The Story of Dschemil and Dschemila (African Folk Tale)

Folk Tales, African Folk Tales478

There was once a man whose name was Dschemil, and he had a cousin who was called Dschemila. They had been betrothed by their parents when they were children, and now Dschemil thought that the time had come for them to be married, and he went two or three days” journey, to the nearest big town, to buy furniture for the new house.

While he was away, Dschemila and her friends set off to the neighbouring woods to pick up sticks, and as she gathered them she found an iron mortar lying on the ground. She placed it on her bundle of sticks, but the mortar would not stay still, and whenever she raised the bundle to put it on her shoulders it slipped off sideways. At length she saw the only way to carry the mortar was to tie it in the very middle of her bundle, and had just unfastened her sticks, when she heard her companions” voices.

“Dschemila, what are you doing? it is almost dark, and if you mean to come with us you must be quick!”

But Dschemila only replied, “You had better go back without me, for I am not going to leave my mortar behind, if I stay here till midnight.”

“Do as you like,” said the girls, and started on their walk home.

The night soon fell, and at the last ray of light the mortar suddenly became an ogre, who threw Dschemila on his back, and carried her off into a desert place, distant a whole month”s journey from her native town. Here he shut her into a castle, and told her not to fear, as her life was safe. Then he went back to his wife, leaving Dschemila weeping over the fate that she had brought upon herself.

Meanwhile the other girls had reached home, and Dschemila”s mother came out to look for her daughter.

“What have you done with her?” she asked anxiously.

“We had to leave her in the wood,” they replied, “for she had picked up an iron mortar, and could not manage to carry it.”

So the old woman set off at once for the forest, calling to her daughter as she hurried along.

“Do go home,” cried the townspeople, as they heard her; “we will go and look for your daughter; you are only a woman, and it is a task that needs strong men.”

But she answered, “Yes, go; but I will go with you! Perhaps it will be only her corpse that we shall find after all. She has most likely been stung by asps, or eaten by wild beasts.”

The men, seeing her heart was bent on it, said no more, but told one of the girls she must come with them, and show them the place where they had left Dschemila. They found the bundle of wood lying where she had dropped it, but the maiden was nowhere to be seen.

“Dschemila! Dschemila!” cried they; but nobody answered.

“If we make a fire, perhaps she will see it,” said one of the men. And they lit a fire, and then went, one this way, and one that, through the forest, to look for her, whispering to each other that if she had been killed by a lion they would be sure to find some trace of it; or if she had fallen asleep, the sound of their voices would wake her; or if a snake had bitten her, they would at least come on her corpse.

All night they searched, and when morning broke and they knew no more than before what had become of the maiden, they grew weary, and said to the mother: “It is no use. Let us go home, nothing has happened to your daughter, except that she has run away with a man.”

“Yes, I will come,” answered she, “but I must first look in the river. Perhaps some one has thrown her in there.” But the maiden was not in the river.

For four days the father and mother waited and watched for their child to come back; then they gave up hope, and said to each other: “What is to be done? What are we to say to the man to whom Dschemila is betrothed? Let us kill a goat, and bury its head in the grave, and when the man returns we must tell him Dschemila is dead.”

Very soon the bridegroom came back, bringing with him carpets and soft cushions for the house of his bride. And as he entered the town Dschemila”s father met him, saying, “Greeting to you. She is dead.”

At these words the young man broke into loud cries, and it was some time before he could speak. Then he turned to one of the crowd who had gathered round him, and asked: “Where have they buried her?”

“Come to the churchyard with me,” answered he; and the young man went with him, carrying with him some of the beautiful things he had brought. These he laid on the grass and then began to weep afresh. All day he stayed, and at nightfall he gathered up his stuffs and carried them to his own house. But when the day dawned he took them in his arms and returned to the grave, where he remained as long as it was light, playing softly on his flute. And this he did daily for six months.

One morning, a man who was wandering through the desert, having lost his way, came upon a lonely castle. The sun was very hot, and the man was very tired, so he said to himself, “I will rest a little in the shadow of this castle.” He stretched himself out comfortably, and was almost asleep, when he heard a voice calling to him softly:

“Are you a ghost,” it said, “or a man?”

