The Orphans - Zeme Folktale


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There were once eight brothers whose parents had died, and having nothing to eat they went to the jhums and searched for tubers which the villagers had thrown away. A heramepai came, and said: "Grandchildren, what are you doing?" They said: "Grandmother, we have nothing to eat, and our parents are dead; we are looking for food." "Oh, then I will help you," said the ogress. "Come to my house and I will feed you. There will be no lack of food."

They went with her a long, long way and came to a river in flood. It was too big for them to get across. The ogress said: "Shut you eyes." They did so except the youngest, who peeped between his fingers and saw the ogress strike the water with her stick, so that it became less and less. When it was quite small she cried: "Come, come quickly!" and they went across.

They went on and on and came to a place where a fire was burning, and all the stones and leaves and trees were alight. The ogress said: "All of you shut your eyes and let none of you look." They all did as she said except the youngest, who peeped between his fingers again and saw her take off her petticoat and strike the fire with it, so that the fire died down. The ogress said: "Come, come quickly!" Then they all went across and went on and came to her house.

The ogress gave them good food and she killed fowls and gave them the meat. She said: "I am going to the fields. Don't look in the back room." The youngest of all went very quietly and peeped, and saw a big basket there full of human skulls. The little boy told one of his brothers: "Our grandmother told us not to look in the back room, but I went and peeped, and there is a basket there full of skulls. She will eat us too." The other boy scolded him and would not believe him.

The ogress had a daughter, and every day the daughter came from her husband's house and asked her mother: "Are they ready yet, or are they not?" The ogress said: "Don't make a noise, they will hear you!" The ogress asked the boys "Are your faeces hard or are they soft?" They all said they were very hard except the youngest one, and he said: "No, mine are very watery." The daughter kept on coming and asking: "Are they fat yet? Are they ready yet?" The ogress said: "Don't make a noise, they will hear and be frightened and run away."

At last the ogress said: "To-day we will have a feast. Go and fetch wood and water and leaves, and take handsome spears and put on fine clothes."

She took out fine clothes and gave them to them and they each took whatever they fancied and were very pleased. When they asked the youngest of all what he wanted, he said: "No, I don't like any of them." The ogress offered him clothes, but he would not have them, and a spear, but he would not have that.

"Well, what do you want?" she said.

"I don't want anything but your petticoat," he said.

"What?" she said. "Have you no shame? How can you wear an old woman's petticoat? It is old and dirty; why do you want it? I will give you any of the new clothes you like."

"No, I don't want the new clothes, I only want that."

"What shall I do? You're very stupid, you don't want good clothes." Then the ogress took off her petticoat and gave it to him. She asked him which spear he wanted. "No, I don't want any of them, I want your stick."

"What, there are good spears; why do you want a stick?"

"I only want the stick, I don't want a spear." So she gave him the stick.

Then all the brothers went off into the jungle, carrying their spears and wearing their fine clothes, to fetch leaves and wood for the feast. The youngest one said: "This evening they are going to eat us." "What?" said the others. "How can they eat us?"

"They will eat us, and we are fetching wood and water for that now. Come on, let's run away."

The others would not believe him, and he said: "Was she not always asking whether our faeces were hard or soft, to know whether we were ready to eat or not? If they are hard then she knows we are fat, but if soft, then we should still be thin." They began then to understand him a little. He said again: "Come, let's run away. When I looked in the back room it was full of human skulls." Then they agreed to run away and they all went, taking their fine clothes.

When they did not come back the ogress went to look for them. They came to the fire, and the youngest one fanned it with the petticoat and it died down and they got across. The ogress came, shouting out all the time. She was so angry that she got through the fire, although it burned her. The boys came to the river and the youngest one struck it with the stick, so that it shrank and grew less, and they got across. The ogress was close behind them, but she had not got her sick and so could not get across. The boys hid in the jungle and watched her, and she was so angry that she cried: "If I could catch them I would bite them like this!" and she snatched up a stone and bit it. Then, not being able to get across the river, she went back. Then the youngest one said: "There, you have all seen how she bit the stone to pieces; if it had not been for me she would have eaten us all like that." The others were all afraid and agreed that it was so. Then all went back to their own village, and what happened after that I don't know.

Ursula Graham's Collection


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