A tale from Africa
Many years ago there lived a king who
had two wives, one named Yawuro and the other Danyawo. But, alas, he had
no sons or daughters, and as he grew older and wealthier he began to worry
about who would succeed him and what would happen to his many possessions
when he died.
He often walked through the streets of the town, gazing happily at the naked, brown-skinned children playing happily within call of their mothers, and once or twice he even persuaded some parents to allow him to adopt one of their children. Unfortunately, none of these children grew up, as some accident or illness always befell them. One was bitten by a poisonous snake, another lost her life in a smallpox epidemic, while a third, an adventurous child, slipped and fell to his death while climbing a tree.
So it came about that the people in his kingdom politely, but firmly, refused to give him any more children for adoption, and who could blame them?
At long last, when the king had given up all hope of an
heir, his wife Danyawo had a baby boy. He was a beautiful child, and as good as he was handsome. They called him Goto, and the king s heart was no longer filled with sadness when he walked through the town and saw other men's
As the child grew older, he proved to be brave and clever as well as good to look upon, while everybody who knew him loved him. Everybody, that is, except Yawuro, who was broken-hearted that she had no child and was jealous of all the affection that was showered upon the boy Goto.
At first, she kept her feelings to herself, but one day when Goto was about twelve years old, the courtier whose duty it was to keep unwelcome strangers out of the palace, passed by Yawuro as she sat weeping in a quiet corner of the compound.
'Come now!' he exclaimed. 'Why is the wife of a king weeping? Surely you have nothing to be unhappy about, surrounded by wealth and served with good food every day. Now, if I were crying, there would be good reason for it.
Yawuro dried her eyes and asked the gatekeeper:
And why should you weep?'
'Because I work all day and far into the night for very little pay. My wife is ill and my children often go hungry, but nobody cares! What wouldn't I give for just a handful of your great wealth!'
Slowly a wicked idea began to creep into Yawuro's mind.
'If I gave you a bag of gold,' she said, 'Would you do something to make me very happy?'
The gatekeeper immediately said he would do anything for so much wealth, and Yawuro, drawing him behind a henna bush for privacy, whispered in his ear.
'I was weeping because I have no child, and since everyone
makes so much of Goto, I cannot bear to see him growing up in the palace
any longer. I want you to take him into the bush and kill him. Then I will
pay you your reward and I shall be happy again.'
The avaricious gatekeeper at last consented to do this and the next day he contrived to engage Goto in conversation aced promised the boy he would take him into the bush to hunt.
'Let us go tomorrow, said Goto. I cannot wait to try my hand at shooting some of those gazelles you promised to show me.'
'Why, certainly. We will go at daybreak. But do not tell anyone else at all,' replied the cunning gatekeeper, 'and then we will return with so much meat that your parents will be surprised and delighted.'
The next morning the two of them set off with their bows and arrows, while the mist lay over all the land and the sun was still low in the sky. The gatekeeper led the boy away from the small villages, which were scattered around the town, so that none of the king's subjects should recognize the child. On and on they went, along narrow, sandy tracks with tall, gray-green grass and many trees on each side, in a silence broken only by the occasional cooing of a distant dove, or the angry barking of baboons on a nearby rocky hill.
Several times Goto asked: 'Are we not there yet?'
The watchman replied: 'Just a little further, and then I will show you the place where the gazelles are to be found.
At last, when the boy was thoroughly lost, they came upon a wide, deep valley.
'Down here!' whispered the man, and led the way
further and further into the undergrowth.
'Now, we will rest here a few moments before we start the hunt,' said the gatekeeper, and they lay down side by side in the shade of a large rock.
Presently Goto fell asleep, and the gatekeeper knew that now was his chance to kill the boy. But he found that he could not bring himself to do such a foul thing. Twice he lifted his hunting knife to cut the boy's throat, but twice he let his hand fall to his side again. The fact was, that although he was discontented and greedy, he had children of his own whom he loved, and could not bear to harm Goto, who was just about the same age as his eldest son.
Rising to his feet, he crept quietly away, leaving Goto fast asleep and completely lost.
When the watchman reached the palace again, Yawuro was waiting for him. He was afraid to tell her that he had not killed the boy, so he lied and assured her that Goto was dead and that she would never see him again. Then he concealed his reward in the deep pocket of his gown and went home to his family.
The next day the palace was full of consternation. Where was Goto? Nobody had seen him for a day and a night and i his mother, Danyawo, was beside herself with grief.
'I know some evil thing has befallen him,' she repeated again and again. 'Two nights ago I had a dream in which I saw Goto lying dead at the palace gates.'
The king, too, was very anxious
and sent all his servants out to look for his son, but although they searched
the countryside and asked everyone they saw for news of Goto, they did
not find him. A reward of a hundred bags of cowries was offered in return
for news of the boy, but nobody n claimed it and the king became silent
and sat wrapped in 1 grief, while Danyawo wept day and night loudly lamenting
the loss of her only son.
