Black Tales for White Children | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Binti Ali the Clever

ONCE upon a time there was a Sultan and his Wazir, and that Sultan had seven children, all sons, and that Wazir had seven children, all daughters.

               Those daughters of the Wazir had no mother; their mother had died, and they were very poor.

               The sons of the Sultan used to laugh at the daughters of the Wazir, saying, "You poor people, what do you eat? It is our father who pays your father his wages, and how do they suffice for you seven people who are in one house? You poor creatures, you have not even a brother to help you."

               Now those girls used to plait baskets and sell them. They lived for many days like that, their work being to cry every day, and when they came out of school they used to plait and sell their baskets. Till one day the youngest daughter, who was called Binti Ali, was sitting with her father, and she said to him, "What advice have you to give us, father?"

               Her father asked her, "Why, my child?"

               She said to him, "We are only seven girls; we have neither husbands nor brothers. Should anything happen to you, who will be our headman? Father, you must arrange to have a ship built for me, and it must be ready in the space of three years."

               Her father said, "All this wealth, where shall I get it from, that I may build a ship?"

               She answered him, "God, the merciful, will provide."

               In the morning the Wazir arose and went to the Sultan and said to him, "Give me help, for my youngest child wants a vessel built for her."

               The Sultan brought out nine lakhs of rupees and gave them to his Wazir. Then the Wazir sought for workmen, and told them to build a ship and have it ready in three years' time.

               Now that child, Binti Ali, was very beautiful, more beautiful than all her sisters. Many men had come to seek her in marriage, but she had refused them, saying, "I am poor; my father has not wealth to suffice for my wedding."

               At the end of three years the ship was ready, and her father called her, "Eh, my child, Binti Ali." And she answered him, "Lebeka, father," which means "Here I am" in the language of to-day; but long, long ago, Lebek was the name of the god worshipped by the Phoenicians at the temple of Baal-lebek (Bal bek).

               Her father said to her, "Your ship is finished and ready for you."

               So she went to see it, and found that it was built in a wondrously fine way. When she returned she said to her father, "Now you must find me a captain and sailors, and you must put on the vessel enough food to last three years."

               So he found a crew for her, and provisioned the ship and returned. Then she said, "Father, now you must buy for me fine raiment, a sultan's turban, a shirt and coat, and a sword and dagger. Also you must get for me sandals of gold braid and two men's gold rings."

               So her father searched for one hour and half a second, and then returned and said, "My child, the things you want are ready."

               Then he asked her, "My child, where are you going to? Tell me."

               She said, "Father, have you no understanding? I am going to the country of the Sultan Makami."

               Her father said to her, "My child, you are already lost. Do you not know that a woman may not go to the country of Sultan Makami? Any other than a male who enters the country is put to death."

               Binti Ali said to him, "Father, have you no wits, you, a full-grown man, who rule all this land? Do you not see that all these clothes which you have bought for me are men's clothes? I want to go and see Makami's country."

               Her father said, "I do not approve of this journey you are setting out upon."

               His daughter replied, "What becomes of me is in the hands of God."

               Then she entered the bathroom and washed herself, and when she came out she was dressed as a man. Now that girl had wisdom more than all her sisters, and she was well read in the Koran.

               She took her dog, whose name was Atakalo, and she entered the ship and set sail.

               She travelled day and night for three years, and there in the midst of the ocean she taught her dog till it attained great learning.

               At the end of the third year she drew near to the country of Sultan Makami, and she ordered a salute to be fired, and the people on land replied also with a salute.

               When her vessel drew near, the Sultan's son rowed out to meet her. He climbed on board, and there he saw a handsome Arab youth sitting on the deck.

               Binti Ali arose, and they greeted one another after the fashion of men: "Peace be with you," "And with you peace."

               She went ashore with that son of the Sultan, and they came to the palace.

               When they came to the palace he said to his father, the Sultan, "How shall we see that this is a man and not a woman? Let us give him very hot gruel, and if it is a woman she will not be able to drink it, and then we will kill her."

               So they ordered food to be brought, and slaves were told: "Take matting and platters, and very big trays and cups of gold, and place them ready for the feast."

               When the food was ready they brought gruel for that foreign youth to drink, and it was very hot.

               Binti Ali took it and threw it away, saying, "Am I a woman, that you bring me cold gruel like that?"

               So they prepared fresh gruel, steaming hot, and gave it to her, and she said, "Ah, that is more fit for a Sultan's son to drink."

               So she put it beside her, and her dog Atakalo blew on it, so that it quickly cooled, and she drank it.

