A Man that Stipulated with the Bird

Here is a story:

There once was a great village that was inhabited by people. And then Famine struck the village and people began to die off. In that village there lived a man with his wife and three kids; two sons and a daughter. The old man was a hunter and enjoyed hunting immensely with his dogs. One day, he woke up early in the morning to go hunting with his dogs in the bush. When leaving for hunting, he told his wife and kids: I’m going for a walk in the bush so I can at least find some honey. After some time had passed in the bush, he had not killed one animal or found any good honey. He had gone deep into the bush and yet he hadn’t even found a Kaffir orange to eat.

He then noticed that dark clouds were hanging over him with walls of rain pouring out. When he noticed the walls of rain, he quickly ran back to the village. As he approached the village, he noticed smoke coming from a distance. Running, he came close to the area where the smoke was coming from and discovered it was coming from a hollow in a tree. When he came closer to the tree, he shouted: Where can I hide myself? The answer came from the hollow: In here!

So he climbed the tree and entered the hollow where the answer came from. In the hollow he found a bird. The bird asked him where he was from and how he found himself there. The man explained everything and the bird plucked one of his own feathers and threw it on the fire. The feather turned into a giant mush. The bird plucked a second feather and put it on the fire. This feather turned into cooked meat. Then the bird gave the man the food and he ate. He ate and was satiated, and then the bird gave him some other food to take to his family back to his village. As the man went on his way, the bird instructed the man not to tell anyone in the village (about the food and the tree). The man thanked the bird sincerely and returned to the village with the food the bird had given him.

When he reached the village it was after sunset and was already dark. When he returned home, he found his wife and children dying of hunger but when the kids saw the food they became very happy and ate until they were full. All the while, the man kept his secret as he was asked to do by the bird.

The next morning he went to the bush in the same direction, and as it started to darken and clouds overwhelmed the sky he hoped to hide himself in the same hollow. When he found the tree where the hollow was, he yelled out loud in the direction to the hollow, saying: Where can I hide myself from the rain? The answer came from the hollow: In here! Without hesitation, the man climbed the tree and entered the hollow. The bird asked him if he had betrayed the secret about this place to anyone in the village and the man answered: I didn’t say anything about the subject. Once again, the bird prepared him some food and he also prepared some more to take back to his village.

He returned to the village and brought the same food back to his family as before. As they were eating, the man revealed the secret and told his whole family the food that they were eating came from a bird. He told them that the bird plucks his feathers, burns them in the fire and turns them into food. His wife and his children gave him a stupid piece of advice which was the following: to catch the bird, kill him, and keep him at home with his feathers so they could use them for themselves. They thought they could use the birds feathers to help them get through the hard times when there is no food.

Another day, the man went to the bush early in the morning and when he arrived back at the tree, he called out to the bird. The bird answered as it used to do all the past days. The man climbed the tree and went into the hollow as he had done before so many times. When he came into the tree, the bird asked immediately: Have you told the secret which I asked you not to tell to anyone in the village? Before the man could answer, the bird pulled out an axe and cut off the man’s hands and then he threw the man’s hands out of the hollow. The man returned to village without any hands. When he reached his house, he was very sad and felt ashamed. As he was walking home he became furious with his wife and children because he felt that they were responsible for the tragedy which had occurred to him. Yet, it was not the fault of his wife or his kids that the misfortune fell upon him. He found himself in such a miserable state through his own stupidity: he had made the promise to the bird not to betray his secret to anyone in the village. That’s why they say: An arrangement has to be an arrangement with whomever it is made with.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: keep promises faithfully or you may bring misfortune down upon yourself.

The Mambwe proverbs say: A thing which says: ‘Lumbwe climb up’, also says: ‘Lumbwe go down (Icikati lumbwe kwela, icikati lumbwe ika); You covered my eyes with a small skin of sheep (Wamvimba, kapapa ka nghonzi pa manso). English equivalent: “Actions speak louder than words”; “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”; “Deeds not words”; “Easier said than done”; “Fine words butter no parsnips”; “From word to deed is a great space”; “It is more easily said than done”; “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds”; “A promise costs nothing”; “A promise is a debt”; “Talk is cheap”.

Subjects: faithfulness – breaking one’s promise – trickery – misfortune


Written by Geoffrey Sinyangwe, 07th of September 1994.