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Hausa Folk-Lore, by Maalam Shaihua, tr. by R. Sutherland Rattray, [1913], at

8. A story about a witch, and how the baby of the family outwitted her, and invented the first walled town

This is a story about a witch. A story, a story. Let it go, let it come.

A certain old woman had children, nine girls, and she went far into the bush and lived (there). Now some boys, youths, there were nine of them too, set out from their village and went to the house of the witch, where the girls were. They came. The girls gave them water, each had a maid who gave him water to drink.

Now the youngest (among the boys) the youngest maid brought water to (him) and gave him, but he refused to drink. When night came each of (the young men's) maids made food and gave him; (and) they ate. The youngest of the maidens made food and brought it to the youngest of the youths, but he refused to eat. They said, 'How is it when you come every one eats food, but you alone refuse to eat?' He said, 'If young men come to the house of maidens and eat food, then they have become worthless young men.' And they said, 'That is true.'

The time for sleep came, when for each and all his maiden prepared his couch, and they lay down and were sleeping. The youngest of the boys got up and unfastened the others' waist-cloths and tied them on the maidens. He took off their cloaks and put them on the maidens, he lifted the kerchiefs of the maidens and. tied them on the boys. He took away the dresses of the girls and tied them on (the boys).

A short time passed, they were asleep, when this old woman came. When she felt about with her hand, she discovered who had cloaks and who waist-cloths. Then she cut (their throats), and thus she did till she had cut off (the heads) of all her daughters; (then) she returned and lay down.

But the baby of the family also had seen her, he had not slept. He got up, dug a hole from the house where they were lying to their mother's house. Then the baby of the family wakened the others from sleep. They entered the hole and went home and left her daughters lying (with their throats) cut.

When day dawned the old woman came. She was rejoicing (because) she was about to eat meat, then she came across her daughters (with their throats) cut; then she ate her hand from vexation. Then she left off, and said, 'I shall be revenged.'

Another day she went into the town (of the young men). (And) she turned herself into a magaria tree, then the boys, fifteen in number, climbed up and were sitting there. But she tore up (the tree) with them and went off to her house with them. The boys' parents were lamenting. The baby of the family came and said, 'Leave off crying, I shall bring you your children.' He went off to the bush, (and) he saw this old woman's cow, then he went inside its belly.

When the cow came home, it was as if in calf And the old woman said (to) this cow of hers, 'If you give birth to a son, I shall cut your throat; if you give birth to a daughter I shall leave you alone.' And it came to pass that one day the cow gave birth to a daughter. Now of a truth it was the baby of the family, he had turned into the child of a cow.

They were living like this, when the baby of the family (who was now a calf), if the old woman washed her calabashes, jumped and fell among them and smashed them. One day she washed her calabashes and put them in the sun to dry, then the cow's calf jumped and fell on them and smashed them. And the old woman got in a rage, and said to these boys that they must all rise up, and go and catch and bring it, and cut (its throat). So the boys rose up (and) followed the calf.

The calf ran off till (it came) right into the town; the boys followed it. Then the calf turned into a person, truly it was (he who was) the baby of the family. And he said, 'Let each come and catch his son.' So each one came out and caught his son, and the baby of the family he also went home. Now she (the old witch) said, 'I will catch him again.'

So she turned into a Fulani woman, (and) took some milk, (and) brought it into the town. It was said that no one was to look into the milk. But one of the baby of the family's elder brothers looked in, and his eyes fell out. Then she took her milk, turned into a whirlwind, (and) went off with him.

Then he (the baby of the family) came early, (and found his elder brother) was not at home. And they said, 'A certain Fulani woman came with milk and lifted the eyes of our elder brother and went off with them.' And the baby of the family said, 'I shall get them back.' So he fastened on a (girl's) dress and head kerchief, (and) went to the old woman's house. When she saw him, he was like her (own) youngest daughter, and she said, 'Welcome, welcome.' And the baby of the family he also began to cry, he was weeping and said, 'Bad boys came and sinned against me, they killed my elder sisters.' The old woman too was saying, 'It is the youngest of my daughters.' And she said,' Cease crying, youngest of my children, as for us, we shall be revenged.'

She said, 'As for me, see the eyes of the eldest of them I have brought.' And the baby of the family said, 'Give me that I may see, mother, the meat (eyes), (and) that I may play with them.' So the old woman took them, and gave him, she did not know it was he. He was playing with them, when she said, 'Sit and look after the house; I am going to the stream and shall return.' She lifted up the water-pot (and) turned her back.

