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The Annotated Goose Girl


(A Zulu Tale)

THERE was a certain chief who had dug a large field. At the proper season many men went to dig the garden. That chief had only three children; the eldest was called Usilwane; the second Usilwanekazana; and the other Untombi-yapansi. But Usilwane and Usilwanekazana loved each other.

It happened at a certain time that Usilwane went to hunt; he returned carrying in his hand a leopard; he said, "This is my dog; give it milk; mix it with boiled corn, and make porridge; and give it its food cold, that it may eat; for it will die if you give it hot." They did as he directed them.

At length the leopard grew; it was a great dog; and the people were very much afraid because it was a leopard, saying, "It will devour the people. Usilwane will become an umtakati. Why does he domesticate a leopard and call it his dog?"

But Usilwanekazana being troubled because she heard the people say that a child of her family would become an umtakati, said, "With what can I kill this leopard?"

It came to pass on another day that all the people went to harvest in the garden of the chief; and Usilwane for his part he had gone to visit the damsels; and Usilwanekazana remained alone. In the morning she cooked milk till it boiled, and added to it some pounded corn, and gave it to the dog of Usilwane. It ate and ate; when it had finished it died, because the food was hot.

Usilwane returned at noon, and saw his dog dead. He said, "Usilwanekazana, what has killed my dog?" She replied, "It ate food whilst still hot, and died." Usilwane said, "Why do you kill my dog? for long ago I told you not to give it hot food, for it would die. You have killed my dog on purpose." Usilwane took an assagai, and said to Usilwanekazana, "Raise your arm, that I may stab you." Usilwanekazana replied, "For what evil that I have done?" He said, "You have killed my dog." Usilwanekazana said, "I killed it because the people said you would practise witchcraft by it." Usilwane said, "No! you killed it because you did not love it. Make haste, raise your arm, that I may stab you." But Usilwanekazana laughed, thinking that Usilwane was merely jesting; but he, being very angry, laid hold of her, raised her arm, and stabbed her below the armpit.

Usilwane took a pot, and put in it the blood of Usilwanekazana. He then wiped her carefully, and washed her, and laid her on her mat; he took a pillow and placed it under her head; he set in order her head, putting scents on it, and placing a fillet on her brow; he put armlets on her arms, and anklets on her legs; he anointed her with fat, and covered her with a blanket. It was just as though she was asleep.

He then went out and took one of his sheep, and brought it home and killed it; he poured its blood into the vessel which contained that of Usilwanekazana, and mixed it together; he skinned the sheep, and cut out the lungs, the heart, and the liver, and chopped them up, with the entrails and the caul; he cooked it together; when it was done, he placed it at the lower side of the fireplace; and washed himself and sat down.

When the sun was declining, Untombi-yapansi came. She entered her mother's house, and found Usilwane sitting, and Usilwanekazana lying down. Usilwane said, "Take; there is food, Untombi-yapansi, and eat." Untombi-yapansi said, "Why is Usilwanekazana sleeping?" Usilwane said, "I do not know. She is merely sleeping." Untombi-yapansi said, "O, whence did this food come?" Usilwane replied, "Do you not see that sheep?" Untombi-yapansi said, "'Why was it killed?" Usilwane replied, "It was merely killed."

Then Usilwane went to his own house, to wait there. Untombi-yapansi took some food; when she was about to eat, there came a large fly to her and made a great noise and said, "Boo! boo! give me, and I will tell you." She drove it away with her hand. When she was again about to eat, the fly came immediately and said, "Boo! boo! give me, and I will tell you." When it did thus the third time, Untombi-yapansi shouted, saying, "Here, Usilwane! Here, Usilwane! There is a fly which says 'Boo! boo!' and asks me to give it, and it will tell me." Usilwane replied, "Kill it; it is deceiving you; do not give it."

Again Untombi-yapansi took some of the food; the fly made a great noise, saying, "Boo! boo! give me, and I will tell you." She drove it away with her hand. Again it said, "Boo! boo! give me, and I will tell you." When it did so the third time, she gave it; it licked the food and said, "Take care; do not eat this food, for Usilwane has killed Usilwanekazana. He said, she killed his leopard without cause. See, Usilwanekazana is dead; this is her blood; and the leopard is dead."

Untombi-yapansi at once arose; she took off the blanket with which Usilwanekazana was covered, and saw the blood flowing from beneath the armpit. Untombi-yapansi rushed out, and ran away to her fathers and mothers. When she was at the upper part of the village, Usilwane left his house and saw her. He called her, saying, "Here, attend to me, Untombi-yapansi, where are you going?" Untombi-yapansi fled with haste. Usilwane pursued her, taking an assagai in his hand, thinking when he should catch her, he would stab her with it.

