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Home :  African Legends :  The three slaves

The three slaves

Bura Folktales Legend (Nigeria)

Long ago there was a great chief who died and another became chief. The chief who died left three slaves. These three slaves did not find it pleasant with the chief who took their master's place. Their names were Bukar, Ali and Dala. One day they sat talking about their condition. Bukar said, "As for me, rather than exist like this, let the chief give me a sword and I will go to Kano and chop the heads of the men in the market-place so that I will be caught and killed and
be free."

Ali also said, "To live and have trouble like this-it would be better for the chief to let me go to Kano and burn the city so that I would be caught and killed and be freed from this kind of life."

Dala also said, "Let me have Gumsa. If the chief will let me have her for seven days I would then be satisfied to be taken out and killed and leave this trouble."

There was an old woman who had been listening to what the slaves had been saying. She went as fast as her legs would carry her to tell the chief all that she had heard. The chief sent a boy to call the three slaves. When they came, he said, "Bukar, what is it that you said?" Half in fear, Bukar replied, "Great chief, I was talking about my trouble here. I said, if you choose, give me a sword and I will go to Kano and chop the heads of men in the market-place so that I may be caught and killed." Promptly the chief gave him a sword and a horse and said, "You shall have your desire. Go." He arose and went. On the way to Kano, whenever he saw people at a well, he would say, "Give water to my horse." The people at the well would reply, "You smart fellow, even ordinary people must buy water, let alone you." And Bukar would chop their heads with his sword. At each well he did the same until he reached the city of Kano. Then he entered the market-place and began to chop the heads of people. He was caught and killed. His part was finished.

There was Ali. The chief said, "Ali, what did you say?" "Chief of the world, because of the trouble I have had here," Ali replied, "let me go to Kano and burn the city, and let them catch me and kill me, so that I may be freed from this trouble." "Go and do what you will," said the chief. Ali arose and started on the road to Kano. On the way, whenever he came to a village which refused to give him food, he would burn it. After some days he reached Kano and burned part of the city. He was caught and killed. His part was finished, also.

The chief then turned to Dala. "What did you say?" inquired the chief. Dala replied, "Chief of the world, your Gumsa whom you have kept at home, I ask you to allow me to have her for seven days. At the end of seven days, if you cast me out and kill me I will be satisfied." And the chief said, "If that is your desire, you shall have it. Take him to Gumsa." They took Dala to Gumsa, and she said, "Do you want to lose your life for me?" Dala said, "Yes, even if I die for you, I will be satisfied." Gumsa said, "If you are sure, it will be all right with me." Dala and Gumsa went into the house. They did not come out of the house, not even to eat.

The seven days were soon up. The chief -gathered many people together and, coming to the door of the house, he called, "Dala." Dala said, "Chief of the world, I will come out. Wait for me." He then said to Gumsa, "If I do something, will you agree to it?" She replied, "Everything which you do, I like." Dala then changed himself into a tumble-bug and he changed Gumsa into horse-manure. Out they came, Dala rolling Gumsa over and over like a tumble-bug rolls horse-manure. When they were out, some people saw them and they thought it was just a tumble-bug and manure. They did not know that Dala had changed himself. Some saw the tumble-bug and said, "Where is this thing going?" They picked him up and threw him away, but he held to his ball. Others picked him up, and they threw him again and again until he was well away from the centre of the village. He then changed himself and Gumsa back, and they ran away.

After a while the chief called again, for he did not know that Dala had changed to a bug and that he had escaped. They went into the house, but they found no one. There was a medicine-man in the group who suggested that likely the tumble-bug and his ball, which they threw away, were Dala and Gumsa. Immediately all threw themselves into the search for Dala and Gumsa, some on horses and some on foot.

