[From Congo Life and Folklore by John Weeks, 1921. See item #197 in the Bibliography.]

There was once a man named Tunga who had a house, a wife, and a nice little baby. Tunga used to catch partridges, guinea-fowls, palm-rats, and squirrels in his traps, and sometimes he would trap three and four of these at a time.

One day he caught as many as fifteen partridges, and when he took them home, his wife said, “We will save some of these for another day so that our child may not be hungry should you not catch any.”

But Tunga said, “No, we will eat them all now, for I am sure to catch plenty of meat every day.”

Some time after, Tunga went to look at his traps and found only one squirrel in them, and this squirrel had some bells round its neck. And just as Tunga was going to kill him, the squirrel said, “Oh, please don’t kill me, and I will help you another day.”

Tunga laughed and said, “How can a little thing like you help me?”

But the squirrel pleaded for his life and promised to help the man whenever he was in trouble, so at last Tunga let the squirrel go. He then plucked some leaves and went home to his wife and told her what he had done. She was very angry and quarreled so much about there being no food for the baby to eat that she picked up the child and went off to her own family, who lived in a distant town.

The man waited some days until he thought his wife’s anger had passed away, and then he took a large calabash of palm-wine and started for his wife’s town. On arriving at the crossroads, Tunga met an imp that had neither arms, legs, nor body, but was all head, like a ball.

The imp said, “Let me carry your calabash for you. You are a great man and should not carry it yourself.”

“How can you carry it, when you are all head and no body?” asked Tunga.

“Oh, you will see, ” said the imp as he took the calabash, balanced it on his head, and went bounding off along the road in front of Tunga.

After traveling a long way, Tunga became very tired, so they sat down under a tree to rest, and while they were sitting there, a leopard came up and, noticing the palm-wine, he asked for a drink, and the man was too much afraid to refuse. When Tunga was going to pour out some of the palm-wine into a glass, the leopard said, “I drink out of my own mug, not yours, ” and he brought out of his bag the skull of a man and said, “Here is a mug. I have already eaten nine men, and you will be the tenth.”

Poor Tunga was so filled with fear that he did not know what to do but, by and by, a squirrel arrived and, after exchanging greetings, he asked for some of the palm-wine, and as Tunga was going to pour it out, the squirrel said, “What! Have you no respect for me? I carry my own mug,” and putting his hand into his bag, he brought out the skull of a leopard, and said, “There, I have eaten nine leopards, and this one here will be the tenth,” and as he repeated the words again and again very fiercely, the leopard began to tremble and go backwards until he was in the road, and then he turned tail and fled, with the squirrel after him.

Tunga waited, and at last he and the imp started again on their journey. He was now glad that he had been kind to the squirrel and had saved his life.

On reaching the town, Tunga and the imp were welcomed by the people, a good house was given to them, and they were well feasted. After resting there some days, Tunga and his wife started on their return journey home, but before leaving the town, Mrs. Tunga’s family gave them a goat as a parting present.

When they reached the crossroads, Tunga said to the imp, “I will kill the goat here and give you your half.”

“Alright,” said the imp, “but you must also give me half of the woman.”

“No,” replied Tunga. “The woman is my wife, but you shall have half the goat.”

The imp became very angry and called to his friends, and a great crowd of imps came to fight Tunga. While they were wrangling, the squirrel arrived and asked what was the cause of the row. They told him, and he said, “If we divide the goat and the woman, how are you going to cook them? You have neither firewood nor water. Some of you fetch water, and others go for firewood.”

The squirrel opened his box and gave to some of the imps a calabash in which to fetch water, but while the water was running into the calabash, it sang such a magic tune that the imps began to dance, and they could not stop dancing.

Then the squirrel opened his box again and let loose a swarm of bees that stung the other imps so badly that they all bounded away and never returned again to trouble Tunga.

Then the squirrel said to Tunga, “You now see that if you had not been merciful to me, I should not have been able to save you from the leopard and from the imps. Your kindness to me has saved your own life and your wife’s.”

Tunga thanked him for his help and went his way home.


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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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