He looked up, and saw a girl leaning out of a window, and he answered:

“I am a man, and a better one, too, than your father or your grandfather.”

“May all good luck be with you,” said she; “but what has brought you into this land of ogres and horrors?”

“Does an ogre really live in this castle?” asked he.

“Certainly he does,” replied the girl, “and as night is not far off he will be here soon. So, dear friend, depart quickly, lest he return and snap you up for supper.”

“But I am so thirsty! “ said the man. “Be kind, and give me some drink, or else I shall die! Surely, even in this desert there must be some spring?”

“Well, I have noticed that whenever the ogre brings back water he always comes from that side; so if you follow the same direction perhaps you may find some.”

The man jumped up at once and was about to start, when the maiden spoke again: “Tell me, where are you going?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I have an errand for you; but tell me first whether you go east or west.”

“I travel to Damascus.”

“Then do this for me. As you pass through our village, ask for a man called Dschemil, and say to him: “Dschemila greets you, from the castle, which lies far away, and is rocked by the wind. In my grave lies only a goat. So take heart.” “

And the man promised, and went his way, till he came to a spring of water. And he drank a great draught and then lay on the bank and slept quietly. When he woke he said to himself, “The maiden did a good deed when she told me where to find water. A few hours more, and I should have been dead. So I will do her bidding, and seek out her native town and the man for whom the message was given.”

For a whole month he travelled, till at last he reached the town where Dschemil dwelt, and as luck would have it, there was the young man sitting before his door with his beard unshaven and his shaggy hair hanging over his eyes.

“Welcome, stranger,” said Dschemil, as the man stopped. “Where have you come from?”

“I come from the west, and go towards the east,” he answered.

“Well, stop with us awhile, and rest and eat!” said Dschemil. And the man entered; and food was set before him, and he sat down with the father of the maiden and her brothers, and Dschemil. Only Dschemil himself was absent, squatting on the threshold.

“Why do you not eat too?” asked the stranger. But one of the young men whispered hastily: “Leave him alone. Take no notice! It is only at night that he ever eats.”

So the stranger went on silently with his food. Suddenly one of Dschemil”s brothers called out and said: “Dschemil, bring us some water! “ And the stranger remembered his message and said:

“Is there a man here named “Dschemil”? I lost my way in the desert, and came to a castle, and a maiden looked out of the window and . . . “

“Be quiet,” they cried, fearing that Dschemil might hear. But Dschemil had heard, and came forward and said:

“What did you see? Tell me truly, or I will cut off your head this instant!”

“My lord,” replied the stranger, “as I was wandering, hot and tired, through the desert, I saw near me a great castle, and I said aloud, “I will rest a little in its shadow.” And a maiden looked out of a window and said, “Are you a ghost or a man? “And I answered, “I am a man, and a better one, too, than your father or your grandfather.” And I was thirsty and asked for water, but she had none to give me, and I felt like to die. Then she told me that the ogre, in whose castle she dwelt, brought in water always from the same side, and that if I too went that way most likely I should come to it. But before I started she begged me to go to her native town, and if I met a man called Dschemil I was to say to him, “Dschemila greets you, from the castle which lies far away, and is rocked by the wind. In my grave lies only a goat. So take heart.”“

Then Dschemil turned to his family and said: “Is this true? and is Dschemila not dead at all, but simply stolen from her home?”

“No, no,” replied they, “his story is a pack of lies. Dschemila is really dead. Everybody knows it.”

“That I shall see for myself,” said Dschemil, and, snatching up a spade, hastened off to the grave where the goat”s head lay buried.

And they answered, “Then hear what really happened. When you were away, she went with the other maidens to the forest to gather wood. And there she found an iron mortar, which she wished to bring home; but she could not carry it, neither would she leave it. So the maidens returned without her, and as night was come, we all set out to look for her, but found nothing. And we said, “The bridegroom will be here to- morrow, and when he learns that she is lost, he will set out to seek her, and we shall lose him too. Let us kill a goat, and bury it in her grave, and tell him she is dead.” Now you know, so do as you will. Only, if you go to seek her, take with you this man with whom she has spoken that he may show you the way.” “Yes; that is the best plan,” replied Dschemil; “so give me food, and hand me my sword, and we will set out directly.”

