Jealous Wives

(Ovimbundu)

Once, one of a man’s two wives noticed that the husband came to her house infrequently. [Among the Ovimbundu plural wives lived in separate houses or huts, all near each other in the husband’s compound. The husband was expected to sleep with each on a rotation system which kept him with each in turn for either four or seven consecutive nights.]

She brooded over this. One night she left her house and went out into the woods, saying to herself, “I am going out and kill myself.” She took her child on her back and her hoe in her hand. As she walked toward the woods she came to a small stream. There were toads in the stream singing:

Go away, go away.
Go away, go away.

They stopped singing and fell into silence when she neared the stream. She crossed the stream and walked on.

After she had walked a short distance into the woods the toads began singing again:

Go away, go away.
Go away, go away.

When she had walked still farther into the woods she noticed that the toads had again stopped singing. Fear overcame her, for she heard what she imagined were lions following her. To escape the lions, she climbed a tall, tall tree, taking her child and her hoe up with her. As she waited in the tree top, trembling, she saw that what was approaching was a caravan of people, bringing a herd of cattle with them. Carriers were holding poles from which hung live hogs, each carried by two men. They were also carrying hogs which had already been killed and scraped.

When the caravan reached the tree which the woman had climbed, the men stopped under the tree and put down their loads. As they sat beneath the tree and the woman waited up in it, her child urinated, and the water falling down upon the men surprised them. One of them asked the others, “What is that which is wetting us in this way?”

Another man said, “There must be a galago up in this tree.” [The galago is an arboreal, nocturnal lemuroid, about the size of a rabbit, with beautiful gray fur, bushy tail, large eyes, and a piercing cry altogether out of keeping with its small size and mild appearance.]

Next the child defecated. When the excrement fell down upon the head of one of the men he said, “Now that beast has gone and messed on my head!”

The others said, “Yes, it must be a galago all right.”

After the soiled man had felt his head and smelled his fingers he said, “This excrement is human!”

But the others said, “No, no. That is from a galago. How could a person be out here in the woods in a tree top? When have you ever found anyone sleeping up in a tree?”

During the talk that followed one of the men said, “Listen to me! The flesh of the galago is a delicacy. It is most delicious. I am going to climb up the tree and catch this galago.” Having said this, the man began to climb the tree. When he reached the branches he began to grope about for the galago. The woman began to think about what she should do. Taking the hoe in both hands, she brought it down hard on the head of the galago hunter who was climbing up toward her.

Then the woman screamed from the tree top, “Now your time has come, you robbers! It is all finished for you! My friends gathering to attack the robbers, listen to me! Those of you upstream come along by the foot of the hill. Those downstream spread out through the woods. Hurry! And keep silent as you surround the robbers! I alone, here in the tree top, shall direct you. Everyone else closing in on the robbers keep silent! Steal in on the robbers silently from all sides. Hurry!” And in her loudest voice she added, “Now you robbers are finished!”

While she was making this loud noise she heard the retreating robbers shouting: “We have left! Give us just a moment! All we want is to escape. Only one of us is still there, and he is dead. Take our wealth. All we wish is to be alive to go and steal more.”

The woman came down from the tree. Since none of the robbers came back, she left their loot under the tree for the night and went back to the village. She went straight to the house in which her husband was sleeping. She knocked on the door of the house and said, “Husband, wake up! Come out right now, so that I may tell you of the wealth which I have secured for you.”

When the man was awake he answered her, “You! What have you gotten for me, you bitch? It is jealousy that is stirring your fat buttocks awake at this night hour! Don’t argue with me, or I will come out and give you some hard blows with my staff.”

Still the woman continued urging him to come out, saying, “Husband, please, do me just this one favor. Come out and call all the men of the village to follow me and see what wealth I have acquired for you.”

“You bitch with your jealousy!” said her husband. “You are an animal! If I do get up and go out, and call out all the men in the village, and then it turns out that you have aroused me for nothing: then today will mark the end of your life.”

“No, husband, no, you will not be disappointed,” she said. “Go wake up all the men of the village.”

So the man went to call out all the men of the village, saying to them, “Kinsmen, come out as a favor to me. Join me in going into the woods with this bitch I married, who you see has waked me up at this hour. If she has nothing in the woods worth waking us up to see, then I know what I will do to her. Tonight will mark the end of her life.”

All the men followed the woman as she started toward the woods. One had an ax, another a knobkerry, another a sword, and another a gun. Since it was still night, all carried such weapons as they could find. The woman went before them until they reached the place, and there she found that the fire the robbers had left was burning low. The cattle were still inside a makeshift corral, bales of cloth were lying scattered about, some pork cracklings were still sizzling in a pot, the live hogs were still tied, and the dressed and scraped hogs were still on the ground. There was much wealth, wearing apparel, and even money. Everything was scattered about, for the robbers had left in great haste, dropping everything when they fled.

When her husband grasped the extent of the booty, he began shouting loudly and blowing a whistle. The woman said, “Who is that, blowing his little whistle, ‘peep, peep!’ Is that you, my husband? Do you like what I have here for you?”

The man answered her, “Oh wife, our little pond will never go dry, and that is a fact. Ah-h-h hee-eee! It was I who brought you to the men’s house and to our village. You are perfect. Come sit here close to me so that I can hug you. Oh my wife, my helper! Now let me go and arrange the loading for the wealth to be carried to the village. But you remain sitting here so that you will not tire yourself.” The man had all the wealth arranged for transport to the village, making certain that nothing would be left behind.

They returned to the village in jubilation. When they reached the village the husband made payments to all those men who had carried loads for him.

From that time onward the man gave all his love to this woman. He slept in her house every night and did not go to the house of his other woman at all.

When the other wife suffered this treatment, she in her turn became jealous. She said to herself, as the other woman had earlier, “I shall go away and kill myself.” She took her child upon her back and started for the woods. When she approached the little stream she heard the toads singing:

Go away, go away.
Go away, go away.

After she had passed the stream, the toads stopped singing. This silence frightened her, and she heard what she imagined were lions following her. She was so afraid that she was unable to climb a tree.

So she found a small cave and went into it. In this cave were lion’s cubs, who began to lick the baby which the woman had on her back. There really had been lions following her, and she had crawled into their den. The lions had found her scent and were following it in haste. The scent led them straight to their own den.

Since the lions did not believe that a person would enter their den, they circled further to regain the scent, but could not find any further human scent. They came back to their den, backed into it, and crouched looking out to watch for any movements of a person in the woods. While they were looking out into the woods the woman took a small bell which the child had as his plaything, and working slowly, tied it tight to the tail of one of the lions. When she had fastened the bell tightly she pulled the lion’s tail. The lion whipped his tail away, making the bell ring. The sound of the bell so frightened the lions that they loped hurriedly away from their den. The one that had the bell on his tail said, “What is this that has me by the tail?” The lions were so alarmed that they even fled from each other. They ran far away into the woods.

The woman crawled out of the cave and hurried back to her own house again. Her chief desire was to escape being eaten by the lions. As for finding something which would please her husband, the lions were not it.

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