A Story From: Zimbabwe
Read Time: 10 to 15 mins.
For Ages: 5 to 10yrs.
The man went home and said to his two daughters, “Do either of you wish to present yourselves to be the wife of a chief?”
The elder daughter replied, “Yes, father, I wish to be the wife of a chief.”
So the father said, “Then you, my elder daughter, shall go.”
It was the tradition in those days for a young woman who wished to marry to assemble a large bridal party to go with her. But the elder girl refused to allow anyone else to go with her.
She said, “I will go alone to be the wife of the chief.”
Said her father: “How can you be so rash? You know very well that when a girl goes to present herself to a husband, she is supposed to be accompanied by others. Do not be foolish, my daughter!”
Still the girl said, “I will go alone.”
And so the elder daughter traveled to the faraway village by herself.
While she was walking along the path, she met a mouse.
The mouse said, “Shall I show you the way?”
The girl laughed. “What you, a mouse? Don’t make me laugh.”
The mouse said, “If you act like this, you will not succeed.”
She scoffed. “Since when does a mouse know about what does and does not succeed?” Then she met a frog.
The frog said, “Shall I show you the way?”
The elder daughter said, “First a mouse and now a frog is going to show me the way! You are not even worthy to speak to me. I am going to be the wife of a chief. Now get out of the way before I kick you!”
Said the frog: “Have it your way. I’m out of here.”
When the girl was tired, she sat down under a tree to rest. A boy who was herding goats nearby came to her.
The boy said, “Where are you going, eldest sister?”
“Who are you that you should call me your eldest sister?” she cried. “By tomorrow I will be the wife of the chief! Leave me alone!”
The boy said, “Please, I am very hungry. Won’t you offer me some of your food?”
She answered, “Why should I? Go away!”
The elder daughter soon met an old woman sitting by a big stone.
The old woman said, “I will give you some advice. You will come upon trees that will laugh at you; you must not laugh at them in return. You will see a bag of thick milk; you must not drink from it. You will meet a man who carries his head under his arm; you must not take water from him.”
The girl answered, “You old hag! What nonsense!” And she walked on. She came to a place where there were many trees. The trees laughed at her, and she laughed back at them in return. She saw a bag of thick milk, and she was thirsty, so she drank from it. She met a man carrying his head under his arm, and she took water from him to drink, too.
She came to the river of the village of the chief. She saw a girl there dipping water from the river. The girl looked up and said, “Where are you going, my sister?”
Said the elder daughter, “Why do you think I owe you an explanation? I am going to be the wife of a chief.”
The girl drawing water was actually the sister of the chief. She said, “Wait, let me give you some advice. Do not enter the village by this side.”
The elder daughter did not listen to her, but continued on her way. She finally reached the village of the chief. The people asked her where she had come from and what she wanted.
She answered, “I have come to be the wife of the chief.”
They thought to themselves, “Whoever saw a girl come without a bridal party to be a bride?” And they said, “The chief is not at home. You must prepare food for him, so that when he comes back in the evening he may eat his dinner.”
They gave her millet to grind. She ground it very coarsely, and the bread she made was hard and dry.
In the evening, she heard the sound of a great wind. The wind was the coming of the Chief. The Chief took the form of an enormous snake with five heads and eyes as large as plates. This is why he was called Chief Five Heads. The elder daughter was very much frightened when she saw him. He sat down before the door and told her to bring his dinner. She brought him the bread which she had made. Chief Five Heads was not satisfied with the bread. He said, “You shall not be my wife.” He ordered her immediately to return to her home village.
After the elder sister returned home, the younger sister said, “Father, may I also present myself to be the wife of the Chief?”
The father replied, “Very well, daughter. It is right that you, too, should wish to be a bride.” He called all of his friends, and a great bridal party was prepared to accompany her.
Along the way she met a mouse. The mouse said, “Shall I show you the road?”
The girl replied, “If you would show me the road, I would be grateful.”
Then the mouse pointed out the way to the road. She came into a valley, where she saw an old woman standing by a tree.
The old woman said to her, “You will come to a place where two paths branch off. You must take the little path, because if you take the big one things will not go well for you.”
The younger daughter replied, “Very well, I will take the little path, my mother.” She offered the old woman some food, and went on. Soon she met a rabbit.
The rabbit said, “The village of the chief is not far from here. You will meet a girl by the river. You must speak nicely to her. They will give you millet to grind. You must grind it well. When you see your husband, you must not be afraid.”
She said, “I will do as you suggest, rabbit. Thank you.”
At the river she met the chief’s sister carrying water. The chief’s sister said, “Where are you going?”
The younger daughter replied, “This is the end of my journey.”
The chief’s sister said, “Why have you come?”
The maiden replied, “I am here with a bridal party.”
The chief’s sister said, “I see, but won’t you be afraid when you see your husband?”
Said the younger daughter: “I will not be afraid.”
The chief’s sister pointed out the hut in which she should stay. Food was given to the bridal party. The mother of the chief gave millet to the younger daughter, saying, “You must prepare food for the chief. He is not here now, but he will come back in the evening.”
That night, she heard a very strong wind, which made the hut shake. The poles fell down, but she did not run out. Then she saw Chief Five Heads coming. Indeed, he was a very large and fearful looking snake with five heads. He asked for food. The younger daughter handed him the bread which she had made. He was very much pleased with the soft, tasty bread. He said to her, “I can tell what happens at all times in this place. For it is I who was the mouse, and the rabbit, and I was even the old woman. I have seen that you are good and careful and kind. Will you be my wife?”
Then Chief Five Heads became a handsome young man. He took the younger daughter by the hand.
The story "Chief Five Heads" is based on "The Story of Five Heads," from Kaffir Folk-lore by George McCall Theal (Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowrey, London, 1886), pp. 48-55.
Copyright Elaine L. Lindy ©2006. All rights reserved.
The tale was collected from people living by the Zimbabwe ruins, a site that archeologists now consider to have been a magnificent trade city built and occupied by indigenous Africans.