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The Nunda Eater Of People

from The Violet Fairy Book





Once upon a time there lived a sultan who loved his garden
dearly, and planted it with trees and flowers and fruits from all
parts of the world. He went to see them three times every day:
first at seven o'clock, when he got up, then at three, and lastly
at half-past five. There was no plant and no vegetable which
escaped his eye, but he lingered longest of all before his one
date tree.

Now the sultan had seven sons. Six of them he was proud of, for
they were strong and manly, but the youngest he disliked, for he
spent all his time among the women of the house. The sultan had
talked to him, and he paid no heed; and he had beaten him, and he
paid no heed; and he had tied him up, and he paid no heed, till
at last his father grew tired of trying to make him change his
ways, and let him alone.

Time passed, and one day the sultan, to his great joy, saw signs
of fruit on his date tree. And he told his vizir, 'My date tree
is bearing;' and he told the officers, 'My date tree is bearing;'
and he told the judges, 'My date tree is bearing;' and he told
all the rich men of the town.

He waited patiently for some days till the dates were nearly
ripe, and then he called his six sons, and said: 'One of you
must watch the date tree till the dates are ripe, for if it is
not watched the slaves will steal them, and I shall not have any
for another year.'

And the eldest son answered, 'I will go, father,' and he went.

The first thing the youth did was to summon his slaves, and bid
them beat drums all night under the date tree, for he feared to
fall asleep. So the slaves beat the drums, and the young man
danced till four o'clock, and then it grew so cold he could dance
no longer, and one of the slaves said to him: 'It is getting
light; the tree is safe; lie down, master, and go to sleep.'

So he lay down and slept, and his slaves slept likewise.

A few minutes went by, and a bird flew down from a neighbouring
thicket, and ate all the dates, without leaving a single one.
And when the tree was stripped bare, the bird went as it had
come. Soon after, one of the slaves woke up and looked for the
dates, but there were no dates to see. Then he ran to the young
man and shook him, saying:

'Your father set you to watch the tree, and you have not watched,
and the dates have all been eaten by a bird.'

The lad jumped up and ran to the tree to see for himself, but
there was not a date anywhere. And he cried aloud, 'What am I to
say to my father? Shall I tell him that the dates have been
stolen, or that a great rain fell and a great storm blew? But
he will send me to gather them up and bring them to him, and
there are none to bring! Shall I tell him that Bedouins drove me
away, and when I returned there were no dates? And he will
answer, "You had slaves, did they not fight with the Bedouins?"
It is the truth that will be best, and that will I tell him.'

Then he went straight to his father, and found him sitting in his
verandah with his five sons round him; and the lad bowed his
head.

'Give me the news from the garden,' said the sultan.

And the youth answered, 'The dates have all been eaten by some
bird: there is not one left.'

The sultan was silent for a moment: then he asked, 'Where were
you when the bird came?'

The lad answered: 'I watched the date tree till the cocks were
crowing and it was getting light; then I lay down for a little,
and I slept. When I woke a slave was standing over me, and he
said, "There is not one date left on the tree!" And I went to
the date tree, and saw it was true; and that is what I have to
tell you.'

And the sultan replied, 'A son like you is only good for eating
and sleeping. I have no use for you. Go your way, and when my
date tree bears again, I will send another son; perhaps he will
watch better.'

So he waited many months, till the tree was covered with more
dates than any tree had ever borne before. When they were near
ripening he sent one of his sons to the garden: saying, 'My son,
I am longing to taste those dates: go and watch over them, for
to-day's sun will bring them to perfection.'

And the lad answered: 'My father, I am going now, and to-morrow,
when the sun has passed the hour of seven, bid a slave come and
gather the dates.'

'Good,' said the sultan.

The youth went to the tree, and lay down and slept. And about
midnight he arose to look at the tree, and the dates were all
there--beautiful dates, swinging in bunches.

'Ah, my father will have a feast, indeed,' thought he. 'What a
fool my brother was not to take more heed! Now he is in
disgrace, and we know him no more. Well, I will watch till the
bird comes. I should like to see what manner of bird it is.'

And he sat and read till the cocks crew and it grew light, and
the dates were still on the tree.

'Oh my father will have his dates; they are all safe now,' he
thought to himself. 'I will make myself comfortable against this
tree,' and he leaned against the trunk, and sleep came on him,
and the bird flew down and ate all the dates.

When the sun rose, the head-man came and looked for the dates,
and there were no dates. And he woke the young man, and said to
him, 'Look at the tree.'

