Africa Speaks: Heritage

Sirba river near Niger river confluence, Niger, 1992

Contents:. . . Samba and the King . . .Baba Tene . . . Monkey Sorrows . . . home page

Samba and the King

Oumarou Hamadou

This story is a popular story among Fulani society. I heard it first from my grandmother when I was a little child, but people still tell it to their children.

Each society has its own way of life. In the society in which this story happened courage and love are the major important things of life.

There was a young girl named Lobo. She was a very beautiful girl, loved by everyone in the area. She was always staying home, silent and thoughtful. She refused all of the men who came to ask for her hand in marriage. She was well bred, beautiful, intelligent and hard working. Her society and her parents were very proud of her.

It happened that there was a young handsome man named Samba, who was as courageous as a lion. He never talked to any of the girls, even though all of the girls loved him. That made the men jealous.

Among the people of this society, they say that you must love, but love the beautiful and the good one. This complicated life enough to make people fight each other or even become potential enemies forever.

Samba and Lobo met and a strong love burst between them. They loved each other very much. When all of the villagers got together, Samba and Lobo's love became a famous story to tell. Some time after their meeting, they planned a marriage. The news spread everywhere.

However, tradition forbids the man and the woman to meet during the ceremony. It was at this time that a very bad thing happened to Samba.

Ana, the king of Dera, as the area was called, interrupted the marriage. It was in the middle of the day when Ana arrived on his horse, preceded by a man playing the "molo," the traditional guitar. He was shouting the name of the king and adding Lobo's name, saying she was the king's wife.

In the afternoon the village was informed that instead of Sambo marrying Lobo, it was the king himself who was going to marry Lobo. And, the story goes, the king married Lobo that same day.

The king brought many marvels to show his difference from a simple villager. Many people came from the king's city to Lobo's village to congratulate her.

Then the whole village was troubled by noises of all kinds. The enemies of Samba, both men and women, were happy because he lost his hope. Both Samba and Lobo's families were suffering. They agreed to the chief's order only to avoid being imprisoned. They know that there is no way to escape the king.

Samba was deeply affected by the event. At the beginning he was very sure of himself. Unfortunately he lost all of his confidence after the King married Lobo; life had no meaning anymore.

A few days later people in the village were saying that Samba was going mad. Samba knew that he wasn't going mad, though he was near to being so. He left the village and went to live alone in the bush. Was he really mad or was he thinking of a way for revenge?

After months of planning Samba left the bush and village. He told no one of his destination. On the way he asked directions to the king's city, prudently hiding his identity. When he got to the city he went to see the king's compound. Then he had new hope.

From time to time he visited the area and looked around the king's home. It was guarded by seventy one soldiers, the last one being the chief. The chief soldier was a tall and strong man, very black with red eyes. The king had a lot of confidence in him. He could issue any orders and all of the soldiers obeyed.

The chief soldier was the only one allowed to speak to the king's wives. The king always asked him what was happening around his kingdom. The chief soldier happened to notice Samba always passing the king's door when it was open and looking in with interest.

At the king's home Lobo was placed on the seventh floor the king's palace. She spent her time there, chatting with the other wives when the king wasn't present. One day she asked the king if she could go on a walk for a whole day because she was sick of sitting in the same place. The King chose the next Friday.

When that Friday came around she went out of the palace. When she came to the door, she called the chief soldier to ask questions. She said that she wanted to take a walk with him, and if he agreed she would give him a gold coin. The chief soldier agreed and she asked him if any man was snooping around the house from time to time. She pulled a bag off her wrist and gave it to the chief telling him to show it to the man, and if the man recognized it, to sneak him in. The chief agreed.

Lobo continued to the market and bought a few things. When she returned she showed the king what she brought and told him that the journey had been good.

The next day when Samba passed near the palace, the chief soldier called him and showed him the bag, Samba grabbed it and kissed it. Samba asked him how he got the bag. The chief soldier told him to come back at midnight.

At midnight Samba was at the door. Before he could enter, the chief soldier had made some complicated arrangements. First he had to make sure that the king would not sleep in Lobo's room that night. Then he warned Lobo that Samba was coming. Finally he had to make all of the soldiers go to sleep earlier that night, so he put a potion in their drink.

Samba entered safely into the palace. The chief soldier showed him to Lobo's room, then returned to the door. Samba was carrying a knife and a molo when he entered Lobo's room. When Samba put his hand on the bed to wake up Lobo, instead of a woman's head he touched a man's beard. Samba immediately put his knife to the king's throat. The king remained silent as if he was still sleeping.

Samba remained on the bed putting one foot on the king's neck to hold the knife while he played the molo. He played and sang all night, claiming himself as the real husband. When the day started to break Samba left and fled into the city.

