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.

Chief and the Tigers, The

THERE lived long ago a chief whose wife was beautiful as the morning sun. Dear was she to the heart of her lord, and great was his sorrow when she grew sick. Many doctors and wise women tried to cure her, but in vain. Worse and worse she grew, till the people said she would surely die, and the heart of the chief became as water within him.

               One day, as the shadows grew long on the ground, an old, old man came slowly to the village, and asked to see the chief. "Morena (Master)," he said, "I have heard of your trouble, and have come to help you. Your wife is ill of a great sickness, and she will die unless you can get a tiger's heart with which to make medicine for her to drink. See, I have here a wonderful stone which will help you, and some medicine for you to drink. Now wrap yourself in a tiger-skin. The medicine will make you wise to understand and to speak their tongue; so shall they look upon you as a brother. When you have drunk the medicine, take the stone in your hand, and set out on your journey. When you come to the home of the tigers, you must live among them as one of themselves, until you can find yourself alone with one. Him must you quickly kill, and tear from his warm body his heart unbroken, and then, throwing away your tiger skin, you must flee to your home. The tigers will chase you, but when they come too near, you must throw down the stone in front of you and jump upon it, when it will become a great rock, from whose sides fire will dart forth, and burn any who try to climb it. Thus will you be saved from the power of the tigers, and your wife be restored to health."

               Gratefully the chief did as the old man desired, and set off to seek the home of the tigers. Many days he wandered across the plains and over the mountains, into the unknown valleys beyond, and there he found those he sought. They greeted him joyfully, welcoming him as a brother; only one, a young tiger of great beauty, held back, and muttered, "This is no tiger but a man. He will bring misfortune upon us. Slay him, my brothers, ere it be too late;" but they heeded him not. Not many days had passed, when all the tigers scattered themselves over the valley, and the chief found himself alone with the angry young tiger. Watching him patiently, he soon found the opportunity he sought, and, hastily killing him, he tore the still warm heart from the lifeless body, and throwing off his disguise, set off towards his home.

               On, on he went, and still no sign of the tigers, but, as the sun sank to rest, they appeared in the distance, and he knew they would soon overtake him. When they were so close behind him that he heard the angry snap of their teeth, he threw down the stone the old man had given him, and sprang on to it. Instantly it became a great rock, even as the old man had said. Up came the tigers, each striving to be the first to tear the heart out of the chief, even as he had torn out their brother's heart; but the first one that reached the rock, sprang back with a howl of agony, and rolled over on his side--dead. The others all drew up in alarm, and dared not approach the stone, but spent many hours in wandering round and round the rock, and grinding their teeth at the chief, who calmly watched them from his seat on the top of the rock.

               Just before dawn the tigers, now thoroughly tired, lay down, and soon were fast asleep. Carefully, silently, the chief crawled down from the rock, which immediately became again a small stone. Taking the stone in his hand, and holding close the precious heart, which was to restore his wife to health, he fled like a deer towards his village, which he now saw in the plain below. Should he reach it before the tigers caught him? The perspiration streamed from his body, his ears rang with strange noises, and his breath came in great gasps, but still he hurried on. Presently he heard the tigers coming. There was no time even to look behind. He must reach the village before they overtook him. On, on, stumbling blindly over every obstacle, he staggered. How far away it still looked! Would his people never see him? Yes, at last he is seen. He can hear the shout of his men as they rush to help him, only a few more steps now, and he is safe. Bravely he totters on, then stumbles and falls helpless, exhausted, as his men arrive, and carry him in triumph into the village, while the tigers, baffled and furious, retreat to their home beyond the mountains.

               With song and dance the people keep festival, for their chief has returned in safety, and his beautiful wife, restored to perfect health, sits smiling by his side, to receive the loving congratulations of old and young; but the old man came not to join the throng, nor was he ever seen in their land again. Quietly as he came, he had gone, leaving no sign behind him.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Chief and the Tigers, The
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

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