Basutoland: Its Legends and Customs | Annotated Tale

Only the folktales from this book are included here. Several chapters about Basutoland (Lesotho) culture have been omitted. COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in August 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

How Ra-Molo Became a Snake

LONG, long ago, before the time of the great chief Mosheshue, there lived, behind the mountains, a wicked chief called Ra-Molo (the father of fire), who ruled his people with the hand of hardness. His village lay at the foot of a high hill, and down below flowed the Sinkou, deep and dark and cold. Every year, when the harvest feasts began, would Ra-Molo cause to die the black death all those upon whom his displeasure had fallen during the past year; and when the moon was big in the heavens, he would come out from his dwelling to gaze upon his victims, and to listen to their screams of agony. Many, many times have the cries of the poor unfortunates echoed from rock to rock, while the people hid their heads in their blankets and trembled with fear and horror.

               When the last feeble moans died away, the chief would return to his dwelling, and a great silence would descend upon the village. Then softly, by ones and by twos, the frightened people would creep away to some quiet spot out of sight of the village, and there offer up their prayers to the spirits of their fathers to rescue them from Ra-Molo; but for many many moons no help came.

               Despair seized upon their hearts and hung in darkness over their homes. What hope was there for them when even the spirits were silent?

               Now Ra-Molo had a brother who bore the name of Tau (the lion). This brother Ra-Molo hated with a great and bitter hatred, and gladly would he have put him to death, but he feared the vengeance of the spirits, for Tau was as brave and good as Ra-Molo was wicked and cruel. Then also he knew that all the people loved Tau, and would flee from the one who murdered him, as from the Evil Eye itself.

               At length the evil counsels of the 'Ngaka (witch doctor) and the desire of Ra-Molo's heart overcame all fears, and one night, when the silence of sleep had come down upon the village, Ra-Molo called his 'Ngaka to bring his followers, and to enter the dwelling of Tau and put him to death.

               The 'Ngaka needed no urging to begin his vile work. His heart glowed with delight as he thought of what a big strong man Tau was, and how long it would take him to die. Soon the whole village was aroused by the shrieks which the torturers extracted from the helpless victim. "Help, oh, help me, my brothers!" cried Tau, "lest I die, and my blood stain the hands of my father's son." They strove to rescue him, but the hut was well guarded, and their chief stood in the doorway, and forbade them to enter, using many threats to frighten them.

               When the grey shadow in mercy came down to end his sufferings, Tau raised his eyes to the stars, and cried, "Oh, spirits of my fathers, receive me, and bring down upon Ra-Molo the heavy hand of vengeance, that his power may be destroyed, and no more innocent blood be spilled upon the earth to cry to the spirits. Oh, let my cry be heard, because of my great suffering!" So saying, he passed to the land of shadows, and a great darkness descended upon the village. All the people crept together and waited in tears for the dawn. At length the sun came forth, the darkness was lifted up; but what awful horror now held the people? What was that towards which all eyes were turned? Behold! at the door of the chief's dwelling lay a gigantic snake, so great that his like had never before been seen. Slowly he uncoiled himself and raised his head, when a wild cry went up from all the people. The body was the body of a snake, but the head was the head of a sheep, with a snake's tongue, which darted in and out from its wide open mouth, while from the eyes the lightning flew. With a long loud hiss-s-s the thing began to crawl towards the river bank, then, raising its head to cast one long backward glance upon the village, it plunged into the waters of the Sinkou, there to remain a prisoner for all time. The spirits had, indeed, heard the dying cry of Tau, and had turned Ra-Molo into the awful thing the people had just beheld.

               Once in each year, as the day comes round, does Ra-Molo rise to the surface of the giant pool, where he lies hid, and woe, woe to the one who sees the silver flash of his great body as he rises, for surely will that poor one be drawn by the power of those evil eyes down, down to the water's edge. Then will the serpent seize him and carry him away from the sight of men to the bottom of the pool, there to sleep cold and still till all men shall be gathered to the land of the spirits of their fathers on the day when the Great Spirit shall call from the stars.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How Ra-Molo Became a Snake
Tale Author/Editor: Martin, Minnie
Book Title: Basutoland: Its Legends and Customs
Book Author/Editor: Martin, Minnie
Publisher: Nichols & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1903
Country of Origin: Lesotho
Classification: unclassified

Back to Top