Adapted by Bertie from the original by George W. Bateman. Read by Richard. Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Zanzibar is an Island in the deep blue Indian Ocean, just off the coast of East Africa. If you stand in the port of Zanzibar and look out to sea, you can watch the small, speedy sailing boats called dhows, used by traders and fishermen for centuries past. Explore the winding streets, and you will find stone houses, intricately carved doors, bustling markets, and lazy terraces. Five times a day, the loudspeakers attached to the minarets of the mosques broadcast the call to prayer the faithful followers of Islam.
For several hundred years, Zanzibar was ruled by Arabs from the Sultanate of Oman. The Arab traders dealt in crops, ivory, spices and slaves. The common language of Zanzibar and much of East Africa is Swahili which includes African, Arabic and European influences. You might have heard some Swahili words in films such as the Lion King. For instance “simba” is a lion, “jambo” means hello, and “hakuna matata” means “no problem”.
The fables from Zanzibar are a mixture of African and Arabic tales. You will hear about Arabic Sultans and African people and talking animals. They often celebrate clever and cunning tricks.
The Amazing Gazelle –
There was once a beggar whose name was Al-Hamdani. Every day he would go to the village rubbish heap and scratch around for scraps of food. His search was hard, because all the poor villagers were careful about what they threw away. Sometimes he would find no more than a few grains and seeds.
One day, something glinted in the morning sun. His sharp eyes did not miss this sign of good luck. He stooped down and picked up a silver coin – known as a piece of eight. His stomach said to him: “Go to the market and buy food for a fine meal,” but his head replied: “No, stomach! You will be satisfied today but tomorrow you will be even more bitter in your hunger. Best keep this coin until something special turns up.”
A few days later a trader came along the grassy track to the village. His donkey pulled a cage made of twigs, in which sat a gentle creature with big doe eyes and long pointy horns. She was a gazelle, an African deer, and a byword for grace and loveliness. Al-Hamdani saw the animal and thought: “Here is a beauty I would like to possess,” and he called out to the trader:
“Friend stop for a while so that I may examine your wares.”
The other villagers laughed and scorned: “That beggar has no money to buy gazelles,” they said. “He gets his food by scratching like a hen in the dust heap. Go near him at your peril. He will pick your purse.”
But the trader replied:
“I have seen well dressed men who demand my price and when I tell them they say – “Why your gazelles are too expensive for us. Perhaps he who wears rags will consider my animals to be a bargain, God willing.”
The trader was rewarded for his open mind when Al-Hamdani reached into his torn and dusty clothes and pulled out a silver piece of eight. He took a small gazelle out of the cage and handed it to the beggar, saying: “Here, master, take this one. I call it Kijipa.” Then turning to the villagers, he laughed, and said: “You, with your white robes, and turbans, and swords, and daggers, and sandals on your feet – you gentlemen of property, you told me this man was too poor to buy anything; yet he has bought a gazelle for a silver coin.”
Al-Hamdani beamed a smile of yellow teeth and happily led the gazelle back to his hut. That night they slept together on the straw, and in the morning they went out to the dust heap to look for morsels to eat.
The following night, when it was dark and they were alone together in the hut, a low voice whispered:
Al-Hamdani sat up with a start and said: “Who’s that?”
“It is I,” said the voice. “Your faithful gazelle, Kijipa.”
At this the beggar was more surprised than ever, he did not expect the gazelle to talk.
“What wonder is this?” he asked.
“No cause for any amazement at all,” said Kijipa. “Do I wonder that you can talk?”
Then she explained why she had woken up her master.
“I am grateful to you, my master, because you spent your last penny to buy me and to release me from the cage of twigs. But to tell you the truth I cannot sleep because I am so hungry. Let me go free in the morning to search for my own food, and in the evening I promise to return to you.”
Al-Hamdani blinked and pinched himself to see if he was dreaming. It seemed that he was awake, and he agreed to let the amazing gazelle do as she asked. In the morning she went out to forage for food. All day he fretted and worried if he would ever see his beautiful pet again, but in the evening she faithfully returned to him. The following morning she went out again to find her own food, and the day after, and indeed every day, until on the fifth day, she put a paw on a clod of earth, turned it over, and found something hard and shiny.
“This is nothing other than a diamond,” she said to herself. “When I give it to my master he will be rich and all his troubles will be at an end.”
She picked up the diamond in her soft mouth and headed for home. But as she went along she thought: “But for how long will he be rich? The other villagers will surely accuse him of stealing the precious stone and will take it off him.”
And having thought this over, she devised another plan. The amazing gazelle turned around and headed along the road for the Sultan’s Palace. When she arrived at the gates she spoke to the guards saying: “I have brought a valuable gift for his excellency.” The guards were so surprised to hear the animal speak, that they said: “Indeed this is a wonder for our master to behold,” and they brought Kijipa before the Sultan.
The gazelle went down on her knees before the great ruler and dropped the diamond at his feet:
“Your majesty this is a gift from my master, who is as wealthy as he is wise. His name is Al-Hamdani and he sends this as a token of his good faith. He wishes to unite two noble families.”
The Sultan understood this to mean that Al-Hamdani wished to marry his daughter. He thought himself:
“A man who sends a talking gazelle with a diamond as a gift would indeed make a worthy relative.” He spoke aloud to the remarkable visitor saying:
“Arise and return to your master. Tell him the Sultan wishes his presence at the palace to celebrate the wedding of his eldest princess and Al-Hamdani.”