Now Goto was certainly lost, but far from dead, and when he woke from his refreshing sleep to find that the watchman had disappeared he was very puzzled. For some time he called and shouted but at length, receiving no reply, he decided that the watchman must have encountered some wild animal and met his death. There was nothing else to do except give up all ideas of hunting and try to find his way out of the forest, but the more he tried, the deeper the forest became and as night fell the boy broke some branches off a tree, spread them on the ground and lay down to sleep.
As he slept he had a dream which was so vivid that he remembered every word of it when he awoke.
A shadowy figure seemed to stand beside him saying:
'Make your way east, my son. Make your way east, until you come to a river. Then stand on its bank and call in a loud voice: "Kabel! Kabel!" Someone will answer you, and if you do as they tell you, all will be well.'
Goto lay on his leafy bed, thinking over the dream as the sun rose, and turning towards the pale pink light of the morning he made his way east. Before long he came to a wide river and standing on the bank he called:
Almost at once, ripples disturbed the surface of the water and a lovely maiden came out of the river and stood before him.
'Come with me,' she commanded, taking his hand to draw him into the water.
Goto hesitated a moment, but remembering his dream he did as she told him and walked down into the river, still holding her hand.
How still and blue it was under the water. Goto was surprised to feel no discomfort as he passed between rocks and weeds along the path where the maiden led him. She said nothing until they rounded a bend on the river bed a came upon a beautiful city.
'This is the chief city in my father's kingdom,' she said with a smile. 'Come with me to greet him!' And she led him into a wonderful palace built of grey rocks, where the king sat upon his throne surrounded by courtiers.
He appeared delighted to see Goto, and telling his servant: to prepare the best room for the boy, he ordered a feast to be made at once. Goto soon felt very happy with these river folk, and when he had answered the king's questions about how he had reached the river, the king invited him to staff with him as long as he pleased and promised that he would be treated as if he were his own son.
Years passed, and Goto grew to manhood among the people of the river. He was still brave and charming ant everyone loved him, so that when it became known that the princess Kabel was to marry Goto, the kingdom was filled with happiness and the betrothal was celebrated with singing and dancing.
The feast that was held at the wedding of the two young people was one that the people remembered for the rest or their lives. Kabul made such a beautiful bride that Goto could not take his eyes away from her, and the king gavel them half his kingdom in honour of the occasion.
Goto and Kabel lived in a part of the palace specially ser aside for them and were as happy as the day is long. Ever) evening they walked along the river until they came to the part of the bank where they had first met. Then they would come up out of the water and wander along the grassy edges of the bank, enjoying the cool evening air and admiring the flowering trees which grew close by.
Then one day the king fell ill and all his wise men or courtiers could do for him wne of no avail So he died and was greatly mourned by his people, all of whom loved him well. There was no question as to who should succeed him since Goto had already won the hearts of the river-folk, so the princess Kabel and her husband became king and queen, and ruled wisely and well.
But gradually a change came over Goto. He no longer felt happy and content, and when he and Kabel took their evening walks along the river bank he would sometimes say:
'Beloved, I long to see my own father again before he dies. I so often wonder how he is and whether he still thinks of me sometimes.
'Do not worry about such things,' Kabel would reply. 'We have each other and our love is so great, surely you do not want to leave me and search for those who may already have forgotten you.'
But Goto could not drive the longing to see his father from his heart, and at last he begged Kabel to let him go, and promised faithfully that he would return within seven days.
'Yes, you must go,' replied his wife. 'I cannot keep you here any longer, for I can see how sad this thing is making you. But as I cannot bear to be parted from you, I will come too, and meet your father.'
Goto was delighted that Kabel understood how he felt, and when he told her he did not know how to reach his father's house, she exclaimed:
'We must take my father's magic horse. He has flown to the ends of the earth on it and we have but to speak the name of your father's kingdom and the horse will take us there.'
So they said good-bye to their courtiers and the people of the river who were waiting outside the palace to bid them farewell. Then they mounted the horse, whispered the name of Goto's father in its ear and were whisked away up, up, out of the river and into the sky. On and on they flew until at last, looking down, Goto gave a joyful cry as he recognized the town where he had been brought up, and saw his fatherss palace still standing in the open space in the centre.
Down they glided, landing outside the palace gates, and great was Goto's surprise when he knocked loudly to see the servant, who had taken him and lost him in the forest, still on duty as watchman. The man did not recognize Goto, of course, but asked in a casual voice what his business was.
'I want to see the king,' said Goto, 'for I bring him good news.'
'Then you may tell me the good news, fellow, and I will take the message to the king,' replied the watchman.
'Oh no! I must see the king myself Go and tell him that a stranger called Yauta craves an audience with him,' answered Goto, giving a false name since he did not yet want the watchman to know who he was.
'Be off!' shouted the watchman. 'And don't let me catch you near the palace again. Why, you're not fit to speak to the likes of me, let alone the king. Be off, before I thrash you.'
