Native Fairy Tales of South Africa | Annotated Tale

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Zim the Cannibal

ONCE upon a time there lived a brother and sister, named Demane and Demazana. They were twins, and their mother had died when she gave them birth. Their father died too when they were babes, and there was no one to look after them except their uncle and aunt.

                As they had ten children of their own, they were not at all pleased at having two more mouths to feed, and it fared but ill with the brother and sister. They were given the poorest mats and the most uncomfortable corner of the hut to sleep in, and when there was not enough porridge to go round, it was they who had to go short. They were the drudges of the household, and if Demane did not bring in a large bundle of fire-wood, or Demazana did not grind enough corn, they were beaten and scolded.

                The two children were very much attached, and comforted one another in their troubles. When they were about fourteen years old, Demane said to his sister: "I am tired of being beaten and scolded. Let us run away and live by ourselves. I can hunt for food, and you can grind the corn and roast the meat and keep the house tidy."

                This seemed delightful to Demazana, and she agreed. So the next morning, just before dawn, they crept out of the hut and set out. It was very cold, and they wrapped their blankets round them to shield them from the wind that came sweeping over the veld. Demane had with him a bundle of hunting spears, and under her blanket Demazana carried a cooking pot; they possessed nothing else in the world.

                "Have we far to go?" asked Demazana, a little frightened at the adventure.

                "Yes," answered Demane. "We must go right beyond that distant hill"; and he pointed to a kopje over the summit of which the first light of dawn was breaking.

                "We must make haste," he added, "for if my uncle finds that we have gone he will come after us."

                Demazana stepped out bravely, and her heart grew braver as the sun climbed up the heavens and warmed the earth. At noon they rested in the shadow of a rock, making a meal of the prickly pears which grew near by, and drinking from the stream that flowed at their feet.

                At sundown they reached the hill which in the morning had seemed to lie at the edge of the world, and here they found a large, dry cave where they might rest. There were two openings in the walls of the cave through which the air and light came in, and to protect themselves from prowling jackals or thieves, Demane made a strong door from the branches of trees. That night they slept undisturbed.

                The next morning Demane made ready to go a-hunting, but before he set out he said to his sister: "Don't cook the hare which I caught last night, because if there are cannibals round here they will smell the roasting flesh, and will come and carry you away."

                Demazana promised, but as the day wore on and her brother did not return, she lit a fire and put the hare to roast. She was hungry, and made sure that Demane had not been able to catch anything. He would come home famished, and would be glad to find a nice supper.

                "I am sure there are no cannibals about," she said, looking out over the veld. But she was wrong, for if she had only known it, Zim, the hungriest cannibal in all Africa, was lurking quite near the cave. To make things quite safe, as she imagined, she fastened the door on the inside, and then put the meat to roast.

                By and by it began to smell in a most appetising fashion, and Zim crept up to the door of the cave, as he had done the night before when he saw the children go in. He had listened to what they said to one another, and so knew all about them.

                When he got to the door, he began to sing: "Demazana, Demazana, open the door to me. I have come back from hunting, and I have brought a fat buck."

                Now, being a cannibal, Zim had a rough, hoarse voice, and Demazana knew that it was not her brother who stood without, so she answered him, saying, "It is not my brother who sings. His voice is not like yours."

                Zim went away, but came back again in a little while, singing in a softer voice and pretending that he was Demane tired with hunting, and hungry for his supper; but Demazana knew that it was not her brother, and would not let him enter.

                Zim was determined to get the better of the girl, so he went to his brother cannibals and asked them what he should do to soften his voice.

                "Take a red-hot iron and burn your throat with it," said the wisest among them, "then your voice will be as sweet as Demane's."

                Zim straightway did this, and going back once more to the cave, sang:

                "Demazana, Demazana, Open the door to me."

                This time Demazana was deceived by his singing, and opened the door.

                In rushed Zim, seized the frightened girl and carried her off across the veld. But Demazana was a clever girl, and while she struggled with Zim, she contrived to gather up a handful of ashes from the hearth. As he bore her away, she let them fall on the ground, so that when her brother found she had gone he would be able to trace her.

                When Zim reached his own hut, he found that his wife and children had gone to gather firewood to roast the girl he had promised them for supper. He went out to call them home, but before leaving the hut he put Demazana into a sack, and tied it up so that she could not get out.

                Meanwhile, Demane had returned very late from his hunting; all he had to show for his day's work being a swarm of bees, which he shut up in a leather bag. When he found that his sister had disappeared, and saw the fire and the roasting hare, he guessed what had happened, and his heart was heavy.

                At first he could find no trace of his sister, but soon he spied the ashes which she had let fall, and followed the trail till he came to the cannibal's hut. Zim was sitting there alone, for he had not been able to find his wife and children, who had wandered far out on to the veld in their search for wood.

                Demane entered the hut, and, pretending to be faint and weary, he dropped on to the earth and said: "Father, I beg you to give me some water to drink, for I have travelled far, and I die of thirst."

                It was not often that a fine young victim walked straight into his clutches, so Zim said good-naturedly, "I will go and draw water for you,. if you will promise not to touch the sack which lies in the corner."

                Demane promised, and Zim went off to the stream which ran at some distance from the house. As soon as he had gone, Demane opened the sack, and great was his joy to see his sister, none the worse for her adventures. She crept out quietly, and in her stead Demane put the bees, which he still carried in the leather bag. Then he and Demazana hid themselves in the bush near the house and waited to see what would happen.

                First Zim's wife and children came back, and at once they set about making the fire; a few minutes later in walked Zim, carrying the pot of water. When he saw that Demane had vanished, he was very angry; but, after all, was there not a nice plump girl tied up in the sack in the corner?

                "I will catch the youngster to-morrow," said he; "and meanwhile we will eat his sister. Wife, open the sack that stands in the corner—there is something nice to eat inside!"

                The woman undid the string round the mouth of the sack and put in her hand. She drew it out again quickly.

                "It bites," she cried, and would not go near it again.

                Then Zim sent first his son and then his daughter to bring the victim out of the sack, but they too gave it up, complaining that the savage creature had bitten them.

                Zim was very angry by this time, and calling them hard names, he drove them from the hut, shut the door, and widely opened the sack himself. Out flew the angry bees and stung him till he bellowed with pain. They stung his face and his head, and even his eyes, so that he could not see. Blinded and maddened with pain, he rushed round the hut trying to find the door. But as he had fastened it on the inside his wife and children, though alarmed at the noise, were not able to come to his rescue.

                At last Zim found a hole in the roof of the hut, through which he escaped. He rushed toward the river, still howling with pain, and behind him followed the bees, still stinging him in their rage. Into the river he plunged, and by magic was straightway turned into a tree, on a branch of which the bees immediately swarmed.

                When his wife and children saw what had happened, they were too frightened to return to their hut, and went away to a far country. Other cannibals also soon heard of Zim's fate; they too took their departure and never returned.

                When they had all gone, Demane and Demazana broke into Zim's hut, and there they found rich treasure which he had stolen from the people whom he had devoured. There were beautiful skins, fine earthen pots, and ornaments of brass, and all these they carried away to their cave, where they lived for many years happy and untroubled by cannibal folk.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Zim the Cannibal
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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