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Under the Sun/The Legend of the Blameless Priest

VII.

THE LEGEND OF THE BLAMELESS PRIEST.[1]

YEARS upon years ago, when all the world was young, when Atlantis was among the chief islands of it, and the Aryans had not yet descended from their cradle on the roof of the world, there wandered up past the sources of the sleepy Nile the patriarch Kintu and his wife. For many months he travelled, he and his old wife, their one she-goat, and one cow, and carrying with them one banana and one sweet potato. And they were alone in their journey.

From out the leagues of papyrus fen the ibis and the flamingo screamed, and through the matete-canes the startled crocodile plunged under the lily-covered waves. Overhead circled and piped vast flocks of strange waterfowl, puzzled by the sight of human beings, and from the path before them the sulky lion hardly turned away. The hyenas in the rattan brakes snarled to see them pass, and wailing through the forests, that covered the face of the land, came the cry of the lonely lemur. A dreary, desolate country, rich in flowers and fruit, and surpassingly beautiful, but desolate of man.

The elephant was the noblest in the land, and on the water there was none to stand before the river-horse.

And so they plodded on, old Kintu and his wife, until, coming to where the Victoria Nyanza spreads its summer sea through four degrees of latitude, flecked with floating groves, “purple isles of Eden,” the patriarch halted, and, the first time for many years, laid down his staff upon the ground. And the mark of the staff may still be seen, eight cubits in length, lying like a deep scar across the basalt boulders piled up on the western shore of the great lake. And then his wife laid down her burden, the one banana and the one potato; and the goat and the cow lay down, for they were all weary with the journey of half a century, during which they had never rested night nor day. And the name they gave the land they stayed at was Uganda, but the name of the land they came from no one knows.

And then Kintu cut the banana and potato into many little pieces, and planted them, each piece twenty miles apart, and they grew so fast that the plant seemed to the eye to be crawling over the ground. And his wife had many sons and daughters, and they were all born adult, and intermarried, so that in a few years all the country was filled with people. The cow and the goat also brought forth adult offspring, and these multiplied so fast that in the second generation every man in the land had a thousand head of cattle. And Kintu was their king, and his people called him the Blameless Priest; for he wronged no one. In his land no blood was ever shed, for he had forbidden his people to eat meat, and when any sinned they were led away by their friends, the man with a woman, for a thousand miles, and left there with cuttings of the banana and the potato; for they never led any one away alone, lest he should die; and once every year, after the gathering of the harvest, Kintu sent messengers to the exiles to know how they did. So the land was at peace from morning to night, and there was plenty in every house. And the patriarch moved about among his people in spotless robes of white, and loved and honored by all as their father.

But after a long time the young men and women grew wicked, for they found out the secret of making wine from the banana and strong drink from the palm fruit and fire-water from the mtama grain; and with this they got drunk together, and when they were drunk they forgot that they were Kintu’s children. And first of all they began to dress in bright colors, and then they killed the cattle for food, until at last Kintu was the only man in all his kingdom who was dressed in spotless white, and who had never shed blood. And the wickedness increased; for, having killed animals, they began to fight among themselves, and at last one day a man of Uganda, having got drunk with palm wine, killed one of his tribe with a spear. And the people rose up with a cry, and every man took his spear in his hand, and the whole land of Uganda was in an uproar, the people killing one another. But when it was all over, and the morning came, they saw the dead men lying about among the melon plants, and were frightened, for they had never seen dead men before, and did not know what to do with them; and then they looked about for the patriarch, whom all this while they had forgotten; and lo! he was gone.

And no one would tell them whither.

Till at last a little girl child spoke up: “I saw Kintu and his wife go out of the gate in the early morning, and with them they took a cow and a goat, a banana and a potato; and Kintu said, ‘This land is black with blood.’ I ran after them, and with me was only my little brother Pokino, and he and I watched Kintu and his wife go away down by the wood to the river that comes from the west.”

The children had been the last to see Kintu; for though every one was asked, no one had seen the Blameless Priest go forth except the little ones, Saramba, with the round eyes, and her baby brother Pokino.

Then the people were in great consternation, and ran hither and thither, looking for the patriarch; but he was never found. And when the tumult of the first lamentation was over, Chwa, the eldest son of Kintu, took his shield and spear, and going out into the marketplace, shook his spear before the assembled chiefs, and struck his spear upon his shield to show that he was king. And he made all the nation into castes, and to two castes he gave the duty of finding Kintu. Far and near they sought him, crossing strange rivers and subduing many tribes; but the lost patriarch was never seen. And when Chwa was dead, his son shook his spear before the people, and searched for Kintu all his life, and died without finding him. And thirtyeight kings ruled in succession over Uganda, but never again did human eye behold the man they sought.

