King of the Snakes, The: And Other Folk-Lore Stories from Uganda | Annotated Tale

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Guardians of the Snakes, The

THERE are still old people living in Uganda who remember the time when there were no white men in the country.

                The first white men who came had to walk 800 miles from the coast, and the journey was very dangerous. They passed through many countries full of wild warlike tribes, over great plains and high mountains and swamps and rivers, and, finally, they had to cross the Great Lake in canoes; but when they arrived in Uganda they often lived there for many years without returning to England, and they learnt the customs of the Baganda and their language in a way which is impossible now that there are steamers and trains and so many white people that some of them never speak to the natives at all.

                In 1895 two Englishmen were going home from Uganda. They had been six years in the country, and already they had seen many changes.

                They crossed the Great Lake in canoes, and began the long march to Mombasa.

                Day after day they marched with a long caravan of porters each with a load carried on his head, camping every night where there was fresh water, and sometimes doing double marches because the water was not good, and often watching the camp in turns by night when they were passing through the country of a warlike tribe or the big game countries where lions roared round the camp all night.

                One day when the men were pitching the tents on the slope of an escarpment overlooking a vast plain the headman of the caravan said: "Near here lives an old prophet; he is very wise, and foretells the future, and everything that he says comes true."

                The Englishmen were so interested that they decided to visit the old prophet, so when the heat of the day was over they set out, with the headman as their guide, to the prophet's hut on the hill-side. As they approached they saw the old man standing on a ledge of rock overlooking the plain, shading his eyes with his hands, and straining them to see something in the far distance.

                When he saw the two Englishmen he uttered a great cry, and, trembling in every limb, he fell at their feet, gasping out:

                "My dream! My dream! The Guardians of the Snakes!"

                The white men spoke to him kindly. "Fear not," they said. "Tell us your dream."

                Still trembling with excitement the old man began:

                "My lords, I dreamt that I stood on that rock and looked out over the plain, and I saw a great encampment of people, and as I gazed I saw that they were guarding two great snakes that stretched away to the horizon, their scales glittering in the sunlight.

                "When night fell I crept down the hill-side. Stealthily I threaded my way among the campfires and tents until I stood beside the two great snakes; then I stooped and touched them, and I was amazed, for they had no heads, they were hard and cold and made of iron.

                "While I still wondered a man came and spoke to me. He was like you, my lords, his white skin was tanned with the Sun, and he spoke kindly to me.

                "'Fear not,' he said. 'What are you doing here?'

                "'My lord,' I answered, 'I am a poor man and have no wisdom; from my hut on the hill-top I saw this encampment and these two great snakes, and I came seeking to understand.'

                "The man answered: 'I am the Guardian of the Snakes; they are the slaves of the white man; wherever he goes he takes them with him; they carry his women and children, his cattle and his goods, and wherever they arrive the old days fade away and new days come.

                "'These slaves have come from the Great Sea, and they go to the Great Lake. They will change your country, and the old days will never return.'

                "Then I woke up from my dream, but, my lords, it is ever present with me, and I spend my days restlessly looking towards the east, for I know that some day I shall see those two great snakes creeping through my country."

                The two Englishmen looked out over the vast plain, and saw the native villages dotted here and there among their fields of grain–great herds of game grazing unmolested on the green slopes, vast untouched forests on the mountain-sides, and the long shadows thrown by the setting Sun lying on miles and miles of country where the foot of man had never trod, and they, too, wondered at the prophet's dream.

                But some years afterwards one of them again stood on the ledge of rock and looked over the same plain, and saw farmsteads and fields and gardens, and the monotonous sound of sawmills rose from the forests and great herds of cattle grazed on the green slopes where once he had seen only antelope and zebra, and far in the distance two railway lines stretched away to the horizon, glittering like snakes' scales in the sunlight, and he remembered the old prophet and his dream.

                Then he understood that the Guardian of the Snakes had spoken truly, for those snakes are the slaves of the white man–they carry his women and children, his cattle and his goods, and where they arrive the old days fade away and new days come. The old times never return, for the country is changed for ever.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Guardians of the Snakes, The
Tale Author/Editor: Baskerville, Mrs. George (Rosetta)
Book Title: King of the Snakes, The: And Other Folk-Lore Stories from Uganda
Book Author/Editor: Baskerville, Mrs. George (Rosetta)
Publisher: The Macmillan Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1922
Country of Origin: Uganda
Classification: unclassified

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