I do not know where they have come from) And Simbi's reply was always:
Mukhana ewe, mukhana Nakitumba, baboolele bacheengo Aaab, Nalung'unyo, semanya barula waena.
(My dear girl, my dear girl, Nakitumba, tell them to go back to their homes; Aaah, the Nagging Grumbler, I do not know where they have come from).
Sometimes Simbi found time to come home and attend to her suitors, but in most cases she just ignored them and remained in the fields until she was told that they had gone. The routine of ignoring suitors went on, until one day her heart was conquered. Three young men came and Nakitumba welcomed them as usual. She sang the customary message and Simbi came home quickly. This time Simbi was very impressed with the visitors. She behaved to them in the way she had never behaved to any others before. Taking charge of every task in the house, she made sure that the visitors were given first-class entertainment. She readily smiled to them, darting back and forth like a butterfly in search of nectar. Even Nakitumba, who never took her eyes off them, even when they were eating, observed very strange habits about these young men. She noticed that whenever they took food to their mouths, they opened their mouths wide and swallowed down plate and all. Then on realising that Nakitumba was watching them, they exchanged glances and quickly regurgitated the utensils. The visitors paid several visits and Nakitumba noted this peculiar behaviour every time, even after Simbi had been formally betrothed to her hero. Nakitumba coined a song to ridicule them thus:
Simbi, Simbi, olekhanga balayi
Nalung'unyo, semanya barula waena
(Simbi, Simbi, you reject genuine suitors and fall for ogres, the Nagging Grumbler, I do not know where they have come from).
Simbi was greatly disturbed. She got so upset with Nakitumba's apparent display of impudent behaviour towards her suitors that she one day faced Nakitumba:
Why do you behave like this Nakitumba?
But sister, Nakitumba said, don't you have eyes to see with?
Simbi stared at Nakitumba with angry eyes and then retorted:
See what? Your hunchback eh?
Nakitumba did not in the least feel offended.
My sister she said, I have no grudge with you but as a sister, I feel duty-bound to reveal to you what I have observed of the bewitchingly charming boys. She then related the food eating episodes without feeling and then stressed, I love you Simbi; and as your sister, I would be the last person to offend you just for the sake of it. But remember even the cleverest person cannot shave his own head.
Feeling that Nakitumba was only mocking her by inferring that she was blind to realities, Simbi gave vent to her fury: I know, it is because of your deformity that you cannot stop being jealous of my boyfriends. Am I the one who made you ugly? Oh how I hate you, Nakitumba.
Nakitumba did not answer, nor did she speak again to Simbi on that day. She remained quiet and withdrawn, like a tortoise which had sensed danger. But she waited anxiously for the day of reckoning, the day when Simbi would marry an ogre! At last the appointed day came. Maids were, according to Bukusu tradition, chosen to escort Simbi to her new home. Simbi chose four girls excluding Nakitumba. She said that Nakitumba was so ugly that if she accompanied the bridal party the groom might be upset, and perhaps even cancel the marriage. In spite of her pleas Nakitumba was ordered to stay home. The rest of the party then proceeded on the ceremonial journey.
Nakitumba waited until they had turned a corner, a little distance from home, and then followed stealthily, ducking whenever she saw anyone turn to look back. At one stage, however, Simbi noticed her before she ducked, rushed back and gave her a good spanking. She ordered Nakitumba to return home; and stood there watching as she furtively trotted homeward. To her husband, she explained that due to Nakitumba's disability, she was not capable of making such a long journey. If she came along, therefore, it was going to force someone to carry her part of the way.
The bridal party came upon a river which they forded and soon arrived at Simbi's new home. After nightfall, when they were singing merrily in a festive mood, Nakitumba popped into the house. Contrary to Simbi's judgement, the bridegroom was very pleased to see her. When Simbi tried to mistreat her, he intervened compassionately, saying that her presence was a great joy for him. He quickly pointed out that it reminded him of the occasions when he used to find no one else home.
Let this little sister-in-law of mine enjoy the fruits of her kind heart, he said soothingly.
During the night when everybody was sleeping, Simbi's husband and his companions turned into ogres. All of a sudden, the room glowed red like a smith's hut. Then the ogres growled. Sparks of fire darted from their big mouths as they got ready to eat up the girls.
Mmh, mmh, mmh whimpered Nakitumba. All the while she had not closed an eye. She seemed to sense danger all the time. Her sixth sense had prompted her to follow the bridal party against her half-sister's wish. Hence she had noticed everything that was happening. Her whimpering was meant to divert the attention of the ogres.
What is it, little sister? Are you ill or something? asked Simbi's husband as the whole place returned to normal. What can I do for you?
Mmb, mmb, mmb I am ill... I want some water to drink. The ogre said, Which water, little sister?