· · · · · · ·

Then Ma’anda came to the throne. He was different from all the kings that had preceded him, for he robed himself in white, and no blood might be shed within a mile’s distance of his palace, and no man who had killed an animal might come within a spear’s throw of his person. He was kind to all, to animals and to men alike, and they called him in Uganda the Good Father. He had given up the search for Kintu, for he knew it was hopeless; but once a year he called all the chiefs together, and warned them that until they gave up fighting among themselves and warring with other tribes, they could never hope to see the Blameless Priest again.

Now one day Ma’anda dreamed strangely, and, rising before dawn, went to his mother and said: “I dreamt in the night that a peasant came to me from the forest and told me something that filled me with joy, but what it was I cannot remember.”

She asked, “When did the peasant come?”

He answered, “Just as the hyena was crying for the third time.”

She said, “But that is not yet.”

And lo! as she spoke, from the mtama crop the hyena cried for the third time, — for the day was breaking, — and Ma’anda’s mother said, “Get ready quickly, and take your spear, for I can hear the peasant coming, and he has strange news to tell you, my son.” Ma’anda could hear nothing; yet he went away to get ready to receive the messenger. But at the door he met the Katekiro, the chief officer of his household, who said, “There is a madman without, who says he has news for the king. He is only a peasant, but will not go away, for he says that the king must hear his news.”

“Let him come in,” said the king. And the peasant entered.

“What is it?” asked Ma’anda.

“I may not tell any one but the king and the king’s mother: which are they?”

So the king took the peasant into his mother’s house, and having carefully seen that no one was listening, the peasant told his tale.

“I went last night to cut wood in the forest, and, being overtaken by the darkness, lay down to sleep by my wood. And in my sleep a person came to me and said, ‘Follow me,’ and I took up my bill-hook and went with him. And we came to an open space in the forest, and in the open space I saw an old man sitting, and beside him, on either hand, stood a number of old men, all with spears in their hands, and they seemed to have just come from a long march. And though it was dark in the forest, it was quite light where the old men were; and the old man who was sitting said to me, ‘Go to Ma’anda, the king, and tell him to come to me with his mother. But let him take care that no one else, not even his dog, follows him. For I have that to tell him which will make him glad, and that to show him that no king of Uganda has yet been able to find.’ So I laid down my bill-hook and my head-cloth where I was standing, and I turned and ran swiftly from fear, and I did not stop till I reached the palace. Oh, great king, live forever.”

“Show the way,” replied Ma’anda, “and we will follow.”

So they stole out, those three, — the peasant, the king and his mother, — and, thinking they were unperceived, crept away from the palace through the fence of the matete, before the sun rose and the people were up. But the Katekiro had watched them, and seeing the king go out with only the peasant and his mother, said to himself, “There is some treachery here. I will follow the king, so that no harm may befall him.”

And they all went fast through the forest together, and though the king kept turning round to see if any one was following, the Katekiro managed to keep always out of sight, for the king’s eyes were dim with age. And at last Ma’anda was satisfied that no one was behind them, and hurried on without looking back. And at evening they came to the spot, and the peasant was afraid to go on. But he pointed before him, and the king, looking, saw a pale light through the trees, and between the trees he thought he saw the figures of men robed in white, moving to and fro. And he advanced slowly towards the light, and as he got nearer it increased in brightness, and then on a sudden he found himself in the glade, and there before him sat the old man surrounded by his aged warriors, and at his feet lay the wood-cutter’s bill-hook and head-cloth. Ma’anda stood astonished at the sight, and held his spear fast; but a voice came to his ears, so gentle and so soft that his doubts all vanished, and he came forward boldly.

“Who art thou?” asked the old man.

“I am Ma’anda, the king.”

“Who was the first king of Uganda?”

“Kintu.”

“Then come nearer, for I have something to tell thee; but why didst thou let any one come with thee except the peasant and thy mother?”

“No one is with me,” replied Ma’anda; “I kept looking behind me as I came, and I am sure that no one followed us.”

“Well, then, come here and look me in the face. I have something to tell thee from Kintu, and thou shalt thyself see Kintu to-day; but first — why didst thou let any man follow thee?”

And Ma’anda, who was impatient, answered quickly:

“No one followed me”

“But a man did follow thee,” replied the old man, “and there he stands!” pointing with his finger to the Katekiro, whose curiosity had drawn him forth from his hiding. Seeing himself discovered, he stepped forward to the side of the king.

Then Ma’anda’s wrath overwhelmed him, and for the first time in his life he raised his hand to strike. And his spear pierced the Katekiro to the heart, who fell with a cry at his feet. At the horror of his deed and his own blood-splashed robe, Ma’anda sprang back, and for an instant covered his face with his hands in an agony of sorrow.

And when he opened his eyes again the forest was all dark, and the old man and his chiefs had vanished!

Nor from that day to this has any one in Uganda seen the Blameless Priest.


  1. This legend is founded upon the notes taken in Uganda by Mr. H. M. Stanley for his book “Across the Dark Continent,” which it fell to my pleasant lot to edit.— P. R.