An African fable (UGANDA)
ONCE upon a time there was a potter and his wife who had one child, a little boy, and as he grew older they were grieved to see that he was different from all other children.
He never played with them, or laughed, or sang; he just sat alone by himself, he hardly ever spoke to his parents, and he never learnt the nice polite manners of the other children in the village. He sat and thought all day, and no one knew what he thought about, and his parents were very sad.
The other women tried to comfort the potter’s wife. They said: “Perhaps you will have another baby, and it will be like other children.” But she said:
“I don’t want another baby; I want this one to be nice.” And the men of the village tried to cheer the potter. “Queer boys often become great men,” they said. And one old man said: “Leave the boy alone; we shall see whether he is a wise man or a fool.”
The potter went home and told his wife what the men had said, and the boy heard him, and it seemed to wake him up, and he thought it over for a few days, and at last one morning at dawn he took his stick in his hand and went into the forest to think there.
All day he wandered about, and at last he came to a little clearing on the side of a hill from which he could look down over the country. The Sun was setting over the distant blue hills, and everything was touched with a pink and golden light, and deep shadows lay on the banana gardens and forests in the distance, but the boy saw none of these things; he was footsore and weary and miserable, and he sat down on a fallen log, tired out with his long day.
Suddenly a lion came out on to the clearing.
“What are you doing here all alone?” he said severely.
“I am very miserable,” said the boy, “and I have come into the forest to think, for I do not know whether I am a wise man or a fool.”
“Is that all you think about?” said the lion.
“Yes,” answered the boy, “I think about it night and day.”
“Then you are a fool,” said the lion decidedly. “Wise men think about things that benefit the country.” And he walked away.
Then an antelope came bounding out on the clearing and stopped to stare at the boy.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I am very miserable,” answered the boy; “I don’t know whether I am a wise man or a fool.”
“Do you ever eat anything?” said the antelope.
“Yes,” said the boy, “my mother cooks twice a day, and I eat.”
“Do you ever thank her?” said the antelope.
“No, I have never thought of that,” answered the boy.
“Then you are a fool,” said the antelope. “Wise men are always grateful.” And he bounded off into the forest again.
Then a leopard came up and looked suspiciously at him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked crossly.
“I am very miserable,” answered the boy; “I don’t know if I am a wise man or a fool.”
“Do they love you in your village?” asked the leopard.
“No, I don’t think they do,” said the boy. “I am not like other boys. I don’t know them very well.”
“Then you are a fool,” said the leopard. “All boys are nice; I often wish I were a boy; wise men mix with their fellows and earn their respect.” And he walked on sniffing.
Just then the big grey elephant came shuffling along the forest path, swinging his tail as he walked, and picking a twig here and a leaf there as he passed under the trees.
“What are you doing here all alone in the jungle when the Sun is setting?” he asked. “You should be at home in your village.”
“I am very miserable,” said the boy. “I don’t know if I am a wise man or a fool.”
“What work do you do?” asked the elephant.
“I don’t do any work,” said the boy.
“Then you are a fool,” said the elephant. “All wise men work.” And he swung away down the path which leads to the pool in the forest where the animals go to drink, and the boy put his head down in his hands and cried bitterly, as if his heart would break, for he did not know what to do.
After a little while he heard a gentle voice by his side: “My little brother, do not cry so; tell me your trouble.” The boy raised his tear-stained face and saw a little hare standing by his side.
“I am very miserable,” he said. “I am not like other people, and nobody loves me. I came into the forest to find out whether I am a wise man or a fool, and all the animals tell me I am a fool.” And he put his head in his hands again and cried more bitterly than ever.
The hare let him cry on for a little while, and then he said: “My little brother, do not cry any more. What the animals have told you is true; they have told you to think great thoughts, to be grateful and kind to others, and, above all, to work. All these things are great and wise. The animals are never idle, and they marvel to see how men, with all their gifts, waste their lives. Think how surprised they are to see a boy like you, well and strong, doing nothing all day, for they know that the world is yours if you will make it so.”
The Sun had set behind the distant hills and the soft darkness was falling quickly over the forest, and the hare said: “Soon it will be chilly here; you are tired and hungry, and far from your village; come and spend the night in my home and we will talk of all these things.”
So they went into the forest again, and the hare brought the boy water in a gourd and wonderful nuts to eat, and made him a soft bed of dry leaves.
And they talked of many things till the boy said: “My father is a potter, and I think I should like to be a potter too.” “If you are, you must never be content with poor work,” said the hare. “Your pottery must be the best in the country; never rest until you can make really beautiful things; no man has any right to send imperfect work out into the world.” “Nobody will believe in me when I go home; they will think I am mad,” said the boy. And the little hare answered: “Man’s life is like a river, which flows always on and on; what is past is gone for ever, but there is clear water behind; no man can say it is too late, and you are only a boy with your life before you.”
“They will laugh at me,” said the boy.
“Wise men don’t mind that,” said the hare; “only fools are discouraged by laughter; you must prove to them that you are not a fool. I will teach you a song to sing at your work; it will encourage you:
|“When the shadows have melted in silver dawn,
Farewell to my dreams of play.
The forest is full of a waking throng,
And the tree-tops ring with the birds’ new song,
And the flowers awake from their slumber long,
And the world is mine to-day.”My feet are sure and my hands are strong.
Let me labour and toil while I may.
When the Sun shall set in a sea of light,
And the shadows lengthen far into the night,
I shall take the rest which is mine by right,
For I’ll win the world to-day.”
… So the boy went back to his village, and he found his mother digging in the garden, and he knelt down and greeted her as all nice Baganda children do, and he saw how pleased she was. Then he went to his father, and said: “I want to be a potter; teach me your work and I will try to learn it.” And the potter was very much pleased to think that he would have a son to take on his trade after him, and all the people in the village heard and they rejoiced with the potter and his wife.
And the boy worked hard, and in after years he became a famous potter, and people came from all parts of the country to buy his pottery, for everyone knew that he never sold anything that was not beautiful and well made.
Source: THE KING OF THE SNAKES AND OTHER FOLK-LORE STORIES FROM UGANDA