Kikuyu - Fables and Legends

Wanjiru the Beauty of the Hills

From Rose Mwangi's "Kikuyu Folktales: their Nature and Value" (1970, reprinted 1983: Kenya Literature Bureau, PO Box 30022 Nairobi, Kenya). See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

Wanjiru the Beauty of the Hills, collected by Rose Mwangi

Wanjiru was the most beautiful girl in all the nine hills.
   She had milk-white teeth which made the men stop and look whenever Wanjiru laughed. Her laughter echoed and re-echoed in the nine hills when Wanjiru and the other girls of the hills were teasing each other about their new friends. Many young men came to ask Wanjiru's hand in marriage but Wanjiru would not accept any ugly man. She said that all these young men were not handsome enough for her.
   One day a young man came to court Wanjiru. He was very handsome indeed. And when Wanjiru heard that he had come to ask her for marriage, she loved him and was only too ready to accept him. Her parents bad no objections because they also admired this handsome young man. But nobody knew that the handsome young man was an Ogre in disguise.
   Marriage preparations went ahead. The young man brought the dowry and he was given Wanjiru to take to his home. He looked very happy to have such a beautiful bride. Nobody escorted them because the young man said that it was not necessary. He did not want his identity to be discovered. They were soon home and Wanjiru was happy to see so many people around. But on a second look she found that these were not people but Ogres. This made her very worried and wondered what her fate would be. Now when she was told to go inside the hut that had been prepared for her, she refused, saying that she would sit outside near the entrance because that is where brides were supposed to sit in her part of the country. Her husband gave her a stool and told her she could sit where she pleased. Nobody else took any interest in her. They displayed no emotion at the sight of a new bride - no dance or song. 'I shall surely be in great trouble unless I think quickly, for these Ogres will certainly want to eat me.' As she thought, she became more worried. All the young people she had refused to marry came to her mind. It will be a great shame when they learn that I married an Ogre for his beauty. They would laugh and say that she could even marry a hyena if he was handsome enough. There was no time to lose. She had to get away from the Ogre's home.
   She stood and took the same path that they had followed from her home. And when her husband saw that she was going away, be followed singing:

Beautiful, beautiful Wanjiru
Thecethece, thece!
Where do you go now
Thecethece, thece!
Wanjiru come back
Not today but tomorrow I shall eat you.

Wanjiru sang loud and long:

People of the nine hills
Who sold me to an Ogre
An ogre that will eat me
And my own father
You sold me to an Ogre
An Ogre that will eat me,
Listen to the Ogre sing!

The Ogre sang and the girl sang again. For a long time the two sang and sang and sang until Wanjiru saw that the Ogre was very near. She climbed to the top of the tallest tree near her path. And when the Ogre saw that he could not get bold of the girl, he stood at the foot of the tree and continued with his song. Wanjiru sang even more feverishly. Soon, however, her brother heard and recognised Wanjiru's voice. It was then he came and pierced through the back of the Ogre until he was dead. Then he said to his sister: 'Come down. Let us go home.'

He was very angry, for they had sold Wanjiru in his absence. To be duped by an Ogre into giving away Wanjiru was unforgivable. He scolded his father:
   'How could you and your people sell Wanjiru in my absence?' 'I swear by my mother's clothes that neither myself nor anybody else will ever, sell Wanjiru again. Only you son who will have the authority of selling your sister again!' And so it was like that when the time for selling Wanjiru came. The tale ends there.


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

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