Native Fairy Tales of South Africa | Annotated Tale

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Kingdoms of the Dead, The

UNCAMA was a little, hairy old man, so old that no one remembered the time when he was young and strong. Even the old men said that he was bent and stooping when they were children.

                His wife and sons had died long ago, and Uncama lived alone in a hut outside the village and spoke to few.

                Strange tales were told of him, and men said that he had seen things which none other had looked upon, for in his youth he had visited the Kingdoms of the Dead. And this was how it came to pass.

                One day when Uncama went into the garden he found that some one had been eating his mealies, so the next morning he rose at dawn to watch for the thief. The dew still lay upon the grass, and Uncama saw the spoor of a porcupine and followed it until he came upon the animal just as it was entering a hole in the ground.

                Uncama, anxious to kill the thief, hastened after it, and his heart was so full of revenge that he did not fear to enter the bowels of the earth, saying, "I will go on until I catch the porcupine and kill it."

                Because of the darkness he stumbled at every step, nor could he keep pace with the porcupine, and when at length his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he could not again pick up the spoor.

                He was now weary and lay down to rest. He slept long, and when he awoke he went forward again, not in pursuit of the animal which had eaten his mealies, but that he might satisfy his curiosity and reach the far end of the tunnel into which he had entered. By and by he came to a broad river, which he forded, and seeing open country before him, he pressed on until in the distance he perceived a gleam of light. As he advanced he heard children shouting and dogs barking. The smoke of fires rose from the veld, and Uncama knew that he must be near a village; but he feared to approach, thinking, "These people do not know me. I am a stranger, and it may be that they will kill me."

                But he lingered for a while watching the children at their play, and then he turned back the way he had come. Having forded the river once more, in time he came to the entrance of the tunnel through which he had followed the porcupine, and made haste to return to his hut. His wife was sitting in the doorway, but when she saw him she rose and smote her hands together, crying out in fear. And all the people of the village came flocking round, asking, "What is this?"

                She answered: "Hau!  This is Uncama, my husband, who has come back again." And the people, thinking that it was the wraith of one who had died, lifted their voices and sang the funeral dirge.

                "Behold!" said his wife to Uncama, "I have buried your pillow and your water-pot, saying you were dead. I have burned your blanket and your mat."

                Then Uncama told her all that had befallen him, and how he had seen people living in a village under the earth.

                From that day Uncama dwelt apart, and men shunned him as one who had come back from the Kingdoms of the Dead.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Kingdoms of the Dead, The
Tale Author/Editor: McPherson, Ethel L.
Book Title: Native Fairy Tales of South Africa
Book Author/Editor: McPherson, Ethel L.
Publisher: Harrap
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1919
Country of Origin: South Africa
Classification: unclassified

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