03 September 2009

The Orphan

The Orphan
Conte de Kabye

Once upon a time there was a little boy in a little village who was more than a little sad. He had just lost his parents. His hair had grown while he was in mourning and his mother was not around to shave his head for him. Because he was an orphan he had no money and he could not find someone willing to cut his hair for free. Although he was poor, he was very clever, so he wandered through the village looking for something he could use to trade for a haircut. He arrived at the market and wandered around until he came to the place where the women sat all day selling salt. He stared at the ground and was scuffing his feet in the dirt when suddenly he noticed a small white shiny stone. He picked it up and discovered it was a single grain of salt that a buyer had forgotten in his haste. He picked it up carefully and found a stone to crush it into a fine powder. He gathered the powder and sprinkled it over his hair but he needed water to rub it in. The orphan was so poor that he didn’t even have enough money to own a calabash cup to drink from; so he asked a passer-by to give him a few drops of water. He wet down his hair and spread the salt dust over it.
Then he went to find Malo the Hairdresser and, telling her his story, he begged her to cut his hair. Malo pitied him and accepted. The orphan asked her to carefully place his cut hair to one side. Malo went to work and soon after the orphan’s hair was neatly shaved. The orphan stood and said to Malo:
“Tell me, Malo, do you want to taste my hair? Everyone tells me that it has a special taste.”
“I’ll try it”
Malo tasted the hair of the orphan and, greedily ate all of it.
“Ah! It was so good!” she said.
When the orphan was about to leave, Malo asked him to pay her for the haircut. The orphan and thought that Malo had accepted to do the haircut for free and was not happy. He angrily demanded that Malo give back his hair. She obviously couldn’t give back the hair so after a long discussion she gave him some shea oil in exchange.
The orphan took the oil, left the village and went to the shore of a lake nearby so he could perform his religious purification. While he was washing himself, the lake’s waters rose and lifted up the bottle of oil, tipping its contents out upon the waves. When the orphan emerged from the water, he was devastated that he had lost his fortune and sang a lament:
Lake, give me my oil!
This oil is from far far away,
It comes from Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

And the lake, pitying the distress of the orphan, since it could not give back the oil that had spilled and spread itself in tiny droplets all over the surface of the water, gave him the gift of a huge fish.
The orphan thanked the lake and continued on his path. He arrived in a forest at the edge of the wild jungle, and there he found a piece of wood burning with fiery embers. Since he was starving, he tossed the fish in the flames to cook it, but the flame was too hot and burned the fish up. The orphan cried at his misfortune and asked the fire to give back his fish, singing:
Fire, give me my fish!
That fish is from far far away
It comes from the lake
Who exchanged it
For the oil of Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

Touched by the desperation of the orphan, the piece of wood gave him some charcoal. He thanked the fire and continued on his path.
He soon arrived at a blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith asked him what he was carrying. The orphan held out the charcoal and the blacksmith took it, adding it to his fire so he could continue his work. The orphan got upset and sang:
Blacksmith, give me my charcoal!
My charcoal wasn’t a gift
It comes from the fire
Who exchanged it for my fish
My fish wasn’t a gift
That fish was from far far away
It comes from the lake
Who took my oil
The oil was from far far away
It was from Malo the Hairdresser
Malo the Hairdresser ate my hair
The oil was payment, not a gift
My hair is from far far away
My hair was given to me as my inheritance
From my father and my mother

The blacksmith, ashamed of having profited from the poor goods of an orphan, gave him in exchange the gift of a newly forged hoe. The orphan thanked the blacksmith and continued on his path.
He soon arrived in a country where all the farmers were using pieces of broken plates and bowls to dig and plow their fields. He addressed the farmers:
“What miracle do you hope to accomplish here? Why are you farming the earth with broken bits instead of metal hoes?”
“But we don’t have any of those, we don’t even know what they are!” responded the farmers.
“Well then, if you want it, take mine.” The orphan said to them.
So they put to use the orphan’s hoe and by using it, they increased their harvest and had much less difficultly working in the fields. As a gift they offered to the orphan a bundle of millet. He thanked the farmers and continued on his path.
Next he arrived in a country that was suffering from famine. In passing along side a river, he came across a woman seated on the bank with her children, trying to coax them into eating the wet sand.
“Tell me, Woman, don’t you want to give millet porridge to your children?”
“I would very much like to, but I don’t have any millet to prepare porridge. I have nothing to feed them.” She responded.
The orphan offered her the bundle of millet and went off to find a place in this country to settle.
A few days later, he returned to the woman’s house and asked to collect his debt. Because the woman was poor and had nothing, she could not give back the millet; therefore she gave in exchange the only thing she had left: one of her children. The orphan took the child, thanked the woman and left.
He chose some land in the country and had the child build him a hut, the child became thus the first slave. And he lived in the hut with his slave.
This is how, in the beginning, we used to exchange people for food.

And here's an alternative ending for those of you who thought that was a little weird:
The orphan married the woman’s daughter and together they built a hut and worked the land and raised many children.
This is how even poor orphans can succeed if they are clever and resourceful.

1 comment:

Celia Richards said...

Thanks Rose. I enjoyed that a lot. You know how much I like 'folk tales'! If you come across any more I would be very interested in hearing them.