Oral Literature: Why cattle can’t speak

A long time ago it is believed that the Pokot people were very similar to cattle. They could all speak the same language face to face and loved keeping the other company. They would also share duties among themselves and whenever there was an issue to discuss, they would do this during the night hours.

Food was never a problem among them, as it simply flowed down from the mountains and came to them by the rivers. They often had celebrations and on these occasions the cattle were always the ones to lead the dancing around a big fire at night. Life was good among them, and there was peace in the land.

One day it happened that a man’s child got sick. Because they were all friends, cow came to see how the child was. He was in a very bad state, and the next day a prophet was consulted. The prophet then told them that the only cure for the boy’s illness would be if a calf was to be slaughtered to break the curse that was on the boy. Man thus went to cow and told him what the prophet had said. Because they were such good friends and because a blood sacrifice was part of their culture, cow agreed and gave her calf to man.

The only thing that cow asked of man was that he should slaughter the calf with a sharp stone, never break any of its bones and lastly that the tongue and liver of the calf should be given back to the cow so that she could bury it. Man promised this to cow but went on his way home and disregarded everything that cow asked of him. He killed the calf with a spear instead of a stone, he broke many of its bones and finally he threw away its tongue and liver.

The following day cow arrived at man’s house to see how it all had gone and to collect the tongue and liver of its calf. When he arrived, he instantly saw all the horrible things that man had done. At this cow got very annoyed and their friendship broke down completely.

After a while man started to miss his friend dearly and at long last, he went to say to cow that he was sorry. He even took some honey with him to put on cows’ tongue for her to enjoy, but cow would have none of it. She was so angry at man that she refused to accept the honey or open her mouth, for it all reminded her about the tongue of her calf being thrown away so carelessly.

That is the reason why cattle do not eat honey like men. And because cow refused to speak or open her mouth for such a long time, all cattle lost their ability to speak. Since that day, men and cattle do not share a special friendship anymore.

(Folktale from Pokot people – Kenya.  Elijah Deba)

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