And the young man looked, and there were no dates. And his ears
were stopped, and his legs trembled, and his tongue grew heavy at
the thought of the sultan. His slave became frightened as he
looked at him, and asked, 'My master, what is it?'

He answered, 'I have no pain anywhere, but I am ill everywhere.
My whole body is well, and my whole body is sick I fear my
father, for did I not say to him, "To-morrow at seven you shall
taste the dates"? And he will drive me away, as he drove away
my brother! I will go away myself, before he sends me.'

Then he got up and took a road that led straight past the palace,
but he had not walked many steps before he met a man carrying a
large silver dish, covered with a white cloth to cover the dates.

And the young man said, 'The dates are not ripe yet; you must
return to-morrow.'

And the slave went with him to the palace, where the sultan was
sitting with his four sons.

'Good greeting, master!' said the youth.

And the sultan answered, 'Have you seen the man I sent?'

'I have, master; but the dates are not yet ripe.'

But the sultan did not believe his words, and said; 'This second
year I have eaten no dates, because of my sons. Go your ways,
you are my son no longer!'

And the sultan looked at the four sons that were left him, and
promised rich gifts to whichever of them would bring him the
dates from the tree. But year by year passed, and he never got
them. One son tried to keep himself awake with playing cards;
another mounted a horse and rode round and round the tree, while
the two others, whom their father as a last hope sent together,
lit bonfires. But whatever they did, the result was always the
same. Towards dawn they fell asleep, and the bird ate the dates
on the tree.

The sixth year had come, and the dates on the tree were thicker
than ever. And the head-man went to the palace and told the
sultan what he had seen. But the sultan only shook his head, and
said sadly, 'What is that to me? I have had seven sons, yet for
five years a bird has devoured my dates; and this year it will be
the same as ever.'

Now the youngest son was sitting in the kitchen, as was his
custom, when he heard his father say those words. And he rose
up, and went to his father, and knelt before him. 'Father, this
year you shall eat dates,' cried he. 'And on the tree are five
great bunches, and each bunch I will give to a separate nation,
for the nations in the town are five. This time, I will watch
the date tree myself.' But his father and his mother laughed
heartily, and thought his words idle talk.

One day, news was brought to the sultan that the dates were ripe,
and he ordered one of his men to go and watch the tree. His son,
who happened to be standing by, heard the order, and he said:

'How is it that you have bidden a man to watch the tree, when I,
your son, am left?'

And his father answered, 'Ah, six were of no use, and where they
failed, will you succeed?'

But the boy replied: 'Have patience to-day, and let me go, and
to-morrow you shall see whether I bring you dates or not.'

'Let the child go, Master,' said his wife; 'perhaps we shall eat
the dates--or perhaps we shall not--but let him go.'

And the sultan answered: 'I do not refuse to let him go, but my
heart distrusts him. His brothers all promised fair, and what
did they do?'

But the boy entreated, saying, 'Father, if you and I and mother
be alive to-morrow, you shall eat the dates.'

'Go then,' said his father.

When the boy reached the garden, he told the slaves to leave him,
and to return home themselves and sleep. When he was alone, he
laid himself down and slept fast till one o'clock, when he arose,
and sat opposite the date tree. Then he took some Indian corn
out of one fold of his dress, and some sandy grit out of another.

And he chewed the corn till he felt he was growing sleepy, and
then he put some grit into his mouth, and that kept him awake
till the bird came.

It looked about at first without seeing him, and whispering to
itself, 'There is no one here,' fluttered lightly on to the tree
and stretched out his beak for the dates. Then the boy stole
softly up, and caught it by the wing.

The bird turned and flew quickly away, but the boy never let go,
not even when they soared high into the air.

'Son of Adam,' the bird said when the tops of the mountains
looked small below them, 'if you fall, you will be dead long
before you reach the ground, so go your way, and let me go mine.'

But the boy answered, 'Wherever you go, I will go with you. You
cannot get rid of me.'

'I did not eat your dates,' persisted the bird, 'and the day is
dawning. Leave me to go my way.'

But again the boy answered him: 'My six brothers are hateful to
my father because you came and stole the dates, and to-day my
father shall see you, and my brothers shall see you, and all the
people of the town, great and small, shall see you. And my
father's heart will rejoice.'

'Well, if you will not leave me, I will throw you off,' said the
bird.

So it flew up higher still--so high that the earth shone like one
of the other stars.