               Very good food was then brought, and they fed, and she returned to her ship.

               The Sultan then said, "To-morrow we must take this foreigner to my store of jewels and ornaments, and if it be a woman we will surely see, for she will take delight in women's jewellery."

               All night long Binti Ali taught Atakalo what he should do, and in the morning the Sultan's son came to fetch her.

               He said, "My father says that I am to take you to his store and show you his treasures."

               So they went to the Sultan's treasure-house, where they showed her neck chains and nose pendants, anklets and bracelets, women's gold rings and ear ornaments.

               She said, "Have you in this country no men's ornaments, that you should show me nothing but women's jewellery?"

               So they brought her to the next store, wherein were gold-hilted daggers and all manner of arms, swords and pistols, guns and muskets. These she admired, and meanwhile Atakalo went and swallowed all the gold ornaments he could find and took them to the ship, till he had brought much wealth aboard.

               Then the Sultan's son said to his father, "Now what shall we do, so that we may kill her if she is a woman?"

               So the Sultan said, "Make him take off his turban, and then we will surely see by the manner in which he ties it whether it is a woman or not."

               So the Sultan's son said, "Now will you not wash?"

               Binti Ali said, "Thank you, I have already bathed on board."

               So he said, "If it is only your face, I beseech you to wash."

               So she said, "Certainly; but first you and your father must wash."

               So they took off their turbans and began to wash, when suddenly there was a shout from outside: "The Sultan's house is on fire."

               Behold, that dog Atakalo had brought a brand and set fire to the palace. Then the Sultan and his son and all the people in his house rushed out, with their turbans in their hands, to see what was the matter and help put out the flames.

               Binti Ali went down swiftly to her ship and got on board, and meanwhile Atakalo had run round and bored a hole in the bottom of every boat and ship in the Sultan's harbour. Then Atakalo came back to her vessel and said, "Mistress, I have finished."

               So she weighed anchor and changed into her woman's clothes. The Sultan and his son and all the people, when they saw that she was sailing off, rushed down to the beach and tried to row out and stop her, but every boat they launched sunk; and so they were not able to get to her.

               Then they saw her come up on the deck.

               Then, changing her clothes as a woman, she sings--

"Makami, behold my bracelets and rings.       
See my anklets, Makami. Aha, behold!
See the chain for my neck of beautiful gold.       
Behold now my ear-rings and nose-stud see.
Lola, Makami, lola, look well at me.
I'm Binti Ali, the Wazir's daughter;       
I came, Makami, from over the water.
We are seven in all, the last born am I.
Farewell, Makami, for I bid you good-bye.   
Lola, Makami, lola, farewell."

               Then she said to the captain, "Set sail, and let us return home."

               When she arrived home there in her town her father and sisters were holding a great mourning for her, for they said, "Our youngest one has now been away many years; surely she must be dead."

               When they saw her their hearts were very glad, and a feast was made for her for the space of three days. And the riches she brought with her, which her dog Atakalo had taken from the Sultan's treasure house, were brought to land; and when he saw them her father rejoiced greatly.

               After a space of ten days she said to her father, "I know that Sultan Makami's son is making a plan to get me. If he comes here and asks for me in marriage, do not refuse him, but agree. My cleverness, which I have in my heart, is that which will save me."

               One day the Sultan of Makami's son arrived, and came to the Wazir and said, "I want your daughter, Binti Ali, in marriage."

               So the Wazir agreed.

               Binti Ali took a large pumpkin and filled it with honey and placed it on her bed, and she herself got under the bed.

               That night the Sultan of Makami's son came into her room and said, "Ee, woman," and she replied, "Lebeka, master."

               Then he said, "You, woman, you think that you can come to our country and cheat us, pretending that you are a man. Behold, to-day is your last, so make profession of faith quickly, so that you may be prepared for death."

               Binti Ali said, "I testify there is no God but one God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God."

               So he drew his sword and struck a blow which cut the pumpkin in two, and then he went out quickly and got on his ship and sailed away. When he came to look at his sword, to wipe the blood off, he found no blood, but only honey stuck all over it.

               This is the end of the story. The tale comes from the Wazir and his daughter, the last born, who was called Binti Ali the Clever.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Binti Ali the Clever
Tale Author/Editor: Stigand, C. H. & Stigand, Nancy Yulee
Book Title: Black Tales for White Children
Book Author/Editor: Stigand, C. H. & Stigand, Nancy Yulee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1914
Country of Origin: Africa
Classification: ATU 1115: Attempted Murder with a Hatchet

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