Deng and His Vicious Stepmother

(Dinka)

This is an ancient event.

An old man named Chol had two wives. One was the daughter of a human being, and the other was the daughter of a lion. The two wives conceived at the same time. They were pregnant. Then they delivered. The first to deliver was the lioness. The human wife delivered soon after. As soon as the human wife delivered, she became ill and died. Only the lioness remained.

The two children they had were both boys. One was called Deng and the other was also called Deng. The lioness took care of them both. She suckled them and raised them together. They became like twins. She raised them very carefully through all the stages: First they crawled, then they stopped being suckled, and then they walked.

The lioness had no more children. She stopped with that one child. Their father was still alive.

The boys grew and grew, until they could look after their sheep and goats. Then they grew older and could look after the calves. They continued to grow. Their father was still alive.

Then their father died suddenly. They remained with the lioness alone. AlI three of them lived together very happily. The lioness never even felt like a lioness. She was like a loving human being. She was an ideal mother to both of them.

They continued to grow until they became young men. Then they were initiated and became adults.

Whenever they went in search of girls, they went together. Neither of them would remain at home. That is how close they were. They were always together. Then they found two girl friends. One was called Achol and the other was also called Achol. The villages of the girls were near each other. The two men would go together whenever they wanted to visit their girl friends.

Deng of the human mother was betrothed to his girl friend. But she was still very young, she had not fully matured; she was still a child.

One day he said to Deng of the lioness, “Brother Deng, I would like to go and visit Achol.”

“Very well,” said Deng, “we will go!”

“No,” said the other Deng, “I don’t think we should continue to go together. No one remains to look after our cattle. They will be in the cattle-byre all alone. You must stay. Tomorrow I will look after the cattle while you visit your girl friend.”

“Brother Deng,” said Deng of the lioness, “I think you should not go alone. I must come with you.” Deng of the lioness had observed his mother lately and had noticed a change in her. It was as though she was developing an appetite for the human Deng.

“Brother Deng,” he continued, “I am afraid for your safety. I have been watching my mother and I fear that if you go alone and I am in the cattle-byre, she might leave her sleeping-hut and follow you. I fear that she might harm you. So please let me come with you!”

“Don’t be silly,” said the human Deng. “How can she harm me after having raised me all this time as though she were my full mother?”

Deng, the son of the lioness, argued, and Deng of the human mother insisted. So his brother let him go alone.

He left. He walked. The lioness later went out of her hut while her son was in the cattle-byre. She caught up with the human Deng and began to walk by his side while hiding herself in the bush alongside the road.

Then she suddenly appeared, crossing the road in front of him. As soon as Deng recognized her, he put down his spears and sat on the ground.

Deng said to her, “Mother, if you want to eat me, then come do it. I will not defend myself. How could I do that? By killing you? Even if your heart has turned into that of a beast, and I now see you have become a beast, I will not hurt you. It is better you kill me and eat me without my resistance.”

She teasingly put her teeth on him and said, “Deng, my son, how could I possibly eat you!”

She jumped into the bush and began walking secretly by his side. Then she suddenly jumped onto the road again. Once more, Deng laid down his spears and sat down. “come, eat me!”

She again denied wanting to harm him and jumped into the bush.

They continued this way for quite a while. Eventually, she returned really wild. She jumped and plucked a testicle from Deng’s groin. He fell and remained on the ground. She jumped into the bush and disappeared with the testicle. She returned to the village, taking it with her.

By this time, the village of Deng’s girl friend, Achol, was quite near. The encounter with his stepmother had delayed him so much that it was now about midnight and too late for a normal visit to a girl friend.

Deng crawled towards Achol’s village until he reached the doorway of the hut in which she slept. He then spoke. “People inside the hut, would you please tell me if Achol is there?”

Achol was the first to hear him. She said with excitement, “Listen, my people, I hear a voice like that of Deng outside the hut! Where could he have come from at this time of the night? This is not the time for a boy friend to visit. I don’t think Deng is well. Something terrible must have happened. Even his voice sounds strange.”