'How much of you will be left if you fall from here?' asked the
bird.

'If I die, I die,' said the boy, 'but I will not leave you.'

And the bird saw it was no use talking, and went down to the
earth again.

'Here you are at home, so let me go my way,' it begged once more;
'or at least make a covenant with me.'

'What covenant?' said the boy.

'Save me from the sun,' replied the bird, 'and I will save you
from rain.'

'How can you do that, and how can I tell if I can trust you?'

'Pull a feather from my tail, and put it in the fire, and if you
want me I will come to you, wherever I am.'

And the boy answered, 'Well, I agree; go your way.'

'Farewell, my friend. When you call me, if it is from the depths
of the sea, I will come.'

The lad watched the bird out of sight; then he went straight to
the date tree. And when he saw the dates his heart was glad, and
his body felt stronger and his eyes brighter than before. And he
laughed out loud with joy, and said to himself, 'This is MY luck,
mine, Sit-in-the-kitchen! Farewell, date tree, I am going to
lie down. What ate you will eat you no more.'

The sun was high in the sky before the head-man, whose business
it was, came to look at the date tree, expecting to find it
stripped of all its fruit, but when he saw the dates so thick
that they almost hid the leaves he ran back to his house, and
beat a big drum till everybody came running, and even the little
children wanted to know what had happened.

'What is it? What is it, head-man?' cried they.

'Ah, it is not a son that the master has, but a lion! This day
Sit-in-the-kitchen has uncovered his face before his father!'

'But how, head-man?'

'To day the people may eat the dates.'

'Is it true, head-man?'

'Oh yes, it is true, but let him sleep till each man has brought
forth a present. He who has fowls, let him take fowls; he who
has a goat, let him take a goat; he who has rice, let him take
rice.' And the people did as he had said.

Then they took the drum, and went to the tree where the boy lay
sleeping.

And they picked him up, and carried him away, with horns and
clarionets and drums, with clappings of hands and shrieks of joy,
straight to his father's house.

When his father heard the noise and saw the baskets made of green
leaves, brimming over with dates, and his son borne high on the
necks of slaves, his heart leaped, and he said to himself 'To-day
at last I shall eat dates.' And he called his wife to see what
her son had done, and ordered his soldiers to take the boy and
bring him to his father.

'What news, my son?' said he.

'News? I have no news, except that if you will open your mouth
you shall see what dates taste like.' And he plucked a date, and
put it into his father's mouth.

'Ah! You are indeed my son,' cried the sultan. 'You do not take
after those fools, those good-for-nothings. But, tell me, what
did you do with the bird, for it was you, and you only who
watched for it?'

'Yes, it was I who watched for it and who saw it. And it will
not come again, neither for its life, nor for your life, nor for
the lives of your children.'

'Oh, once I had six sons, and now I have only one. It is you,
whom I called a fool, who have given me the dates: as for the
others, I want none of them.'

But his wife rose up and went to him, and said, 'Master, do not,
I pray you, reject them,' and she entreated long, till the sultan
granted her prayer, for she loved the six elder ones more than
her last one.

So they all lived quietly at home, till the sultan's cat went and
caught a calf. And the owner of the calf went and told the
sultan, but he answered, 'The cat is mine, and the calf mine,'
and the man dared not complain further.

Two days after, the cat caught a cow, and the sultan was told,
'Master, the cat has caught a cow,' but he only said, 'It was my
cow and my cat.'

And the cat waited a few days, and then it caught a donkey, and
they told the sultan, 'Master, the cat has caught a donkey,' and
he said, 'My cat and my donkey.' Next it was a horse, and after
that a camel, and when the sultan was told he said, 'You don't
like this cat, and want me to kill it. And I shall not kill it.
Let it eat the camel: let it even eat a man.'

And it waited till the next day, and caught some one's child.
And the sultan was told, 'The cat has caught a child.' And he
said, 'The cat is mine and the child mine.' Then it caught a
grown-up man.

After that the cat left the town and took up its abode in a
thicket near the road. So if any one passed, going for water, it
devoured him. If it saw a cow going to feed, it devoured him.
If it saw a goat, it devoured him. Whatever went along that road
the cat caught and ate.

Then the people went to the sultan in a body, and told him of all
the misdeeds of that cat. But he answered as before, 'The cat is
mine and the people are mine.' And no man dared kill the cat,
which grew bolder and bolder, and at last came into the town to
look for its prey.

