The Magical Bird (East Africa)
The day began like any other in the small village. People worked, ate, talked to their neighbors, but they were not too busy to noticed the arrival of a beautiful bird no one had seen before. Then, life changed quickly. Whatever people planted during the day was gone the next morning. Each day there were fewer chickens, goats, and sheep. Even during the day, the huge bird found its way into the storehouses and ate its fill of grains. Would there be anything left for people to eat in the winter? Now no one and nothing was safe.
The villagers were shocked. Stunned. Afraid. No one knew what to do. The bird was so quick it evaded arrows and stones and traps. The headman of the village told the strongest and wisest men, “Sharpen your axes and machetes. Go cut down the tree on which the huge bird perches.” At first all went well. The sharp blades cut into the tree. It began to shake. Suddenly the bird emerged, almost too beautiful to look at, and began singing a song so sweet, so full of stories about places the men had never been and would never go, they fell to their knees, enchanted and bewitched.
The men’s hands could no longer hold their axes and machetes. They lost their urge to kill the bird. When the sun went down, they returned to the headman and told him they could not harm a bird that sang so beautifully.
The headman was furious. He gathered the young men together. “Go and do what the stronger and wiser men could not. Surely you are brave enough to outwit this bird that is devastating our village.”
The young men set out, pleased to be asked to do what their elders could not. At first, their axes and machetes bit deeply into the trunk of the tree. Then, as if by magic, the bird appeared, more beautiful than the day before, singing a song of love and courage, of the wondrous adventures the young men could have. As before, entranced by the bird’s song, the young men’s hands became weak, their axes and machetes fell from their hands. When the sun went down, they too returned to the headman, embarrassed and ashamed.
The headman was beside himself with fury and worry and fear. Now who could he send? Certainly not the women—they would marvel at the beauty of the bird, the wonder of its song. They would feel sorry for the tree. This left only the children. He would have to send them. Perhaps if they worked together they could defeat the bird.
Early the next morning, the headman took the children to the forest to the tree where the bird lived. He told them to shut their ears, not look up, and pay attention, to do what he told them to do. The children lifted the heavy axes and machetes and went to work. When the beautiful bird emerged from the leaves the headman heard its song and his hands grew too weak to hold his ax.
Intent on what they were doing, and proud to be asked to do what the wisest and strongest men could not, what the brave younger men could not, the children did not look at the bird, nor did they listen to its song as they chopped away.
When the tree fell to the ground the bird crashed with it, crushed by the weight of the branches. People heard what the children had accomplished and rushed to the forest. A great feast was held to honor them. In years to come, people told stories about the children who saved the village when the wisest and strongest and bravest could not.
Wit and wisdom from around the world and through the ages. Tales by Nancy King.