Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Myths and Legends of the Swahili

My favorite stories from Myths and Legends of the Swahili by Jan Knappert, copyright 1970, published by Heinemann Educational Books: London, Nairobi, Ibadan, Lusaka:

A man was travelling along a river; when evening came he sat down for a rest. Suddenly, a spirit flew down from a tree and knocked him on the head. The spirit lifted him up like a dead branch and carried him across the river. There he put him down. The man found himself in a city where all the houses were made of gold. In one of these houses the door was open and a beautiful girl was awaiting him. She welcomed him and he had a wonderful time with her. After some days he felt dizzy in the head. He went to a doctor who gave him medicine to drink. He fell asleep, and when he woke up he was again sitting near the bank of the river.

A certain traveller was on safari in the wilderness, and when night fell he saw no town or village. So he decided to sleep in the bush. As soon as he was asleep, a hyena arrived and started to drag him away by his cloak. He woke up, and when he saw the hyena he leapt up and ran away. He saw a house, went in and shut the door. At first it was dark, then he saw two little flames, then a woman with two candles. She was very beautiful, she smiled and bid him welcome. She gave him a copious meal of meat and fruits; then they slept. The traveller spent many weeks with the good woman and they were very happy. At last the traveller had to go back to his town and his business. He said good-bye to his hostess, and asked her what her name was, so that when he wanted to come back he could ask the people on the road how to find her house. She said: “I am the Hyena.”

Three men were travelling in the wilderness when they discovered they had only one loaf of bread left. They decided it would not be enough for the three of them, so they made an agreement that one man would have all the bread. After much discussion they decided it should be the one who would have the best dream that night.

They settled down for the night, and two of them slept at once. The third one could not sleep as he was plagued by hunger. So he got up and ate the bread. All of it. The next morning his companions rose early and he pretended to be emerging from profound dreams. He asked them at once what dreams they had had.

The first one said: “I dreamt that I saw a golden ladder rising up into the sky. I climbed it, up and up and up, until I reached the gate of Paradise. The gate was at once opened by a beautiful angel who took me by the hand and led me to a hall where there was music and food and feasting. And I was told I could stay there for ever. Alas, it was only a dream.”

The second one said: “I dreamt that an ugly devil arrived, seized me and dragged me down into Hell through a hole in the ground. There, I was locked in chains and shackles and beaten with iron rods. Oh, it was horrible. Thank God it was only a dream. The worst was that I was told I would stay there for all eternity.”

Now the man who had eaten the bread told his companions: “I dreamt that an angel came to me and asked me: 'Have you seen what has happened to your friends?' I said no, I have not. So the angel took me by the hand and flew with me, up towards the stars and into Heaven. There we entered a hall where musicians were playing and where people were eating and feasting, and there I saw you, my friend, sitting on a golden throne and surrounded by beautiful angels. I was then told that you would be staying there until the end of time.

“Next, the angel took me down, down, past the stars and the clouds and into the ground through a narrow passage, until we arrived in Hell. There I saw you, hanging in chains and shackles and being beaten by ugly devils. And I was told you would stay there and never get out. So when I came back here, knowing that neither of you would return, I ate the bread.”

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