Black Tales for White Children | Annotated Tale

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Shani and Tabak

THIS is a story about a woman and man who were of like wisdom, and so were suited to each other.

               Now the beginning of this history is what I will now write. A certain stranger said to his parents, "I am going to journey forth to look for a woman of like wit to myself. If I find her I will marry her, but if I do not find her I will return."

               So that man set out, and when he got outside the town he met another man walking. Now this man was the Wali of the town to which he was going, but he did not know that. The Wali called to him, "Wait for me; as we are going the same way let us walk together." That stranger agreed, and both walked together. After they had gone about twenty paces he said to the Wali, "Will you carry me, or shall I carry you?" The Wali did not answer him, for he thought, "For what reason should he carry me or I carry him, when each one has his own legs?"

               They walked on some way, till they arrived at some cultivation. Then the stranger asked, "That millet there, has it been harvested yet or not?"

               Now that millet was standing in the stalk with the ears there on them.

               The Wali thought, "Surely this man is a fool or blind. How can he ask if this millet has been harvested, and there it is standing?" So he did not reply.

               As they came near the town to which they were going they met a funeral coming forth, on its way to the cemetery.

               The stranger asked, "Is that man in the bier dead, or is he still alive?"

               The Wali thought, "Surely his foolishness is increasing." So he did not reply.

               So they entered the town, and the Wali went to his house, whilst the other went to the mosque, for he was a stranger, and knew no one in that town with whom he might stay.

               The Wali, after he had arrived at his house, rested awhile, and then said to his wife, "I met a stranger coming here, and I walked with him as far as the town, but that man was a fool, he had no wit; his folly increased at every stage of the journey." Then he told her the words of that man.

               The Wali's daughter, who was present, said to him, "My father, you made a mistake leaving that man, you should have brought him here, for he is a man of great understanding."

               The father said, "For what reason, my daughter, when his words were as of a madman or a fool?"

               His daughter said, "Listen to me and I will explain to you the meaning of his words from first to last.

               "The first words which he said to you, were they not, 'Will you carry me, or must I carry you?'

               "His meaning was as if he said to you, 'You, will you tell me a story, or shall I tell you one, that we may be beguiled in the way, and that we may not perceive the length of the journey?' That was what he meant by 'Shall I carry you, or will you carry me?'

               "His next words were, 'Has this millet been harvested or not yet harvested?' His meaning was, 'Has the owner of that millet planted or cultivated his field without having to borrow money to do so? If he has had to borrow the wherewithal with which to cultivate, surely he has already harvested his field, for he has to pay away his profit.'

               "Lastly, when he saw the bier and asked, 'Is that man dead or alive?' he meant, 'Has that man any children? If he has left a child he is alive although he is dead, for his name is still there. If he has no child he himself is dead, and his name also is dead.'

               "Those were the meanings of his words, so, father, you did wrong to let him go away by himself to the mosque."

               But her father, the Wali, would not believe that, and said, "No, he is only a fool, and his words have no meaning."

               Then his daughter said to him, "Wait, I will show you that my words are true, and that this is a man of great wisdom."

               Then she took a large round loaf, and she prepared a fowl, and put all over it chopped eggs, and poured out a jug brimful of sweetened milk. She gave these to a slave girl and said to her, "Take these, and bear them to the stranger in the mosque, and say to him, 'My mistress greets you, and sends you word that the moon is full, the tides are spring tides, and that there are many stars in the heavens.'"

               So the slave came to the mosque, and the stranger ate, and when he had finished he gave back the plates and said to her, "Give your mistress my greetings, and tell her that the day is the thirteenth of the lunar month, and that the tides are neap tides, and that the stars are only one by one in the heavens."

               The slave returned and gave her mistress the stranger's message.

               Then the girl said to her father, "This slave girl has thieved, she has broken off a piece of the bread, taken some of the eggs, and drunk some of the milk."

               Next day she sent another slave girl with food, as before, and gave her the same message. The stranger answered as at first.

               Then the girl said to her father, "This slave has also stolen some of the food like the first one did."

               On the third day she sent some food, as before, and the same message with another slave girl.

               This time the stranger sent back the message, "To-day the moon is full, the tides are spring tides, and there are many stars in the heavens."

               So she said to her father, "This one has not stolen."

               Her father asked her, "How do you know, my daughter?"

               She replied, "The meaning of the moon being full was that the big round bread was whole. When the stranger replied that the day was the thirteenth I knew that a piece of the bread was gone, and that it was as the moon is on the thirteenth day of the lunar month. The meaning of the many stars in the heavens was that the dish was covered with pieces of chopped egg. When he told me that the stars were only one by one in the heavens, I knew that some of the food had been taken, but when he said that there were many stars, I knew that the food was covered all over with the egg, and so that the chicken underneath was safe.

               "The meaning of the tides being spring tides was that the jug was brimful of milk; but when he sent word that the tides were neap tides, I knew that some of the milk had been taken. So you see, my father, that this stranger is a man of wisdom."

               Then the Wali was very sorry that he had not understood the stranger's words, and that he had not asked him to his house. So he went straightway to the mosque to look for him, and when he had found him he brought him home again and gave him food, and asked his pardon, saying, "I did not at first understand your words, now I know their meaning."

               The stranger said to him, "How is it that now you know?"

               The Wali replied, "There in the road I was suffering from the length of the journey and fatigue from the heat of the sun. After I had rested, and been fanned by the cool breeze in my house, I came to understand."

               The stranger said, "Tell me then."

               So the Wali told him the meaning, and the stranger then said, "Tell me truly, who was it who told you the meaning of my words?" and he pressed him much, till at last the Wali said, "It was my daughter who told me."

               Then the stranger said, "That daughter of yours is my desire, she is the one whom I would wish to put in my house. I have been looking for a person like this your daughter, and now I have found her, ask of me anything, that I may give it you, that you may marry me to her; for I will have no life if I do not get a wife like that."

               The father said, "I must go and consult with my child herself."

               The stranger replied, "That is well, go and consult her, but what she answers tell me truly, do not hide it from me."

               So the Wali went to his daughter and gave her all the news from first to last. Then he said, "Now, my daughter, the counsel and the choice are yours alone."

               She answered him, "And I, if I do not get a husband like that, I want no other, and will choose to remain unmarried until I die. For if I do not get a husband like that, to me there is no advantage; it will be like two women marrying one another."

               So the Wali went and gave her answer to the stranger, and he rejoiced greatly, for he had got his desire.

               So her father married her to him, and this is the end of the story.

               Now Shani was the name of that stranger, and Tabak was the name of that woman who became his wife. Even now there are those who talk of Shani and Tabak, meaning some one obtaining his heart's desire, as Shani got Tabak, or who use these names for two people who are exactly suited to one another, as Shani was to Tabak.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Shani and Tabak
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: unclassified

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