Swahili Story-Time

Written by Thomson Safaris

The western world grew up with Grimm’s fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen; in East Africa, different stories are told to children. Stories like…

The Lion of Zelabia

Once upon a time, there was a terrifying lion who lived on the island of Zelabia.

The lion was so terrifying, no one from the town of Shela, across the water from the island, would go there.

One day, a rich merchant offered a $100 reward to anyone who would sleep alone on the island of Zelabia. For a long time, no one would accept the merchant’s offer, because they were too afraid of the lion, but finally one man, who was very poor, accepted.

He told his wife of his plan, and though she was afraid for him, she agreed that they needed the money too badly for him not to go.

So when her husband left for the island, she went down to the shore and lit a fire, so he could see it from the shores of Zelabia and not be so afraid.

The next day, the man returned and went to the merchant to claim his money, but the merchant refused to pay, since the wife’s fire had kept the young man from being afraid.

The young man became very angry, and went to the sultan to tell him he had been cheated. But the sultan wanted to retain the favor of the rich merchant, and so he agreed with the merchant that the wife’s fire meant the young man had not earned his reward.

As the young man left the sultan’s palace, a wise man stopped him and asked what had happened. The young man told the wise man his story, and the wise man agreed it had been unfair.

“If I help you recover your money, what will you give me?” the wise man asked.

“I will give you one third of the money,” the young man answered. So the wise man agreed to help.

The next day, the wise man invited the sultan to his house for lunch. Before he arrived, the wise man told his servants to put all the food into pots, and to light fires far away from the pots, and not put the pots onto them.

The sultan arrived, and for many hours he and the wise man spoke, but no food was brought.

“Where is our lunch?” the sultan asked.

“It is not ready yet,” the wise man answered, “but I will tell my servants to stoke the fires and turn the meat so that it is ready soon.”

Another hour passed and still the sultan had not been served. Again he complained, and again the wise man told his servants to stoke the fires and turn the meat.

After another hour, the sultan was very hungry. Furious, he demanded that the wise man show him to the kitchens.

The wise man led him there, and the sultan saw that the pots of food were very far away from the cooking fires.

“You cannot cook food like this,” he bellowed.

“Of course you can,” the wise man answered. “It works in just the same way as the fire worked for the young man who visited you in court yesterday.”

The sultan immediately saw the sage’s meaning, and ordered his officers to tell the merchant to pay the young man. So the young man got his $100, and in the end, the wise man did not even take his part of the reward.



Lion illustration by Catherine Frances Frere (d. 1921), in a book by Mary Eliza Isabella Frere (1845–1911) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APage_117_illustration_in_Old_Deccan_Days.png