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The Story of the Bird That Made Milk
(An African [Kaffir] Tale)
[Two Versions]

Version I

THERE was once upon a time a poor man living with his wife in a certain village. They had three children, two boys and a girl. They used to get milk from a tree. That milk of the tree was got by squeezing. It was not nice as that of a cow, and the people that drank it were always thin. For this reason, those people were never glossy like those who are fat.

One day the woman went to cultivate a garden. She began by cutting the grass with a pick, and then putting it in a big heap. That was the work of the first day, and when the sun was just about to set she went home. When she left, there came a bird to that place, and sang this song:

"Weeds of this garden,
Weeds of this garden,
Spring up, spring up;
Work of this garden,
Work of this garden,
Disappear, disappear."

It was so.

The next morning, when she returned and saw that, she wondered greatly. She again put it in order on that day, and put some sticks in the ground to mark the place.

In the evening she went home and told that she had found the grass which she had cut growing just as it was before.

Her husband said: "How can such a thing be? You were lazy and didn't work, and now tell me this falsehood. just get out of my sight, or I'll beat you."

On the third day she went to her work with a sorrowful heart, remembering the words spoken by her husband. She reached the place and found the grass growing as before. The sticks that she stuck in the ground were there still, but she saw nothing else of her labour. She wondered greatly.

She said in her heart,"I will not cut the grass off again, I will just hoe the ground as it is."

She commenced. Then the bird came and perched on one of the sticks.

It sang:

"Citi, citi, who is this cultivating the ground of my father?
Pick, come off;
Pick handle, break;
Sods, go back to your places!"

All these things happened.

The woman went home and told her husband what the bird had done. Then they made a plan. They dug a deep hole in the ground, and covered it with sticks and grass. The man hid himself in the hole, and put up one of his hands. The woman commenced to hoe the ground again. Then the bird came and perched on the hand of the man, and sang:

"This is the ground of my father.
Who are you, digging my father's ground?
Pick, break into small pieces
Sods, return to your places."

It was so.

Then the man tightened his fingers and caught the bird. He came up out of the place of concealment.

He said to the bird: "As for you who spoil the work of this garden, you will not see the sun any more. With this sharp stone I will cut off your head!"

Then the bird said to him: "I am not a bird that should be killed. I am a bird that can make milk."

The man said: "Make some, then."

The bird made some milk in his hand. The man tasted it. It was very nice milk.

The man said: "Make some more milk, my bird."

The bird did so. The man sent his wife for a milk basket. When she brought it, the bird filled it with milk.

The man was very much pleased. He said: "This pretty bird of mine is better than a cow."

He took it home and put it in a jar. After that he used to rise even in the night and tell the bird to make milk for him. Only he and his wife drank of it. The children continued to drink of the milk of the tree. The names of the children were Gingci, the first-born son; Lonci, his brother; and Dumangashe, his sister. That man then got very fat indeed, so that his skin became shining.

The girl said to her brother Gingci: "Why does father get fat and we remain so thin?"

He replied: "I do not know. Perhaps he eats in the night."

They made a plan to watch. They saw him rise in the middle of the night. He went to the big jar and took an eating mat off it. He said: "Make milk, my bird." He drank much. Again he said: "Make milk, my bird," and again he drank till he was very full. Then he lay down and went to sleep.

The next day the woman went to work in her garden, and the man went to visit his friend. The children remained at home, but not in the house. Their father fastened the door of the house, and told them not to enter it on any account till his return.

Gingci said: "To-day we will drink of the milk that makes father fat and shining; we will not drink of the milk of the euphorbia today."

The girl said: "As for me, I also say let us drink of father's milk to-day."

They entered the house. Gingci removed the eating mat from the jar, and said to the bird: "My father's bird, make milk for me."

The bird said: "If I am your father's bird, put me by the fireplace, and I will make milk."

The boy did so. The bird made just a little milk.

The boy drank, and said: "My father's bird, make more milk."

The bird said: "If I am your father's bird, put me by the door, then I will make milk."

The boy did this. Then the bird made just a little milk, which the boy drank.

The girl said: "My father's bird, make milk for me."

The bird said: "If I am your father's bird, just put me in the sunlight, and I will make milk."

The girl did so. Then the bird made a jar full of milk.