But the stranger answered: “I am not going to waste a whole month in leading you to the castle! If it were only a day or two”s journey I would not mind; but a month–no!”

“Come with me then for three days,” said Dschemil, “and put me in the right road, and I will reward you richly.”

“Very well,” replied the stranger, “so let it be.”

For three days they travelled from sunrise to sunset, then the stranger said: “Dschemil?”

“Yes,” replied he.

“Go straight on till you reach a spring, then go on a little farther, and soon you will see the castle standing before you.”

“So I will,” said Dschemil.

“Farewell, then,” said the stranger, and turned back the way he had come.

It was six and twenty days before Dschemil caught sight of a green spot rising out of the sandy desert, and knew that the spring was near at last. He hastened his steps, and soon was kneeling by its side, drinking thirstily of the bubbling water. Then he lay down on the cool grass, and began to think. “If the man was right, the castle must be somewhere about. I had better sleep here to-night, and to-morrow I shall be able to see where it is.” So he slept long and peacefully. When he awoke the sun was high, and he jumped up and washed his face and hands in the spring, before going on his journey. He had not walked far, when the castle suddenly appeared before him, though a moment before not a trace of it could be seen. “How am I to get in?” he thought. “I dare not knock, lest the ogre should hear me. Perhaps it would be best for me to climb up the wall, and wait to see what will happen. So he did, and after sitting on the top for about an hour, a window above him opened, and a voice said: “Dschemil!” He looked up, and at the sight of Dschemila, whom he had so long believed to be dead, he began to weep.

“Dear cousin,” she whispered, “what has brought you here?”

“My grief at losing you.”

“Oh! go away at once. If the ogre comes back he will kill you.”

“I swear by your head, queen of my heart, that I have not found you only to lose you again! If I must die, well, I must!”

“Oh, what can I do for you?”

“Anything you like!”

“If I let you down a cord, can you make it fast under your arms, and climb up?”

“Of course I can,” said he.

So Dschemila lowered the cord, and Dschemil tied it round him, and climbed up to her window. Then they embraced each other tenderly, and burst into tears of joy.

“But what shall I do when the ogre returns?” asked she.

“Trust to me,” he said.

Now there was a chest in the room, where Dschemila kept her clothes. And she made Dschemil get into it, and lie at the bottom, and told him to keep very still.

He was only hidden just in time, for the lid was hardly closed when the ogre”s heavy tread was heard on the stairs. He flung open the door, bringing men”s flesh for himself and lamb”s flesh for the maiden. “I smell the smell of a man!” he thundered. “What is he doing here?”

“How could any one have come to this desert place?” asked the girl, and burst into tears.

“Do not cry,” said the ogre; “perhaps a raven has dropped some scraps from his claws.”

“Ah, yes, I was forgetting,” answered she. “One did drop some bones about.”

“Well, burn them to powder,” replied the ogre, “so that I may swallow it.”

So the maiden took some bones and burned them, and gave them to the ogre, saying, “ Here is the powder, swallow it.”

And when he had swallowed the powder the ogre stretched himself out and went to sleep.

In a little while the man”s flesh, which the maiden was cooking for the ogre”s supper, called out and said:

“Hist! Hist! A man lies in the kist! “

And the lamb”s flesh answered:

“He is your brother, And cousin of the other.”

The ogre moved sleepily, and asked, “What did the meat say, Dschemila?”

“Only that I must be sure to add salt.”

“Well, add salt.”

“Yes, I have done so,” said she.

The ogre was soon sound asleep again, when the man”s flesh called out a second time:

“Hist! Hist! A man lies in the kist!”

And the lamb”s flesh answered:

“He is your brother, And cousin of the other.”

“What did it say, Dschemila?” asked the ogre.

“Only that I must add pepper.”

“Well, add pepper.”

“Yes, I have done so,” said she.

The ogre had had a long day”s hunting, and could not keep himself awake. In a moment his eyes were tight shut, and then the man”s flesh called out for the third time:

“Hist! Hist A man lies in the kist,”

And the lamb”s flesh answered:

“He is your brother, And cousin of the other.”

“What did it say, Dschemila?” asked the ogre.