As she spoke, she was undoing the door. And although she was a little girl, she stepped out alone. She saw Deng with blood streaming from a wide-open wound where the testicle had been. She went back into the hut crying, and took a fine piece of cotton. She soaked it in water and squeezed it into the wound. Then she boiled some water and gave Deng a hot bath.

Before daybreak, Deng said, “I must go!”

“How can you walk?” Achol asked.

“I can walk,” he replied. “Do you think I would shame us by staying in your house to be found here in the morning? Of course not. Even if I were dying, I would have to leave before dawn.”

“Please Deng, stay,” she pleaded with him. “You cannot leave with this wound. I would understand what you are saying if you were well. What has honor to do with a person hurt like you?”

“I cannot agree with you. I must go.”

He took a walking stick and limped away.

In the meantime, Deng of the lioness was extremely disturbed that his brother did not return alI night. Very early in the morning, he took his spears and went after him. Before leaving, he talked to his mother and said, “If I find Deng with the slightest harm, you will be the one I will hold responsible.”

His mother pretended to be shocked. “Deng, my son, how could you think such terrible thoughts? Is Deng a new person to me? What about the long time I spent raising him? If I wanted to harm him, would I have waited all this time? Could I now sacrifice so simply what I did with such great hardship? Could I destroy a child I bred with the milk of my own breasts? How could I eat him?”

“I don’t care what you say,” said her son. “Deng has been away too long and it cannot be for no reaon; something terrible must have happened.”

“Well, go, and if you find that I have done him any harm, then come back to argue with me.”

“Let me tell you, Mother,” he said with emphasis, “I want you to know that if I find that you have done him the slightest harm, you will be in serious trouble with me.”

“Go!”

Deng left. As he walked on the road, Deng of the human mother recognized him from a distance and thought to himself. “If Deng sees me suffering this way, he may do himself harm. I should hide.”

So he went into the bush nearby and hid. Deng came and passed. Deng of the human mother saw him disappear and went back onto the road and limped on. He walked until he arrived home. He went into the cattle-byre and lay down on a mat, covering himself with another mat.

As it was still very early, his stepmother had returned to her hut to continue her sleep.

When Deng arrived at the village of Achol’s family, Achol told him all about Deng.

“I knew it,” he said, “I have been saying that something must have gone wrong because Deng would not stay at Achol’s place all night into the next morning.”

Then he ran back. He found Deng lying down, covered with the mat. When he asked him, Deng did not tell him anything -- he simply said, “I am all right; it is just a small injury.” But when he uncovered him and saw the wound, he went to his mother and said, “No one else but you did this. Wherever you have taken the testicle, I want you to bring it and put it back where it was. Make it look as perfect as though nothing had happened. Otherwise, you are dead.”

“My son,” she said, “I did not do it.”

“Don’t talk. Put it back or I will kill you,” he said as he raised his arm to pierce her with his spear.

“Stop,” she cried, “don’t kill me! I did not do it, but I will see what I can do to help him. Only don’t think I did it; I am just helping him.”

So she went and worked on Deng. She took out the cotton and put back the testicle. She did it so well that it was as though nothing had happened.

They stayed together for a short while. Then Deng of the lioness went and said to his brother, “Deng!”

“Yes,” he said.

“Let us face the truth that we are orphans. Your mother died when you were a newborn baby. Our father has also died. And my mother has turned into a beast. We might as well forget her. I want to kill her. I cannot allow her to live with us.”

“No,” said Deng, “you must not kill her.”

“But if I don’t kill her,” continued Deng, “she might kill you. Then I will be without a brother. That I will not accept.”

They argued and argued until Deng of the human mother gave in.

One evening, as the woman went into the hut, her son went and put dry grass all around the hut. Then he set the hut on fire. He took a black ram and threw it into the fire as a sacrifice to remove the curse of murder. His mother burned to death.

