[From The Flame Tree and Other Folk-Lore Stories from Uganda by Rosetta Baskerville, 1900. See item #23 in the Bibliography. The illustration is by Mrs. E. G. Morris.]


man watches buffalo maiden with animals in the forest

There was once a little girl who lived with her uncle and aunt. Her uncle loved her, but the aunt was always unkind to her. Now this aunt was really a witch, but no one knew it. One day she said to her husband, “You must send that little girl away! I cannot stand her anymore; she is so naughty. But go first to the Forest to the old wizard who lives there, and he will tell you what to do.”

So the man went to the Forest, but he did not know that his wife had told the wizard what to say. The wizard said, “Take the little girl to the Forest and leave her there.” Then he was sorry for the man and added, “If you do this, good fortune will come to the child, but many years must pass.”

Very sadly the man returned home. He took a gourd of milk and some maize and told his little niece to follow him into the Forest. When they had walked a long way, they sat down to rest, and the child was so tired that she fell asleep at once. Then the uncle put down the gourd of milk and the maize and went sorrowfully home.

When the child woke, it was very dark in the Forest, and she was terrified at the sounds round her and feared the wild animals might come and eat her, but she heard a chirping voice in the tree above her and saw a large cricket sitting on a branch just over her head. “Climb up into this tree,” said the cricket, “and you will find a nice bed to sleep in.”

So the child climbed up into the fork of the tree, and there was a lovely place full of dry leaves where she cuddled down and was soon fast asleep again. The next morning she saw that several buffaloes were resting under her tree and, as she was very hungry, she thought, “I will go and ask the cow buffalo to give me some milk.”

The buffaloes were very sorry for the child left all alone in the Forest, and they said, “You will soon die of hunger here — come and live in our kraal in the jungle, and you shall have milk every day and a little hut all of your own.”

So the little girl climbed on the old cow buffalo’s back, who was the granny in the herd, and went with her to the kraal which was hidden away in the thick jungle. At first she was sad and unhappy and homesick. She wanted her uncle and her friends in the village at home, and the old granny buffalo could do nothing to comfort her.

Then the great bull buffalo who ruled the herd called a Council of Animals together and said, “How can we make this child happy who has come to live with us in the Forest?”

The animals were much distressed, for they all wanted to be kind. But the child sat and sobbed, for she was lonely and homesick.

Just then an old tortoise who had been asleep for many years woke up and came shuffling into the Council. “The child will be quite happy if you take away her heart,” he said. “For it is the heart of a woman that brings all the trouble into the world: if she cannot love, she will give no trouble; if she has no heart, she will be quite happy.”

So they cut out the little girl’s heart and tied it up in wild plantain leaves and hung it up in a cedar tree, and they built her a hut under the cedar tree, and she settled down happily and cried no more, and her heart hung far above, out of reach where no one could touch it.

From that moment, the child changed. At first the buffalo granny was pleased because she stopped crying and was quiet, but soon she grew puzzled, for the little girl was so strange. Every day she did unkind things and laughed when she hurt the animals. She pushed the little cubs into the Forest pools when they came to drink, and she climbed up into the trees and threw little birds that couldn’t fly out of their nests, and when the mothers cried, she laughed at them and clapped her hands.

There was one animal who had not been at the great bull buffalo’s Council: the little hare was away at the time on a long journey, but when he returned and the other animals told him about it, he looked very grave. The little hare knows more about people than any other animal, for he often goes to the villages and he understands men’s language. He watched the little girl, and every day he grew sadder. Years passed by, and the child grew up into a beautiful woman, but she had no friends in the Forest. All the animals were afraid of her; none of them loved her. If they growled, she stared at them and they slunk off, for her eyes frightened them.

One day the local chief’s men were hunting buffaloes, and one of them followed a wounded animal through the jungle when, to his surprise, he saw a lovely girl come down the Forest path. When she saw the wounded buffalo, she laughed and went back, and the man was so frightened that he went back the way he had come and told the other hunters, and they told the chief.

Then the chief sent a party of men to the Forest and they followed the hunter’s trail and came to the buffaloes’ kraal, and there they saw a beautiful girl milking a buffalo and singing:

I am the Buffalo Maiden;
The Buffalo Kraal is my home;
The Jungle Land is my Kingdom,
Wherever I will I roam.

I hate the golden sunbeams
That fill the glades with light;
I hate the silver moonbeams
That chill my hut at night.

The birds are dumb when they see me;
The animals are my foes;
For I am the Buffalo Maiden,
As all the Jungle knows.

The men were afraid to speak, and they went quietly back. Then the local chief went to the capital and told all the chiefs in the King’s Council, and the King and all the Princes heard that a beautiful girl lived all alone in the depths of the Forest in a buffalo kraal.

There was one Prince braver and kinder than the others, and he was sorry for the girl, so he took one man with him and went to the Forest to find her. When he found her, he loved her very much, but the girl only laughed and threw stones at him. Some of the stones hit him and hurt very much, and every day he grew more and more miserable.

One day while he was walking in the Forest, he found a doe with a sharp thorn in her foot. He took the thorn out and carried the poor tired creature to her home. The doe was very grateful and said, “Tell me what I can do to thank you.”

And the Prince answered, “Tell me how I can make the girl I love love me.”

The doe was very sorrowful. “You will never make her love you; she is unkind and cruel to everyone. But I will ask the other animals, and perhaps they can give me advice.”

So when the doe’s foot was healed, she went to the big grey elephant and asked his advice. “Tell your Prince,” said the big grey elephant, “that the girl is cruel and unkind; he had better seek a wife in the capital.”

So the doe went to the lion. “If the Prince has been kind to you, he is much too good for the girl,” he said. “She is hard and cruel and never sheds tears as the women in the villages do.”

All the animals said the same thing, and at last the doe met the little hare and told him her trouble. “It isn’t her fault,” said the hare. “They took her heart away from her when she was a little girl. How can she be kind without a heart? Let the Prince steal her heart that hangs in the cedar tree, and then she will love him.”

So the doe went and told the Prince, “You must steal her heart which hangs in the cedar tree above her hut, but you must go alone at night.”

So the Prince went alone through the dark Forest at night and came to the buffaloes’ kraal. The moonlight was shimmering through the grey shadows as he picked his way between the sleeping buffaloes up to the maiden’s hut, and there above him in the cedar tree hung the heart. He climbed the tree and clasped the heart in his arms and, as he did so, the girl asleep in the hut below felt a great fear. “Someone has touched my heart,” she cried.

Softly and tremulously she opened the door and saw the Prince and fell at his feet, sobbing. “Oh, my lord, you have my heart in your arms. Take me too!” So the Prince took her away to the capital, and they lived happily together for many years.

The big grey elephant called a Council together, and they passed sentence on the old tortoise and killed him because his advice had been bad, for this is the law of the Mabira Forest — if any animal gives bad advice to the Council, he is killed. And the Council sent a messenger to the Prince and told him what they had done. And he was glad, for though the heart of a woman causes all the trouble in the world, it also brings all the joy, and a woman’s tears are like the spring rains and make the earth beautiful.


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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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