“Only that it was ready, and that I had better take it off the fire.”

“Then if it is ready, bring it to me, and I will eat it.”

So she brought it to him, and while he was eating she supped off the lamb”s flesh herself, and managed to put some aside for her cousin.

When the ogre had finished, and had washed his hands, he said to Dschemila: “Make my bed, for I am tired.”

So she made his bed, and put a nice soft pillow for his head, and tucked him up.

“Father,” she said suddenly.

“Well, what is it?”

“Dear father, if you are really asleep, why are your eyes always open?”

“Why do you ask that, Dschemila? Do you want to deal treacherously with me?”

“No, of course not, father. How could I, and what would be the use of it?”

“Well, why do you want to know?”

“Because last night I woke up and saw the whole place shining in a red light, which frightened me.”

“That happens when I am fast asleep.”

“And what is the good of the pin you always keep here so carefully?”

“If I throw that pin in front of me, it turns into an iron mountain.”

“And this darning needle?”

“That becomes a sea.”

“And this hatchet?”

“That becomes a thorn hedge, which no one can pass through. But why do you ask all these questions? I am sure you have something in your head.”

“Oh, I just wanted to know; and how could anyone find me out here?” and she began to cry.

“Oh, don”t cry, I was only in fun,” said the ogre.

He was soon asleep again, and a yellow light shone through the castle.

“Come quick!” called Dschemil from the chest; “we must fly now while the ogre is asleep.”

“Not yet,” she said, “there is a yellow light shining. I don”t think he is asleep.”

So they waited for an hour. Then Dschemil whispered again: “Wake up! There is no time to lose!”

“Let me see if he is asleep,” said she, and she peeped in, and saw a red light shining. Then she stole back to her cousin, and asked, “But how are we to get out?”

“Get the rope, and I will let you down.”

So she fetched the rope, the hatchet, and the pin and the needles, and said, “Take them, and put them in the pocket of your cloak, and be sure not to lose them.”

Dschemil put them carefully in his pocket, and tied the rope round her, and let her down over the wall.

“Are you safe?” he asked.

“Yes, quite.”

“Then untie the rope, so that I may draw it up.”

And Dschemila did as she was told, and in a few minutes he stood beside her.

Now all this time the ogre was asleep, and had heard nothing. Then his dog came to him and said, “O, sleeper, are you having pleasant dreams? Dschemila has forsaken you and run away.”

The ogre got out of bed, gave the dog a kick, then went back again, and slept till morning.

When it grew light, he rose, and called, “Dschemila! Dschemila!” but he only heard the echo of his own voice! Then he dressed himself quickly; buckled on his sword and whistled to his dog, and followed the road which he knew the fugitives must have taken. “Cousin,” said Dschemila suddenly, and turning round as she spoke.

“What is it?” answered he.

“The ogre is coming after us. I saw him.”

“But where is he? I don”t see him.”

“Over there. He only looks about as tall as a needle.”

Then they both began to run as fast as they could, while the ogre and his dog kept drawing always nearer. A few more steps, and he would have been by their side, when Dschemila threw the darning needle behind her. In a moment it became an iron mountain between them and their enemy.

“We will break it down, my dog and I,” cried the ogre in a rage, and they dashed at the mountain till they had forced a path through, and came ever nearer and nearer.

“Cousin! “ said Dschemila suddenly.

“What is it?”

“The ogre is coming after us with his dog.”

“You go on in front then,” answered he; and they both ran on as fast as they could, while the ogre and the dog drew always nearer and nearer.

“They are close upon us! “ cried the maiden, glancing behind, “you must throw the pin.”

So Dschemil took the pin from his cloak and threw it behind him, and a dense thicket of thorns sprang up round them, which the ogre and his dog could not pass through.

“I will get through it somehow, if I burrow underground,” cried he, and very soon he and the dog were on the other side.

“Cousin,” said Dschemila, “they are close to us now.”

“Go on in front, and fear nothing,” replied Dschemil.

So she ran on a little way, and then stopped.

“He is only a few yards away now,” she said, and Dschemil flung the hatchet on the ground, and it turned into a lake.

