[From Fairy Tales from South Africa by Mrs. E. J. Bourhill and Mrs. J. B. Drake, 1908. See item #36 in the Bibliography. The illustration is by W. Herbert Holloway.]

Once upon a time there lived a great King who ruled over many thousands of men. The city in which he dwelt was so large that it would have taken you many hours to walk round it, and no one had yet counted the multitude of his cattle. But in spite of his great wealth, he was of so grasping a disposition that he never seemed to have enough, nor did he care whether he gained his ends justly. You shall hear the story of the misfortunes he incurred through this same passion of greed.

One day he sent out a party of men headed by his bravest commander to hunt for otter-skins for the royal body-guard. This regiment was the finest of his army, and he prided himself on its perfect equipment. To show how highly he esteemed the men belonging to it, he allowed them to wear otter-skins, the royal fur, and long, waving head-dresses of ostrich feathers; no soldiers equaled them in all the land.

The hunting-party had good sport, traveling for many miles down the river and attacking the otters by night when they assemble under the great rocks. The nights were warm and pleasant, and day after day they followed their quarry till they were far from home and found themselves in a new country. Then in a few hours, the weather changed. Clouds came up and covered the hills, and then followed a cold misty rain. It grew colder and colder, and they had no shelter and were drenched to the bone. They tried to light a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together, but the wood was damp and no spark came. They tried flintstones, but the rain had spoiled their tinder. They then thought of going to a neighbouring kraal and there obtaining fire, but the country round was bare and empty; not a soul was to be seen. And the rain continued to fall heavily.

At last they decided to mount a hill and see if any habitation could be found. They ascended the highest point within reach, and far away, in the middle of a great plain on the other side, they saw a single column of smoke. They all set out at once in the new direction, and at the end of some hours they arrived at the gate of a big kraal. Many hundreds of huts stood round the cattle-pen, and there were oxen in plenty and large herds of goats and sheep, but not a single human being could they see. The men walked round the whole city, but the only occupants of the huts were fowls of every size and colour who walked in and out of the doors, and seemed busy and occupied on important affairs. The commander grew more and more puzzled.

At last they reached the great entrance of the cattle-kraal, and there a magnificent golden Rooster stood on the fence, whence he could survey the whole city. He did not move at their approach, but surveyed them boldly with his bright yellow eyes.

“What do you want?” the Rooster asked in the tones of a man.

The commander and his warriors were so surprised that they could not answer for a moment.

“Do you seek shelter?” repeated the Rooster. “If so, my people will help you.”

“We thank you,” said the commander. “We only want fire. We are far from home and have no means of warming ourselves or cooking food.”

“You shall have all you want,” said the Rooster. “I am a man like yourselves, but a wicked King who was stronger than I has bewitched me and all my people. He was a cannibal, and he actually asked for the hand of my daughters in marriage for his sons. I refused to allow them to have anything to do with such a wicked race, whereupon his magicians changed me and all my subjects into roosters and hens.”

“Can you not win back your old form?” asked the commander.

“Only if I overcome a more powerful King than myself, and that I shall find difficult in my present shape,” said the Rooster sadly.

Then he took the commander and his men to two beautiful huts, gave them food and drink of the best and, when they departed, provided them with a thin stick lighted in the fire which would smoulder for many hours. The hunting-party went back to their otter-skins, lighted a fire, and presently returned home with their booty.

They related all their adventures to the King and gave him a full account of the enchanted Rooster, his beautiful kraal, and his great flocks and herds. The King’s greed awoke at once, and he cried, “What fools serve me! Why did not you take the cattle and come back with them at once? Could you not overcome a few roosters and hens?”

“Great King,” said the commander, “there was no order to conquer. Why should we steal from the Rooster, who gave us all we wanted freely?”

“How could you possibly miss such a chance?” said the King. “I will see to the matter myself at once.”

Then he ordered one of his regiments to start for the Rooster’s kraal forthwith, and he waited at home for the expected spoil.

His men soon found the path and, after a few days’ traveling, arrived within sight of the enchanted city.

The golden Rooster was at his usual post at the gate of the cattle-kraal. As he saw the regiment approach in battle array, he called all his sheep and cattle and sent them into the kraal. Then he flew to the main hut and called to all the fowls who lived in the city, “Come out, come out! Here are warriors who have come to take your cattle. Come out, come out, and defend your homes.”



The fowls flew in from their lands in hundreds and thousands and stood each at the door of his hut. Directly the regiment set foot in the city, each picked out his man and flew towards him, flapping his wings around his enemy’s head. In a few minutes, each bird had pecked out the eyes of his opponent, and such was their strength and ferocity that but two or three men escaped alive out of the whole regiment.

The King was greatly incensed when he heard the news. His blood was up, and he instantly sent forth his royal bodyguard, the flower of his army, under the command of his favourite son. They set out, clad in rich otter-skins and crowned with long black feathers, each man a perfect warrior.

Many long days passed. Every evening at sundown the King looked for the victorious army driving before them great herds of lowing cattle, themselves scarcely visible in the clouds of golden dust. But no one came, and the days grew into weeks. At length one night at dusk, a wretched fugitive arrived, footsore and scarcely able to drag himself along. His plumes were gone; a fragment of otter-skin was still about his loins.

“Great King,” said he with many groans, “I am all that remains of the royal bodyguard.”

“Is my son also dead?” cried the King in horror.

“Great King, the Prince is dead and all our men; no one can stand against the assault of the enchanted fowls. The golden Rooster spared me alone so that the fate of our warriors might be known. He bade me say he is still ready for you.”

But the King owned himself beaten. “How can I fight anymore?” he said. “My bodyguard is destroyed and my bravest son killed. Let the Rooster keep his city and his cattle.”

As the words fell from his lips, the golden Rooster and all his men regained once more their rightful shape. They had conquered in fair fight and now ruled over a great land in happiness and peace.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book