African Folklore: The Man Who Threw Away His Bread

his is the original Watercolour painting by James E McConnell.

A Zulu Tale

The tale of a man who was going on a journey carrying bread with him; he set out, having already eaten at home; and not knowing how to allowance himself by taking bread which was equal to his consumption, he took a large quantity of bread; he thought he should eat it all. He until he could eat no more. He could not tell what to do with it. He did not say to himself: “Let me carry it; perhaps there will be hunger ahead, and I shall want food; perhaps I may meet a man who is hungry.” No such thought crossed his mind. The thought of taking care of the remainder of the bread did not come to him; he did not wish to carry the bread because he was then full. He threw the bread on the lower side of the path, and so went on no longer burdened. He did not return by that path for many days. Mice took the bread and ate it all up.

It came to pass when the land died, it being killed by famine, as he was going by that way, going and digging up roots (for there was no corn left), the path made him remember the bread. He saw it still there, a year was as it were a day of yesterday. “This is the very place where I threw away my bread.” He arrived at the place; he saw where the bread had fallen; he said, “It fell yonder. He ran to find it. Though he searched, he could not find it. He began to look earnestly in the long grass, for it was very thick until some time had passed. He rose up, and thought, “Hawu! What happened after I threw away the bread? For I say, I do not yet forget the place where I threw it. No, surely there is no other; it is this very place.” He stooped down and searched. For whilst he is seeking, he is motivated and gains strength, “Though I am hungry, my hunger will end soon.” At length he was confused, he went up again to the path, he found the place where he first stood and he said, “I passed this place before I threw it away.” For where he threw it away was an ant heap he saw. “Ah when I was here, I did this!” He said this, imitating the action with his arm; the arm went in the direction in which he threw the bread. And now he runs quickly, following the direction of his arm. He arrives at the place, and at once felt about; he did not find the bread. He went back again and said “Hawu! What has become of my bread? Since I threw it exactly here; no man saw me, I being alone.” He ran. Finally, the time for digging roots had passed; he went home defeated; he dug no roots and he became faint again.

And that man is still living, yonder by the sea. The man told the tale when the country was at peace, and the famine at an end. It was a cause of great laughter that conduct of his, to all who heard it, and they said, “Famine makes a man dark-eyed. Did you ever see bread, having been thrown away one year, found in another year still good to eat?” he said, “Famine does not make a man clever. I thought I was seeking wisely, and should find it. Famine takes away wisdom. And for my part through my hunger, I believed in truth that I should find it; for I was alone. But in fact, the searching increased my want until I was nearly dead.”

What do you think is the lesson of the tale?

Please Note:

The story is difficult to follow, I tried to change the wording of the original transcription based on my knowledge of isiZulu, but since it had already been translated I could not get the true sense of what Harold Courlander was trying to convey.