As Dala and Gumsa ran, a snake bit Dala. Gumsa sat down and cried because they did not know what to do. They knew that the chief's people were following them, and what were they to do with this snake-bite? This thing frightened them, but after a very few moments, they saw the daughter of a hunter coming to them. She asked Gumsa, "What are you crying about, sister?" And Gumsa said, "My friend, behind us are the chief's people who are trying to catch us, and here a snake has bitten my husband, and so I am crying." The daughter of the hunter said, "If I get medicine for your husband and save his life, may we both be his wives?" Gumsa said, "Yes, that will be all right." The daughter of the hunter got the medicine and saved Dala. They all went on together. Before they had gone far, they came to a wide black stream, and there was no way to get across. The women began to cry. Presently, they saw a young woman coming in a boat. The young woman in the boat said, "Why are you crying?" They replied, "Here is a great stream, and we have no way to get across. Just a little way back are the chief's people coming to catch us." The boatwoman said, "If I put you in this boat, we will all be the wives of your husband?" They replied, "We shall all have him." Into the boat they went, and they came out safely on the other side of the stream.

Then they went into the village of another chief and found a place to stay. Word was passed about that Dala had wonderful young women. That this smart young man must have caught these young women was talked everywhere. A wife of the chief of this village, who wanted to see Dala and his wives, put on trousers, a jumper and a turban like a man, and went to the stranger's house and had a look.

After a time some men went to the chief of the village and said, "This man who has come to the village with these pretty women, he should not have them, for they are not wives for a poor man, but for a chief. The chief called Dala, and he came and saluted the chief. The chief asked him why he had come into the village and had not come to salute. Dala answered, "Chief of the world, I was not able to come because I was tired." The chief said, All right, go along and come another time."

Jealousy stood up in the chief's heart before long, because he wanted Dala's wives. He called Dala, and when he came, the chief said, "I want to make a bet with you. Do you agree?"Dala replied, "With your blessing, chief of all living things, I agree." Then the chief said, "Our bet will be like this. I will have all my horses brought out and you will choose the one which I like to ride best; I will have all my food gourds brought out and you will choose the one which I like best; I will have all my wives brought and you will choose the wife of my heart. If you choose all correct, my head will be cut off and you will be the chief of the village. But if you do not choose right, your head will be cut off and your wives will be mine. Is this satisfactory?" Dala said, "It suits me."

A day was chosen when the bet should be carried out.

When Dala went home he began to cry because the bet was cutting his insides. He did not know one of the three. A wife of the chief came to Dala and said, "Why are you crying?" Dala told her everything, and she said to his wives, "If I save Dala, will he be husband to all of us?" All agreed, and the woman told him, "I will tell you all of these. When they come out with the horses, take the one which has the least on it. When the gourds come, pick the one which has the edge sewed. When the wives come, select me for the woman of his heart. All the women will come with very nice clothes, but I will come with nothing but an old homespun blanket around me. Two men will walk in front of me, and two behind me. Do you understand?" Dala answered, "Yes, yes, I understand."

On the morrow, the chief gathered together all his people and sharpened his sword and put it down. He said, "Here is my sword. If Dala catches me in the bet, cut his head off with this sword." They brought out the horses first, and Dala picked the horse which the chief liked best. The chief said, "All right, Dala, you have picked one right, two remain." The gourds were brought, and Dala selected the one which the chief liked best. The chief said, "Yes, Dala, you have selected two right, one remains." Then the wives were brought. Out they came with beautiful clothes, all but one who had nothing pretty on. Dala selected her and said that she must be the one woman of the king's heart. Immediately, the men were up and they cut off the head of their chief, and the chieftainship fell to Dala.

Among the four wives, which will be the wife after Dala's heart? You think that you are clever, then which of the four shall be first of all? Many have argued about this thing, but no one has ever been able to decide. If you say that Gumsa, the first wife, passes all the others, it is not true. If the daughter of the hunter had not been where the snake bit Dala, the chief's people would have caught them. But if you say that the daughter of the hunter is the first wife after Dala's heart, that is not true. If the boat-woman had not been at the river, the chief's men would have caught them by the stream. But if you say that the boat-woman is the first wife after Dala's heart, that is not true. If the wife of the chief of the village had not helped, the head of Dala would have been cut off. But if you say that the chief's wife is the first wife after Dala's heart, that is not true. If the first three had not done their part, Dala would not have reached that point. This thing is very perplexing. Which shall we choose?


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