[From African Jungle Tales by Carl Bender, 1919. See item #27 in the Bibliography.]

Once upon a time there lived a boy whose name was Mafani.

One day Mafani came to his Grandmother and said, “Grandmother dear, do let me have a cutlass! I want to go and set some bird traps!”

“I cannot let you have a cutlass, my son. I fear you will hurt yourself,” the Grandmother said.

But Mafani was not so easily discouraged. He picked up a fragment of a cooking pot, sharpened one end of it on a stone, and used it instead of a cutlass. Then he went and cut a number of long and slender shoots, covered them with a thick sticky mass which he had prepared from the sap of the gum-tree, and planted them in the midst of a grass-patch.

He had hardly placed the traps when a turtle-dove perched on one of them and was caught, and Mafani took the dove to his hut and prepared it for his noonday meal. But his Grandmother took the bird and ate it.

Then Mafani said to his Grandmother, “When I asked you for a cutlass, you would not let me have it, but now you have eaten my bird. It is only just that you pay me for it.” And his Grandmother gave him a cutlass.

Then Mafani took the cutlass and went on a trip. On the way, he met some people who were building a dam so that they would have enough water for the dry season. They had some difficulty in ramming the sticks because they were not properly sharpened.

Mafani watched them for some time. Finally he walked up and said, “Why don’t you folks sharpen your sticks? How foolish of you to waste your time and strength in this way!”

“But we have no cutlass wherewith we could sharpen the sticks,” the people replied.

“I have an excellent cutlass with me, sharp enough to cut a log,” said Mafani. “I can let you have it if you care to!”

So they took Mafani’s cutlass and sharpened their sticks. But in their eagerness to be through in a hurry, they used the cutlass rather roughly and broke it in two.

Then Mafani said, “You have broken my cutlass and must pay for it.” And they gave him some calabashes filled with drinking water. This he took and went on.

After a while, he met some people who were collecting edible ants. Having been out in the heat for some time, they suffered from thirst. So when Mafani came along, they begged him to let them have some water.

“I am willing to help you out, but don’t drink it all,” said Mafani. But when the people tasted the water, they kept on drinking until not a drop of it was left. And Mafani said, “Now pay me for the water!” And they gave him a measure of ants.

As Mafani passed on, he saw some birds busily engaged in collecting oil-seeds for their evening meal. And he asked them and said, “Why do you eat these seeds? They will surely make you sick. Better try some of these ants. Here, help yourself and give me back the rest!” And he handed them the measure of ants.

And the birds commenced to eat, and they kept on eating until the last ant was done away with. Then said Mafani to the birds, “Now that you have eaten all the ants, it is only fair that you pay me for them.” When the birds heard this, they flew to a tree nearby and plucked plenty of fruit. This they gave in exchange for the ants. Mafani took the fruit and passed on.

After he had gone some distance, he came to a big hill. He was too tired to climb the hill with a load on his head, so he threw himself down in the shadow of a palm-tree to rest. There he met a party of hunters. They were very hungry and wistfully looked at Mafani’s fruit. When Mafani saw this, he told the men to help themselves. In a short time they had eaten all the fruit and not a bit of it was left.

This was not at all to Mafani’s liking, and he said, “Listen, friends! I invited you to help yourself to some fruit, but I did not give you permission to eat it all. Now that you have actually eaten every bit of it, I must insist that you pay me for it.” And they paid him with the leg of a pig.

As Mafani passed on again, he came to a lonely hut where an old woman was drying some salt by the fire. And he placed the meat which the hunters had given him on the fire to roast. When it was well done, the old woman took it and ate it all up. Then Mafani said to the woman, “Since you have eaten all my meat, it is only just that you pay for it.” The woman consented and gave him a measure of salt.

Shortly after, as Mafani was passing over the top of the hill he met the Wind, who was driving some dry leaves and fibers from a nearby ceiba tree before him. “How foolish of you,” said Mafani to the Wind. “You had better take some of my salt instead.” Thereupon the Wind took hold of the salt, and in the twinkling of an eye it was all gone.

Then Mafani said to the Wind, “Did I not tell you to take only a part of my salt? Now that you have taken all, you may as well pay for it.” Then the Wind called another Wind, caught it in a bag, and gave the bag of wind to Mafani.

As Mafani passed on again, he met the wife of a chief who was cleaning corn. And Mafani said to the woman, “How strange that you, the wife of a powerful chief, should clean the corn yourself! Why not use some of the wind in my bag?”

And the woman took the bag and untied it to make use of the wind. In a moment all the dust and shells were blown away, and only the clean and full weighted corn remained. But the bag which had contained the wind was empty. “Why did you take all the wind?” Mafani asked. “Now you can pay for it too. I was willing to do you a favor, but I do not care to be robbed!” And the woman, being well to do, paid him with a double measure of corn.

After Mafani had left the woman, he noticed a flock of wild pigeons by the wayside, busily engaged in picking berries. And he said to them, “For land’s sake! How can you live on such miserable fare? Why not try a bit of my corn?” And he opened his bag and set it before them.

In an incredibly short time the pigeons had eaten all the corn. Not a solitary kernel was left. When Mafani asked the pigeons to pay for the corn, they gave him a measure of oil-seed. Of this he made oil, put it into a calabash, and passed on.

And he came to a town where a woman had died. They were just making preparations for her burial. Everything they needed was on hand, except one very important item — oil wherewith to anoint the body. When Mafani heard of their trouble, he offered them some of his oil. When they had used the last bit of it, Mafani demanded other oil in return. Being unable to pay, they let him have the dead woman. Mafani took the body and went away.

When, shortly after, he came near another town, he took the body, placed it against a tree on the edge of a precipice, and entered the town, where a wrestling-match was just going on. Mafani stood and looked on for a while. Then he said to one of the maidens near him, whose beauty and rich apparel had attracted his attention, “I pray you, go and call my wife, who is waiting for me just back of the town. Her name is Mawum.”

And the maiden went and found the woman leaning against a tree and sound asleep, as it seemed. And she called, “Mawum! Mawum!” When there was no answer, she went to wake her. But when she touched the body, it fell over and rolled down the precipice.

The maiden was almost frightened to death. When she had sufficiently recovered from the shock, she ran back and told Mafani, “Your wife has fallen down the precipice!” And Mafani said to the maiden, “What have you done? I shall hold your father responsible for my loss!” Thereupon the maiden’s father gave his daughter to Mafani and said, “Take her; she is yours. May she be the life of your life and the joy of your heart.”

And Mafani took his bride and returned to his Grandmother. They were very happy together and lived to a good old age.


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A Reader's Guide to African Folktales at the Internet Archive Copyright © 2022 by Laura Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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