post Tales from Abyssinia

March 11th, 2010

Filed under: Historical Stories — Lissan Magazine @ 13:49

By Enno Littmann
(click here to read about Enno Littmann)

Preface (Abridged)
As the title says, the reader will find translations of tales, customs, names and dirges of the Tigre tribes. A great many of the tales refer, like those of the other Abyssinian tribes, to animals. Some of them may have come from countries farther east, lastly from India; but I believe that most of them are indigenous to the Abyssinian soil……

Two men met each other on the road; and each of them had a donkey. Then the men greeted each other: the donkeys, also, putting their mouths together sniffed at each other. And the one man asked his fellow saying : “We have greeted each other. Why have the donkeys also put their heads together?” The other man answered him: “Doest thou not know this? The donkeys have sent a strong donkey to the Lord to enter their plaint before him, that is to say, that the Lord should free them from under [the tyranny] of men. Now they ask each other saying: ‘Has the messenger-donkey returned or not’?” And it is said that all donkeys ask each other about this matter putting their mouths together. By this tale it is seen that every creature longs for liberty.

These four, the ox, the sheep, the chicken and the donkey were living together by themselves on a mountain. And while they were living there, the mountain became waste (unto them). And they sent the donkey that he should spy out for them a place of water and grass. He went and found a place of water and grass. Then after he had eaten and drunk by himself, he returned, when it grew evening: but what he had found he hid from them. And they asked him: “Hast thou perhaps found something for us?” The donkey answered: “I have not found anything.” The chicken, however, said unto him: “Show us thy mouth, please!” And when he showed it to them [opening his lips], they saw the traces of the grass that he had eaten. Then the chicken said to him: “How thou hast betrayed us!” But the donkey said: “I found a little bit of ‘grass when I was going back to you and put it into my mouth; but I did not find [a place].”

And the second time they sent the ox that he should spy out for them a place of water and grass. When the ox had found water and grass he ate and drank and returned to his company, and said to them: “I have found water and grass; come, let us go there.” And they went there and lived together. The donkey became fat and spry; and he said unto his company: “Allow me to bray one single time!” But they answered: “No, be silent, lest hearing thy bray our enemies come and destroy us!” The donkey, however, entreated them much, and because he importuned them, they said to him: “Well then, bray once, [but] softly!” The donkey, however, brayed with a loud voice. Now the fox and the leopard were together; and when the fox heard the bray, he said to the leopard: “I have heard the bray of a donkey.” But the leopard answered: “In this desert thou hast not heard the voice of an animal, thou liest.” Again the donkey having asked his company brayed another time. Then the fox and the leopard both of them heard the bray of the donkey. The leopard said to the fox: “Thou art right.” And the fox and the leopard went towards them. When they were near them, the fox said to the leopard : “There they are”; but the fox fled himself. When the four animals saw the leopard they were much frightened. But the chicken advised them: “If now the leopard jumps forward to kill us, I shall fly and pick out his ‘two eyes; thou, ox, pierce him [with thy horns]; and thou, sheep, knock him with thy head; and thou, donkey, trample him down.” The leopard jumped upon them, but they all acting according to the advice of the chicken killed the leopard. And they skinned him and took his hide; then they spread out his hide. Now the fox led the elephants to them. The four animals, however, were frightened, when they saw the elephants. But the chicken thinking “the elephants shall themselves destroy each other”, said to the elephants: “The greatest of you shall sit upon this leopard’s skin!” The elephants said: “I shall sit upon it.” “No, I shall sit upon it”, and they killed each other with [the words] “I am greater.”

The fox, then, led the hyaenas to them thinking: “Now they shall perish.” When the hyaenas came to the four animals they said unto the chicken: “Come to us, that we may hold a council!” But the chicken answered: “Let one hyaena with a load of grass upon his back come to me that I may ride upon him and come to you!” And then he said to his company: “After I shall have mounted the hyaena loaded with grass, when I say to you: ‘Give me a whip’, then give me a burning piece of wood!” And when they had brought him, the chicken mounted the hyaena loaded with grass. And he said to his company: ‘Give me a whip’; and they gave him the burning wood. And he flew away after having put the kindling wood into the grass. The hyaena, when the grass upon his back took fire, ran to his company; but his company fled from him. In this way all the hyaenas fled from them. Thereupon the chicken said to his company: “Let us go home! The ox shall join the cattle, the sheep the sheep, the donkey the donkeys: let each one of you thus join his company. But I shall gather the droppings of roast corn in my Kabasa 1 ).” And for this reason the chickens became plentiful in the land of Kabasa and live there until the present day. [This is what] they say.

