The Bird Mbaza that doesn’t Know what Real Laughter is

Here is a story:

There once was a village where people lived. In that village there lived a young man named Kilanji who went in search of a girl. He got engaged to a girl from another village. His mother did not know about it.

When the day of the wedding came, he married this girl. After the marriage Kilanji took her to his house where they stayed together. But the girl did not get pregnant and so she could not talk to her mother-in-law. When the mother-in-law made fish, the girl would shake her head because she did not like fish. The mother-in-law looked for other food for her. After finding the food, she gave it to her and she ate it. It was like this for a whole year through.

One day, there was no relish left so the mother-in-law could not give her anything to eat. The mother-in-law said: You woman! What can we do since you do not eat fish? Thenshe said to herself: I will go to the bush and I will get something to cook for her. The mother-in-law went to the bush in search of something to cook. When she left, the girl said to herself: By the time she collects any food for relish, and comes back and gives it to me, I think I will die of hunger. Although I do not eat fish, I will try it. She went to her mother-in-law’s home and searched for some fish. The fish, which she ate had bones and one of the fish bones got caught in her throat and the girl could not say anything. No matter what she did, the bone would not come out. Then the small Weaver Bird came, it looked through the window and saw that the girl was in terrible pain. It said to herself: I will go and get the matchmaker. The matchmaker was a bird called a Nightjar. The Weaver Bird said: You matchmaker, come with me so I can show you what happened to the girl. The Nightjar said: What has happened to this girl? He replied: Come with me and you will see for yourself! The Nightjar replied: Is it good that I, the matchmaker, would go and see the girl as she is now? No, this is bad! The bird said: Hurry up!

The Nightjar went on his way and he noticed that the girl was wriggling on the floor. Then the Nightjar began to laugh and said: I have never seen anything like that. Since you don’t eat fish, how did this happen? The small Weaver Bird said: She doesn’t eat fish and she refused to eat it saying to the mother-in-law: ‘I do not eat fish’. But she was so hungry that she went and secretly took some fish and ate it. Then a fishbone got caught in her throat. Then the small Weaver Bird continued: Maybe you, Nightjar, could give me some advice how to make the girl well again. The Nightjar could do nothing but laugh. It came as a shock to the small Weaver Bird who said: You man, do not laugh! I ask you only to show me some medicine which can help to remove the fishbone stuck in her throat. The Nightjar could do nothing but laugh and said: I have never seen anything like it, and then laughed again. Therefore, the small Weaver Bird said to itself: What can I do? I have to go and get her mother-in-law. It followed the mother-in-law to the place she went. It found the mother-in-law scratching the ground for some groundnuts, saying to herself: Let me prepare some crushed groundnuts so that she can eat the mush with it. The small Weaver Bird flew over to the tree and sung:

Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
You daughter-in-law is in the village, Namumbaa.
The small bone choked her. Where have you gone, Namumbaa?
She drooped her head. Where have you gone?

The mother-in-law asked herself: What is the small bird singing about? Then she listened with attention as it sung:

Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
You daughter-in-law is in the village, Namumbaa.
The small bone choked her. Where have you gone, Namumbaa?
She drooped her head. Where have you gone?

Then the small Bird said: There is a bone stuck in the throat of your daughter-in-law. The mother-in-law replied: What kind of a bone could it be as my daughter-in-law does not eat fish? Then she said to herself: My daughter-in-law must have taken some fish and eaten it. Otherwise it would not have got stuck in her throat. She took some groundnuts which she dug out and carried them on her head. When the small Bird saw that the mother-in-law lifted the load, it followed her singing the same song:

Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
Namumbaa, Namumbaa, where have you gone?
You daughter-in-law is in the village, Namumbaa.
A small bone has choked her. Where have you gone, Namumbaa?
She drooped her head. Where have you gone?

The mother asked the Bird by saying: You bird, what is going on in the village? The Bird said: You have just heard what I said: ‘Your daughter-in-law has a fishbone stuck in her throat’! Since there is a fishbone in her throat, she must have taken some fish and eaten it. The Nightjar, the matchmaker, didn’t go and inform you, he is just laughing.

From the time the Bird went to get the mother-in-law, all the Nightjar did was laugh. He never stopped laughing. However, the girl was wriggling from pain and he was just laughing. The girl could not speak; she was in pain with the fishbone in her throat. Finally, the mother arrived and the Nightjar was still laughing. The mother-in-law, seeing him, was shocked and asked: Why are you laughing? The small Bird explained: He is laughing at a girl who said: ‘I do not eat fish’, but then ate it. Then the Nightjar said: Don’t you see how people refuse to do something: you refuse to eat something which in fact you do eat and it is what this girl did. This is why I am laughing and I have to say:I am ashamed for bringing such a girl who disgraced me in such a way’! The mother-in-law said: You girl, this is very bad! You should have told me long ago that you eat fish. I went looking for other relish for you to eat but you could eat the fish. So that you did not have to eat the fish. That is why the fish bones are stuck in your throat. Why did you take something which I did not give you? You woman, you made a big mistake.

Then they went to the Hare to do some divination. The Hare told them: Take a twig from a muntalembe tree and burn it like a torch. When you light it, you will find a little mouse. Then you must take the little mouse and make it drink some water. When you make the mouse drink some water, it will go by itself and spit some in the mouth of a girl. Then you will see the girl will be free.

However, it was evening and they had to look for the place where the mouse stayed and searched for it until they caught it. After catching the mouse they then searched for a pot of water from which nobody had drank before. They made the mouse drink from it. They took the mouse to the girl and it went and spat water in her mouth. Immediately, the fishbone went away from the girl; she coughed and started to speak. Since this moment the girl has often repeated:Mother, from now on I will never again refuse to eat something which in fact I do eat, saying: ‘I don’t eat that’.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: that is why the Nightjar has a big beak: it came about because of laughter and until now it has not come down to its normal size. Misfortunes should never be laughed at because it brings no luck.

The Mambwe proverbs say: You (who) laugh at a cripple, he (the cripple) will also laugh at you (Museka ndema, nayo ilakuseka).

Subjects: misfortune – laughing at


Told by Makrina Mpande from Vimbuli village (recorded).