When Usilwane was very near her, Untombi-yapansi said, "Open, earth, that I may enter, for I am about to die this day." The earth opened, and Untombi-yapansi entered. When Usilwane came there, he sought, but could not see where Untombi-yapansi had descended; he said, "Hau! hau! where did she descend I for thought when I was yonder, she was here." He was no longer able to see her. He went back again.

Untombi-yapansi went on; when it was evening she slept, not having come out from the earth. In the morning she awoke, and again went on. When it was midday she came out of the earth, and went and stood on a small elevation, and shouted, saying, "There will be nothing but weeping this summer. Usilwanekazana has been murdered by Usilwane; he says, she has hilled the prince's leopard without cause." An old woman which was in the royal garden said, "It sounds as though some one was shouting afar off, saying, 'Usilwanekazana has been killed by Usilwane; she has killed the prince's leopard without cause.'" The king said, "Seize her, and cast her outside the garden." They seized her, and killed her, and cast her outside the garden; for they said she was prophesying evil against the king's child.

Again Untombi-yapansi passed onward from that place, and went to another small elevation, and cried, "There will be nothing but weeping this summer. Usilwanekazana has been murdered by Usilwane; he says, she has killed the prince's leopard without cause. An old man said, "There is some one shouting afar off; it is as if it was said, 'There will be nothing but weeping this summer. Usilwanekazana has been killed by Usilwane; he says she has killed the prince's leopard without cause.'" The chief said, "Seize him, and cast him outside the garden." They seized him, and cast him out.

Untombi-yapansi then again departed and went near them, and shouted, saying, "There will be nothing but weeping this summer. Usilwanekazana has been killed by Usilwane; he says she has killed the prince's leopard without cause." When all the people heard that, they all cried, and ran towards her, and said, "What do you say?" She replied, "Usilwanekazana has been killed by Usilwane; she has killed the prince's leopard without cause."

All the men went home. When they arrived, Usilwane fled; they called him, saying, "Come back; do you think that there is any reason why all the people should be killed? You are not about to be killed." Usilwane came back, and went into the house. They laid hold of him, and bound him, and said, "What is to be done with him?" The king said, "Close the door, and set fire to the house, that we three may be burnt. But you, Untombi-yapansi, go to your sister, and live with her; for I and your mother shall be burnt with the house; for we do not wish to live, because Usilwanekazana is dead, and we too will die with her."

Usilwane said, "Attend to me; do not burn me with the house; stab me with an assagai." The chief said, "No, my child; I will cause you to feel very great pain, for it is you who have murdered my child."

Untombi-yapansi said, "With whom shall I go?" Her father replied, "Take your ox, mount it and go. When you are on the top of the hill, you will hear the great roaring of the burning village; do not look back, but go on."

She went, riding on the ox. When she was on the bill, she heard the roaring of the fire. She wept, saying, "So then I hear this great roaring; my mother and father are burning." She went on, and came to a great river. When she came to it, there appeared an imbulu, and said, "Princess, Untombi-yapansi, just come down here from your ox, that I may get up, and see if it becomes me or not?" She replied, "No; I do not wish to dismount." The imbulu said, "What is the matter?" But Untombi-yapansi knew beforehand that an imbulu would appear at that place; for her mother had told her, saying, "If the ox treads on a stone, an imbulu will come out at that place." She was therefore afraid to dismount from the ox. So she said, "Get out of the way, and let me pass on." The imbulu said, "Hau! Lend me the ox, that I may see if it is suitable for me?" She dismounted. The imbulu said, "Hand me your things, that I may put them on and see if they are suitable for me?" She gave the imbulu all her things. The imbulu put them on, and mounted the ox, and said, "Oh, how they become me!"

Untombi-yapansi said, "Dismount now, and give me my things, that I may get up." The imbulu said, "I do not wish to get down. Why did you lend it to me?" She replied, "You asked me to lend it to you." The imbulu said, "I do not wish to get down. Let us leap here on the stones, and see which will have wet feet." The imbulu leapt; but Untombi-yapansi walked in the water, because she was not mounted on any thing."

When they had passed across, the imbulu said, "It is your feet that are wet; now your name is Umsila-wezinja. And I am now Untombi-yapansi." But Untombi-yapansi made no answer; she was silent. The imbulu went on, riding on the ox, and Untombi-yapansi coming after on foot.

