[From Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort by Richard Dennett, 1898. See item #68 in the Bibliography.]

Nzambi had a most beautiful daughter, and she took the greatest care of her. As the child grew up, she was kept within the house and never allowed to go outside, her mother alone waiting upon her. And when she arrived at the age of puberty, her mother determined to send her to a town a long way off so that she might be undisturbed while she underwent her purification in the paint-house.

She gave her child a slave, and these two left Nzambi’s town for the distant place where the paint-house was situated.

“Oh, see there, slave! What is that?” said Nzambi’s daughter.

“Give me your anklets, and I will tell you,” answered the slave. The daughter of Nzambi gave the slave the anklets. “That is a snake.”

And then they walked along for some time, when suddenly the daughter of Nzambi said, “Oh, slave, what is that?”

“Give me your two new cloths, and I will tell you.” Nzambi’s daughter gave the slave the two cloths. “That is an antelope.”

They had not gone far when the daughter again noticed something strange. “Slave, tell me what that thing is?”

“Give me your bracelets.” The girl gave the slave her bracelets. “That thing is an eagle.”

The princess thought it wonderful that the slave should know so much more than she did, and when she caught sight of a thing rising gently from the ground, she turned to her again and asked, “And what is that?

“Give me your coral necklace.” The girl gave the slave the coral. “That is a butterfly.”

The next time she asked the slave for information, the slave made her change her clothes with her, so that while she was nearly naked, the slave was dressed most beautifully. And in this fashion they arrived at their destination and delivered their message to the prince.

After the proper preparations, they placed the slave in the paint-house with all the ceremony due to a princess, and they set the daughter of Nzambi to mind the plantations. In her innocence and ignorance, the daughter of Nzambi at first thought all this was in order and part of what she had to go through, but in a very short time she began to realize her position and to grieve about it. She used to sing plaintive songs as she minded the maize of how she had been mistaken for a slave while her slave was honoured as a princess. And the people thought her mad.

But one day a trade-caravan passed her, and she asked the trader where he was going, and he answered, “To Nzambi’s town.”

“Will you then take a message to Nzambi for me?”

The trader gladly assented.

“Then tell her that her daughter is as a slave watching the plantations, while the slave is in the paint-house.”

He repeated the message and, when she had said that it was correct, he went on his way and delivered it to Nzambi.

Nzambi and her husband immediately set out in their hammock, accompanied by many followers, for the town where she had sent her daughter. And when she arrived, she was greatly shocked to see her daughter in that mean position and would have punished the prince, had she not seen that he and his people were not to blame.

They called upon the slave to come out of the paint-house. But she was afraid and would not come out. Then they entered and, having stripped her of all her borrowed finery, they shut her within the house and burnt her.


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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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