Plain water from the pot, said Nakitumba, Bring it in a calabash. Nakitumba's timely distractions and feigned requests caused the ogre to change back into human form and the night passed without further mishap.
When the girls woke up in the morning they did not notice anything out of the way. However, during the day when the ogres had gone out hunting, Nakitumba narrated to the girls the night's strange happenings. Two of the girls showed interest in the story, but Simbi and the other two dismissed it as just another of her day dreaming exercises. So when night came the two girls who shared Nakitumba's sentiments pretended that they were sleeping in order to keep undetected vigil. The ogres tried once again to seize the opportunity. Nakitumba played her tricks as before feigning sickness. This time she asked Simbi's husband to fetch water from the well, which he did.
In the morning the two girls who had witnessed the strange behaviour of the ogres sided with Nakitumba. They blamed each other for having misjudged Nakitumba's timely warnings. Meanwhile it was decided that passersby be given a message to take home that the bridal party was in grave danger of being eaten by the ogres. It was to be reported that Simbi's husband and his companions were ogres. When the news eventually reached home people lost hope of ever seeing the girls alive again. Families of the girls comprising the bridal party held commemorative funeral ceremonies in honour of their presumed dead daughters.
The ogres returned from hunting and found the girls looking as cheerful as ever. They did not in the least betray their anxiety concerning their safety so the ogres did not suspect anything having gone amiss. An evening meal was prepared and after eating the ogres joked with the girls, cleverly making references to Nakitumba's great thirst for water and how they had been at pains to coax her back to sleep. As they continued poking fun and teasing Nakitumba, one girl after another dropped off to sleep. In actual fact, they were only pretending to sleep.
On seeing that there was complete silence in the house, the ogres assumed that all the girls were sound asleep. They transformed into their true shapes and made another attempt on the girls. This time even Simbi herself had decided to keep vigil so as to satisfy her curiosity of the breathtaking allegations. Suddenly the whole house glowed red as the ogres opened their fiendish mouths. Nakitumba groaned and whimpered as before; and on this occasion asked for sea water. The ogres asked her, In what container shall we carry it, little sister? And she said, Musiyonjo, i.e. in a wicker basket.
In the first place the sea was many miles away and it would take the ogres a whole night's walk to fetch the water. In the second place, the wicker basket referred to by Nakitumba was specifically used as a bird cage for keeping domesticated birds such as fowls, quails and guineafowls. Its framework would not hold water. Hence, the ogres were going to waste a lot of time on a long fruitless journey.
The foolish ogres made for the sea with a wicker basket. Much as they tried, they could not fill it with water. They kept on dipping it in the water but by the time they had lifted it out, it was empty! After many attempts, they got fed up and started cursing Nakitumba by the vilest names they could think of.
Wait until I get home, shouted one. I will chew that hump of hers until nothing is left.
To avoid ending in dismal failure one of the ogres suggested that they smear the base of the basket with clay soil. The trick worked, and so they managed to save a little quantity of water for little sister.
In the meantime, the girls took off soon after the ogres had left for the sea. Before leaving they cut banana stems and covered them to make them look as if they were sleeping persons. When the ogres returned home they mistook the banana stems for the girls. Nakitumba had not left the house but had merely changed herself into a hunchbacked small grasshopper called Nasienen.
The girls walked for a long time and when they came to a flooded river they despaired of ever being able to cross it. Had their flight come to this dead end? They had almost made up their minds to return to the ogres' house, apologise for their long absence, and once again stand up to the nocturnal ordeals. Just in this moment of despair, a gigantic frog called Namakanda hopped towards them and said, My children why do you look so depressed?
And the girls said, We are running away from the ogres, but now cannot proceed on our way because the river is flooded.
My children, Namakanda said, I will protect you. So don't you worry. I will take each one of you in my stomach and carry you all to your respective homes.
She then called the girls one by one, and swallowed them. Then she asked them whether there was anyone else left behind and they said that Nakitumba was due to join them shortly.
The ogres were so angry that they could not conceal their grotesque teeth when they entered the house with sea water in the wicker basket. Believing that the rest of the girls were sleeping, they straightaway attacked Nakitumba. Where are you, you bloody hunchback? You have given us enough trouble, now you will have it. Come and take your precious water!
Nakitumba said, I am here at the hearth. Then one ogre said, But I cannot see you! And she said, But I can see your ugly teeth very well.