They went on, and came to the place where the sister of Untombi-yapansi was married. They entered the village, and went to the upper part of it. The imbulu went into a house, and Untombi-yapansi also went in. The imbulu said, "Don't come in. Hold my ox." Untombi-yapansi held the ox; the imbulu sat down.

The sister of Untombi-yapansi asked, "Who are you?" The imbulu replied, "It is I, child of our house. Hau! do you not recognise me?" She said, "No; I do not recognise you; for the child of our house I left when she was still young; I know nothing but her name. But, besides, her body glistened, for she was like brass." The imbulu said, "I was very ill. I am Untombi-yapansi. I no longer have that body of mine which was like brass." Her sister wept, saying, "Hau! Forsooth is this the child of our house?"

Her sister said, "And she who is at the doorway, whence does she come?" The imbulu said, "It is a mere thing. I fell in with it at the river; it was merely going on foot." She said, "May I give you food?" The imbulu replied, "Yes; I am hungry." She gave it porridge. It ate. She said, "Call your servant yonder, that I may give her; here is some whey." The imbulu said, "Give it to her there in the doorway." Her husband said, "No, do not give food to the person outside bring her into the house, that she may eat here." She called her, saying, "What is her name?" The imbulu replied, "Umsila-wezinja." Her sister said, "Come and eat, Umsila-wezinja."

She went in; her sister took a child's vessel, and gave her some whey in it. The imbulu said, "No! no! Child of our house, do not give it to her in the vessel of your children; pour it for her on the ground, that she may eat it there." Her brother-in-law said, "No, do not pour food for a person on the ground; give it to her in her hands." Her sister dipped it out with a spoon, and poured it into her hands. But Untombi-yapansi put her hands round the pillar of the house, and her sister put it into her hands; when she had finished, she separated her hands, and the amasi was spilt. Her sister scolded, saying, "How is it that I pour my amasi into your hands, and you throw it away?" She replied, "It is because, when I stretched out my hands, I placed them on each side of the pillar." She gave her boiled mealies; she ate; and they retired to rest.

In the morning the sister of Untombi-yapansi said, "I am in trouble because there is no one to watch for me; the birds trouble me in my garden." The imbulu said, "There is Umsila-wezinja; let her too go with those who watch, that she may watch for you." She said, "Well, go." Untombi-yapansi went with Udalana.

When they came outside the village Untombi-yapansi stopped and said, "Do you go before, Udalana." Udalana went on; they reached the gardens. Udalana went to the garden belonging to her house, which was high up; and that which was watched by Untombi-yapansi was low down, and the watch-houses were opposite each other. The birds were very numerous. As they were entering the garden the birds came; Udalana threw stones at them, and said, "There they are, Umsila-wezinja." Untombi-yapansi said, "Tayi, tayi, those birds which devour my sister's garden, although she is not my sister truly, for I am now Umsila-wezinja. I was not really Umsila-wezinja; I was Untombi-yapansi." The birds went away immediately in accordance with her word. They remained the whole day without any birds coming. And Udalana wondered much when she saw that there were not any birds, since they troubled her so much every day.

When it was midday Untombi-yapansi said, "Do you throw stones at the birds for me, Udalana; I am now going to bathe." She went to the river; when she came to it, she went into a pool and washed; she came out with her whole body shining like brass, and holding in her hand her brass rod. She smote the ground and said, "Come out, all ye people of my father, and cattle of my father, and my food." There at once came out of the earth many people, and many cattle, and her food. She ate. Her own ox also came out; she mounted it and said,

"In my father's cattle-pen we used to sing E-a-ye;
Among the white-tailed cattle we used to sing E-a-ye."

All the people, together with the trees, took up the song, singing in unison with her. When she had done all this, she descended from her ox; she smote the ground with her rod, and said, "Open, earth, that my father's things and his people may enter." And truly the earth opened, and all the things and men entered.

Again she took some black earth and smeared her body with it, and was as she was before. She went up from the river to the garden, and went into the watch-house. She said, "Have the birds been here some time?" Udalana said, "Au! by the council! does she see because she left me alone with many birds?" As they were still speaking a large flock of birds came. Udalana said, "There they are, Umsila-wezinja." Untombi-yapansi said, "Tayi, tayi, you birds yonder which devour my sister's garden. Although she is not my sister truly; although I am now Umsila-wezinja; I was not truly Umsila-wezinja; I was Untombi-yapansi." The birds at once went away in accordance with her word.

But Udalana wondered much at that saying of hers, and said, "I say, Umsila-wezinja, what are you saying." Untombi-yapansi replied, "I say nothing." Udalana descended from her watch-house, and went to that of Untombi-yapansi, and said to her, "Hau! where have you eaten, Umsila-wezinja?" Untombi-yapansi said, "Why do you ask?" She replied, "I ask because I do not see the refuse of the sugar-cane where you have eaten." Untombi-yapansi said, "I have eaten."

