rewritten by Phillip Martin
In my experience with African folktales, I've never heard those words "and they all lived happily ever after" at the end of the story. Usually the wrong-doers have a lesson to learn by the end of the tale, and they learn it the hard way! Almost always, the punishment is severe and the lesson is very clear. In this story, there certainly are some wrong-doers. You can decide for yourself if the punishment and lesson are clear enough.
It was not an easy time for the people of the village by the lake. Nabulela, a terrible snow-white monster, lived in those waters. And, he was a dangerous monster to say the least! To keep him happy, the villagers brought him offerings of porridge and bread each evening at sunset. They left the gifts by the water's edge and fled. They had good reason to run, too. For you see, the monster accepted the offerings of porridge and bread, but he really preferred to eat the people who brought the offerings.
Although the monster troubled the people of the village, their chief hardly noticed the problem. He had troubles of his own. His wives had given him many fine sons, but what he wanted more than anything was to have a daughter. This weighed upon the chief and distracted him from his duties. But finally, the day came when his favorite wife presented a beautiful daughter with lovely black eyes.
The little baby giggled and the chief was overjoyed. "We shall have a feast for my little princess," he declared. "This will be a feast like nobody has even seen throughout the land." The celebrating lasted for several days. But, even during the feasting, the villagers remembered to bring their offerings to Nabulela each evening at sunset.
The little princess could do no wrong in her father's eyes. As the years passed, she grew more and more lovely. There was no wish her father could deny her. He dressed her in the finest beads with exotic feathers and rare furs. This kind of treatment could have spoiled the young girl. However, she was kind and loving to everyone. And, the other girls in the village hated her.
"Look at her today!" hissed one of the older girls. "She is wearing another new necklace. This time it is one with a wooden amulet!"
"I hate her!" cried a little girl.
"Shhhh!" whispered her older sister. "We must never let the princess hear this."
Of course, they had to keep their feelings a secret among themselves. It would do them no good to let the chief know how they felt about his only daughter. So, they played with the princess, sang with her, and joined her on the daily trips to the river for water.
One day at the riverside, a little girl noticed a tiny paw waving about in the water. Most of the children giggled at the little puppy with a stone tied around his neck. But when the young princess saw it, she jumped into the water to rescue the animal from drowning. She held the puppy to her heart as she gently carried it home. As soon as the puppy fully recovered, the two were rarely seen apart. It was obvious to everyone that the princess and her puppy loved each other very much.
As the years passed, some things in the village changed. The princess grew into a lovely young maiden and her puppy grew old, too old to follow her on her daily trip to the river for water. But while some things changed, other things stayed the same. The girls in the village still hated the princess. If it was possible, their hatred had grown even stronger.
And on one day, as the girls went to the clay pits, something terrible happened. They were supposed to gather the red ochre that dancers smeared over their bodies for traditional celebrations. But as the girls collected the clay from the pit, they whispered among themselves and a terrible plan formed.
As the princess bent down to collect a last bit of clay, the other girls grabbed her. In just a matter of moments, she was tossed into the pit and covered with earth. Then, the girls collected their belongings and headed back to the village as if nothing had happened.
Only the puppy, now an old dog, noticed the girls as they returned home. He had been tied to a leash outside the chief's home because even at his age he still liked to follow the princess. At first he jumped for joy at the sight of the girls. But, when he didn’t see the chief's daughter, he cried out for her. In spite of his whining, nobody else noticed that the princess did not come home.
It wasn't till the chief returned in the evening that he noticed something was wrong. "Where is my daughter?" he wondered. "And, why is it that her dog has chewed through his leash and disappeared?" So, the chief asked the village girls if they had seen his daughter.
"No, we've not seen her all day," they lied. "She didn't come with us to the clay pit as she was supposed to."
And then one girl added, "She did mention something about meeting a stranger down by the watering hole this morning."
The chief called several of the village men to help him search for his daughter. Just as they grabbed their torches to head for the watering hole, the chief saw his daughter's dog limping down the trail towards home. The dog was covered from head to toe with clay. "Well, my faithful one, I can see you've been to the clay pit. But, why did you go there?" Then, he saw his daughter's necklace with the wooden amulet in the old dog's mouth.
Instantly, the chief knew the village girls had lied to him. "My daughter is at the clay pits! Come with me quickly!" With torches held high in the air, the chief and his men headed off to the clay pits. And, nobody could stop the old dog from making yet another trip back to his princess.
As they neared the clay pits, the old dog let out a low whine. It was greeted by a shout of joy from high up in a tree where the princess had climbed to escape a lion. As she hurried down from the tree, her father examined the scene. It was not difficult to see what had happened. He saw the pit where his daughter had been buried and the claw marks where her faithful dog had dug her out. And when he finally held his daughter, he saw smear marks over her face where her loyal friend had licked her back to life.
"Oh, Father,"cried the girl, "I feared I would never see you again!"
"If it had not been for your faithful old friend here, I hate to think what would have happened," smiled the chief. "I couldn't understand why he had clay all over himself until I found your wooden amulet in his mouth."
"Well, I saved his life so long ago," said the daughter. "I guess it is only right that he saved my life today."
There was great rejoicing throughout the village when the chief returned with his daughter. Everyone was thrilled to see the princess safely home. Well, that is everyone except the girls who had gone to the clay pits. They trembled, and for a good reason!
When the chief finally called the girls in front of him, he declared, "Those who give death should also be given death. But, I have learned something from this old dog. Sometimes it is also good to save a life. So, I will give you a chance to live, although you certainly don't deserve it. If you wish to live, you must bring me that terrible monster Nabulela. He has troubled our village long enough. Yes, bring me this creature and I will spare your lives."
It wasn't much of a choice for the group of girls. They faced a possible death at the hands of the terrible monster or certain death at the hands of their chief. But, they quickly devised a plan that they hoped just might save their lives and satisfy their chief.
At sunset, the girls set out for the lake with the porridge and bread that they always brought to Nabulela. However, instead of leaving it at the water's edge and fleeing, the girls dropped loaves of bread along the shore, tempting the monster out of the water. The bread and porridge didn't interest him as much as the girls who brought the offering. And since the girls remained along the shore, it didn't take long to get Nabulela's attention.
When the monster emerged from the water, the girls saw just how enormous the snow-white creature really was. And then, he roared and they saw just how many sharp teeth he had. That was too much for the girls. They dropped the porridge and fled back towards their village. Nabulela raced after them. It was lucky for the girls that they had a good lead, because he was a very fast creature.
The girls raced into the village and straight through the entrance of the royal cattle kraal with the monster just behind them. Of course, the girls had no plans to remain trapped in the kraal. They dashed through to the back exit and escaped. Immediately, two of their friends slammed the gate shut before Nabulela could follow. And then, two others locked the front entrance to the kraal. The great snow-white creature was trapped. It didn't take the girls' fathers long to finish the job their children had started. The great monster was no match for so many warriors with shields and spears.
The village girls created a magnificent snow-white cape for their chief. The chief not only forgave them, but he wore the cape over his shoulders for the rest of his life. And, of course, there was enough left over to make a matching snow-white cape for his daughter and her faithful old dog.