After that the bird sang:

"The father of Dumangashe came, he came,
He came unnoticed by me.
He found great fault with me.
The little fellows have met together.
Gingci the brother of Lonci.
The Umkomanzi cannot be crossed,
It is crossed by swallows
Whose wings are long."

When it finished its song it lifted up its wings and flew away. But the girl was still drinking milk.

The children called it, and said: "Return, bird of our father," but it did not come back. They said,"We shall be killed to-day."

They followed the bird. They came to a tree where there were many birds.

The boy caught one, and said to it: "My father's bird, make milk."

It bled. They said."This is not our father's bird."

This bird bled very much; the blood ran like a river. Then the boy released it, and it flew away. The children were seized with fear.

They said to themselves: "If our father finds us, he will kill us to-day."

In the evening the man came home. When he was yet far off, he saw that the door had been opened.

He said: "I did not shut the door that way."

He called his children, but only Lonci replied. He asked for the others.

Lonci said: "I went to the river to drink; when I returned they were gone."

He searched for them, and found the girl under the ashes and the boy behind a stone. He inquired at once about his bird. They were compelled to tell the truth concerning it.

Then the man took a riem and hung those two children on a tree that projected over the river. He went away, leaving them there. Their mother besought their father, saying that they should be released; but the man refused. After he was gone, the boy tried to escape. He climbed up the riem and held on to the tree; then he went up and loosened the riern that was tied to his sister. After that they climbed up the tree, and then went away from their home, They slept three times on the road.

They came to a big rock. The boy said

"We have no father and no mother; rock, be our house."

The rock opened, and they went inside. After that they lived there in that place. They obtained food by hunting animals, they were hunted by the boy.

When they were already in that place a long time, the girl grew to be big. There were no people in that place. A bird came one day with a child, and left it there by their house.

The bird said: "So have I done to all the people."

After that a crocodile came to that place. The boy was just going to kill it, but it said: "I am a crocodile; I am not to be killed; I am your friend."

Then the boy went with the crocodile to the house of the crocodile, in a deep hole under the water.

The crocodile had many cattle and [much] millet. He gave the boy ten cows and ten baskets of millet.

The crocodile said to the boy You must send your sister for the purpose of being married to me."

The boy made a fold to keep his cattle in; his sister made a garden and planted millet. The crocodile sent more cattle. The boy nade a very big fold, and it was full of cattle.

At this time there came a bird.

The bird said: "Your sister has performed the custom, and as for you, you should enter manhood."

The crocodile gave one of his daughters to be the wife of the young man. The young woman went to the village of the crocodile, she went to be a bride.

They said to her: "Whom do you choose to be your husband?"

The girl replied: "I choose Crocodile."

Her husband said to her: "Lick my face."

She did so. The crocodile cast off its skin, and arose a man of great strength and fine appearance.

He said: "The enemies of my father's house did that; you, my wife, are stronger than they."

After this there was a great famine, and the mother of those people came to their villace. She did not recognise her children, but they knew her and gave her food. She went away, and then their father came. He did not recognise them either, but they knew him. They asked him what he wanted. He told them that his village was devoured by famine. They gave him food, and he went away.

He returned again.

The young man said: "You thought we would die when you hung us in the tree."

He was astonished, and said: "Are you indeed my child?"

Crocodile then gave them [the parents] three baskets of corn, and told them to go and build on the mountains. He [the man] did so and died there on the mountains.

Version II

The following is another version of this story of the Bird that made Milk, as current among the Barolongs, a tribe speaking the Sechuana language, and residing beyond the Orange River. It was written down for me by an educated grandson of the late chief Moroko.

IT is said that there was once a great town in a certain place, which had many people living in it. They lived upon grain only. One year there was a great famine. There was in that town a poor man, by name Masilo, and his wife. One day they went to dig in their garden, and they continued digging the whole day long. In the evening, when the digging companies returned home, they returned also. Then there came a bird and stood upon the house which was beside the garden, and began to whistle, and said:

"Masilo's cultivated ground, mix together."

The ground did as the bird said. After that was done the bird went away.

In the morning, when Masilo and his wife went to the garden, they were in doubt, and said:

"Is it really the place we were digging yesterday?"

They saw that it was the place by the people working on each side. The people began to laugh at them, and mocked them, and said It is because you are very lazy."