Then the baby of the family rose up, and ran off with his brother's eyes; he went with it (them) (and) gave his elder brother. Then the old woman returned (from the stream) (and) said, 'Where is (my) youngest child?' She did not see her youngest child, and she set down the water. After a little while then the maiden came, and the old woman said, 'Bring the eyes that we may cook (them).' The maiden said, 'No, you did not give me any eyes.' And she said, 'La Ila it is the youngest of their family, he came and deceived me; I said (thought) it was you, but it cannot be helped, I shall catch him.' She ceased.

Another day the baby of the family went to the bush. He was hunting when he met the old woman. She caught him, (and) took him to her house, put him in a hole, (and) covered (him) up, while she went to the stream. She left her youngest daughter and told her to wait and watch the baby of the family lest he ran away.

Then she went off to the stream. Then her (the witch's) youngest daughter came to the place where the baby of the family was in the pit (and) she said, 'Oh, baby of the family, what are you eating.' And he said, 'Stretch out your hand and I will give you what I am eating.' So she put out her hand, but the baby of the family seized her hand, (and) pulled her, (and) cast her into the pit ; she was inside, she was crying.

The baby of the family covered her up as her mother had covered him. He took (her) dress and kerchief and tied them on. He remained there, and was playing about until the old woman came. She said, 'Let me hear that the baby of the family has not run away,' and he replied, 'He is here, he has not run away.' She boiled hot water, it boiled, she took it up, and she said, 'Son of a profligate, to-day he will see.' Then she went to the hole and poured in (the water), and the maiden, when she felt the heat kept shouting out, and saying, 'Mother, it is I, mother, it is I.'

He, the baby of the family, said, 'It is a lie you are telling. May Allah guard mother from giving birth to such as you, may Allah guard her from giving birth to such as you,' and so on till she died. She (the old woman) lifted her out, cut (her) up in small pieces, put her in a pot and cooked her.

When the girl was cooked she put in daudawa spice and salt, took the pot off the fire, took out the meat and said, 'Youngest daughter, come forward. You alone will eat the son of the profligate woman.' But he said, 'No, as for me I shall not eat, now you yourself eat and be filled.' She was crunching, crunch! crunch! until she had almost eaten (all) the meat. Then she ceased, and said, 'There is your share, little daughter.' The baby of the family replied, 'Mother, if you are not full eat up all,' and she (the old woman) took up what was left and ate. She left a small piece, put it aside, and said, 'There is yours.'

And he who was the youngest of the family said, 'To-day you have eaten up all your daughters, and there only remains for you to eat yourself.' Then he threw aside the cloak (and) said, 'Do you see it is I, the baby of my family, you did not eat me.' Then he ran off, and went home and told the people of his town (saying) 'Flee'. And the whole town rose up and fled.

When they had gone, then their elder brother said he has dropped his slipper; he said he would turn back and get it. The baby of the family said, 'Do not go back,' (but) he said he would return (for it). The baby of the family said, 'Allow me to return.' The baby of the family returned, he went and entered the house. And she (the old woman) came and closed (the door); he climbed on to the top of the house and caught hold of a beam. Then he said to her (the old witch), 'If you are wanting to eat me up, you have only to open your eyes at me when I shall be afraid and fall down (on you) (and) you will catch me.'

Then she raised her head, and opened very widely eyes at him. As for him, he had ground peppers with him, so he cast (them) at her eyes, and she closed (them) the eyes. He came down, and as he was about to go outside, she caught his foot. But he said, 'Fool, you have caught a stick, and you think it is my foot.' Then she let go his foot and caught hold of a post; and he came out, seized the door, shut it (and) set fire to the house. The old woman was burned.

Then he went and told the chief what they (he) had done with the old woman, (and) he said, 'Let us return home.' So they returned home. And the chief said, 'Let the drums be beaten in town and village and let them assemble.' Drums were beaten in town and village and every one assembled.

And the chief brought one hundred cloaks, one hundred trousers, one hundred cattle, one hundred horses, of everything in the world one hundred of each. He said he gave him half his town (and) all the things which had been brought, the chief said he gave to the baby of the family.

And the baby of the family said, 'Chief, a town, if it has not a protection, is worthless. Let a wall be built before the people have dispersed.' And the chief said, 'There is no one able to build a walled town.' And the baby of the family said, 'I shall build it; do you only give me assistance with the men.' The chief consented, so the baby of the family built a walled town.

And that was the origin of walled towns, the baby of the family began that every one might see.

Off with the rat's head.

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