Feeling that he had had enough of Nakitumba's tricks, the ogre picked up a very big stick and headed for the hearth. Where are you, dirty hunchback? he shouted. I am still at the hearth said Nakitumba in a feigned trembling voice. So the ogre lunged there with the stick, hoping to crack her head but found nobody. He asked again even more angrily, Where are you? I am on the firewood rack, came the trembling voice of Nakitumba. The ogre hit out at the firewood rack with all his might but missed his target. Only a small grasshopper could be seen fluttering around. When the ogre next asked where Nakitumba was, she said she was in a pitcher. The ogres smashed the pitcher spilling out all the water it contained. Then the rest of the ogres joined in the rampage. They opened their mouths wide, causing a red glow to envelope the entire house. On turning to what they had mistakenly thought to be sleeping girls, they discovered to their dismay that they had been fooled. How they swore and growled and cursed! To crown it all, Nakitumba jeered and chided them saying, Ehehee heeeh! I am only a grasshopper. As for the girls, you will never set your hungry eyes on them again. You are a bunch of foolish ogres and you will not catch me! And with that she flew and disappeared in the dark still night. On arriving at the river, the giant frog gobbled her and then ate soil and some worms.
The ogres ransacked the house and the surrounding areas hoping to catch the girls who might be hiding to no avail. The most mischievous of them, who was supposed to be Simbi's husband, took a hunting lasso and set out on the trail the girls might have followed. He threw the lasso in various directions saying, Chuku-chuku-chuku-chuku, chomulie, chomulie (There-there-there-there go and eat her).
On the first, throw he noosed a tree stump and ran very fast to the spot where the rope stuck. Finding a mere tree stump he expressed his dismay and tried again. This time he caught a rock. He did not give up and so tried yet again. When he came upon his victim, he screamed in horror, for there in the noose was the giant frog, Namakanda.
You miserable miscreant of a frog, you look as if you have done some mischief! Where are my girls?
Croak, croak, croak, said Namakanda,
How can a poor old woman like me know what is happening among people like you? Croak, croak, croak.
Aah, you are lying, said the ogre. Looking at your large stomach! What are you carrying in there? I cannot believe you are innocent until you vomit out what you have eaten today.
Namakanda vomited out the soil and worms which she had eaten after swallowing the girls and the ogre frowned, retreating and said, Stupid you dirty frog! Return it into your filthy stomach, I do not want to see that rot again!
With that the ogre returned home, disappointed and thoroughly frustrated. He cursed Nakitumba all the way as he went. Namakanda in the meantime, embarked on the long strenuous journey to the girls' home; She waded a cross the river, hopping slowly, until she finally arrived. It was approaching sunset as she hopped into the first homestead. Into every house she tried to enter, she was chased out with insults. One woman even set children upon her saying, Drive away this dirty, scally frog!
So for a brief moment, Namakanda found herself unwanted in the homes of the girls she had so compassionately rescued. She felt hungry cold and lonely, and she pondered: was this the way strangers (especially old women like herself) were treated on first sight? This world must indeed, be ungrateful! She stood there in the cold shivering. Then she decided to try one last house. She could see in the dark, a fire burning behind the closed door. As she feebly knocked at the door, she wondered whether there was anyone inside for she could not hear any sounds or movement.
Presently the door opened and a kind voice said Come in, old one. The night is rather too cold for anyone to be out of doors. She was a barren woman who was despised and ridiculed by the rest of the community. Namakanda hopped into the house and sat at the fireside to warm herself.
What can I do for you? asked the woman.
I have travelled the whole day and the night before it, replied Namakanda. I feel cold and hungry. I also need shelter for the night. Ah, I have travelled a long way, she continued. I am fatigued and feeling pain in almost every joint.
The woman washed her and smeared her body with ghee, which acted as a liniment for curing her pains. Then she served her with food as she sat by the fireside. Namakanda appreciated the barren woman's kindness so much that she did not hesitate to confide in her the whole truth regarding her visit to the village. The woman got extremely excited and ran out to break the news to some villagers who had assembled at a beer party in an adjacent house. Soon the barren woman's house was crowded with anxious mothers and relatives of the lost girls.
Everyone was crying with joy, even the mean women, some of whom were the real mothers of the girls, who had previously thrown Namakanda out of their houses, calling her names. The mzee of the homestead made prompt arrangements to formally welcome Namakanda home, according to Bukusu custom. Many beasts were slaughtered and there was great feasting in the home. On the day appointed, Namakanda vomited out the girls, starting with Nakitumba. Then the other girls followed, the last being Simbi, the bride of the ogres.
The barren woman who had in the past been despised and ridiculed now became the centre of love in the village. Simbi, and the other girls regarded her as their godmother for the rest of their lives and from that day onwards, the giant frog called Namakanda has never been mistreated or chased out of homes in Bukusu society. It is often left to stay in the house it has entered for as long as it chooses until it hops out on its own accord. In fact a child may be punished very severely if he is found interfering With the liberty of Namakanda.