Swahili Tales/The Story of Liongo


In the times when Shanga was a flourishing city, there was a man whose name was Liongo, and he had great strength, and was a very great man in the city. And he oppressed the people exceedingly, till one day they made a plan to go to him to his house and bind him. And a great number of people went and came upon him suddenly into his house, and seized him and bound him, and went with him to the prison, and put him into it.

And he stayed many days, and made a plot to get loose. And he went outside the town and harassed the people in the same way for many days. People could not go into the country, neither to cut wood nor to draw water. And they were in much trouble.

And the people said, "What stratagem can we resort to, to get him and kill him?" And one said, "Let us go against him while he is sleeping, and kill him out of the way." Others said, "If you get him, bind him and bring him." And they went and made a stratagem so as to take him, and they bound him, and took him to the town. And they went and bound him with chains and fetters and a post between his legs.

And they left him many days, and his mother used to send him food every day. And before the door where he was bound soldiers were set, who watched him; they never went away except by turns.

Many days and many months had passed. Every day, night by night, he used to sing beautiful songs; every one who heard them used to be delighted with those songs. Every one used to say to his friend, "Let us go and listen to Liongo's songs, which he sings in his room." And they used to go and listen. Every day when night came people used to go and say to him, "We have come to sing your songs, let us hear them." And he used to sing, he could not refuse, and the people in the town were delighted with them. And every day he composed different ones, through his grief at being bound. Till the people knew those songs little by little, but he and his mother and her slave knew them well. And his mother knew the meaning of those songs, and the people in the town did not.

At last one day their slave girl had brought some food, and the soldiers took it from her and ate it, and some scraps were left, and those they gave her. The slave girl told her master, "I brought food, and these soldiers have taken it from me and eaten it; there remain these scraps." And he said to her, "Give me them." And he received them and ate, and thanked God for what he had got.

And he said to the slave girl (and he was inside and the slave girl outside the door)—

"Ewe kijakazi nakutuma uwatumika,
Kamwambia mama, ni mwinga siyalimka,
Afanye mkate, pale kati tupa kaweka,
Nikeze pingu na minyoo ikinyoka,
Ningie ondoni ninyinyirike ja mana nyoka,

Tatange madari na makuta kuno kimeta."

And its meaning was, "You, slave girl, shall be sent to tell my mother I am a simpleton. I have not yet learnt the ways of the world. Let her make a cake, in the middle let be put files, that I may cut my fetters, and the chains may be opened, that I may enter the road, that I may glide like a snake, that I may mount the roofs and walls, that I may look this way and that."

And he said, "Greet my mother well, tell her what I have told you." And she went and told his mother, and said, "Your son greets you well, he has told me a message to come and tell you." And she said, "What message?" And she told her what she had been told.

And his mother understood it, and went away to a shop and exchanged for grain, and gave it her slave to clean. And she went and bought many files, and brought them. And she took the flour, and made many fine cakes. And. she took the bran and made a large cake, and took the files and, put them into it, and gave to her slave to take to him.

And she went with them, and arrived at the door, and the soldiers robbed her, and chose out the fine cakes, and ate them themselves. And as for the bran one, they told her to take that to her master. And she took it, and he broke it, and took out the files, and laid them away, and ate that cake and drank water, and was comforted.

And the people of the town wished that he should be killed. And he heard himself that it was said, "You shall be killed." And he said to the soldiers, "When shall I be killed?" And they told him, "To-morrow." And he said, "Call me my mother, and the chief man in the town, and all the townspeople, that I may take leave of them."

And they went and called them, and many people came together, and his mother and her slave.

And he asked them, "Are you all assembled?" And they answered, "We are assembled." And he said, "I want a horn, and cymbals, and an upato." And they went and took them. And he said, "I have an entertainment to-day, I want to take leave of you." And they said to him, "Very well, go on, play." And he said, "Let one take the horn, and one take the cymbals, and one take the upato." And they said, "How shall we play them?" And he tanght them to play, and they played.