He raised his hand to strike Goto, but Kabel stepped forward and seized the angry man's arm, saying quietly:
'Shame on you! How can you, a servant of the king, behave so badly to one who wishes to speak to His Majesty. Now, pray go inside and do as we bid you.'
Kabel spoke with such dignity and assurance that the watchman found himself going into the palace to deliver the message, but he had no sooner got beyond the gate and ou t of sight of the couple waiting there, than a delicious smell of; cooking drove all other thoughts from his mind and he went into the kitchen to see if he could pick up something worth eating, for he was still as greedy as ever. After some time, as he ambled back to the gates chewing a piece of sugar cane, which the kitchen servants had given him, he suddenly remembered why he had come in and called to a palace servant to know whether the king had wakened from his siesta.
'No, he's fast asleep and snoring,' replied the servant disrespectfully, and the watchman went back to Goto and Kabel who were still waiting outside the gates.
'The king is still asleep,' he said ungraciously, 'and nobody dare wake him yet. Of course, were you to offer me a gift, I might be able to get a message to him when he does wake.'
Goto was about to reply angrily to this suggestion, when an aged dog ambled up to the gate, sniffed the air for a moment or two and then, with a bark of delight, rushed passed the watchman and began licking Goto's hands in a frenzy of Joy.
'That's odd,' muttered the watchman. 'The old dog has never made friends with a stranger before.'
Goto patted the dog and talked to him, for he remembered the animal from the days when it had been a puppy, and as the dog lay down in delight close to Goto's feet, the young man removed a ring from his hand, wrapped it in a piece of cloth and tied it round the dog's neck. Whispering a word in its ear, Goto gave it a pat, and the animal rose to its feet edged its way back into the palace grounds and disappeared through a doorway.
'Now what was all that about?' asked the watchman crossly. 'There is something odd going on here. What did you say your name was, young man?'
'I said it was Yauta,' replied Goto, 'and I also asked you to take a message to the king. Since you have done nothing about it I have now made my own arrangements, and if you wait just a little longer you will have a great surprise.'
Meanwhile the dog had made its way into the king's bedroom and softly licking the old man's face so that he awoke, the animal lay down by his side. Soon the king noticed the little package tied round the dog's neck, and when his fingers had fumblingly untied it, he cried aloud as he discovered inside it the ring he had given his son when he was a child.
One of his courtiers ran in and was distressed to see the king sitting up on his bed with tears streaming down his face.
'Your Majesty, what is wrong?' he asked.
The king's wife Danyawo came in at that moment and the king handed her the ring saying:
'Have you ever seen this before, my wife?'
'Yes! Oh yes!' she cried. 'It belonged to our beloved son, Goto. Oh, who has given it to you? How did it come into your hands?'
The king turned to the courtier and said urgently:
'Tell the captain of the guard to call out all his men. They must search everywhere until they discover who tied this ring round the dog's neck. When they have found him he must be arrested and brought before me.'
Soon all was shouting and turmoil in the palace grounds and when the watchman pointed out Goto and Kabel to the soldiers, they quickly bound them and brought them before the king.
By now the king had come into his Council Chamber and his councillors were seated around him, when Goto and Kabel were brought in, somewhat roughly, by several huge soldiers The king did not recognize his son, for Goto had been but twelve years old when he had last seen him.
'What is your name, young man, and what are you doing here?' asked the king.
'My name is Yauta,' replied Goto, 'and I wish to speak to Your Majesty in private.'
The king was surprised, but he liked the look of the handsome young man and the beautiful girl, so he ordered everyone out of the Council Chamber except his wife Danyawo, whom Goto at once recognized as his mother, even though she was now an old woman.
'My lord king,' said Goto, bowing low, as soon as they were alone. 'I am the owner of that ring. I am your son, Goto, to whom you gave it.'
Danyawo ran towards him, crying to the king:
'It is true! He is indeed our beloved son, returned from the dead.'
'Not from the dead,' replied Goto with a smile, 'but from the Kingdom of the River, and I have brought my wife, Kabel, with me.'
The old couple were delighted and embraced their son a hundred times, while he told them all that had happened since he had been led away from the palace by the wicked watchman.
The king ordered a fine feast for his son and his wife to which all Goto's old friends and playmates were invited. But the watchman and the evil wife Yawuro were banished from the kingdom forever. The people were delighted to see Goto back in his rightful place and they loved and respected Kabel for her beauty and wisdom, so that when the old king died a few years later, Goto became king in his stead and ruled with justice and wisdom. But he had not forgotten his other kingdom under the waters, and with the aid of the flying horse, Goto and Kabel continued to reign as king and queen of both land and water, beloved by all and as happy as they deserved to be.
From African Myths and Legends
by Kathleen Arnott
illustrated by Kiddell-Monroe New York Henry Z. Walck, Inc. 1962.
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