“I will drink, and my dog shall drink, till it is dry,” shrieked the ogre, and the dog drank so much that it burst and died. But the ogre did not stop for that, and soon the whole lake was nearly dry. Then he exclaimed, “Dschemila, let your head become a donkey”s head, and your hair fur!”

But when it was done, Dschemil looked at her in horror, and said, “ She is really a donkey, and not a woman at all! “

And he left her, and went home.

For two days poor Dschemila wandered about alone, weeping bitterly. When her cousin drew near his native town, he began to think over his conduct, and to feel ashamed of himself.

“Perhaps by this time she has changed back to her proper shape,” he said to himself, “I will go and see!”

So he made all the haste he could, and at last he saw her seated on a rock, trying to keep off the wolves, who longed to have her for dinner. He drove them off and said, “Get up, dear cousin, you have had a narrow escape.”

Dschemila stood up and answered, “Bravo, my friend. You persuaded me to fly with you, and then left me helplessly to my fate.”

“Shall I tell you the truth?” asked he.

“Tell it.”

“I thought you were a witch, and I was afraid of you.”

“Did you not see me before my transformation? and did you not watch it happen under your very eyes, when the ogre bewitched me?”

“What shall I do?” said Dschemil. “If I take you into the town, everyone will laugh, and say, “Is that a new kind of toy you have got? It has hands like a woman, feet like a woman, the body of a woman; but its head is the head of an ass, and its hair is fur.” “

“Well, what do you mean to do with me?” asked Dschemila. “Better take me home to my mother by night, and tell no one anything about it.”

“So I will,” said he.

They waited where they were till it was nearly dark, then Dschemil brought his cousin home.

“Is that Dschemil?” asked the mother when he knocked softly.

“Yes, it is.”

“And have you found her?”

“Yes, and I have brought her to you.”

“Oh, where is she? let me see her!” cried the mother.

“Here, behind me,” answered Dschemil.

But when the poor woman caught sight of her daughter, she shrieked, and exclaimed, “Are you making fun of me? When did I ever give birth to an ass?”

“Hush!” said Dschemil, “it is not necessary to let the whole world know! And if you look at her body, you will see two scars on it.”

“Mother,” sobbed Dschemila, “do you really not know your own daughter?”

“Yes, of course I know her.”

“What are her two scars then?”

“On her thigh is a scar from the bite of a dog, and on her breast is the mark of a burn, where she pulled a lamp over her when she was little.”

“Then look at me, and see if I am not your daughter,” said Dschemila, throwing off her clothes and showing her two scars.

And at the sight her mother embraced her, weeping.

“Dear daughter,” she cried, “what evil fate has befallen you?”

“It was the ogre who carried me off first, and then bewitched me,” answered Dschemila.

“But what is to be done with you?” asked her mother.

“Hide me away, and tell no one anything about me. And you, dear cousin, say nothing to the neighbours, and if they should put questions, you can make answer that I have not yet been found.”

“So I will,” replied he.

Then he and her mother took her upstairs and hid her in a cupboard, where she stayed for a whole month, only going out to walk when all the world was asleep.

Meanwhile Dschemil had returned to his own home, where his father and mother, his brothers and neighbours, greeted him joyfully.

“When did you come back?” said they, “and have you found Dschemila?”

“No, I searched the whole world after her, and could hear nothing of her.”

“Did you part company with the man who started with you?”

“Yes; after three days he got so weak and useless he could not go on. It must be a month by now since he reached home again. I went on and visited every castle, and looked in every house. But there were no signs of her; and so I gave it up.”

And they answered him: “We told you before that it was no good. An ogre or an ogress must have snapped her up, and how can you expect to find her?”

“I loved her too much to be still,” he said.

But his friends did not understand, and soon they spoke to him again about it.

“We will seek for a wife for you. There are plenty of girls prettier than Dschemila.”

“I dare say; but I don”t want them.”

“But what will you do with all the cushions and carpets, and beautiful things you bought for your house?”

“They can stay in the chests.”

“But the moths will eat them! For a few weeks, it is of no consequence, but after a year or two they will be quite useless.”

“And if they have to lie there ten years I will have Dschemila, and her only, for my wife. For a month, or even two months, I will rest here quietly. Then I will go and seek her afresh.”

