Date: Sun Dec 18 2005 - 11:16:19 EST
The following folk tale is originally from Eritrea. Ato Kahsay Zewedli was
the first folklorist to document it in his book "wegI qedamot" published in the
late sixties. It was reprinted a short after liberation with a new cover
illustrating some people telling a fireside stories. It was drawn by my high
school friend, Birhane Adonay, an architect of EPLF Art School during the
This piece embodies different implications when it comes to our cultural
ethos. It shows the relationship between man and woman in agrarian society of
Eritrea. Not only that, it depicts also the role of 'aba nsHa like that
rabbinic sage of Israelites in resolving a family crucible.
In our family-oriented society, the homely wife is very jealous of her
husband as long as the sacred institution of marriage is concerned. She seeks ways
to save the family from disintegration in a closely knit society in which a
divorce is rare. However, to modern, assertive and brainy Eritrean lady,
such familial relationship could be an intolerable or an outdated for that
matter. The bottom line is to keep intact a family solidarity that cannot be
distinguished from our national character.
All in all, thus a family value is the foundation of our strong communal
society that transcended into an obsessive national feeling unknown in
multi-ethnic societies of the world. However, the invisible hands which are at work
in creating a division among our communal society fail to appreciate this
force so unshakeable, so enduring, so puzzling, and so mysterious. It is like
fighting against nature or human soul demanding martyrdom as some one put it in
Dehai: Sbuq 'amawta ygberelna. It implies the legacy of worthy death in favor
of ones integrity, justness, humanity and universal beliefs.
Dear Dehayers, this story covers different messages or moral lessons based
upon our perceptions and life experiences. Please free to share them after
reading this piece based on our wisdom and wit.
Once there lived a husband and wife in a small village in Eritrea. The
husband was not happy with the marriage and usually came home late from his
work in the fields. Sometimes he failed to come home at all.
His wife loved him, but she was just as unhappy in the relationship, and
finally went to talk with the oldest and wisest man in the village. The old
man had married them two years before and now she asked him to end the
The village elder listened patiently to her bitter words and responded
with kindness. "Separation isn't always the best choice. I know of a better
way. I will prepare a secret potion that will change your husband into an
obedient and loving man. He will come home on time and try always to please you."
" Prepare this wonderful medicine at once!" cried the woman. For truly,
she wanted to stay married.
"Ah, that's not an easy thing to do," replied the wise man. " I lack one
vital ingredient, a single whisker taken from a living lion. If you can
bring me such a whisker, I will make the potion."
" I'll get it for you," she said with determination.*
The following morning, the woman carried a large chunk of raw meat down
to the river where the lion often came to drink. Hiding behind a clump of
bushes, she waited quietly until the lion appeared. The woman was frightened and
wanted to run away, but found the courage to toss the meat to the hungry
beast. He devoured it in three gulps and walked slowly back into the trees. The
woman fed the lion again the next morning and every morning that week. During
the second week she began to creep out of hiding and let the lion see who
was bringing the breakfast. By the third week she began to move closer and
closer to the feeding lion, and when four weeks had passed she was able to sit
down quietly next to him while he ate. Thus it became possible, one day, for
her to gently reach over and pluck a single whisker from his chin.'
She ran to the wise man with the prize and pleaded with him to make the
secret potion at once! He was surprised to see the whisker and demanded to
know how she acquired it.
Upon hearing the tale. the old man said, " You do not need magic to
change the ways of your husband. You are brave to pull a single whisker a living
lion. It was dangerous task which required cleverness, courage, and patience.
If you can accomplish this, then can you not use that same courage, wit, and
patience to improve your marriage.
"Don't get angry with your husband, but show him each day that you do,
indeed, love him. Gently point out that you, too, are to be respected and
loved. Share his problems and make him feel wanted. Give him time to change and
see what will happen."
The woman went home and put the advice to work. Slowly but surely, the
relationship began to improve. Within a year their life together grew into one
of happiness which lasted for a lifetime.
Fulghum, R.L. (1993). Thirty-Three Multi-Cultural Tales To Tell. Page. 52
*determination or SnAt showing one of the Eritrean value systems which is
popular in our songs and folk sayings (proverbs).