The sun set; they returned home. When they arrived the chief asked, saying, "Were there any birds there, Umsila-wezinja?" Untombi-yapansi replied, "Yes; there were very many indeed." The imbulu said, "This is her custom. Umsila-wezinja will just sit on the ground, until the garden is utterly destroyed by the birds. And when it is all gone, she says she has been worsted by the birds." They sat; they retired to rest.

In the morning they went to watch. When they were at the gateway Untombi-yapansi stood still and said, "Go on." Udalana replied, "Hau! what happens to you if you go first? Every day I go in front." But Untombi-yapansi was afraid to go first because the dew wiped off that with which she smeared her body, that the brass-colour may not glisten, and people recognise her. Udalana went on. They came to the garden and sat down. Udalana said, "There they are, Umsila-wezinja." Untombi-yapansi said, "Tayi, tayi those birds which devour my sister's garden; although she is not my sister truly; but she was my sister."

She said, "Stay and watch, Udalana; I am now going to bathe." She went. When Untombi-yapansi had gone, Udalana went after her, and she too went to the river. When Untombi-yapansi came to the river she entered the pool, and came out with her body glistening, and carrying in her hand her brass rod. Udalana wondered when she saw this. But Untombi-yapansi did not see Udalana, for she had concealed herself. Untombi-yapansi took her rod and smote the ground and said, "Open, earth, that I may see the things of my father; that all may come out, and my father's people, and my things and the cattle." All these things came out in accordance with her saying. Food also came out; she ate. She took her garment which was ornamented with brass balls, she put it on, and mounted her ox, having adorned herself. She said,

"In my father's cattle-pen we used to sing E-a-ye;
Among the red-tailed cattle we used to sing E-a-ye."

All the people and the trees took up the song. Udalana was afraid, and trembled; for it was as if the very earth was moving.

When Untombi-yapansi was getting down from her ox, Udalana went back before her and came first to the garden. And Untombi-yapansi said, "Let it all sink into the ground." Every thing sank into the ground. She smeared her body, and returned to the garden. When she came she said, "Have the birds been long here, Udalana?" Udalana said, "Why have you staid so long at the river?" Untombi-yapansi replied, "Do you not see that I cannot wash quickly, for my body is dirty and very black?"

Udalana arose and went to the watch-house where Untombi-yapansi was; she sat by her, looking earnestly at the whole of her body; but she did not see any where a glistening spot. She wondered what she had smeared her self with.

The chief came to the garden and said, "Good day, Umsila-wezinja; are there any birds here?" She said, "Yes, sir, there are." Untombi-yapansi descended from the watch-house, being afraid because the chief was on it. The chief said, "Why do you get down, Umsila-wezinja?" She replied, "No, I merely get down, sir." The chief got down from the watch-house, and returned home. Untombi-yapansi and Udalana also went home. On their arrival they ate and lay down.

In the evening Udalana went to the chief and said, "O chief, wake very early in the morning, and go and stay at my watch-house; then at noon when Umsila-wezinja has gone to bathe we will follow her. You will see her with her body glistening. She comes out of the pool with her brass rod, and smites the ground with it, and says, 'Open, earth, that all the things of my father may come out.' And there come out cattle and men and food and all her ornaments. You will see her mount on an ox, and sing. And the men and the cattle and the trees take up the song, and every thing sings in unison with her." The chief said, "If I go in the morning shall I see that?" Udalana said, "Yes, O chief, you will see it." They retired to rest.

When the chief arose in the morning he went to the watch-house of Udalana. When the sun was up Udalana and Untombi-yapansi set out. When they were at the gateway Untombi-yapansi said, "Do you go on, Udalana." Udalana said, "Why do not you go first? Why are you afraid to go in front?" Udalana went on. Untombi-yapansi said, "Hau! How is it that to-day there is no dew?" Udalana said, "Perhaps a deer has passed." Untombi-yapansi said, "But why has the dew dried up so much?"

They went on and came to the garden. They sat down. The birds came. Udalana said, "There they are, Umsila-wezinja." She scared them in the same way as all other people; but they did not go away; they troubled them very much. The chief said, "How is it that the birds have troubled you so much to-day?" Udalana replied, "On other days Umsila-wezinja scares them in a different manner. But to-day I do not know why she has departed from her usual method."

