[From Tales, Customs, Names and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915. See item #128 in the Bibliography.]

The so-called debbi is a wild animal; its height is less than that of a dog. They say that it frightens all the wild animals.

Once upon a time, a man went down to a lonely river to fetch water. But at the river he found all the eatable and uneatable animals drinking. So the man hid himself in a certain place until all the animals had drunk and gone away.

But while the man was hiding thus, he observed all the animals. And after they all had drunk, each went to its place. And the elephants were romping together, and the lions together, and the hyenas together. And they all were scuffling, each with its kind.

Now, while they were in this state, the debbi came down to the river. And when it came, all the animals became wildly excited and fled instantly, and all left the riverbed.

The man was very much astonished and exclaimed, “Thy wonder, God! What is this?”

Thereupon the debbi came down to the well and, after it had drunk, it went up; then it wallowed at a certain spot and went out by the way in which it had come down.

Now, when all had gone away from the riverbed, the man rose from his hiding place, wondering that all the eatable and uneatable animals had fled from the little one. He drew water from the well and started on his way.

But then he thought, “I had better try to find out exactly of what sort that is which has put them all to flight.” And he came to the place where it had wallowed, and there he found a hair. Then the man took the hair and tied it up with a knot in the corner of his cloak.

Afterwards when he entered a village, all the people of the village fled from him. But the man did not know for what reason they fled from him.

And he went to another village, but the people of that village also fled from him.

And the man was frightened and said to himself, “What have I become, that all flee from me as from a madman?”

But from among the people of the village, a brave and courageous man stood before him and shouted at him, saying, “You, man! What do you have with you by which you put us to flight?”

The other replied, “I have no weapons; on the contrary, you flee from me by yourselves!”

Again the man said to him, “No! Do you perhaps have some root with you?”

Then he thought of the hair and answered him, “I have no root, but I went down to a riverbed and, because I found there all the wild animals, I hid myself until they made room for me. And from my hiding place I observed this: a little hairy one smaller than a dog came down to the river, and when the animals saw it, they all fled from it, even the elephants. And, after it had drunk from the well and gone up, it wallowed at a certain spot. Thereupon, wondering very much, I took a hair from its wallowing place, and it has been in the end of my cloak until now.”

And the other man bought the hair from him with money. Then he sewed it up in a leather case, and it became a talisman unto him, and he hung it around his neck. And the people of every village and tribe were afraid of him. Whatever he took raiding, he brought home, and when his village was raided, he made the raiders give up their booty. And there was nobody who could stand before him in a fight.

But afterwards, when he lost the talisman with the hair, warriors killed him, they say.

And now men say about a man who has something frightful about him: “He has probably a hair of the debbi with him.”

This debbi is only seen sometimes, and then everybody, be it man or animal, flees from it. But he who finds some of its hair fallen on the ground and carries it on his body is feared by all men. And the abiding-place of the debbi is generally the Gash-Barka region, but it is not often seen.


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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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