Kamba - Fables and Legends

A Man and a King

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.

A Man and a King, collected by Mwikali Kieti and Peter Coughlin

Once upon a time, a man became so poor, his clothes were tattered and neighbours laughed at him. One day, he left his village to search for riches. He travelled long and afar. By the wayside, he met a small person who was sitting blocking one nostril with his finger. He greeted the small man and asked why he was holding his nose. The small man said he was called "the man of the nose (Nose]" and if he let go, something amazing would happen. The man asked him to let it go. Wind gushed from the nostril, knocking the man down, and pushing him until he implored the small man to hold his nostril again. He did and the wind stopped.
   Asked to accompany the man on his journey, the small man agreed and they went together. Days later, they met another small man holding one of his legs which was shorter than the other. The man inquired why he did this. He responded just as the first small man had, and said his name was the "small-legged man [Small Leg]". The man told Small leg to let his leg go. like lightning, the leg stretched out elastically to the horizon and, then, in a flash, snapped back. Small leg stretched out, grabbed it, and continued sitting as before. The man asked Small leg to join them. He did. After walking for some days, the three met another small man sitting by two big baobab trees. The man inquired as usual, and the small man said he was "Baobab Carrier". Asked why, he replied that he carried the baobabs with him. Disbelieving, the man challenged him to do it. Carrier put a baobab on one shoulder and hoisted another to the other shoulder. All were amazed. Invited to join them, Carrier agreed.
   After walking for days, they came to a village.
   They heard the village king had a daughter who could run like the wind.
   The king challenged anybody who could run faster than his daughter to compete with her and, if he won, the king would give him a fortune plus his daughter as a wife. The man decided to try his luck. After all' he was travelling in search of wealth. They all went together, and Carrier left his baobabs in the village. When they presented themselves, the king laughed derisively upon seeing the would-be contestant.

The contest was arranged and well attended. Before they set off, the contestants were given a vessel each and told to fetch water from a distant, special well. Small leg approached the man and, whispering, instructed him to bring the water container to him at a tree near the compound.

When the race started, the girl was already a hundred paces ahead when the man was just passing the gate to the compound. When he got to the tree, the girl was gone from sight. Taking the vessel, Small leg let his leg go. Like lightning, he shot off overtaking the girl. After fetching water and heading back, he met the girl still coming. He gave the vessel to the man who, all along, had been hiding just metres from the compound. Running back to the homestead, the man feigned panting. Just after he arrived, the girl came and was shocked to find him already there.
   Though the king had to keep his promise, he told them to stay overnight, he would reward them the next day. The four men were shown their room. It was above another room. After entering, they were quietly locked in. On the king's orders, the room below was filled with logs and set ablaze at night. As the four slept, the floor got hotter and hotter. They awoke. Something was amiss! They could not get out of the locked room! As they panicked, Nose released his nostril. Gushing winds nearly froze the place. He kept his nostril open till the fire was thoroughly quenched and the room was becoming so frigid the others begged him to halt the winds.
   Next morning, the king was astounded. They were still alive! He had no option but to reward the man. The king gave away his daughter and a roomful of gold, but on condition that all the gold be carried away at once. The man was puzzled. How could he carry the gold?
   Carrier took him aside and told him the baobab trees had hollows big enough for all the gold. He brought the trees, packed the gold and still had room left over. They bade the king farewell. Carrier picked up his two baobabs, and off they went. Soon they saw the king's soldiers pursuing them to retake everything. The man panicked. But Nose thrust the soldiers back with a gust of wind while the man and his wife leapt into a nook in the baobab. Holding his nostril, Nose also got in. Then, the loaded Carrier sat on Small leg's shoulders. Like a thunderbolt, they flashed away, back to the man's home village. There, they lived happily ever after.

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