Oral literature: the hunter with a good heart

There was a good and peaceful young man named Ponga. He was also an excellent hunter. One day he caught in a trap a ‘mugumbi’, a small forest animal that burrows underground. The poor beast begged him: “Let me go. You will see, one day I will help you!”

The next day he found rain in the trap, just the wet, cool rain. It too begged him: “What good will it do you if you kill me? Instead, if you leave me, one day I will be able to save you from some difficulty.”

Ponga had compassion this time too and let the rain go free. Another day he found ‘ulongo‘, the bird that throws down fruit from plants, in the trap, and moved with compassion, he set it free.

Then he found a mosquito. He was just about to crush it, remembering all the bites suffered by his fellow mosquitoes, but he gave in again to the poor thing’s pleas and let it go. His surprise was limitless when he found nothing less than the lightning bolt in its trap. Free him? How many fears he had suffered during thunderstorms. Indeed, lightning had once burnt down his hut. “But I can also do good works,” explained the lightning. “Was it, not I who gave you the fire? Perhaps one day I can save you too from some danger.”

Ponga let himself win this time too and released the lightning. But he never imagined he would catch what he found one day in his trap. He even found a beautiful girl.

“Friend,” she pleaded. “If you let me live, I will be your wife. Ponga eagerly accepted and immediately returned to the village to celebrate the wedding. Who had ever been as lucky as he was to have a wife without the big problem of a dowry?”

Even the villagers were astonished when they saw that young girl, and murmured: “Where did he find such a beautiful girl? He is a poor man and could not give anything to her father. For such a bride one would have to pay a fortune.”

The wedding was celebrated, and the newlyweds lived happily together for some time. Unfortunately, however, people’s envy soon began to target them. The bride especially felt increasingly annoyed by the criticism of her family, who found fault with everything she did or said: they pretended she was good for nothing. Finally, she lost her patience, and one fine day ran away.

Poor Ponga despaired and looked everywhere in vain. He went to consult the soothsayer and the latter explained to him: “Search in the area where you usually set your traps. You will find a large village, a little far away; there is your wife”.

Ponga searched again until he found the village, and there he was told that the very head of the village was the father of the woman he sought. He looked here and there and realised that all the girls in the village were identical. How could he recognize his bride?

The chief explained to him that his daughter had been taken by deception and had been mistreated; if he wanted her back, he had to overcome many trials. The young man agreed. Then the chief gave him a small knife, so small that it would be called a toy, and ordered him to cut down the tree at the head of the village, burn it, and reduce it to charcoal by the next day.

The poor young man looked at the tree and the small knife: what could he do? The tree was two metres in diameter! He was about to despair when a voice whispered to him: “Courage! I am here. One day you freed me from the trap and now I want to help you. Go to that hill and wait.”

It was now evening. The clouds thickened and the storm was announced with lightning and thunder. All the people ran to their homes. The lightning, it was he who had spoken, struck the tree, which collapsed with a great crash, burning like a huge torch. The hunter ran; but now wondered how to extinguish that immense fire? He looked around and at that moment heard a cool voice saying to him: “Don’t be afraid. You helped me and now I will help you too. I am the rain.”

Suddenly the sky’s cataracts opened, and a violent rain fell, which quickly extinguished the fire and reduced the plant to an immense brazier. Then the sky became clear again.

The next day, the villagers all came and made a good supply of coal. But the chief was not satisfied. “You have won but by trickery,” he said, “we will see if you can pass the other test, I have prepared for you.” He led him into the forest at the foot of a tall tree laden with fruit.

“Tomorrow morning,” he said “all those fruits must be on the ground in piles. But woe betide you if you break a twig from the tree”. The hunter looked up and felt lost. No one had ever been able to climb that plant because the trunk and branches were swarming with poisonous insects and their bite was deadly.

But this time, too, help came to the desperate young man. It was the bird he had freed from the trap. He told him: “Go and sleep peacefully. In the morning the fruit will all be on the ground.”

The bird immediately began its work, and, in a few hours, the fruit was all taken down. When the chief came to see, he was astonished: how had that young man managed to pluck all the fruit without suffering a sting and without dropping a leaf? But shaking his head he said: “I don’t believe that what you do is the result of your skill. I want another test. You must eat five baskets of food. If within three hours you have not finished, I will kill you.”

And he locked him in a hut with a mountain of food that would have been enough to feed the entire village. Not even an elephant could have swallowed all that in three hours! The young man was about to burst into tears when a voice made him turn around.

It was ‘mugumbi‘, the burrowing animal he had freed. “Listen to me – he said – I want to help you because you helped me. I have already dug a nice hole here in a corner: throw everything in and cover it well with the earth”.

The young man did so, and the chief had to see that the food was no longer there. But he did not give up. “Tomorrow – he said – I will test you for the last time. I will line up all the girls of the village in front of you. If you can recognize your wife, she will be yours: if not, I will kill you.”

Poor Ponga had already seen that all the girls in the village were the same. It was impossible for him to distinguish his wife. He was now thinking of running away, and giving up his woman when he heard a little voice whispering in his ear: “Don’t give up, I will help you. I am the mosquito you saved. Be careful: tomorrow when you are in front of the girls, I will tell you which one is yours.”

The next day, when the sun had travelled a quarter of the way, all the young women of the village were ready in line in front of the chief’s hut. Ponga was led in front of the young women and felt his head spin: all the girls were identical.  But he heard the mosquito’s voice in his ear and regained confidence. He began to move slowly, stopping for a moment in front of each woman. Towards the end of the line, the friendly voice whispered to him: “Here she is.”

Ponga raised his hand and pointed to his wife. A cry of astonishment went up from those present. The chief declared himself defeated and handed his daughter over to the hunter. A great feast was had, and towards evening Ponga with his wife and a procession of bearers laden with gifts returned triumphant to his village. His goodness had had the deserved reward. It always happens like this: if you have a good heart and help others in their difficulties, you, too, will be helped when you need it.

(Folktale from Lena People, DR Congo) – (123rf.)

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