A man ploughed a field, and after his field had become very fine, he made a hedge around it, lest the boar should enter it. The boar then came to the field, but he did not find any way in which he might enter it. Thereupon he went to the fox and said to him: “Advise me! At what place shall I enter this field, doest thou think? The hedge has kept me out.” The fox gave him this advise: “In the evening the owner of the field goes to the place of his meal and he leaves the way on which he goes from his field [open] without closing the door: there enter and eat!” When it grew evening, the owner of the field went out from it to go to the place of his meal; but he left the door through which he went out [open] without closing it. And according to the advice which the fox had given him the boar entered the field through the door and spent the evening eating. And when the man returned, he found the boar in the field, and he pierced the boar with his spear. And the boar went away roaring, and said to the fox: “Thou hast given me bad advice; I am dead!” But the fox said unto him: “Thy father has eaten in thy stead. What shall I do unto thee?” That is to say: “It is the sin of thy father for which thou hast paid.” And now they say as a proverb: “Thy father has eaten for thee, said the fox J ).”

Once when a man was gathering brush-wood at the bank of a river, a serpent jumped upon him. And beginning at his feet he coiled himself around him up to his head. The man, then, said to the serpent: “Go down from me!” But the serpent refused. Then the man sought to kill him, but he found no means of killing him. And while they were in this state, the fox came to them; and the man said to the fox: “This serpent has coiled himself around me, and when I told him to go down he refused, and he wishes to kill me.” The fox said to the serpent: “Go down from him; be friends!” And the serpent unrolling himself went down from him to his feet. Then the fox said to the man in a proverb: “Thy serpent is [now] under thee, Thy staff is in thy hand [now, see!].” That is to say, he told him by this hint: “With the staff in thy hand kill him, after he has got under thy feet.” And the man taking the hint killed the serpent with his staff. Thereupon said the man to the fox: “Thou hast done a good thing to me; I shall also reward thee with a good turn. Wait for me in this place, that I bring thee a kid”.

But the man took a dog with whom to kill the fox, and he hid him under his garment; and when he came to the fox, he sent him against him. And the dog ran after the fox; but when the fox saw him, he fled and saved his life. After the fox had escaped, he said, because the man had requited him with a bad turn instead of a good one: “Keep the short-ear down.”


The old enemy of the mice is the cat. Therefore, once upon a time, the mice held a council. When they all were together, they deliberated in this manner: “We perish through the cat. What shall we do ?” And some of them answered: “Let us tie a bell on the cat. And when she comes to kill us, we shall hear the sound of her bell and escape from her.” And all the mice said: “This plan is a good one; let us do this that we escape from her!” And after they had thus finished their council, they went home. The grandfather of the mice had stayed at home; now he asked them: “My children, what have you resolved?” And they said to him: “We all have resolved to tie a bell on the cat, and when she comes near us, to escape from her, because we shall hear the bell.” And he said to them: “Ye have planned well, my children ; but which then of you is it that will tie the bell on the cat?” And all the mice were frightened and said: “That is true! Who is to catch her for us?” Thus their council came to naught.

And men say as a proverb about a council that comes to naught: “It has become like the council of the mice.” Once upon a time a boar, who had got into the midst of a herd of elephants, dug into the ground and ate. And there came to the elephants a hunter, and he pointed his gun at one [of the] male[s]. When he shot, the bullet missed the elephant, but struck the boar. And the elephants said to him: “Art thou struck, boar!” He said: “If it were not an accident why should, of all these, [the bullet] have struck met” The herd fled, but the boar died on the spot. And men say as a proverb when they encounter something [evil] while in the midst of many [companions]: “It is an accident, said the boar; in the midst of a herd of elephants he was struck.”

This is just a short excerpt from the book. Please click here to read the full version of  “Princeton Expedition to Abyssinia”.


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