African Oral Literature: Kikuyu story of The Dancer from another Village
updated 23th April 2012
This folk-tale was one of the many that were told to children and young adults by the fireside as they waited for supper. I have retold it as faithfully as I could. I have however given the characters and the village my own names and inserted some relevant proverbs.
There was once a great dance at Metumi village. All the youths, men and women had adorned themselves elegantly for the dance. But a man from another village had adorned himself even more elegantly. He had taken the trouble to dress his hair and to apply ochre and oil on himself. Next he had worn his most striking jewellery. The Kikuyu say that ‘Gakĩĩhotora nĩko koĩ urĩa karĩina’ – the one who adorns for a dance, knows how he or she intends to dance.
The strange man danced with great vigour and prowess. No one in Metumi had ever seen such elegance and competence at dancing. He attracted so much attention that when he got tired and set off for home, he had many followers – men, women and girls. They all followed him for a long distance. But soon the married men and married women got tired and went back home. Only the curious girls continued to follow him. They wanted to find out where he lived.
There is something strange!
Suddenly some of the girls noticed that there were many flies around the back of the man’s head. A mouth presently opened from under the hair and ate all the flies at one go. The few girls who saw that were shocked. Some girls were convinced that something was amiss and went back home. But the strange man did not lack followers. Quite a number of girls failed to listen and continued to follow him.
Soon the man arrived at his home deep in the forest with the girls closely behind. Without talking, he pointed to a hut for the girls to sleep in. There were two big logs just near the entrance. The man retired in another hut.
The girls decided to make a fire and hopefully cook some food. They were very hungry. They were so far from home that they found it more prudent to wait for day-break. They hoped to find at least some grain inside the hut. The logs outside needed to be cut into small pieces but they could not see an axe around. One brave girl volunteered to go to the strange man’s hut to ask for an axe. She hoped to see him too and have a brief chat before the other girls could. Her name was Wambere.
What was the man eating?
When Wambere arrived at the strange man’s hut she surprised him in the middle of meal. Her words stuck in her mouth when she saw what he was eating. The man was gnawing a human leg! Wambere was transfixed in one place with her mouth open.
“What have you seen?” the Cannibal asked.
“Nothing,” replied the frightened Wambere. “I found you preparing to sleep, that is all.”
“Good. Now can I help you?” the cannibal inquired charmingly.
“I wanted an axe to chop some firewood. If you gave me some grain, we will make some supper,” Wambere gathered the courage to say.
The Cannibal gave Wambere an axe, some grain and a piece of meat. The girl went very fast to her friends in the hut. She told them what she had seen.
“The man is not a Kikuyu! I saw him chewing at a roast human leg.”
The girls looked at the grain and meat that Wambere had brought. There was no way of knowing what kind of meat it was. It could be human they thought. The girls were horrified. They agreed with Wambere that they should set off at once for home. After all, they had often heard that ‘kĩguoya kĩinũkagĩra nyina’ – the coward always returns to his or her mother.
The forgotten jewellery
The girls ran as fast as their legs could carry them. They soon got tired. Since they were now at a safe distance, they decided to rest under a huge tree. They had only stopped for a moment to catch their breath when one girl screamed in anguish. Waceke had forgotten her most expensive necklace in the hut.
“I must go back for it. Who will accompany me?” Waceke asked.
“Forget it, Wambere advised. “No necklace is worth your life.”
“I won’t take long,” Waceke insisted. “I will just pick it and turn back.
“We are going home,” Wambere said. Many girls agreed with her. The Kikuyu say that ‘mũndũ mũgĩ ndarĩ mĩhere ya ũhoro’ – there are not too many ways to make a clever person see sense.
“Fine, I will go alone,” Waceke replied defiantly. She turned to go back, never stopping to catch her breath. After a short while, Waceke arrived and tiptoed into the hut.
Waceke was rummaging through the hut, looking for the necklace, when someone stood at the door. It was the Cannibal.
“Where has everybody gone?” the Cannibal asked with bitterness in his voice. He had hoped to eat the girls one by one in his own good time.
“They have all run away except me,” Waceke said fearfully. She hoped to be spared for that show of loyalty.
“At least I was not left with nothing to eat,” the cannibal said. With that statement, he bit off her thump and ate it.
“Please do not eat me,” Waceke pleaded. “I promise to live with you forever. Have mercy on me”
Marriage and homemaking
“The Cannibal felt as much compassion as a man-eater could. He took Waceke for his wife and thus spared her. Waceke was glad to be spared and became a dutiful wife. After all, ‘Gũtirĩ mũtumia wenjagĩrwo mbuĩ kwa nyina’- no woman has her grey hair shaved at her mother’s house, because she is expected to get married.
When Waceke’s friends had arrived home without her, they had decided not to talk about the Cannibal. Waceke’s parents, sisters and brothers assumed that Waceke had eloped with the elegant man.
The Cannibal and his wife were blessed with a baby boy. They called him Mũrei – the eater, because he was quite a glutton, even as an infant. In any case, the Kikuyu say the a name is but an aid for a child to grow – rĩtwa nĩ rĩa gũkũria mwana.
The Kikuyu say that ‘mũcera na mũkũndũ akũndũkaga taguo’ – if you keep bad company you will behave exactly like them. Needless to say, Mũrei turned out to be like his father. They went out often in search of meat together.
One day Mũrei’s untie missed her sister Waceke very much. Her name was Wanjũgũ. She decided to go and look for her in the forest where it was said Waceke lived with her husband and a son. Wanjũgũ had not seen Waceke since she got married, neither did she know the kind of man she had married. On the way, Wanjũgũ met a man who warned her not to stop at a particular fig tree along the way.
“Mũrei and his father waylay people around there,” the man said.
“Why do they waylay people there?” Wanjũgũ asked. She had no idea that Mũrei was her nephew.
“Don’t you know?” the man asked. “Just do not stop there,” the man said firmly and hurriedly went on his way.
As it turned out, as soon as Wanjũgũ arrived at the fig tree, there was a heavy downpour. It was such a storm that Wanjũgũ could not proceed.
“Wooi,” Wanjũgũ lamented. “This is the cursed tree. I was warned not to stop here.”
Looking for safety
Wanjũgũ looked up the tree and saw that it had a lot of leaves. She could climb up the tree and hide and no one would ever know that she was up there. That is what she thought. Wanjũgũ climbed the tree and hid in the leafiest part.
It was not too long after Wanjũgũ had hidden when a man and his son came along. It was Mũrei and his father. They stopped at the tree to take a rest. Mũrei looked up the tree and drew his father’s attention to a strange brunch.
“What do I see up there?” Mũrei asked.
“Haven’t we seen that ant’s nest many times before?” The Canibal asked.
“Let me go up and see,” Mũrei insisted.
Mũrei was soon close enough to see that a very healthy woman was hidden in the tree. He started to gnaw at her toes, one by one. Wanjũgũ pleaded that she was on her way to see her sister, her nephew and brother-in-law. But Mũrei did not stop and the pain was too much for Wanjũgũ to bear.
Unable to persevere any longer, Wanjũgũ fell down screaming. When she hit the ground, the cannibal saw that his son had come across a woman they had never seen in their lives. Father and son fell upon their in-law, killed her and devoured her completely. They did not leave a trace of Wanjũgũ and Waceke never found out that her sister had been looking for her.
What is the moral of this story?
1. People are not what they seem at first.
2. Earthly possessions are not worth more than your life.
3. Listen to honest counsel and take heed.
4. If you marry into the wrong family, many more people than just you will be in trouble.
What other lessons can you pick from this story?