“Oh, you are quite mad! Is she the only maiden in the world? There are plenty of others better worth having than she is.”

“If there are I have not seen them! And why do you make all this fuss? Every man knows his own business best.

“Why, it is you who are making all the fuss yourself.”

But Dschemil turned and went into the house, for he did not want to quarrel.

Three months later a Jew, who was travelling across the desert, came to the castle, and laid himself down under the wall to rest.

In the evening the ogre saw him there and said to him, “Jew, what are you doing here? Have you anything to sell?”

“I have only some clothes,” answered the Jew, who was in mortal terror of the ogre.

“Oh, don”t be afraid of me,” said the ogre, laughing. “I shall not eat you. Indeed, I mean to go a bit of the way with you myself.”

“I am ready, gracious sir,” replied the Jew, rising to his feet.

“Well, go straight on till you reach a town, and in that town you will find a maiden called Dschemila and a young man called Dschemil. Take this mirror and this comb with you, and say to Dschemila, “Your father, the ogre, greets you, and begs you to look at your face in this mirror, and it will appear as it was before, and to comb your hair with this comb, and it will be as formerly.” If you do not carry out my orders, I will eat you the next time we meet.”

“Oh, I will obey you punctually,” cried the Jew.

After thirty days the Jew entered the gate of the town, and sat down in the first street he came to, hungry, thirsty, and very tired.

Quite by chance, Dschemil happened to pass by, and seeing a man sitting there, full in the glare of the sun, he stopped, and said, “ Get up at once, Jew; you will have a sunstroke if you sit in such a place.”

“Ah, good sir,” replied the Jew, “for a whole month I have been travelling, and I am too tired to move.”

“Which way did you come?” asked Dschemil.

“From out there,” answered the Jew pointing behind him.

“And you have been travelling for a month, you say? Well, did you see anything remarkable?”

“Yes, good sir; I saw a castle, and lay down to rest under its shadow. And an ogre woke me, and told me to come to this town, where I should find a young man called Dschemil, and a girl called Dschemila.”

“My name is Dschemil. What does the ogre want with me?”

“He gave me some presents for Dschemila. How can I see her?”

“Come with me, and you shall give them into her own hands.”

So the two went together to the house of Dschemil”s uncle, and Dschemil led the Jew into his aunt”s room.

“Aunt!” he cried, “this Jew who is with me has come from the ogre, and has brought with him, as presents, a mirror and a comb which the ogre has sent her.”

“But it may be only some wicked trick on the part of the ogre,” said she.

“Oh, I don”t think so,” answered the young man, “give her the things.”

Then the maiden was called, and she came out of her hiding place, and went up to the Jew, saying, “Where have you come from, Jew?”

“From your father the ogre.”

“And what errand did he send you on?”

“He told me I was to give you this mirror and this comb, and to say “Look in this mirror, and comb your hair with this comb, and both will become as they were formerly.” “

And Dschemila took the mirror and looked into it, and combed her hair with the comb, and she had no longer an ass”s head, but the face of a beautiful maiden.

Great was the joy of both mother and cousin at this wonderful sight, and the news that Dschemila had returned soon spread, and the neighbours came flocking in with greetings.

“When did you come back?”

“My cousin brought me.”

“Why, he told us he could not find you! “

“Oh, I did that on purpose,” answered Dschemil. “I did not want everyone to know.”

Then he turned to his father and his mother, his brothers and his sisters-in-law, and said, “We must set to work at once, for the wedding will be to-day.”

A beautiful litter was prepared to carry the bride to her new home, but she shrank back, saying, “I am afraid, lest the ogre should carry me off again.”

“How can the ogre get at you when we are all here?” they said. “There are two thousand of us all told, and every man has his sword.”

“He will manage it somehow,” answered Dschemila, “he is a powerful king!”

“She is right,” said an old man. “Take away the litter, and let her go on foot if she is afraid.”

“But it is absurd!” exclaimed the rest; “how can the ogre get hold of her?”

“I will not go,” said Dschemila again. “You do not know that monster; I do.”

And while they were disputing the bridegroom arrived.

“Let her alone. She shall stay in her father”s house. After all, I can live here, and the wedding feast shall be made ready.”

And so they were married at last, and died without having had a single quarrel.

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