Kamba - Fables and Legends

The Poor Man

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 Poor Man, collected by Mwikali Kieti and Peter Coughlin

Once there lived a man so poor that even impoverished neighbours dug up wild roots to feed him. later, they abandoned him, leaving him to wander in the forest.

One day, he spotted bees living in a hollow tree. He went for an axe to split the tree and get the honey. He chopped, and on the second chop, heard a voice from beyond a bush: "Who is chopping there?"
   "A person aching from poverty."
   "let him come close so I can see him."
   Nearing where the voice came from, the man found another man who offered him a half gourd [traditionally, dishes were half gourds] but at the same time warning him:
   "Along the way, don't tell this container to excrete!"
   With thanks, the man took the gourd and left. Being inquisitive, he soon ordered, "Excrete!" The gourd excreted every kind of food he knew, plus others. He stuffed himself and, when ordered, the gourd stopped.

While passing the king's place, he decided to keep the gourd there. He instructed the people inside, "Keep this container for me, but don't tell it to excrete."
   After he left, they commanded the gourd, "Excrete!"
   As had the man, they feasted. They even invited neighbours. And, when requested, the gourd stopped. Later, the man came claiming his property. They told him to go away; he had left nothing.
   Piqued, he returned to split the tree. Upon chopping twice, he heard the voice again. He was given an ewe and instructed as before. After a few steps, he told the ewe to excrete. Out came food. After eating gluttonously, he halted the flow of food. Again, he left the ewe at the king's. When he returned for it, they told him to get lost. They had nothing of his.
   Chopping the tree a third time, he heard the voice calling and was given a club and whip and told, "Once you go, don't say, 'Club, play with the whip'." As usual, after a few steps, he spoke the forbidden words. The club and whip both began thrashing him. Before he remembered that he could stop them, he had welts all over his body.

Scheming to arrive at the king's place just before mealtime, he found everyone home and hurriedly gave them the two weapons. "But don't tell the club to play with the whip!"
   They waited for him to leave. Then, shutting and locking all windows and doors, they placed the whip and club on a table and sat around it. The king ordered, "Club, play with the whip!" Promptly, the whip and the club started beating everybody. Dumbstruck, at first no one remembered to order, "Stop!" Later, anyone opening his mouth had it smashed shut. They were all beaten to death. The weapons even beat the corpses. The man finally came and, peeping through a crack, told the whip and club to stop. After burying the dead, he retrieved his belongings, moved into the dead king's house, and seized his riches.

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