[From Kiungani, or: Story and History from Central Africa by Arthur Madan, 1887. See item #130 in the Bibliography.]

There was a man named Msamya, and he was a rich man, and he went to the market and saw a sheep for sale, bought it, and went home with it to his house. This man, Msamya, who bought the sheep, was by trade a tailor, and he had a son named Magala.

Early in the morning he said to his son Magala, “I am going to my work. At eight o’clock take out this sheep to graze in the pasture.”

When the hour came, the lad was late — he did not know that it had struck eight o’clock. The sheep spoke and called to him, “Magala, Magala, Magala.”

“Here I am,” he replied.

The sheep spoke and said to him, “When Msamya went to his work, what did he say to you?”

Magala answered and said, “He told me, ‘When it strikes eight o’clock, take the sheep to graze in the pasture.'”

“Why did you not take me?” said the sheep.

The boy took it to the pasture. When he had done taking it there, the boy ran off and went after his father to the place where he worked, and he said to his father, “That sheep can speak.”

Msamya caught up a bit of wood which he used in his work, and struck him with it, and said, “Oh! Oh! My boy, where have you found a sheep that can speak?” The boy ran away.

The next day Msamya said to his son, “When you see it is ten o’clock, take this sheep here to yonder baobab tree.”

The hour came, but the boy did not know it. So the sheep called him, “Magala, Magala, Magala.”

“Here I am,” he replied.

The sheep spoke and said to him, “When Msamya went to work, what did he say to you?”

The boy answered and said, “He said to me, ‘When you hear the clock strike ten, take this sheep and lead it to the baobab tree.'”

So the boy took the sheep and led it to where the baobab tree stood. When he had done taking it, the boy ran off and went after his father to the place where he was working, and the boy said to him, “Father, you will not believe when I tell you, but the sheep speaks, really and truly.”

“Very well, my boy, if it speaks, I will come myself and see if it does speak, really and truly.”

The day following, Msamya gave his son the same directions, but he came himself and kept watch at the door to hear if the sheep would speak. And he said to his son, “Be late on purpose so that I may hear if it speaks.”

And so it all happened. Msamya stood outside the door, and Magala played about outside. Presently the sheep called, “Magala!” and Magala said to his father, “Do you hear, father? You thought I was telling a lie.”

His father replied, “I have heard, my child. It is a marvelous thing. Come, set off and take it to the pasture yonder.”

Well, Msamya went off to consult the medicine-men, and the medicine-men said to him, “Take your son, and go and cut two heavy logs, one for you and one for your son. When you find the sheep asleep, first do you throw your log down on it, and then let your son come and do the same. You will kill it in a moment.”

Msamya followed this advice. They went together, the man and his son, and cut two very large logs, one for each of them. They came and found the sheep asleep out of doors, the sun being hot. Msamya threw down his log upon it, but the sheep slipped aside and said, “Msamya, look, you nearly killed me. But of course you did not see me, and it’s very hot, and you must be tired.” As the sheep was saying this, Magala came up and threw down his log upon him, but the sheep avoided this too, and said, “Ah! Do you want to kill me? Look! Your father threw down his log and almost killed me. And you, look! You have thrown down yours and almost killed me.”

Magala answered and said, “It was not on purpose. Why, you see yourself how hot it is, and we have come a very long way with these logs, and in all this heat. That’s why we threw them down on you. We did not see you clearly, because we were so tired.”

The sheep answered and said, “It is of no consequence, and I saw myself that you were tired.”

Then Msamya went to another medicine-man, and this medicine-man said to him, “Go and dig a large pit. In it put spears and all kinds of dangerous things; put them inside it, and at the top cover it over with grass. When it is finished, go and say to your sheep, ‘Come, let us go for a stroll.’ Go in front yourself, and let the sheep follow behind you. When you arrive at the pit, cross over the corner of it, and stand on the further side, straight in front, and call your sheep, ‘Come, make haste and come along.’ Then, if it comes, it will fall into the pit. When it has fallen in, fill in the earth as fast as you can, and it will die in a moment.”

So Msamya went and dug the pit and put all kinds of dangerous things in it, and at the top he finished it off cleverly with grass. When the pit was ready, he went and called his sheep and said to it, “Let us go a walk together today, I and my sheep.”

Msamya went in front, his sheep followed behind, and he arrived at the pit. Msamya himself crossed over the corner, and stood on the further side just opposite, and said to his sheep, “Come, make haste and come along.”

