Fairy Tales from South Africa [VOLUNTEER PROJECT] | Annotated Tale

This book was proofed and edited by volunteers in 2020. Please see the notes for each tale for credit to the individual proofers. Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Story of the Shining Princess, The

A ‘Msuto Story

IN A green valley far away among the mountains there was once a most beautiful kraal. The hut was bright green, finely thatched with grass, the floor within of red earth, firm and beautifully polished. All the cooking-pots were of red clay, and stood in good order round the walls, and with them were shining green calabashes full of milk and cream. Fine green mats lay on the floor, save in one corner where there was a little mat woven of mountain-grass the colour of gold. Round the hut was a high green fence, also of exquisite neatness; indeed all was in perfect order, and no kraal was kept like it in all the country round.

For it was the home of a great Chief’s wife. Her husband had been dead many years, and had left her all alone in the world with one little girl named Maholia, who was only three years old. The Queen had been a most beautiful woman in her day, and as the little girl grew up she was just as lovely as her mother. The greatest care was taken of her, and she was soon as good and obedient as she was charming. Her mother never married again; indeed it would not have been fitting, as she had been a King's wife. She lived only for her child, and they loved one another dearly. Maholia was the envy of every little girl in the country. Everything she had was the colour of the golden moon, her necklaces, her bracelets, and the gold circle she wore round her neck. As she grew up she became more and more noted for her beauty and charm; she was so lovely that she dazzled the eyes of all beholders, and was known as the Shining Princess. Time went on, and when she grew to woman-hood many lovers came forward to ask her in marriage. There was not a Chief’s son for many days' journey who did not long to make her his wife. But neither the Princess herself nor her mother cared for any of them, nor would they hear of marriage.

Then one day came an embassy from a very powerful King. He was searching everywhere for a beautiful girl to be his son's wife, but though his wise men had travelled far and wide and many girls had been brought to his kraal, not one had been found to his mind. He decided to seek yet farther afield, and sent his chief Induna [1] with attendants in great state to see all the Princesses in far countries who were famous for their beauty. After many months of travel the Induna began to hear talk of the Shining Princess. He decided to visit her, though he feared to be disappointed once more. But at the sight of the green kraal his hopes rose. At the door the Princess met him. She was shining from head to foot in the bright sun. Round her neck were thick bars of red-gold copper; copper and brass rings adorned her shapely arms from wrist to elbow, and appeared again on her slender ankles, reaching almost to her knees. Round her waist was a girdle of golden beads, twisted into a thick rope behind, and in front hanging in a long, glistening fringe over her short apron of skin. This was again embroidered in squares with gold and copper beads. Over her pretty shoulders hung her cloak, also embroidered in circles of gold and bordered with a wide band of shining beads. Even her snuff-calabash was gold-coloured, of jackal-skin. Every movement was full of grace, and her laughing lips and bright eyes showed the kindness of her heart.

When the Induna saw this beautiful woman clad in gold and shining like the rising moon, he said, "This is the Princess I have been seeking! This is indeed the wife for our great King's son!"

He begged to see Maholia's mother, and formally demanded the hand of her daughter. Many days passed in discussion. The Queen was loathe to part with her child, but the Induna talked so wisely of his master's power and riches, and the bravery and wisdom of the bridegroom, that she at last consented. The embassy then returned home to the King, and told him with great joy of the beauty and goodness of the Shining Princess. The King bade his Chief rest while he gathered together the marriage-gift of cattle for the Queen–mother. These consisted of one hundred beautiful animals, at the head of which marched a fairy ox. He was magnificent, the King's great pride; but he was considered only due payment for so fair a Princess. He was black as charcoal, save for two long white horns, and between his shoulders burned a steady light, which illuminated his path by night and gave him magic power.

When all was ready the wedding-party set out to fetch the bride and deliver the tribute due to her mother. The Queen was delighted with the cattle, and especially with the fairy ox.

"Here," said she to her daughter, "take this ox with you. He is my present to you; your journey will be long and you will often be glad to ride him.”

Then she turned to the King's men and said, "Do not leave my daughter alone. I am afraid of what may happen to her. If you leave her, I shall know at once, for the corner in which she has always sat at home will crumble away."

The wedding-party promised faithfully to guard Maholia with every care. The Princess and her mother parted with bitter tears, and she and her attendant maids set forth with the King's men.

For two days all went well. But on the third day the men came upon hundreds of buck of every kind, large and small, and behind these appeared great herds of elephants and giraffes. The country was full of game. The King's men could not resist the temptation, and started off to hunt; such abundance they had never seen in their lives before. In the end even the girls joined their party, and all were soon in hot pursuit. The Shining Princess was left all alone seated on an ant-heap, the fairy ox by her side. That very moment, as her mother sat in the hut thinking anxiously of her absent child, the corner on which the golden mat had lain cracked from end to end and crumbled away.

