I’ve been a bit neglectful with my collection of stories from the Congo – stuck in the middle of a nasty deadline. But here I am with the second story, told to me by a girl, a street child, who had been taken in and looked after in the Store House Foundation transit and rehabilitation centre for street children in Kinshasa. The centre receives support from Save the Children through technical training and funding for its reunification activities.
There were only about six or seven girls there, looked after by a woman old enough to be their grandmother, who told me that she told them stories and sang them songs every night.
It was a lovely visit. The girls all insisted on putting on their best clothes and sat there in a row, some of them in western clothes, some of them in those lovely bright, clean African cotton print dresses that suit black skin so well. I told them the story of the Wolf and the Three Little Pigs – they weren’t sure what a wolf was – I guess they have plenty fiercer creatures in their own country to tell stories about – but they loved the story. In return, they told me three stories, which I hope to tell back to you over the next week or so. This is the first one.
I’m not sure how PC it this story is. The pygmy people have been oppressed by the Bantu people for a great many years, and in a poor country, it is the pygmies who are always the poorest. But this is how it was told to me. It also reflects the tradition that the pygmies are hunters, and often used to fetch meat for the Bantu people.
The weak of stomach should be aware that, like the one preceeding it, and like many of our own traditional stories before they were adapted for the nursery, this story ends on a rather grusome note.
The children who told me this story had been rescued from the streets by an organisation funded by Save the Children – many of them were on the streets becaue they had been accused of witchcraft themselves. Only a very little money can save the bnright, lively children from a lilfe of disease and misery – and in the case of the young girls I met that day, of prostitution, from an age as young as 10. If you want to help kep them off the streets, please make a a donation here.
THE PYGMY WITCH
Once, there was a woman, one of two wives of the same man. They a lived in a town where no one ate any meat. The woman, though, hungered for meat, which she was used to eating when she was a girl. So, every now and then, she went to a neighbouring city to buy some.
On one of her trips there, she forgot the passage of time and it grew dark. It looked as if she would have to sleep out for the night – something which she hated. As she wandered away from the market, loking for a quiet place, she meet a pygmy man, and got talking to him. He offered to put her up for the night.
“Tomorrow I will go into the bush to get some meat. You can go with other woman and get some fish and cassava, and we will have fine feast,” he told her. The pygmy was friendly and seemed nice, so she agreed.
The next day, the pygmy went off to catch the, while she went off with the pygmy women to fetch cassava and catch fish. She caught some fish quite quickly, and wandered off a little on her own into the forest, and a little voice called to her from a bush. It was a small bird, begging her for water.
“If you do,” it said. “I will tll you something important.”
The woman was curious what on earth a bird might tell her, so she bent down and cupped a little water in her hands, and she held it out for the bird, who hoped onto her hand and took a sip.
The bird thanked her. “So what were you going to tell me?” she asked.
The bird cocked his tiny head at her and said,” The pygmy is coming to eat you.”
The woman was terrified, but the bird told her how she might save herself.
“Go into the house, and you will find two bells hidden by the back wall. You must hide a fish in the big bell. The, you may take the small bell with you. This will save you from the pygmy.”
The woman hurried to get back before the pygmy. Sure enough, there were the bells hidden by the back wall. They were both beautiful objects, made of bronze and beautifully carved; the big one in particular was worth a fortune.
Already, the pygmy was coming up the path. The woman did as she as told – put the fish in the big bell and took away the little one. She slipped away just as the pygmy was coming back into the house.
The pygmy came into the house and he found no fish and no woman. He ran outside to look for her. As he ran, he opened his mouth to call for her, but all that came out was – “Ding dong! Ding dong!” So the woman could hear him al the time as he ran, and was able to escape.
Back at home, her rival, the other wife, who was pregnant, was jealous of her adventure and of the beautiful bell, which pleased their husband so much. So, she went to do the same thing. She went to the same town and lingered at the market, and sure enough, as it got dark, the pygmy came along and offered to put her up for the night.
“Tomorrow, I’ll get some meat, you can go and catch some fish – and we’ll have a splendid feast.”
Smiling, the woman agreed. Sure enough, she spent a pleasant night and the next morning, she went off with the other women to collect cassava and catch some fish; and sure enough, when she went into the woods on her own, a little voice from a bush called out to her …
“Give me some water to drink, and I’ll tell you something important!”
The little bird told the woman the same story. But when she got back to the pygmy’s house and saw how beautiful, how heavy and how wonderfully carved the big bell was, she decided instead of putting fish in it, to steal it. Instead, she put the fish in the little bell, and slipped out of the house just as the pygmy was coming into the village.
She ran off, but as she ran, the big big bell called out – “Ding dong! Ding dong!” The pygmy could hear where she was. Terrified, she tried to drop the bell, but she was unable to. So the pygmy found her, and caught her, and took her back home.
In the village, all the other pygmies were waiting for them. They had dug a big hole and lit fire in it. The pygmies pushed the woman into the hole. She fell, and her belly burst open, and a head poked through her belly. The pygmies all danced around, shouting … “I’m going to eat your legs! I’m going to eat your head! I’m gong to eat your legs! I’m going to eat your head.”
And so they did.
Thanks to Save the Children for making my trip to the Congo possible.