Native Fairy Tales of South Africa | Annotated Tale

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When the World Was Young

IN THE beginning of time when the world was young, four men lived in brotherhood upon a stony hillside; and because in those days men were ignorant, the comrades knew no arts save those of slaying wild beasts for their food and of kindling a fire wherewith to cook the flesh. They knew not how to build a hut nor how to fashion a water-pot, nor how to dress the skins of the animals which they had slain.

                And so, hunting by day, and by night sleeping on the ground beneath the stars, the companions lived in fellowship, sharing the food which the chase had provided, until one day on the slope of the mountain opposite to their abode the youngest beheld a woman. He knew not that she was a woman, for until then he had only seen his companions. The longer he looked at the stranger, the more perplexed he became, for though she had hands and feet like his own, they were smaller, and her body was softly rounded. He watched her for some time, and saw that, instead of going forth to hunt, she sat still all day; nor did he ever see her kindle a fire.

                At last he said to his companions: "Who may this be, who sits still all day, and who never goes forth to hunt?"

                "We know not: it is nothing to us," said they. But the young man said: "I am going to speak with this stranger."

                So he climbed the hill where the woman dwelt, and said to her: "Since you do not go forth to hunt, what do you eat?"

                "I do not eat. I do but drink water," she replied.

                More puzzled than ever, he returned to his comrades, and told them what the woman had said. They answered: "What is that to us?" and lay down to sleep.

                The next morning the young man took a portion of meat, and went again to visit the woman.

                When he arrived he kindled a fire, and having roasted the meat, he gave her a portion, which she ate eagerly. Before leaving her, he gave her yet another piece of flesh, saying, "When you are hungry once more, roast this and eat it."

                On his return his comrades received him with harsh words, saying, "If you give the meat we have slain to the stranger, then you shall no longer hunt with us." But he made no promise that he would not return to her.

                Meanwhile, having eaten of the meat, the woman was seized with thirst, and to store sufficient water to quench it, she took clay and fashioned a pot, which she dried in the sun. This she filled at the spring, but because the pot was not hardened by fire it fell to pieces, and the water was spilled on the ground. Then again she took clay, and this time she made two pots. Having learnt from the man how to kindle a flame, she made a fire and hardened them. In one she stored water, and in the other she put the meat and seethed it; when it was ready for eating she laid it on a flat stone, leaving the gravy in the pot. The next time the young man came to visit her she gave him a portion of the meat, saying: "Eat this, taste it"; and she gave him also some of the gravy to drink.

                Perceiving that it was good, the man returned to his companions and said: "The stranger has moulded earth: in some of it she keeps water, and in some of it she cooks meat. Taste the meat that she has cooked, and see if it is not good."

                This they did, and finding it savoury, one of the men went up to the woman, who gave him gravy to drink from the pot. It was pleasant to the taste, and he marvelled; but having gazed at the woman and her pots, he returned to his companions. When they questioned him, he answered: "She is not like us; she is of another kind," nor did he again go to visit her.

                But the youngest of the comrades climbed the hill, and there he abode with the woman.

                As for the others, they went away from the hillside which had so long been their dwelling-place, leaving the man and woman together.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: When the World Was Young
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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