They continued to dig again that day, and in the evening they went home with the others.

Then the bird came and did the same thing.

When they went back next morning, they found their ground altogether undug. Then they believed that they were bewitched by some others.

They continued digging that day again. But in the evening when the companies returned, Masilo said to his wife:

"Go home; I will stay behind to watch and find the thing which eats our work."

Then he went and laid himself down by the head of the garden, under the same house which the bird used always to stand upon.

While he was thinking, the bird came. It was a very beautiful bird. He was looking at it and admiring it, when it began to speak.

It said:

"Masilo's cultivated ground, mix together."

Then he caught it, and said: "Ah! is it you who eat the work of our hands?"

He took out his knife from the sheath, and was going to cut the head of the bird off.

Then the bird said: "Please don't kill me, and I will make some milk for you to eat."

Masilo answered: "You must bring back the work of my hands first."

The bird said: "Masilo's cultivated ground, appear," and it appeared.

Then Masilo said: "Make the milk now," and, behold, it immediately made thick milk, which Masilo began to eat. When he was satisfied, he took the bird home. As he approached his house, he put the bird in his bag.

When he entered his house, he said to his wife,"Wash all the largest beer pots which are in the house," but his wife was angry on account of her hunger, and she answered

"What have you to put in such large pots?"

Masilo said to her: "just hear me, and do as I command you, then you will see."

When she was ready with the pots, Masilo took his bird out of his bag, and said: "Make milk for my children to eat."

Then the bird filled all the beer pots with milk.

They commenced to eat, and when they were finished, Masilo charged his children, saying-,

Beware that you do not tell anybody of this, not one of your companions."

They swore by him that they would not tell anybody.

Masilo and his family then lived upon this bird. The people were surprised when they saw him and his family. They said:

"Why are the people at Masilo's house so fat? He is so poor, but now since his garden has appeared he and his children are so fat!"

They tried to watch and to see what he was eating, but they never could find out at all.

One morning Masilo and his wife went to work in their garden, and about the middle of the same day the children of that town met together to play. They met just before Masilo's house. While they were playing the others said to Masilo's children:

"Why are you so fat while we remain so thin?"

They answered: "Are we then fat? We thought we were thin just as you are."

They would not tell them the cause. The others continued to press them, and said: "We won't tell anybody."

Then the children of Masilo said: "There is a bird in our father's house which makes milk."

The others said: "Please show us the bird."

They went into the house and took it out of the secret place where their father had placed it. They ordered it as their father used to order it, and it made milk, which their companions drank, for they were very hungry.

After drinking they said: "Let it dance for us," and they loosened it from the place where it was tied.

The bird began to dance in the house, but one said: "This place is too confined," so they took it outside of the house. While they were enjoying themselves and laughing, the bird flew away, leaving them in great dismay.

Masilo's children said: "Our father will this day kill us, therefore we must go after the bird."

So they followed it, and continued going after it the whole day long, for when they were at a distance it would sit still for a little while, and when they approached it would fly away.

When the digging companies returned from digging, the people of that town cried for their children, for they did not know what had become of them. But when Masilo went into the house and could not find his bird, he knew where the children were, but he did not tell any of their parents. He was very sorry for his bird, for he knew that he had lost his food.

When evening set in, the children determined to return to their home, but there came a storm of rain with heavy thunder, and they were very much afraid. Among them was a brave boy, named Mosemanyanamatong, who encouraged them, and said:

"Do not be afraid; I can command a house to build itself."

They said: "Please command it."

He said: "House appear," and it appeared, and also wood for fire. Then the children entered the house and made a large fire, and oegan to roast some wild roots which they dug out of the ground.

While they were roasting the roots and were merry, there came a big cannibal, and they heard his voice saying: "Mosemanyanamatong, give me some of the wild roots you have."

They were afraid, and the brave boy said to the girls and to the other boys,"Give me some of yours."

They gave to him, and he threw the roots outside. While the cannibal was still eating, they went out and fled. He finished eating the roots, and then pursued them. When he approached they scattered some more roots upon the ground, and while he was picking them up and eating, they fled.

At length they came among mountains, where trees were growing. The girls were already very tired, so they all climbed up a tall tree. The cannibal came there, and tried to cut the tree down with his sharp and long nail.

