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Native Fairy Tales of South Africa by  Ethel L. McPherson


 

 

THE DAUGHTER OF THE OSTRICH EGG

[103] OHALE was a man who had no possessions, neither had he a wife. He lived apart from Mother men, and to keep himself from starving he hunted field-mice. He lived upon their flesh, and clad himself in garments made from their skins.

One day when he was out hunting he found an ostrich egg lying upon the ground, and instead of eating it then, he carried it to his hut, where he hid it, saying, "When the wind blows from the North I will eat this egg."

Next day when he returned from the chase, bringing only a few miserable little mice, Mohale saw with astonishment that a meal of bread and beer was spread for him, just as if he had left a wife at home.

"Mohale," said he to himself, as he sat down to [104] eat, "can it really be true that you have no wife? For if so, who can have baked the bread and brewed the beer?"

The next day also when he returned a meal was spread, and again the next day and the next.

This continued until one night when as Mohale was resting after his supper, he heard the sound of something cracking, and from the ostrich egg hidden at the back of the hut there stepped forth a young and beautiful girl.

Mohale gazed at her in delight and wonder, and seeing that she was fair and kind, he asked her to be his wife. She consented, but she said: "Mohale, you must promise me that even when you have drunk too much beer, you will never call me 'Daughter of the Ostrich Egg.'"

Mohale promised, and he and his wife lived happily together. One day toward sunset she said to him: "Mohale, would you not like to become a great Chief and rule over a tribe of warriors?"

He answered: "Surely, I should wish to be a Chief."

[105] Thereupon his wife rose, and going to the spot where a fire had been burning, she took a stick and stirred the ashes.

Next morning when Mohale woke from sleep he heard the sound of many voices outside the hut, as if a great concourse of men had assembled, and the lowing of many cattle. As he looked round him, he saw to his surprise that the poor hut in which he slept had become like a royal dwelling, while at his side lay a mantle of rich fur, such as is worn by kings. Springing to his feet, he went to the door, and there he saw the assembled men, who came forward, saluting him and crying, "Hail! Great Chief. Hail!"

So Mohale found himself the ruler of a great people, and he lived in plenty and content, loving the wife to whom he owed so much.

But one day a quarrel arose between them, and he reproached her because she had crossed his will. Not knowing what he said, for he had drunk too freely of beer, he broke the promise that he had made her.

[106] "Did you call me the Daughter of the Ostrich Egg?" asked the woman.

"Yes," said Mohale, "I did." And he repeated it. His wife made no answer, but turned and left him.

That night Mohale lay down as usual, wrapped in his mantle of rich fur; but toward dawn he woke shivering. Putting out his hand, he found that his fine mat had disappeared. He lay upon the bare ground, with nothing to cover him but the wretched cloak made of the skins of mice which he had worn when he was a poor man. He called to his wife, but no answer came.

At daybreak he rose, and going to the door saw that the village over which he ruled had disappeared, with all his men and their cattle. Turning back to his hut he found that it had shrunk from a royal dwelling to the poor habitation he had known before. Henceforth until his death Mohale lived alone in poverty, hunting field-mice that he might not hunger.


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