The gazelle had been away some time, and his master had been overcome with grief. The villagers mocked him saying: “See how the dirt scratcher has lost his one piece of good fortune. Even his precious gazelle has run away from him.”
But that night as Al-Hamdani lay asleep, he felt a soft nose nudging his face.He turned round and saw in the moonlight that his graceful companion had returned.
“Now listen carefully,” said the gazelle, “I bring you good news. Do not ask what it is. Just do everything exactly as I say and you will not regret it.”
The beggar nodded, and felt no fear about agreeing to do anything he was told, because the good thing about having nothing is that you have nothing to lose.
At first light, the beggar and the animal set off along the dusty road. They walked all day and towards evening. When they came to a stream, the gazelle said: “Lie down here in the ditch by the water and do not move.” Al-Hamdani did exactly as he was told and lay still while the deer kicked and pummeled him with her claws until he was bruised and scratched all over. Then she ordered him to stay exactly where he was until she returned. She took off on her heels down the road, kicking up the dust behind her. When she reached the palace she demanded to see the Sultan immediately and declared:
“My master has been attacked by robbers and lies bruised and beaten by the road. They have taken his robes and all the finery he brought for the wedding.”
On hearing this dreadful news, the Sultan sent his attendants to search for Al-Hamdani where he lay by the stream. When they found the poor man, they revived him with smelling salts, gave him food and water, washed his wounds, bathed him in the stream, and dressed him in robes of silk. In this way, the beggar arrived at the palace dressed for his wedding as a prince.
As soon as the wedding was complete, the faithful gazelle went off in search for a fitting home for her newly married master. She ran along the road until he came to large stone house with emeralds and precious stones encrusted around the windows and doors.
“Here’s the place,” she said to himself, before knocking on the door.
She knocked and nobody answered. She knocked again and nobody answered. She knocked a third time, and an old serving woman opened the door.
The gazelle said: “Good lady, I wish to speak to the master of the house.”
The old woman did not look surprised at all to see an animal talk. Instead she said:
“Be gone with you, unless you long for your own death.”
“First pray tell me who the master of this house is,” insisted the gazelle.
“He is a wicked, seven-headed serpent, he has killed the rightful owner, and he will surely do for you, if he returns and finds you here.”
“Is there a good sword in the house,” asked the gazelle. The old woman said that there surely was.
“Then lend it to me and I shall deal with the serpent.”
A little while later there was a sound like the approach of a great storm. Dust, brushwood and debris began to blow down the street.
“Prepare to meet your doom,” said the woman.
“We’ll see about that,” said the gazelle. She took up position just inside the house holding the sword between her paws. When the great snake arrived he smelt something unusual and said to the old lady:
“What is that new meat you have prepared for me?”
And she replied:
“It is delicious. Why don’t you pop inside and try it?”
The serpent poked one of his seven heads through the door, and as he did so the gazelle brought the sword down and sliced it off. The cut was so clean that the monster felt nothing more than a tickle. He put his second head inside, and the gazelle sliced that one off too.
“Who scratched me?” demanded the snake.
“It was I, Kijipa,” replied the gazelle.
The serpent was curious to see who Kijipa might be, and put his third head through the door. This too was cut off. And so it continued until all seven of his heads had been removed and he was dead.
The old lady rejoiced and Kijipa went to fetch her master and his bride. In the meantime the servants of the former master returned and made the beautiful house ready for them. And so the happy couple had every luxury and comfort that they could desire. But it did not take long for Al-Hamdani to forget his former poverty. If he was lazy before, he was more lazy now. He grew fat and arrogant, and forgot to thank his faithful gazelle. One day Kijipa said sadly to the old woman:
“I have arranged for Al-Hamdani, who was formerly a beggar, to marry the daughter of a Sultan and to move into a fine house with servants, and the strangest thing is – he has not once asked me how I did any of this for him.”
Not long after that, Kijipa became ill and took to her bed. The old lady went to see Al-Hamdani and said:
“Master, your gazelle is sick and aches all over.”
Al-Hamdani replied: “What do I, a man of wealth and position, care about an animal that cost a single silver coin? Give her some gruel and tell her she is fortunate to live in the house.”
The old woman was shocked to hear of his lack of concern for the faithful animal. Soon Kijipa grew worse and Al-Hamdani’s young wife came to plead on behalf of the gazelle.
“My husband, Kijipa is growing worse and her groans are terrible to hear.”
Al-Hamdani replied: “Then stuff up your ears with wax.”
Soon after that Kijipa died. The master ordered him to buried in the dust heap. That night he fell asleep without a scrap of bad conscience for his ungrateful treatment of the amazing gazelle to whom he really owed everything. And in the morning, when he woke up, he was once again a ragged beggar in his old hut. When he was hungry he went out to the dust heap to scratch for some scraps of food. The village children mocked him and said:
“Al-Hamdani where have you been? You have been away so long we thought you were dead.”
But I am pleased to say that the Sultan’s daughter, who had a good heart, and was grateful for all her good fortune in life, lived in the house in comfort, peace and happiness until the end of her days.
I hope you enjoyed the ingenious adventures of the Amazing Gazelle, and did not find it too sad at the end. I think the overall message is that you should be really grateful to those who help you out in life. For more stories from Zanzibar and all over the world, please drop by soon, at Storynory.com
This story comes from Zanzibar, a beautiful island just off Tanzania on the coast of East Africa. It tells the story of a beggar who finds a silver coin, and uses it to buy a gazelle, who turns out to be far more clever than anyone could have thought possible.