Then the brave boy said to the girls: "While I am singing you must continue saying, 'Tree be stronger, Tree be strong!'"

He sang this song:

"It is foolish,
It is foolish to be a traveller,
And to go on a journey
With the blood of girls upon one!
While we were roasting wild roots
A great darkness fell upon us.
It was not darkness,
It was awful gloom!"

While he was singing, there came a great bird and hovered over them, and said Hold fast to me."

The children held fast to the bird, and it flew away with them, and took them to their own town.

It was midnight when it arrived there, and it sat down at the gate of Mosemanyanamatong's mother's house.

In the morning, when that woman came out of her house, she took ashes and cast upon the bird, for she said: "This bird knows where our children are."

At midday the bird sent word to the chief, saying,"Command all your people to spread mats in all the paths."

The chief commanded them to do so. Then the bird brought all the children out, and the people were greatly delighted.

End Notes

These notes originally appeared at the end of the book and also appear on the Notes page of this ebook.

[a] The word amasi, translated milk, means that kind of fermented milk which is used by the Kaffirs. When taken from the cow, the milk is put into a skin bag, where it ferments and acquires a sharp acid taste. When poured out for use by the master of the household, who is the only one permitted to touch the milk-sack, a portion is always left behind to act as leaven. Amasi is very nutritious; it forms one of the principal articles of food of the Kaffirs, and is relished by most Europeans in Kaffirland. In warm weather, especially, it is a pleasant and wholesome beverage.

[b] Among the Kaffirs the work of cultivating the ground fell entirely upon the women in olden times, The introduction of the plough has caused a change in this respect, but to the present day the planting and weeding is performed by females.

[c] lkùba, a pick or hoe. Before the advent of Europeans, the largest implement that was made was this instrument for breaking up the ground. It was of nearly the same shape as a European hoe; but in place of having an eye, into which a handle could be fastened, it was made with a top like a spike, which was driven into the large knob of a long and heavy club. It was at best a clumsy tool.

[d] Kaffir law recognises the right of individuals to possess landed property. The chief allots a piece of ground to a family, by whom it is retained and held in possession as long as it is cultivated. It is forfeited by abandonment for a long time without assigning sufficient cause. It cannot be sold. Pasture land is held in common.

[e] ltungoa, a basket used to milk the cows in. It is woven so nicely as to be watertight. The Kaffirs are expert in making baskets and mats, but never attempt to dye any of the materials of which they are composed, or otherwise to ornament them. They use mats as we use dishes, to eat from.

[f] The potter's art is now being lost by the Kaffirs. The large jars are being replaced by wooden casks purchased from Europeans, and iron pots have already come into general use.

[g] The Kaffir house has only one opening, which is low and narrow, but which serves for door, window, and chimney.

[h] The fireplace is a circle in the centre of the hut. It is made by raising a ring on the hard and smooth ant-heap floor. Round it the inmates sleep, while the back of the hut, or the side opposite the entrance, is used as a store room. There the jars and other household utensils would usually be placed.

[i] Intambo, a riem, or thong of untanned oxhide.

[j] Equivalent to saying that they journeyed for three days.

[k] There are no crocodiles in the rivers of the present Amaxosa country, but the reptile and its habits are well known to the people by hearsay. According to their traditions, the tribe migrated from the north-east. It is not unlikely that the Xosa belief in a water-spirit which has power to charm people and entice them into rivers to their destruction, may have originated in the fact of their having come from a country where these destructive animals were common, as the spirit and the reptile have the same name. In this story it is seemingly a crocodile that appears, but very shortly we learn that it is really a man who has been bewitched and forced to assume that appearance.

[l] Boys "enter manhood," or acquire the privileges of men, by a ceremony similar to the ntonjane.

[m] Up to this point there is nothing to indicate that the girl knew he was not in reality a crocodile, but here it is evident that she was aware he was a man under the power of a charm, for she uses a proper name when speaking of him, as is indicated by the prefix U.

[n] The inference from this is that his enemies had bewitched him and made him assume the appearance of a crocodile, but that the young woman on account of her good qualities and great love for him had power to dispel the charm, and by licking his face had enabled him to resume his proper form as a man.

Theal, Georg McCall. Kaffir Folk-Lore. London: S. Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowrey, 1886.
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