Udalana went to Untombi-yapansi and said, "Why do you not go to bathe to-day?" She said, "No; I am lazy to-day." But Untombi-yapansi perceived that there was some one in the garden, because she saw that there was no dew. At length the sun set. The chief went down from the watch-house and returned home; and Untombi-yapansi and Udalana also returned after him.

When they reached home Untombi-yapansi said, "The birds trouble us." Her sister said, "Watch the birds with great care, Umsila-wezinja, that they may not destroy my corn." They retired to rest.

In the morning the chief left home and went by another way to the garden, and hid himself in the midst of the corn. When it was light Udalana and Untombi-yapansi went to watch. When they came to the gateway Untombi-yapansi said, "Go on." Udalana replied, "No; I too do not like to go first. Do you go in front." Untombi-yapansi went first. As they went Untombi-yapansi looked at her legs, and saw that the dew was beginning to wash off that with which she had smeared her self. She refused to walk first, and said, "Go on, Udalana." Udalana went on. They came to the garden. Udalana said, "And to-day too are you not going to bathe?" She replied, "I am going." Untombi-yapansi got down from her watch-house, and went to that of Udalana she sat down there. The birds came; Udalana said, "Scare them, Umsila-wezinja." Untombi-yapansi said, "Tayi, tayi, those birds yonder which eat my sister's garden; although she is not my sister truly; since I became Umsila-wezinja; I used not to be Umsila-wezinja in deed; I was Untombi-yapansi." The birds went away directly. And the chief wondered when he saw it.

At noon Untombi-yapansi said, "I am now going to bathe, Udalana; do you watch the birds for me in the garden." Untombi-yapansi departed, and went to the river. And the chief too and Udalana went to the river and hid in the underwood. Untombi-yapansi went into the pool, and came out with her body glistening like brass, and with her brass rod; she struck the ground with it and said, "Open, earth, that my father's things may come out, and my father's people, and his cattle, and my things." Every thing came out, and her food. She ate; and put on her garments and her ornaments, and mounted the ox and said,

"In my father's cattle-pen we used to sing E-a-ye;
Among the white-tailed cattle we used to sing E-a-ye;
Among the red-tailed cattle we used to sing E-a-ye."

All the people and the trees took up the song.

The chief wondered on seeing it. He said to Udalana, "I will go out and lay hold of her, that she may no longer be able to hide herself again." Udalana assented. When all those things had again sunk into the ground, the king went out. When Untombi-yapansi saw the chief she feared greatly. The chief said, "Do not fear, my sister-in-law. For for a long time you have been troubled with-out ceasing, for since you came here you have concealed yourself."

The chief took her and went with her and Udalana to the garden. The chief said, "When it is quite dark, come back with her, Udalana, and put her in your house; I will come with her sister when you are there." The chief went home. When it was dark Udalana and Untombi-yapansi returned and went to Udalana's house. The chief came, and called the sister of Untombi-yapansi. They went into the house, and he brought forth Untombi-yapansi to her. Her sister cried, saying, "Long ago I said, 'How is it that her body does not glisten?'" They enquired of Untombi-yapansi what that thing was. She told them it was an imbulu; and gave them a full account of what the imbulu had done.

The chief said, "Go, Udalana, and tell the boys to awake in the morning and make a deep pit in the cattle-pen; and the women to boil water early in the morning." Udalana took the message to them. They retired to rest.

Early in the morning the boys arose and dug a deep pit; they put some milk in a pot, which they let down by a cord into the hole. The king said, "Go and call all the women and the bride to come hither." All were called and went. He said, "All of you jump across this hole." The imbulu said it was afraid to leap. The chief said, "No; do you too leap." The imbulu refused. The chief boiled over with anger and said, "Leap, leap immediately." The other women leapt; and when the imbulu too was leaping, its tail saw the milk, it went into the hole, throwing itself in with violence. The chief said to the women, "Run and fetch the boiling water and pour it into the hole." They fetched it and poured it into the hole. The imbulu was scalded. They covered it up with earth in the hole.

Then the chief told the people, saying, "Go and tell the whole nation to come here, for I am a chosen husband; my sister-in-law has come." The whole nation was told; the people came. The marriage company entered the village. Untombi-yapansi danced together with her people. She lived in happiness with her sister. Many cattle were killed, and they ate meat. They all lived together happily.

Callaway, Rev. Canon. Nursery Tales, Traditions, and Histories of the Zulus, In Their Own Words, With a Translation Into English and Notes. Vol 1. London: John A. Blair, 1868.
(Reprinted in 1970 by NegroUniversities Press; Westport, CT.)

Thanks to Midori Snyder for sharing this story with me.


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