And he himself there, where he was inside, sang, till when the music was in full swing, he took a file and cut his fetters. When the music dropped, he too left off and sang, and when they played he cut his fetters.

And the people knew nothing of what was going on inside till the fetters were divided, and he cut the chains till they were divided. And the people knew nothing of it through their delight in the music. When they looked up, he had broken the door and come out to them outside. And they threw their instruments away to run, without being quick enough; and he caught them and knocked their heads together and killed them. And he went outside the town, and took leave of his mother, "to see one another again."

And he went away into the forest, and stayed many days, harassing people as before, and killing people.

And they sent crafty men, and told them, "Go and make him your friend, so as to kill him." And they went fearingly. And when they arrived they made a friendship with him. Till one day they said to him, "Sultan, let us entertain one another." And Liongo answered them—

"Hila kikoa halipani nikatamno?"

Which means, "If I eat of an entertainment, what shall I give in return, I who am excessively poor?" And they said to him, "Let us entertain one another with koma fruit." And he asked them, "How shall we eat them?" And they said, "One shall climb into the koma tree, and throw them down for us to eat. When we have done, let another climb up, till we have finished." And he said to them "Very well."

And the first climbed up, and they ate. And the second climbed up, and they ate. And the third climbed up, and they ate. And they had plotted that when Liongo should climb up, "Let us shoot him with arrows there, up above."

But Liongo saw through it by his intelligence. So when all had finished they said to him, "Come, it is your turn." And he said, "Very well." And he took his bow in his hand, and his arrows, and said—

"Tafuma wivu la angania, tule cha yayi."

Which means, "I will strike the ripe above, that we may eat in the midst." And he shot, and a bough was broken off; and he shot again, and a second was broken off; and he gave them a whole koma tree, and the ground was covered with fruit. And they ate. And when they had done, the men said among themselves, "He has seen through it; now what are we to do?" And they said, "Let us go away." And they took leave of him, and said—

"Kukuingia hadaani Liongo fumo si mtu,

Yunga jini Liongo okoka."

Which means, "Liongo the chief, you have not been taken in, you are not a man, you have got out of it like a devil."

And they went away and gave their answer to their head-man there in the town, and said, "We could do nothing."

And they advised together, "Who will be able to kill him?" And they said, "Perhaps his nephew will." And they went and called him. And he came. And they said to him. "Go and ask your father what it is that will kill him. When you know, come and tell us, and when he is dead we will give you the kingdom." And he answered them, "Very well."

And he went. When he arrived he welcomed him and said, "What have you come to do?" And he said, "I have come to see you." And he said, "I know that you have come to kill me, and they have deceived you."

And he asked him, "Father, what is it that can kill you?" And he said, "A copper needle. If any one stabs me in the navel, I die."

And he went away into the town, and answered them, and said, "It is a copper needle that will kill him." And they gave him a needle, and he went back to his father. And when he saw him, his father sang, and said—

"Mimi muyi ndimi mwe mao, situe

Si mbwenge mimi muyi ndimi mwe mao."

Which means, "I, who am bad, am he that is good to you; do me no evil. I that am bad, am he that is good to you." And he welcomed him, and he knew, "He is come to kill me."

And he stayed two days, till one day he was asleep in the evening, and he stabbed him with the needle in the navel. And he awoke through the pain, and took his bow and arrows and went to a place near the wells. And he knelt down, and put himself ready with his bow. And there he died.

So in the morning the people who came to draw water saw him, and they thought him alive, and went back running. And they gave out the news in the town, "No water is to be had to day." Every one that went came back running. And many people set out and went, and as they arrived, when they saw him they came back, without being able to get near. For three days the people were in distress for water, not getting any.

And they called his mother, and said to her, "Go and speak to your son, that he may go away and we get water, or we will kill you."

And she went till she reached him. And his mother took hold of him to soothe him with songs, and he fell down. And his mother wept: she knew her son was dead.

And she went to tell the townspeople that he was dead, and they went to look at him, and saw that he was dead, and buried him, and his grave is to be seen at Ozi to this day.

And they seized that young man and killed him, and did not give him the kingdom.