One day, the sultan said to his six sons, 'I am going into the
country, to see how the wheat is growing, and you shall come with
me.' They went on merrily along the road, till they came to a
thicket, when out sprang the cat, and killed three of the sons.

'The cat! The cat!' shrieked the soldiers who were with him.
And this time the sultan said:

'Seek for it and kill it. It is no longer a cat, but a demon!'

And the soldiers answered him, 'Did we not tell you, master, what
the cat was doing, and did you not say, "My cat and my people"?'

And he answered: 'True, I said it.'

Now the youngest son had not gone with the rest, but had stayed
at home with his mother; and when he heard that his brothers had
been killed by the cat he said, 'Let me go, that it may slay me
also.' His mother entreated him not to leave her, but he would
not listen, and he took his sword and a spear and some rice
cakes, and went after the cat, which by this time had run of to a
great distance.

The lad spent many days hunting the cat, which now bore the name
of 'The Nunda, eater of people,' but though he killed many wild
animals he saw no trace of the enemy he was hunting for. There
was no beast, however fierce, that he was afraid of, till at last
his father and mother begged him to give up the chase after the
Nunda.

But he answered: 'What I have said, I cannot take back. If I am
to die, then I die, but every day I must go and seek for the
Nunda.'

And again his father offered him what he would, even the crown
itself, but the boy would hear nothing, and went on his way.

Many times his slaves came and told him, 'We have seen
footprints, and to-day we shall behold the Nunda.' But the
footprints never turned out to be those of the Nunda. They
wandered far through deserts and through forests, and at length
came to the foot of a great hill. And something in the boy's
soul whispered that here was the end of all their seeking, and
to-day they would find the Nunda.

But before they began to climb the mountain the boy ordered his
slaves to cook some rice, and they rubbed the stick to make a
fire, and when the fire was kindled they cooked the rice and ate
it. Then they began their climb.

Suddenly, when they had almost reached the top, a slave who was
on in front cried:

'Master! Master!' And the boy pushed on to where the slave
stood, and the slave said:

'Cast your eyes down to the foot of the mountain.' And the boy
looked, and his soul told him it was the Nunda.

And he crept down with his spear in his hand, and then he stopped
and gazed below him.

'This MUST be the real Nunda,' thought he. 'My mother told me
its ears were small, and this one's are small. She told me it
was broad and not long, and this is broad and not long. She told
me it had spots like a civet-cat, and this has spots like a
civet-cat.'

Then he left the Nunda lying asleep at the foot of the mountain,
and went back to his slaves.

'We will feast to-day,' he said; 'make cakes of batter, and bring
water,' and they ate and drank. And when they had finished he
bade them hide the rest of the food in the thicket, that if they
slew the Nunda they might return and eat and sleep before going
back to the town. And the slaves did as he bade them.

It was now afternoon, and the lad said: 'It is time we went
after the Nunda.' And they went till they reached the bottom and
came to a great forest which lay between them and the Nunda.

Here the lad stopped, and ordered every slave that wore two
cloths to cast one away and tuck up the other between his legs.
'For,' said he, 'the wood is not a little one. Perhaps we may be
caught by the thorns, or perhaps we may have to run before the
Nunda, and the cloth might bind our legs, and cause us to fall
before it.'

And they answered, 'Good, master,' and did as he bade them. Then
they crawled on their hands and knees to where the Nunda lay
asleep.

Noiselessly they crept along till they were quite close to it;
then, at a sign from the boy, they threw their spears. The Nunda
did not stir: the spears had done their work, but a great fear
seized them all, and they ran away and climbed the mountain.

The sun was setting when they reached the top, and glad they were
to take out the fruit and the cakes and the water which they had
hidden away, and sit down and rest themselves. And after they
had eaten and were filled, they lay down and slept till morning.

When the dawn broke they rose up and cooked more rice, and drank
more water. After that they walked all round the back of the
mountain to the place where they had left the Nunda, and they saw
it stretched out where they had found it, stiff and dead. And
they took it up and carried it back to the town, singing as they
went, 'He has killed the Nunda, the eater of people.'

And when his father heard the news, and that his son was come,
and was bringing the Nunda with him, he felt that the man did not
dwell on the earth whose joy was greater than his. And the
people bowed down to the boy and gave him presents, and loved
him, because he had delivered them from the bondage of fear, and
had slain the Nunda.

[Adapted from Swahili Tales.]





Next: The Story Of Hassebu

Previous: The History Of Dwarf Long Nose



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