Monday, September 29, 2008

An experiment




How the elephant came to be

Once upon a time, long long ago, when the birds sang even louder at dawn than they do today, there was a destitute but optimistic young man who wanted to get rich. He had heard of a very powerful, prosperous and potent old man named Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor). The impoverished young man decided one day that he would travel across the mighty plains to find Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor). He said goodbye to his pretty, fat and gleaming wife and set off early one morning, when the birds were waking up and twittering and singing more than usual (as they did in those long ago days). He carried with him a leather pouch that contained some herbs and a calabash full of milk. He took his spear to kill animals that he would eat along the way.

Twenty three days the sun rose and twenty three days the sun set and still he walked.

And he walked.

And he walked.

He passed herds of Eland gracefully klopping into the distance.

And still he walked.

He saw skeins of birds flashing in the evening light.

And still he walked.

He heard the deep throbbing call of the Ground Hornbill at dawn.

And still he walked.

He passed thorn trees, he crossed dongas, jumped small streams and waded through fast-flowing rivers. He brushed away flies and stepped over logs and eventually on the twenty-fourth day he saw, shimmering on the horizon, an uncountable number of sheep and cows. And in the middle of the uncountable number of sheep and cows stood a magnificent radiant, gleaming palace. And sitting under a shady tree in front of the palace sat the wise, old and magic man called Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor). And he saw the tired, scraggly, scratched poor man who had walked for twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs and he cried:
“Poor man, who do you seek?”
And the poor man said:
“I seek Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor)”
And Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor) said: “Look no further for it is I, sitting here under this lovely shady tree thinking about things big and things small”

And Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor) ordered his men to give the tired, scraggly, scratched poor man (who had walked for twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs) one hundred cows and one hundred sheep. For he did, indeed, feed the poor.

But the tired, scraggly, scratched poor man said:
“Old man, I do not want your riches or your charity, but I have walked across the plains for twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs in order to meet with you and ask for the secret to becoming rich”

And Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor) scratched his head and thought a while. For he was a wise man and wise men think and reflect on these things. And eventually he got up, stretched, scratched and shuffled into his mansion.

He came back a few bird-songs later with an ointment in a small glass bottle, wrapped up in a grey leather pouch. And he gave it to the tired, scraggly, scratched poor man (who had walked for twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs) and said:
“This here is an ointment. Every evening rub this ointment on your wife’s pointy teeth in her upper jaw. Wait until they have grown, and then sell them.”

So the tired, scraggly, scratched poor man (who had walked for twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs) thanked Ivonya-Ngia (he that feeds the poor) and set off on his way.

And he walked back over the vast plains, for twenty three moon-ups and twenty three moon-downs. He saw a busy dung beetle, rolling a ball.

And still he walked.

He skirted a big, fat, happy-looking snake basking on a rock.

And still he walked.

He crossed the fast-flowing river, hopped over a stream and crossed the donga. He saw a whirlwind, chased a hare and saw a firefly. And eventually, after twenty three moon-ups, and twenty three moon-downs he saw his village in the distance, with his beautiful, fat, gleaming wife, bending over the fire cooking porridge. And he rejoiced at the sight.

That night they sat by the crackling smoky fire and he told his wife of his walk through twenty three sun-ups and twenty three sun-downs, of the uncountable number of sheep and cows, of the ointment in the glass bottle wrapped in a grey piece of leather, and the walk over twenty three moon-ups and twenty three moon-downs. And his joy at seeing his beautiful, fat gleaming wife bending over the fire cooking porridge.

So every night, for twenty three nights, the man rubbed the ointment on his wife’s pointy teeth in her upper jaw. And every morning her teeth grew just a little. Eventually, on the twenty fourth day her teeth were as long as his arm and he asked her if he could take her teeth out to sell at the market. And he did. And he managed to buy a herd of goats.

And again, every night he put the ointment on his wife’s pointy teeth in her upper jaw and again her teeth grew and grew and grew. This time faster and longer than before. But when the man asked his wife if he could now take her teeth out to sell, she refused. And she started to grow even bigger and even fatter, and her skin started to turn thick and grey and she burst out of the hut and ran off into the forest. And there she lived from that day on. And she gave birth to a child, a healthy happy child, who was also an elephant.

Her husband used to visit her in the forest but she could not be persuaded to come back although she did give birth to many healthy children, all elephants.

And this, dear friend, is how elephants came to be (long long ago when birds sang even louder at dawn than they do today), and how they are just as intelligent and clever as human beings.


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A story from the Kamba in Kenya, noted by Jan Knappert (An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend - African Mythology) embellished by me. An experiment, something I’ve been thinking of for a while for a project I shan’t let on here. An honest opinion please. Really. Is it naafy, bla and so what? Worth pursuing?

10 comments:

tam said...

Ja. Do it. Its great.

Mud in the City said...

I love folk lore and myth - especially when it adds colour to such a magical place! Reminds me of the Just So Stories by Kipling as well - some of my favouries as a child.

Val said...

Its lovely Miranda - do it! the embellishments add humour and insight and fire the imagination.
do some more please x

Val said...

saw some of her offspring this morning :-)

Elaine said...

That was beautiful. I loved it. DO IT!

Chimera said...

I think its lovely and gorgeously written BUT I was thinking it might have something of the deep satirical twist..that the man who feeds the poor would in reality be from the UN... Now i realsie you are writing a previously told sotry..? is that right? That aside I wondered about a popping retort of a proverb or 'point' at the end in the way of some many Brer rabbit, kalalu Anaste stories...
Stylistically it is stunning.. you capture the lyrical metaphorical lollop perfectly.....but I am always after something a little bitter sweet..edgier... Is that alright to say? Have I got wrong end of stick?
T xx

Miranda said...

Tanvi - you're absolutely right (and just the sort of comment I'm looking for!) Thanks. I just found a paragraph on this story in a book and embellished it, but you're right. I should add more of a twist. Will work on it more! Thanks!

Elaine - thanks! I will. With more work.

Val - thanks. Found another one which I'll do - a Maasai creation myth.

Mud - yes I also love those stories. Ah Kipling. I loved (and still do) Just So Stories. If I could be 60th the writer he is...

Tam - thanks. And thanks for ideas over e-mail...we shall rule the world! And they are also starting to form into plays in my mind...hmm

BlouKous said...

I really like it, but I wish it was a bit more drawn out. I was just settling in for a good read when the ending came hurtling along oh so quickly. Add some more dongas and dung beetles along the way....?

Miranda said...

yes you're right Bloukous, thanks. I dashed this off waay to quick. I'll have a mull over it!

Thanks for all your useful comments...

ArtSparker said...

I think it is quite rhythmic and lovely...I enjoy your writing very much. glad the black box brought you to my blog, I will bookmark you. I am curious about your project/s.