The Mouse and the Beetle – a Sudanese Proverb with a Folktale

الخنفُسانة شافت ولدها في الحيط قالت دا لولي ملضوم في خيط

al khunfusaana shaafat walada fi l-HeeT gaalat da luuli malDuum fi kheeT.

The dung beetle saw its son on the wall and said these are pearls put together on a string.

Though the dung beetle is ugly, to his mother he is as lovely and beautiful as pearls beads strung together on a thread. This proverb implies that parental love can be blind. There is a short folktale called The Mouse and the Beetle relating to this proverb.

It once happened that a mouse married a beetle. One day when the beetle went down to the river to wash her shamla (a rag of wool or goat hair used by Sudanese women to cover their bodies when having a smoke bath), a strong habuub suddenly blew and swept away the shamla, together with the beetle who was clinging on to it tightly. The gust of wind threw the beetle on an island in the river, leaving her feeling shocked and bewildered. By coincidence, a boy from the house where the mouse and the beetle had their hole was passing near the shore. When the beetle saw him, she called out in her loudest voice: Continue reading

The Wise Man of the Village

The Nile, near Kerma, Northern Sudan
(The Nile Valley, near Kerma, Northern Sudan – photograph by Edmund Wyatt)

The Wise Man of the Village by Muna Zaki
In a village by the River Nile, there lived a wise old man, whose days of toil and labour were over. Every morning the old man’s chair was placed under the shade of some date palms overlooking the village. Here he would spend his days watching the flowing river and listening to the creaking of the saagiya waterwheels.
Over the years his reputation for wisdom had spread up and down the river so that many people came to seek his advice whenever they had a troubling problem or were in desperate need of help. Around his riverine gardens, he had buried various amounts of money. If anyone wanted to borrow some money from him, the old would lend each according to their need by directing him to a particular spot where some coins buried. The old man only asked that the person should pay back the money when they felt able by placing it in the very same spot from which it had been taken.
Amongst the people of the country was a merchant who did not value the favours of others. One day he came to the old man and asked for ten dinars to help with the purchase of some goods. Because of the loan, the merchant’s business prospered. He knew that he should have returned the money but he could not bring himself to part with it. Finally, he said to himself, “I won’t pay the old man back. My profits are large and I will never have to go begging to him for help again. In any case that old fool has probably forgotten all about the loan by now.”
Days, years passed by, and the merchant’s fruitful business withered and died. Soon he had used up all his money and was desperate. He said to himself, “I’ll go to the old man. I’m sure that he won’t recognize me after all these years.”
He found the old man sitting as before in his gardens near the river. As the merchant approached, the old man welcomed him and asked, “What can I do for you my son?”
“You are well-known up and down the river for your wisdom and generosity. I have come to ask you for some money as I’m facing some hard times,” explained the merchant.
“There should be ten dinars hidden there,” replied the old man pointing to the very spot from which the merchant had taken the money all those years before.
Eagerly the merchant began to dig down into the earth. He thought of what he would do with the ten dinars. Down and down he dug but there was no money to be found. At last he gave up and returned to the old man. “They told me you were wise but that spot does not even have a millieme let alone ten dinars…” the merchant began to complain bitterly.
While the merchant was still in mid-flow, the old man held up his hand and simply replied, “If you had paid it my son, you will have found it.”
© Muna Zaki

A Sudanese Proverb With A Tale

شِن قطعك يا راس

shin gaTa’ik ya raas.

Oh head, what cut you?

When words are many, sin is not absent, and he who holds his tongue is sometimes wise. One has to be wise in what one says and how you say it. Sometimes it is better to keep silent. This saying has a story behind it:

 

There was an Arab who was travelling on his donkey in the desert. On his way, he found a skeleton. Motivated by his curiosity, he got off his donkey to investigate it. He found that the head had become separated from its body. 

“Glorification is to God!” He murmured to himself in surprise. As he went closer to the skull lying close to the skeleton he asked: “Who cut you head?”

The skull jumped from its place and answered: “It is my tongue that cut me!”

The Arab was filled with horror. So he repeated the same question many times and the skull gave him the same answer every time.

Now as this Arab was not a sober or self-possessed person, he rushed back to his village straight to the mayor’s house. There he found the mayor with all the village notables around him, and without pausing for breath he told them the whole story of the beheaded skeleton. They started to giggle sarcastically at what he said and the Malik rebuked him. Instead of leaving the mayor’s council meeting, he was persistent and insisted on the mayor and the others  follow him back to the skeleton’s place in the desert.

Because of the Arab’s boldness in asking, the mayor and his council agreed to follow. The mayor threatened and said: “By divorce. If I find out what you have said is not true, I will behead you like the skeleton you have seen.”

When they reached the place, the Arab asked the skull: “Oh head, what cut you?”

But to his bad luck the skull did not move or answer. He repeated the question many times, but still he got no answer. The mayor’s blood boiled in his veins and he felt that his reputation had been ruined for following such a mentally deranged man. He beheaded the Arab and went back with his men to the village… but before they moved further, the skull jumped of its place towards the head of the Arab which was still bleeding and said to it: “Didn’t I tell you that my tongue cut me?!”

The Lion, the Hyena and the Fox

This is a retelling of a famous Sudanese folktale from northern Sudan. The three characters were much maligned in the past due their prey on livestock. Hunted down as “vermin”, the only place that most of us can see them today is behind bars at the zoo in Khartoum North.

The Lion, the Hyena and the Fox.
There was once a lion, a hyena and a fox who agreed to go hunting together. Continue reading