African Folklore: A Kikuyu Folktale - Mukunga M'bura

A Kikuyu Warrior. photographer unknown.

A Kikuyu Tale from Kenya

There was once a small boy who was herding the goats and his father came and pointed out to him some long and luxurious grass and told him to take them there to feed. So he pastured the goats there that day, and took them there the following day. Now the next day while the goats were feeding, the owner of the pasture appeared, and said to the boy, “Why are you feeding your goats on my grass?” And the boy replied, “It is not my doing for my father told me to come here.” And he said, “This evening I will go to your father’s house and talk to him.” Now the owner of the grazing ground was a man very big and tall, and his name was Mukunga M’bura, so in the evening he came to the home of the boy and said to his father, “Why were your goats eating my grass when you could see I had set boundaries around it?” [That is, he had put up signs to show that the pasture was protected by his medicine.]

The father said, “That is my affair.” So he said, “As you have done this, I will eat you and all your people,” to which the father replied , “You shall do no such thing.” So the young men sharpened their swords and their spears, but Mukunga M’bura was too strong for them, and he ate the father, and the young men, and the women, and the children, and the oxen, and the goats, and then he ate the house and the barns, so there was nothing left. The only person who escaped was the little boy, who ran away and hid in the grass so that Mukunga M’bura did not see him.

Now he made himself a bow and shot wild game, and became very strong and built himself a house; and at last he said, when he was full grown, “Why do I stay here? I am big and strong. Mukunga M’bura who killed my father and all my people still lives.” So he took his sword, sharpened it and went to the district where Mukunga M’bura lived, and as he drew near he saw him coming up out of the great water where he lived. He shouted to him, “Tomorrow I will come and kill you.” And he went back and ate more meat so as to be stronger than ever. The next day he went again, but Mukunga M’bura was not to be seen; but the third day he met him again, and said to the warrior, “Do not strike me with your sword over the heart or I shall die, but open my middle finger,” so the warrior did as he was told, and he said, “make a big hole not a little one.” And the warrior made a big hole, and out came first the father, whom Mukunga M’bura had eaten, and then the young men, and the women, and the cattle, and the sheep, and the houses, and the food stores just as before. And Mukunga M’bura said, “Will you now kill me?” and the warrior said, “No, I will spare you for you have restored my father, his people and his goods, but you must not eat them again.” And Mukunga M’bura replied, “They shall be safe.”

The warrior and his people went back and rebuilt their homesteads, but the warrior thought to himself, “Now this mukunga M’bura is big, strong and very bad. He has eaten many people. He may come again and destroy my father.” So he called the young men and asked them to come and fight Mukunga M’bura with him. They all prepared for war and went to the home of Mukunga M’bura. He saw them coming and said, “Why are you here to slay me? Have I not given you back your people?” But the warrior replied, “You are evil; you have killed and eaten many people; therefore you shall die.” Then they all fell upon him and slew him, cut off his head and hewed his body in pieces. But a big piece separated itself from the rest of the body which was dead and went back into the water, and the warrior returned home and told his brothers that he had slain Mukunga M’bura, all but one leg. “But tomorrow,” he said, “I will go into the water and get that leg and burn it.” His mother urged him not to go, but the next day he went, and the when he got to the place there was no water to be seen, only cattle and goats, for what remained of Mukunga M’bura had gathered together his children and taken all the water and gone very far, but he had left behind his livestock. So the warrior went back and brought his people to gather the cattle and goats together and take them back to their own homestead.