The brothers stayed for about two months. When the lioness’ brother, who was a lion named Yor, heard the news of his sister’s death, he came. He walked and walked, until he reached a small pool near the village of the two brothers. Yor did not really know where the village was. Nor did he know his sister’s son. As he arrived at the pool, Deng, the son of his sister, was bathing in the pool. He said, “Young man, may I ask you a question?”

“Yes,” Deng said.

“Where is the village of Deng, the son of the lioness?” asked the lion.

“There it is!” Deng answered.

“That one?” asked the lion.

“Yes,” said Deng.

As soon as the lion stooped to pick up his spears, which he had laid down, Deng threw his fishing spear, hitting him fatally. As his uncle lay dying, Deng said to him, “My name is Deng. I am the son of your sister. You came to avenge your sister’s death. You now see the cost. I have killed you.”

“I see,” said the dying lion. “Please kill me quickly. My son Miyar will avenge my death!”

Deng went ahead and killed him. Then he set the body on fire and threw a black ram into the fire as a sacrifice to remove the curse of murder.

The brothers Deng married their girl friends and went to live together in the same village. About a month later, Deng of the lioness called his brother and said, “Son of my father, lions have tricky ways. They may leave us in peace until we forget that we have a feud with them. My cousin Miyar, the son of the uncle I killed, is likely to surprise us and kill us. I think we should attack him first.”

“Very well,” agreed Deng.

They told their wives that they were leaving.

“Where are you going?” asked the women.

“We are going to the land of the lions,” they answered.

“How can the two of you alone attack the land of the lions? Is it death you want? You are sure to die!”

“God will see to that,” they said. “If we live, we live; if we die, we die.”

Their women cried and tried to stop them, but all in vain. Their husbands would not be persuaded.

They took off their rings and said to the girls, “Keep these rings and observe them. If they rust, then we are dead. If they don’t, then we are still alive. We shall now sing a song which we shall sing for you when we return. You will hear us sing it from a distance. Even if we arrive in the middle of the night, we shall wake you up with this song.”

“Very well,” said the women.

They proceeded to sing the song in a duet. Deng of the human mother began:

Land of the wilds, land of the wilds,
A beast of a stepmother played jealousy on me.
Wife of my father, why did you do that to me
When I had no jealousy in my heart?
What misfortune befalls the child of a stepmother!

His brother Deng took over:

In a wild land I have never trodden,
I killed a big bull, my mother’s brother,
And the great fighter steamed with burning fat,
Like the hut of my mother.

Their wives said, “Please sing it again so that we can recognize it on your return.” So Deng of the human being began again:

Land of the wilds, land of the wilds,
A beast of a stepmother played jealousy on me.
Wife of my father, why did you do that to me
When I had no jealousy in my heart?
What misfortune befalls the child of a stepmother!

His brother continued:

In a wild land I have never trodden,
I killed a big bull, my mother’s brother,
And the great fighter steamed with burning fat,
Like the hut of my mother.

Their wives then said, “Good, we now know it.”

They left. They walked, and they walked, and they walked. They would come to a lion-camp and Deng of the lioness would say, “Deng, Brother, sing the song. There is no way for us to know the cattle-camp of my mother’s relatives. But if we sing and my uncle’s son hears us, he will know us and will come.” Deng agreed and sang:

Land of the wilds, land of the wilds,
A beast of a stepmother played jealousy on me.
Wife of my father, why did you do that to me
When I had no jealousy in my heart?
What misfortune befalls the child of a stepmother!

His brother then sang:

In a wild land I have never trodden,
I killed a big bull, my mother’s brother,
And the great fighter steamed with burning fat,
Like the hut of my mother.

They walked and sang this way until they arrived at the camp of Miyar. The camp was well known in the area because Miyar was the chief. So it was pointed out to them. Then they sang near the camp:

Land of the wilds, land of the wilds,
A beast of a stepmother played jealousy on me.
Wife of my father, why did you do that to me
When I had no jealousy in my heart?
What misfortune befalls the child of a stepmother!