When the sheep came to the pit, it saw that there was danger and took a jump across to the other side where Msamya was standing. And the sheep said to Msamya, “Oh! Msamya, come and look. Some villain has laid a trap for us.”

“Who can it be,” said Msamya, “who laid the trap for us? And we are not people of wealth; we are only poor people.”

“I do not know either,” answered the sheep. “Possibly people are envious because you have got possession of me, and they want to kill us both at one blow.”

“Very likely,” replied Msamya. And then he said to the sheep, “Let us go home again, or we may have some more adventures.” So Msamya returned home to his house, utterly speechless with grief at having been outdone by the sheep.

Next he went to a third medicine-man. This man said to Msamya, “Go and build a hut of coconut leaves, and sleep in it four days. The fifth day remove all your things; do not forget a single thing inside, but do not bar the door. Then take your sheep, and fasten it inside, and set fire to the hut, only not forgetting to leave nothing in it. Then the sheep will die.”

Msamya went and built the hut, and when that was done, he slept in it four nights. On the fifth he removed all his things from the hut and fastened the sheep inside, but his son Magala forgot his spear and left it and a piece of cloth in the hut. Then they set fire to the hut.

When the sheep saw the hut was burning, it cut the cord with which it was tied, took the spear and piece of cloth, and brought them to Msamya. “Look! Your son has forgotten his spear and cloth. If it were not for me, they would have been burnt.”

But when Msamya saw the sheep coming out from inside, he got very angry.

The sheep said, “Why are you angry? Tell me.”

“Why I am angry,” said Msamya, “is that somebody has burnt my hut.”

“Who has burnt your hut?” said the sheep.

“I don’t know,” answered Msamya, “who it is that burnt it.” But really Msamya was very angry because of his hut and because he was outdone by the sheep.

Then Msamya went to a fourth medicine-man. This medicine-man gave him straightforward advice and said, “Go and kill a goat; take the flesh and put it somewhere to get a little putrid, say for three days. Then take and cook it, and make a very full meal on it, and drink the gravy at the same time. When you wake up in the morning, call your sheep and take it for a ramble along a cliff. Go in front yourself, and let the sheep follow behind you. When you come to the cliff, see that the sheep is following close behind you. Then, give a burp. The sheep will die in a moment.”

Msamya went home, killed his goat, and did as he was told, made a full meal on it, and drank the gravy till he was ready to burst, and then went to sleep. In the morning he woke up and said, “Today, I will go a ramble with my sheep.” So he called out, “Come, my sheep! Let us go for a ramble.”

The sheep came and followed him. Msamya went before, and the sheep followed behind him, and they went till they arrived at a very high cliff. Msamya gave a burp.

The sheep listened and thought, “No! It’s nothing!” Then it spoke and said, “Oh! Msamya, why did you do that?”

“It is just a sort of relief,” replied Msamya, “to us men — just a relief to me.”

“Well now,” replied the sheep, “don’t you do it again. I cannot stand it a second time.”

“Very well,” said Msamya.

They went a little farther, and Msamya burped the same again. “Msamya! Msamya!” said the sheep. “What did I say to you just now?”

“Just a relief to me,” answered Msamya, “but I forgot.”

Then the sheep said, “Msamya! Msamya! If you do that a third time, you lose a sheep for good. True, the mutton may just be worth eating.”

“I am penitent now,” said Msamya.

Again they went on a little farther, and Msamya burped the same again. Well, this was too much for the sheep. It tried to stop its ears, but in a moment was seized with giddiness, and fell over the cliff, and died then and there.

When Msamya turned round, he saw its legs twitching, and he took to his heels and did not stop till he got to his house. He was in a terrible fright.

When he reached his house his wife asked him, “Well? What news?” but he was quite speechless.

Then all the people came and questioned him, but not a word did he say. They brought him food, but he could not eat, but he went to his house and sat there all by himself, for he was dreadfully afraid, thinking, “Perhaps that sheep will come to life again and come after me.”

However, early next morning, he woke up and went to the cliff, and looked over the rock, and saw that the sheep was dead beyond a doubt — one side had been eaten by hyenas. And every hyena which ate a piece of that sheep was sick on the spot.

Well, when Msamya saw that the sheep was really and truly dead, he went home in a transport of delight and sounded his horn and his drum, and all his relations assembled together, and he made them a feast, which it took four happy days to eat.

Neither he nor his relations ever let a sheep enter their house again to this day. That day was enough to convert them all.


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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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