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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 Story of Apelu

One day, in the quiet, peaceful village of Sibwani, across the meadowlands of Wabutubile, people woke up in the morning to find that there was a stranger amongst them. A picturesque house had come into existence where previously there had been no house at all. Next to the kitchen was a cattle kraal. The cattle and sheep of the stranger were so healthy and beautiful that people wondered how such good animals could have grazed within their vicinity without their notice. A very pretty girl looked after the animals, a thing which was most unusual among Babukusu folks, for in Bukusu society only grown-up boys were supposed to look after cattle.

A story went round about the strange happenings in Sibwani, and out of curiosity many people flocked there to see things for themselves. Although the stranger communicated with the inhabitants in their own language, people feared to come into close contact with him, and simply contented themselves with feasting their eyes from a distance. Occasionally, a handful of village elders dropped in for a chat; but they likewise showed constraint in the presence of the stranger, and their talks were brief and casual.

Days passed by and life seemed to be going on smoothly. By and by, young men began to show interest in the stranger's only daughter. Several intending suitors started approaching the stranger, seeking his daughter's hand in marriage. In view of the numerous offers that were coming from various, quarters, the stranger decided to do something so as to abate growing anxiety on the part of his hosts. He invited all village elders to his house, entertaining them with plenty of beer and meat. In the midst of the entertainment, he asked them whether they knew him by name and when they replied in the negative, he said to them: “Any young man who is interested in my daughter must first tell me at a public gathering I will hold what my name is.”

The village elders were quite bewildered with the stranger's riddle. They went home and spread the news to their respective villages. Aspiring suitors could not sleep a wink for days. They sat up through the thin hours of the morning trying to unravel the riddle. One fellow who did not bother to crack his head over the riddle was Hare, who always used unconventional methods to solve new problems.

On the eve of the great occasion, Hare visited the stranger's homestead at night. Knowing that there were fierce dogs which might attack him, he carried along with him some meat with which to appease the dogs whenever they barked and snarled. Thus, whenever a dog barked, Hare threw a piece of meat at it, and so the dog settled down to enjoy it. The commotion outside the house aroused the stranger's wife from sleep, and she in turn frantically tried to awaken her husband, but he was too sleepy to bestir. She kept on listening keenly for sometime, but when the dogs stopped barking she went back to sleep.

Nevertheless, before she slept a wink Hare hurled a large rock into the kraal, and the cattle stampeded round and round in the kraal, creating such a disturbance that she woke up again. One restless bull charged at the other animals wildly causing a terrific stir, which seemed to break down the wooden enclosure. The stranger's wife shook her husband vigorously, calling loudly, “Apelu, Apelu, Apelu, please wake up..... enemies are breaking into the kraal! Apelu..... Apelu.... Apelu........”

While the woman was thus calling her husband, Hare was standing beside the door, listening keenly. As soon as Apelu jumped up from sleep and headed for the door, Hare bolted and fled home.

When Apelu came out of the house he found to his satisfaction that there was nothing amiss: the dogs were resting peacefully, and the kraal appeared safe, except for some of the animals which stood wild-eyed and shuffled and stamped their hoofs restlessly. He had no cause to suspect that a thief might be hanging around as his wife had reported. So he returned to the house and after grumbling briefly for having had his sweet sleep disturbed for no reason whatsoever, went back to sleep.

Hare did not sleep again that night; he kept on singing the name Apelu repeatedly until the break of dawn. In the morning a big crowd of people assembled at Apelu's house for the purpose of unravelling the riddle. Apelu took his royal stool and went to sit atop a nearby mound while the audience spread themselves on the flat ground below, from where they gazed at him in awe. His mesmerizing personality convinced everyone present that he was either a prince or a king from unknown lands. He was for the first time appearing in royal apparel in public, wearing ekutusi, ekutwa, and lichabe. His disposition was noticeably amiable.

Waving a fly-whisk made from a buffalo's tail, Apelu stood up and said, “Any eligible bachelor who is desirous of marrying my daughter, must come forward and shout out my name.”

Prospective candidates stood up in turns and, one by one, called the stranger all sorts of conceivable names: names of animate and inanimate things; names of heroes and gods of Bukusu people, and names of clan founders. He was called Khakaba, Malaba, Mukhobe, Murumbi, Mango, Maina, Mwambu, Silikwa, Masaba and so on. Each time, someone stoop up and shouted a name, the stranger shook his head in denial.

People looked at one another. No one was standing up. Had all the young men given up? The situation appeared completely hopeless. Then Hare, who was the smallest fellow in the crowd, pushed his way to the mound where the stranger was sitting. Everybody began to shake with mirthful laughter on seeing the slovenly dressed, diminutive fellow brave his way out. Even the stranger could riot help giggling at the comical character. Hare's first words were drowned in a peal of laughter. As soon as order was restored, Hare shouted out the fateful words: “Your name is Apelu!” Suddenly, silence reigned. The stranger's charming smile disappeared completely and people wondered: Why?

The stranger stood up and announced to the audience that his name was Apelu, and so the diminutive fellow had won the bet! The crowd dispersed and people went home gossiping among themselves about the triumphant little sloven.

However, in spite of the public pledge Apelu had committed himself to, that is, respecting the marriage of his daughter Namikasa to Hare, he planned to do a treacherous act so as to evade the scornful relationship. During the night he took his family and all his property and flew to heaven from whence he had come. When the following morning Hare came to check at Apelu's house for the purpose of making wedding arrangements, he found nobody there. He entered the house and inspected every corner and nook. Suddenly, he came upon a beautiful tobacco pipe which was lying at the hearth. “This is my luck,” Hare said to himself as he pocketed it. Although it was still early in the morning, he went home and slept, without caring for food nor drink. He was so overcome with grief that he shed a flood of tears even in sleep.

The next morning something strange happened. Peering through his tearful, hazy eyes, Hare thought that he was only dreaming. A figure of a woman, which he could not make out whether of a living person or of a ghost, stared at him pleadingly. With his mouth agape, he heard a voice call out, “Namikasa, Namikasa, Namikasa.....” but he could not make out whether the words were escaping from his own mouth or being spoken by someone else.

“Please, Hare, don't be terrified. It is me!” Namikasa moved closer and extended her hand to Hare. “I have come,” she continued, “to collect my mother's pipe. But I will go with you. I love you, Hare. It was my father's mistake. We will live in heaven together, and we will love each other for ever.”

VOCABULARY

Ekutusi

royal robe

ekutwa

royal hat

lichabe

royal bracelet