Oral Literature. The Mask of Genius

It was a scorching dawn. Scattered across the vast grassy savannah beyond the rocky mountains, the villages seemed to bleach under the thick blanket of clay dust that accompanies the dry season. Birds were singing in the azure sky.

On that day, a genie decided to make all butterflies disappear from the face of the earth at will. In truth, he was taking revenge for his own hideous appearance on all beautiful creatures.  Cheeky and cynical, he captured everything he found that was wonderful.

Around midday, a little girl would chase butterflies in the fields for fun. It was her favourite game. She saw a strange creature eating all the butterflies at a bend in the path. Outraged, she approached the creature to complain but was greatly disturbed by its appearance. Nevertheless, the little girl found the courage to speak up: “Give back the butterflies! You are bad.” Astonished, the genie said to her: “What are you interfering in?”

The genie, realising that he was dealing with a defenceless child, told her not to be afraid.  But the little girl, expressing her disapproval and indignation, asked him: “Why do you eat poor butterflies?” “Nature has not been good to me”, replied the genie, “I have all the powers in the world except the power to make myself more beautiful than I am. But don’t worry. The butterflies I swallow don’t die”.

“If that is the case”, the girl said, “then I can help. I will give you a beautiful mask in return, but you must release the butterflies you have swallowed from the earth.”

Intrigued, the genie promised to free all the beings he had imprisoned within him. Then he opened his belly as colourful as a rainbow and as immense as the horizon, within which one could see radiant flowers and lustrous green plants, and said “the rising sun”, laughing in the perfumed air.

The genie was so moved now that they could flutter with life. Thousands of white, yellow, violet, ochre and amber butterflies were seen soaring towards the girl’s heavenly soul.

They flew, danced and twirled, happy to see the light of day again. Splendid sulphurous veils spread in the wind breeze like heaps of gold. Particles of emerald mixed with crystalline dust filled the sky all around.

The child felt happy! Thrilled that the genie had kept his promise, she gathered the most beautiful flowers and made for him the most beautiful mask ever seen, with intoxicating fragrances.

Moved by so much human affection, the genie was amazed. Every time he wore his mask, butterflies would run to rest on it to enrich it with their beauty! (Folktale from Kenya) – (Photo:123rf)

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