Kamba - Fables and Legends

The Blacksmith

A traditional Kamba story, told in Mwikali Kieti and Peter Coughlin's excellent book "Barking, You'll be Eaten! The Wisdom of Kamba Oral Literature"
(1990: Phoenix Publishers Ltd., PO Box 18650 Nairobi). See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

The Blacksmith, collected by Mwikali Kieti and Peter Coughlin

A blacksmith journeyed to work in a faraway land, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Kikyele, and three children. After he left, an ogre, disguised as a servant, came to tend the man's cattle and do housework. After working many months, the ogre decided to eat the children. It ate one. Next day, it took another along with the cattle to the fields and ate him too. In the evening, Kikyele demanded to know where her children were. The ogre feigned ignorance. Though distrustful, Kikyele kept silent, fearing it and pondering what to do.
   That night, the ogre cooked and served the food.

"Take this!" it said, handing Kikyele a nzele full of food. As she reached out, the ogre withdrew it, snapping, "If you've refused, I'll eat!" And so saying, gulped down the food with its dishes. Still hungry, it seized and gobbled up the third child. Frantic, Kikyele asked neighbours about her husband's whereabouts. No one knew.
   In the morning, she spread sorghum to dry in the yard and sent for neighbours to help search for her husband. Nobody came.

That night, she gave birth. Returning from the fields, the ogre cooked and did as before, this time, devouring the infant. That night, only Kikyele and the ogre remained in the house.
   Next morning, Kikyele spread more sorghum out to dry. After a time, a dove came and pecked at the sorghum.
   "You, dove, eating my sorghum, would you deliver my message if I sent you?"
   "Of course."
   "What would you say?"
   "Eekuku! Eekuku!"
   She threw a stone and chased it away. Next, a kaviivii bird landed and began nibbling at the sorghum. She asked it the same questions. It replied that it would go and say, "Kavilisiindiiwaiseni." Kikyele chased it away. A pigeon alighted, and when asked, said it would relay this message:

You, busy blacksmith, saa-ngalala. What are you making? Saa-ngalala. Your wife gave birth, saa-ngalala,
and invited an ogre, saa-ngalala. who knows how to cook and serve, saa-ngalala.

Kikyele allowed the bird to eat its fill; then she dispatched it. After flying for long, it perched on a branch and sang the song. No one responded. It flew, perching and singing many times... futilely. But it kept on until finally it heard someone working with iron. It sang repeatedly until the blacksmith heard. Then, flying to the tree above him, the bird sang loudly.

You, busy blacksmith, saa-ngalala. What are you making? Saa-ngalala. Your wife gave birth, saa-ngalala, and invited an ogre, saa-ngalala, who knows how to cook and serve, saa-ngalala.

He beckoned the bird and asked what the song meant. Horrified, he snatched up his gear and set out homeward.
   Back home, he found all his cattle, goats, sheep, chickens and children gone, eaten by the ogre. Only his wife remained.
   After honing his machete, he waited, hiding by the open door. As the ogre entered, he slashed its neck. Head dangling, it could still talk. Seeing its blood spurting out, it told the blacksmith to cut its small right finger and toe, and to splash that blood on the inside of the roof. This done, all the blacksmith's children, animals, and property emerged from the ogre's little finger and toe. When all was retrieved, the blacksmith hacked and slew the ogre, dicing him up.
   A tearful, happy Kikyele began coddling and suckling her newborn. Reunited, the family corralled its livestock for the night.

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