Kamba - Fables and Legends

Musyimi the Hunter

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.

Musyimi the Hunter, collected by Mwikali Kieti and Peter Coughlin

Long ago, to survive, many people hunted. Before setting out, hunters normally sought a mundu mue's (medicine man's) guidance.

Once upon a time, some men, who wanted to go on a hunt, went to see a mundu mue. He cautioned them: "On your way, let none of you stray off to pee or defecate until you actually begin hunting."
   They set out. After going far, one man felt a terrible, insistent urge to defecate and, without asking, just went oft, telling the others to proceed, he'd catch up. After he had finished, he.could not see them. He started walling alone, hoping to catch up with them shortly.
   After walking for a long time, he came to a river. Before crossing it, he saw something like a man's head nearby. It spoke! Thinking he was hallucinating, he started to pass it, but just before stepping into the water, heard: "You, man, please hold my hand and take me across the river with you?"
   "All right, hurry up, grab on."
   "Then, lean your back this way so I can get hold."
   "Okay, now climb on."
   The man was squatting so that the dwarf could climb up easily. The dwarf had very long claws, apparently its only limbs. When climbing up, it sank them right into the hunter's shoulders. The dwarf even seemed to expand: the hunter felt sharp nails, possibly from the toes, sinking into his legs and back. Blood spurted out.
   The hunter began to wade through mud to cross the river. He finally got the dwarf to the other side. He had thought he would die. Relieved, he stood waiting for it to alight.
   "So, get down! I want to continue my journey."
   But in a peevish whine, the dwarf demanded, "Oh, pl-e-a-s-e, let's go together." The hunter could hardly believe his ears!

The dwarf was so heavy and, besides, it had painfully embedded itself into the hunter's body. Now, only its head protruded from his right shoulder.
   "Oh, please, please, just let me follow my friends! Didn't, you say you wanted to cross the river?" The more the hunter talked, the deeper the dwarf clawed into him, while becoming ever heavier too.
   "Okay! Don't jab your nails into me so much! I'll walk with you."

With the dwarf on his back, the hunter walked on and on, frantically thinking of ways to get rid of it. Seeing some zebras grazing, he pulled an arrow from his quiver and told the dwarf, "Alight for a while, so I can kill these zebras. We're both hungry. I'll shoot faster and better with you off."
   "O-o-oh, let's continue. Kill them while I'm on."
   Baffled, the hunter despaired. "Please, I implore you, just alight for a minute. I'll pick you up again; I only want to kill these zebras first."
   "O-o-oh, pl-e-a-s-e continue. Kill them while carrying me!" Frustrated, the hunter started shooting at the zebras. luckily, he killed two. Fatigued and sweating, he again pleaded, "Please, get down so we can butcher these animals."
   "O-o-o-h, just do it while I stay on your back, pl-e-a-s-e." Exasperated and very hungry, the hunter hastily cut up the zebras while still carrying his burden. "Get down so I can collect firewood for roasting the meat."
   The dwarf clawed in deeper. "Pl-e-a-s-e, collect it while carrying me." The man collected firewood - an easy job in the plains - and, by rubbing sticks, ignited a fire and dragged the meat nearer.
   Meanwhile, he had been cutting off chunks of meat to feed the dwarf on his back. The dwarf devoured the chunks faster than the hunter could pass them back, and greedily reached out for more. It swallowed everything -bones and all - in a gulp, and, as it ate, grew heavier. After finishing the first zebra, the hunter cut off and gave the dwarf the second zebra's head. In a second, it masticated and swallowed the head. It ate everything, except the skins and liver. The hunter ate the liver. Then he noticed that the dwarf was loosening its grip. The fire's warmth made it drowsy. Soon, it was snoring away, claws slowly retracting.
   The hunter turned the dwarf more toward the fire, and lay down so that it would fall softly onto the leaves where he had skinned the zebras. Like a sleeping babe, the dwarf fell onto the leaves and slept heavily, his claws now completely out. The hunter quietly, quickly covered it with skins - after warming them so it would mistake them for his body - and piled on embers so it would sleep for a long time. Though wounded, he fled, running, straining, hoping to catch up with the other hunters. He ran and ran - ngaka! ngaka! ngaka! ngaka! - clutching his bow and quiver of arrows. He covered many kilometres, but without seeing his colleagues.
   When it was nearly dawn, the fire on the skins covering the dwarf went out, and the cold breeze awoke it. A glance around... the hunter was gone! Off like the wind, the dwarf pursued him. Becoming elastic, it stretched itself in one step and, with the next, strode nearly six kilometres. It caught up with the fleeing hunter in seconds.
   "Oh! Where did you imagine you were going? ... Please, carry me!" Without awaiting a reply, the dwarf leapt onto the hunter and again clawed in right where it had before, but a bit deeper to punish him. The hunter asked, "Can't you walk?"
   "No! ... Carry me!"
   [This is like the proverb, "One who has lost his ears breaks the shaft of a poisoned arrow with his thigh." The hunter thought he was clever in disobeying the medicine man.]
   They went on and on, the dwarf refusing to walk. They encountered elephants. The hunter begged the dwarf to get off so he could kill them for food. As before, the dwarf refused, and the earlier scenario with the zebras was repeated, but with elephants.
   After covering the dwarf with elephant hides, the man fetched more firewood and built a bigger fire so the dwarf would sleep long enough for him to join the other hunters or reach home. He escaped.
   When he was about five kilometres from his house, the dwarf awoke and sped off in pursuit. Just metres from his house, he heard the dwarf right behind him. It nearly jumped onto his back.
   His wife, hewing wood at home, saw a man run right into the inner part of her hut and jump onto her bed. Belatedly, she recognized her husband. She had almost forgotten him, he had been gone so long. "What's happening? Why are you gasping?" Before she could recover from the shock and talk to her husband, she heard a thud and saw a bizarre creature with a big mustache.
   "Tell me what happened between you two? Please, father [the creature; 'father' is a term of respect for an elderly man], sit and cool down first! May I give you some porridge?" Furious, the dwarf still wanted to get to the man on the bed.
   "I want to know what happened, where you two came from. What's the problem? Let me get firewood and make a fire for you so you can tell me what happened. Meanwhile, have some porridge." The dwarf swallowed the porridge in a gulp. Still agitated, it was stretching out, trying to get to the man. The terror-crazed hunter was trying to escape by yanking at the hut's thick wooden latticework and frames.
   Deciding to act, the woman addressed the dwarf, "let me chop firewood and make a fire so you can tell me what happened. We'll pay you whatever this man owes you." She thought, "You, creature, I'll fix you! I'll cut you up in a minute! If I miss, you will finish us."
   Aloud, she said, "Please relax, and tell me what happened."
   She returned with the axe. Pretending to keep it lowered, she aimed at the centre of the dwarf's head as it tried to stretch toward the bed. Whaap! One blow beheaded the creature. From its head many cattle poured out. The wild animals the hunter had killed while carrying the dwarf were now these cattle. His corral was filled, and other cattle lazed about outside.
   Imagining the dwarf was still coming for him, the man, panic-struck, was still frantically ripping at the hut's wall. Shrieking, babbling, he was nearly berserk. The woman went out yelling, calling people to come help restrain her husband. They came and tied him up. later, they held a feast to celebrate his heroic return, though he took a month to get well and narrate his story.

For disobeying, he suffered greatly, though in the end he became rich.

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Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

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