Sacred-Texts African Index Previous Next


THERE once was a poor man who was very kind to animals and birds. However little he had, he always spared a few grains of p. 22 corn, or a few beans, for his parrot, and he was in the habit of spreading on the ground every morning some titbits for the industrious ants, hoping that they would be satisfied with the corn and leave his few possessions untouched.

 And for this the ants were grateful.

 In the same village there lived a miser who had by crafty and dishonest means collected a large store of gold, which he kept securely tied up in the corner of a small hut. He sat outside this hut all day and all night, so that nobody could steal his treasure.

 When he saw any bird, he threw a stone at it, and he crushed any ant which he found walking on the ground, for he detested every living creature and loved nothing but his gold.

 As might be expected, the ants had no love for this miser, and when he had killed a great many of their number, they began to think how they might punish him for his cruelty.

 “What a pity it is,” said the King of the p. 23 ants, “that our friend is a poor man, while our enemy is so rich!”

 This gave the ants an idea. They decided to transfer the miser’s treasure to the poor man’s house. To do this they dug a great tunnel under the ground. One end of the tunnel was in the poor man’s house, and the other end was in the hut of the miser.

 On the night that the tunnel was completed, a great swarm of ants began carrying the miser’s treasure into the poor man’s house, and when morning came and the poor man saw the gold lying in heaps on the floor, he was overjoyed, thinking that the gods had sent him a reward for his years of humble toil.

 He put all the gold in a corner of his hut and covered it up with native cloths.

 Meanwhile the miser had discovered that his treasure was greatly decreased. He was alarmed and could not think how the gold could have disappeared, for he had kept watch all the time outside the hut.

 The next night the ants again carried p. 24 a great portion of the miser’s gold down the tunnel, and again the poor man rejoiced and the miser was furious to discover his loss.

 On the third night the ants laboured long and succeeded in removing all the rest of the treasure.

 “The gods have indeed sent me much gold!” cried the poor man, as he put away his treasure.

 But the miser called together his neighbours and related that in three consecutive nights his hard-won treasure had vanished away. He declared that nobody had entered the hut but himself, and therefore the gold must have been removed by witchcraft.

 However, when the hut was searched, a hole was found in the ground, and they saw that this hole was the opening of a tunnel. It seemed clear that the treasure had been carried down the tunnel, and everyone began hunting for the other end of the tunnel. At last it was discovered in the poor man’s hut! Under the native p. 25 cloths in the corner they found the missing treasure.

 The poor man protested in vain that he could not possibly have crept down such a small tunnel, and he declared that he had no notion how the gold had got into his but. But the rest said that be must have some charm by which he made himself very small and crept down the tunnel at night into the miser’s hut.

 For this offence they shut him up in a hut and tightly closed the entrance. On the next day he was to be burnt alive.

 When the ants saw what had come of their plan to help him, they were sorely perplexed and wondered how they could save their poor friend from such a painful death

 There seemed nothing for them to do but to eat up the whole of the hut where the prisoner was confined. This they accomplished after some hours, and the poor man was astonished to find himself standing in an open space. He ran away into the forest and never came back.

p. 26

 In the morning the people saw that the ants had been at work, for a few stumps of the hut remained. They said: “The gods have taken the punishment out of our hands! The ants have devoured both the hut and the prisoner!”

 And only the ants knew that this was not true.