In a land I have never trodden,
I killed a big bull, my mother’s brother,
And the great fighter steamed with burning fat
Like the hut of my mother.

Miyar asked the people to be silent. “Let me hear that song. Is that Deng singing? Has he really come? Who else could sing such a song?”

All the people became silent. The song was heard again and again. When Miyar was sure that it was Deng, he came out to meet him and said, “Is it you, Deng?”

“Yes,” answered Deng.

Deng and his brother carried two axes, one small and one big, and a club. That is all they carried; they had no spears with them.

“Deng,” said the lion, “what do you think we should do?”

“I think we should fight,” replied Deng.

“Do you want me to go and turn wild?” asked Miyar.

“Go and turn wild!” said Deng.

“Perhaps I don’t need to turn wild,” his cousin said scornfully. “I will wrestle with you as though I were a human being. The person who throws the other down may kill him.”

“If you prefer it that way,” said Deng, “then let us wrestle.”

They began to wrestle while Deng’s human brother watched. They wrestled; they wrestled, and wrestled. Then Deng threw his cousin down. As soon as Miyar was down, the human Deng handed his wrestling brother one of the small axes. His brother hit the lion on the head. He split his head and killed him.

At that time, all the people who were in the cattle-camp ran away in panic. People shouted to their relatives and friends, “Please, wait for me!” But they would not. Some answered, “How can I wait for you when disaster has killed our Chief?” They all dispersed and disappeared, leaving only the cattle. There were horned cattle and hornless cattle. The hornless cattle turned into lions and lionesses and ran away with their owners. [The Dinka believed that hornless cattle are generally more aggressive than cattle with horns, and in their folktales hornless cattle usually follow their lion-owners and turn into lions, while cattle with horns remain normal.] Even the gourds containing the milk and the butter of the hornless cows ran into the forest. Only the cattle with horns remained.

A little boy and a little girl whom the lions had captured from human beings remained in the camp. The children were reduced to skin and bones by the lion’s torture. Almost every day they would be bled and the lions would sip their blood.

The brothers Deng took them and all the remaining cattle and left for home. They walked, and they walked. They were delayed by the slow pace of the children, who were too big to be carried but too small to walk fast. The cattle, too, had to be driven slowly to graze on the way. So they walked and walked and walked.

They arrived at their village in the night. As they approached the village, Deng of the lioness asked his brother to sing. So he did:

Land of the wilds, land of the wilds,
A beast of a stepmother played jealousy on me.
Wife of my father, why did you do that to me
When I had no jealousy in my heart?
What misfortune befalls the child of a stepmother!

The other Deng sang his part:

In a land I have never trodden,
I killed a big bull, my mother’s brother,
And the great fighter steamed with burning fat,
Like the hut of my mother.

They listened and heard no response from the village. Deng of the lioness said, “I think they have not heard us. Why don’t we sing it once more?” They sang it two more times.

During all this time, their wives were suffering from fear that they might have died. When days passed after they had expected them back, they despaired and started mourning.

As their husbands sang, one Achol heard their voices as though they were in a dream. To make sure she was not dreaming, she got up, listened some more, and then woke up the other Achol, and said, “Achol, wake up! Listen! There are our men singing!”

Achol said sleepily, “What wishful thinking! Do you really expect them to return again?”

“By God, may I die,” she swore, “I hear men singing! Listen!”

They listened together. When they were sure it was their husbands’ voices, they came out crying with joy and ran to meet them. They seated them and gave them milk to drink. Each of the women wanted to cook. They argued about which of them should cook. Their husbands told them to stop. “Let one of you cook and the other will cook tomorrow.” So one cooked. They also boiled some water to give the small children a hot bath.

And so they lived. The two brothers added their captured herd to their wealth and became very rich. They searched throughout the country for the parents of the children until they found the family of the boy. But they never found the relatives of the girl. So they adopted her as their sister and raised her until she was married. They received much bridewealth for her marriage and then gave her to her husband.

That is it; it is finished.

*

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