Early that morning the king called the chief soldier in to ask him about what happened during the night. The chief soldier said that he did not notice any thing in particular, and interpreted the situation as mysterious and inexplicable. Although the chief was supposed to kill any intruders, he was unable to find the disorderly man.

Because the dangerous man had been playing the molo, the king had all of the molo players to be brought before him. One by one they were questioned and then killed. Some of them fled.

Samba heard about what the king was doing. Immediately Samba went to the meeting, where he found dead bodies of molo players.

All of the people were watching the murders. Samba said that he wanted to see the king. He was a molo player who was going to clarify the situation in front of everybody. The king said that he could speak, but then he would be killed like the others anyway.

First Samba asked the king when, where, and how could a poor molo player disturb a king. The king got confused because he could not say that someone came in the middle of the night, found him with his wife, then played a song for her, and safely left.

After that, Samba asked everybody, particularly the old men, to listen to his story and judge.

He said, "All of you knew that the king's wife had been my darling. I planned to marry her. On the eve of our marriage, the king came and took her away. I wanted to know if he was really a king. We all know that a king must be courageous because war could break out at any time.

" I went to his palace in the middle of the night, I arranged it with the chief soldier to take me to Lobo's house. When I found the king lying next to her I placed my knife to his neck. He remained silent as if he were sleeping. I played the molo and sang, claiming Lobo as my wife. The king did not wake up.

"Was he a king or a coward? He killed many molo players when he knew that I was the only one who could risk such things. There I was. He could do what he wanted."

People were very astonished. Some said that the best thing to do was to cut Samba's body into small pieces.

Some said that it would be better to cut his hands and feet, cook them, and make him eat them.

Then a very old man appeared with white hair and white beard. Even his eyes were white. He said that the young man was not to be killed. He was courageous and intelligent and he would help very much in the life of our society.

He said, "Great King, you must reward the ones who are good to you. Give him that wife and other goods as well, so that tomorrow if something bad happens you could call on him for his help, and he would answer. Do so my lord, it would be better than killing him and making enemies."

The king accepted the old man's saying and that was the way Samba reconquered his love. For once a poor man defeated a king.

Copyright © 1998 Oumarou Hamadou


Camels and packs, Filingue market, Niger, 1992

Baba Tene

Tahirou Hamissou

Baba Tene is my grandfather. He lives in my home town, Bilma. I have a special consideration for that man of sixty nine years old.

His name was Tene and we nicknamed him "Baba Tene" because of his fondness to see himself among us, his grandsons. This nickname means "Our Old Father Tene" in our local language.

Baba Tene used to tell us folk tales. We liked him because of his sense of humor. The stories are told in the evenings. We sat around a wood fire or under the moonlight, and folk tales followed.

Baba Tene would not start his narration until he asked for cola nuts. Therefore we managed to keep cola nuts for the "story times." After he had eaten some, he said "He who brings cola nuts brings life" and the tales went forward.

Nobody knew what he meant by these words. One day Lela, my cousin (daughter of my Uncle's cousin's brother), asked him the meaning of his words.

"Cola nuts are very valuable fruits indeed," came the reply. And Baba Tene told us the story of Ku-Kuru the tortoise to show us how much cola nuts are valued in our society.

"Once upon a time," he began, "Ku-Kuru the Tortoise wanted to get married. He (the tortoise) was asked to bring a basketful of cola nuts to his in-laws. And he did it. The wedding ceremony was held and everyone was eating the cola nuts Ku-Kuru had brought. People told him thanks and blessed him. That's the reason why," Baba Tene concluded, "that a tortoise can live as long as a century and a half, for he who brings cola nuts brings life."

Copyright © 1998 Tahirou Hamissou


Carpet merchant at Filingue market, Niger, 1992

Monkey Sorrows

"Rah Man Youcif" 4/6/92

In Zarma traditional folk tales, the animals were once very thirsty during a drought season and were looking for water to drink.

Monkey and Hare went together to find water. On the way to the well, they met Hyena. Monkey, Hare, and Hyena went together to the water.

Hare took a sip of water, then ran away. Monkey stayed and drank his fill. After drinking, Hyena wanted to eat the helpless Monkey.

Monkey sang this song to Hare, that intelligent, long eared, long legged rabbit of the bush:

I was very thirsty, it is true, it's true,
I met brother Hyena, it is true, it's true
We drank nice water, it is true, it's true
Now my brother Hyena, it is true, it's true
Wants to eat Monkey, it is true, it's true
Brother said flesh of monkey is good, it is true, it's true
Am I finished? It is true, it's true
Hare, you are the smartest one, it is true, it's true
Is the smartest one powerful? It is true, it's true
Always the best on earth? It is true, it's true

I explained the moral of this story to the American School students during a ceremony called Niger Week. It is an song that I translated into English, with the original music.

Copyright © 1998 "Rah Man Youcif" (pseud)

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