|Stories and pictures by Bryan, A. (1971)|
Once upon a time, in Zimbabwe lived a boy named Mungalo. His mother was "the first and favorite wife" of a great chief, and this made all of the chief's other wives jealous of the boy. They were as unkind to him as they could manage, without the chief's noticing. But every morning, when "Mungalo went out with the sheep and the goats, he tapped the sparrow drum he always took with him. The sound of the little drum made him forget how badly he was treated by his father's wives." Yet each evening as he returned to the village, all of his step-mothers shouted at the same time. "Mungalo! Mungalo Mungalo!' Each wife always had a job for him to do—at once! Mungalo did all he could" to please them, but "it was as the proverb says: They gave him a basket to carry water." So his early years passed. Among his small pleasures were a herd of tiny oxen which his mother had made for him of clay. He took these with him every day, dreaming of the time when his father was going to give him the gift of "a great white ox". But tragedy struck this family of many wives, and Mungalo's mother died one day when he was but a child. He spent the rest of his boyhood years in sorrow, isolated from his many brothers and sisters because of their jealousy. After his ceremony of manhood, when he was initiated into the tribe, his father kept his promise. He gave to his son the very best of all of his cattle, "a beautiful beast with wonderful horns" and a hide of pure white. Now, Mungalo thought, would come the time when all respected him. But happiness was not to be found among this bitter family. It came to Mungalo that he must leave home to seek his fortune. So the next morning, he mounted his white ox and left the village of his birth. "For seven days and seven nights the boy and the ox travelled on....Toward noon on the eighth day, they crossed a wide plain. It was so hot that shimmering heat waves make the ground seem to heave and swell like an ocean." Mungalo was dizzy: he had drunk the last of his water the night before, and he had no more food. How could he escape torment in this life? Desperately he struggled on, hoping to find food or water. There was none. Now Mungalo dismounted, and hugging the ox like the dear friend he was, spoke to him. He apologized for leading the beast away from fodder and drink, accepting responsibility for their inevitable death. That's when the ox spoke to him! "Mungalo! Listen, at your command Food or clothes or house and land I can provide. Strike my horns. Three times the right, you'll have your wish, Twice the left and all will vanish!" He immediately followed these directions and "suddenly, cool grass covered the ground. On it were bowls of pungent food and luscious fruit." Boy and ox ate and drank and then, refreshed, slept through the rest of the day. They travelled on now for seven more nights and seven more days, eating and drinking from the ox' magical horns. Finally they were across that long plain. They came now to a dark forest. So thick were the tree roots that there was no path through them, and so thick were the branches overhead that no sunshine penetrated them. "But, at the touch of the ox's horns, roots and vines moved aside. Tall ferns parted. Low leaves and branches lifted above Mungalo's head. The movement of the plants allowed thin beams of light to come in, and sun spots scattered and danced like balls of gold." Then the trees cleared, and a herd of cattle could be seen grazing. A huge bull came forward and defied their passage. Now the ox spoke again: "Do not fear the might of this fierce bull. We'll fight and I will win. We've far to go until we are before the towering mountain wall where I will fight. Where I will fall." And the battle between ox and bull began. Mungalo could only get out of the way and watch while " the sound of clashing horns and striking hooves drummed like a huge sparrow drum." The ox was, at last, victorious. And so they travelled on for seven more days and seven more nights. Their travels led them through ravines and jungles, but at last they came to farmland. Observing the carefully tended fields, Mungalo could see no one at work. He found this strange. Looming over this field was a towering mountain, and sliced right through the center of the mountain was a tunnel. Guarding the tunnel was a fierce bull, larger and angrier than the one in the forest. Now Mungalo remembered the ox's words, and knew that his friend would die here. He stroked the big animal's horns and thanked him for all he had provided. The ox spoke again: "Goodbye, Mungalo. At your command food or clothes or house and land my horns will give. When I am gone this power remains to you alone." And the terrible battle commenced, and the white ox was killed. Mungalo cut its horns off, and his eyes filled with tears of sorrow. When he could see clearly again, there was no trace left of his friend the ox —or the bull. He passed through the tunnel. Here was a village where people had only tough roots and weeds to eat. They seemed very unhappy, and very surprised to see Mungalo. They wanted to know how he had gotten past the angry bull who kept them from going through the mountain. He felt that he would keep the story of his ox to himself, and so told the people that there had been no bull when he came through. After all, this was only the truth. Joyfully, the villagers ran through the mountain to their fields. "The chief singer sang praise songs to the stranger for his good news." Afterwards, he invited Mungalo to share his hut for the night. Since there was still no food, Mungalo tapped his ox horns. The praise singer was most impressed. But after this sneaky man had eaten from that bounty, he stole the horns while Mungalo slept. It was not until the next day, when Mungalo was many miles from the village that he discovered this treachery. Now he went back to the village, and was in time to witness the praise singer's tantrum when the horns would not do their magic for him! Mungalo snatched them up and ran! For many more days he wandered, happy to see the sight of the jungle. One day, he craved company, and knocked on the door of a hut that he passed. But the man who opened the door only scowled at him, and slammed it closed again. Now Mungalo went to the stream and looked in. He saw his reflection, and realized that he was dirty from journeying and that his clothes were in rags. He bathed and when he got out, spoke to the horns: "I knocked at a door, I was chased as a thief. Please dress me in clothes due the son of a chief." And spread upon the low branches of the trees were " well-wrought spiral silver pendants, bead ornaments and gold rings" as well as bright cloth. He dressed himself royally, and walked to the next village. Here he was treated with respect and invited to the chief's hut. "Three moons passed, and Mungalo shared more and more in the life of the village." He soon fell in love with the chief's daughter. The horns of his ox never did not fail him now. They provided him with gifts for his beloved, "gold ornaments that glowed against her dark skin" and gifts for her father as well. Soon they were married. and Mungalo and his wonderful ox horns provided food for the feasting and drumming and dancing that went on for days on end. "A year later, Mungalo returned with his wife to his father's village. The chief's wives prepared a lavish dinner to celebrate the son's return. They saw that their old evil ways had come to no good end. So they forgot their old jealousies and treated him well." His father gave him land, and by means of the magic horns, Mungalo and his wife prospered. The benevolent spirit of the great white ox remained with him all of his life, and "whether good or bad, there is nothing to add."
Bryan, A. (1971) The Ox of the Wonderful Horns and Other African Folktales. New York: Atheneum
Notes: This is one of many examples of what Marian Roalfe Cox calls "hero tales" featuring a neglected boy, rather than a girl. The parallels between European fairy tales and this story are many. The cow as helper, the passage through different kinds of terrain, the fight between the ox and the bull, and of course the abused child, given riches by a helper animal at the end.
Montessori Connections Language/World Literature
1. Read this story and pay attention to the ways in which it is like Cinderella.
2. Read other fairy tales and find ways that ones from different countries are alike. Example: A. Hansel and Gretel, a story from Germany, has a boy and girl left in the woods by their father. They meet a witch in the woods when they eat her house, and she captures them. Finally, they escape. B. The Ogress and the Snake, a story from Somalia, has five sisters who are left out in the bush. They find the house of an ogress, are captured, and eventually escape.
For 9-12: Literature of Zimbabwe
1. Read the Ox of the Wonderful Horns, and learn that it is a story many centuries old.
2. Learn that it is from Zimbabwe.
3. Read a science fiction story set in Zimbabwe: By Nancy Farmer: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm It tells the story of three children and their adventures when they escape their robot teacher and mechanical dogs.