In the meantime the wedding-party went on gaily hunting; the farther they went the more fresh buck appeared. They forgot all about the bride and continued the chase for days. The poor bride sat alone till she was discovered by a party of cannibals, who seized her and carried her away. They endeavoured also to secure the fairy ox, but he gave one great leap into the air out of the midst of the enemy, and flew like the wind to the Princess's mother.

The poor Queen met him at the kraal gate, for well she knew some evil had befallen her daughter. The great ox stood still while she knelt before him and heard his tale.

"But where is she now?" cried the Queen; "where have they taken her?”

"That is all I know," said the ox. "The cannibals took her, and so I came with all speed to you. But do not despair; all will yet be well."

Meanwhile the King and his son waited and waited for the expected bride. Weeks and months passed by, and they began to fear some great calamity. Then, one by one, their men straggled in. They told their story in great shame; they had left the Princess and forgotten her. They could not find her again, though they had travelled far and wide. The King had them all put to death. Then he called his Chiefs together and asked their advice. They all decided that the bridegroom himself must go with a body of picked men and search for the bride in her mother's home.

The Queen received them with much joy, but her grief was great when she heard they knew nothing of her daughter. She told them of the return of the fairy ox and all his tale.

"Be of good cheer," said the Prince. "I will take the fairy ox myself and will never return till I can bring your daughter with me."

Then the Prince took the ox and set forth on his journey. He travelled for weeks and months, but no trace of the Princess could he find. One day he came to a marula-tree covered with shining yellow fruit.

"This would be good to make cider," said the Prince. "I will eat some."

He had scarcely eaten a few berries when a deep voice came out of the tree.

"What do you want?" it asked.

"I seek for the Shining Princess," said the Prince. "Am I on the right way?"

 "Go on," said the marula, "till you come to the big fig-tree."

The Prince journeyed yet farther among country overgrown with bush, till by the side of a stream he came to an immense tree covered with little red figs. They even grew on the roots, and its leaves were so thick that no sun could pierce them. He sat down in its deep shade and said, “I seek the Shining Princess. Am I on the right way?"

“Go on," said the fig-tree, "till you come to a big river. Beyond it lies a great forest, and in that forest you will find the Princess."

The Prince started forth full of joy, and followed the course of the stream. The next day he found himself in full view of a deep river; it was in flood, and so wide that he could not hope to cross it.

"Climb on my back," said the fairy ox; "I will carry you over."

The Prince did as he was told, and the ox plunged into the water, swam across, and then flew like the wind over a huge plain. In the far distance they saw the forest. Every hour it grew larger, till at last they reached its outskirts, when the Prince found the trees were taller and thicker than any he had ever seen. He could find no path at all; and the trees met over his head so that only a dim light filtered through. High ferns grew on every side, and here and there he crossed tiny streams fringed with maidenhair. He wandered on for hours without so much as seeing the sun, always hoping to find some open glade. At last, far away, he saw a shining pool of water. So he went forward, guided by the distant shimmer through the trees. As he drew nearer he saw that the pool was surrounded by reeds. One tall reed stood quivering in the middle. The gleam of the water grew yet brighter and more golden, till, as he burst through the last thicket, he found it was no pool at all, but the Shining Princess herself seated in a circle of tall grass.

The Prince hailed her with delight, for never had he hoped to find such beauty. As for Maholia, she knew at once that this was her lover; no one else could have shown such skill and bravery. Besides, the fairy ox was there once more, the light between his shoulders burning bright with joy.

There they sat for hours among the fern, telling one another of all their wanderings. Maholia, it seemed, had been taken by the cannibals to the edge of the great forest, for they were travelling towards the country of their King, which lay in that direction. One dark night she escaped them and had lived ever since in the midst of the great bush. When she had told her tale, the Prince had to relate his adventures, and then he told the Princess how beautiful she was, and how well worth every danger. And that she wanted to hear over and over again.

Indeed, they might never have left the forest had not the Princess suddenly remembered her mother and her long anxiety. 

"But how am I to take you home?" said the Prince. "I cannot hide you, and everyone will envy me such a beautiful woman, and try to steal you from me."

"I can help you," said the ox, nuzzling the bride affectionately. "I will change the Princess into an ugly old man. No one will know her then, and we will travel like the wind."

Straightway the Princess became a little old man. She and the Prince mounted on the back of the fairy ox, and they all flew together over forest, river, and mountain for seven days, till they reached the very door of her mother's home.

Then at last all was safely over. The Shining Princess became a bride, and she and her husband went to their own kingdom. They reigned in great peace and happiness, and the fairy ox was their devoted follower and adviser all the days of his life.



[1]: Induna: a head man or leader under the command of a chief

Proofread from the original source by a SurLaLune Volunteer, Sarah Chomyc, in April 2020.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of the Shining Princess, The
Tale Author/Editor: Bourhill, Mrs E. J., and Mrs J. B. Drake
Book Title: Fairy Tales from South Africa [VOLUNTEER PROJECT]
Book Author/Editor: Bourhill, Mrs E. J., and Mrs J. B. Drake
Publisher: Macmillan and Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1908
Country of Origin: South Africa

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