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Ethiopian Folktales

Narrated by Ayelew Haile 
Opening phrase
Tocho tocho tanoret
Andreshoro kefela
Gahse butuna kela
Teret teret.
(Let us laugh.

Let the new garment suit you.)
Imahoy Zewditu Wudineh
Imahoy Zewditu Wudineh

Once there lived a husband and wife in a certain village. The man was very foolish and the woman was clever (which is very usual in our society!). So every week, she would go to the market to buy everything they needed for the home, while the husband stayed at home looking after the children, the domestic animals and the garden.
One day she met a young, handsome man. They became lovers and met every week. She was very much in love with him and she wanted to meet him all the time and felt very passionate. She wanted to stay long with him. She made plans every day as to how she could meet him often.
One day she said to him, “I’m not happy with this, I miss you because I see you only once a week. I’m not satisfied. Why can’t we spend a night together?”
He says, “No, this is impossible. Of course I feel passionate about you too, but you are married and so we can’t do it.”
She said, “I can make a plan for that. You will shave off your beard, wear a woman’s dress and put a veil on your head and I will tell him I’ve met my sister whom I haven’t seen for twenty years. Then I will introduce you to my husband. You will sleep in the other room and I will tell him that I am going to sleep with my sister because I haven’t seen her for so long.”
Her lover agreed and he went with her, wearing a skirt and everything was accomplished as she had planned.
So they went home and she said to her husband, “Here is my sister who I haven’t seen since before I married you twenty years ago, and God knows how lucky it is I met her in the market so suddenly. So He is to be praised. And I brought her here to introduce her to you.”
So they kissed each other. After a while she told him that her sister was so shy she would stay in the other room until she became more familiar with the family.
The husband had bought a good sheep.
The woman said, “There is no one I love more than my sister, so let us slaughter it (in the culture it is very important for a woman to feed her lover)."
They slaughtered the sheep, tejTej is an alcoholic drink made from honey and tala is beer. and tala were brought and they ate and drank merrily.
She said to her husband, “I have missed my sister so much that I must sleep with her.”
He said, “No problem. Go ahead. I want you to be happy.”
So they enjoyed their love day after day for about a week.
After a week she went to the market as usual.
Then an idea came into the husband’s mind, “This wife of mine spent seven night with her sister, saying she missed her so much. Why can’t I try to sleep with her?”
He went into the room and talked to the lover. He tried to hug and kiss her. The lover, of course, tried to avoid the kiss, fearing he would be discovered. The husband persisted, trying to touch the lover’s body, and it dawned in his mind that the ‘sister’ had muscles like a man. He tried to catch him and the lover wanted to escape. They struggled with each other, wrestling. The lover saw that the husband realised he was a man, and being younger and stronger than the husband he pushed him down on the floor and escaped.
The husband says to himself, “Well, my wife has brought a man here saying it is her sister. Now I will not let her come into my house. I will beat her.”
He got a stick and waited to beat her.
Meanwhile the escaping lover met the wife returning from the market.
“Why are you here? What happened to you? Why did you come here?” she said in surprise.
“Well, your plan didn’t work. He knows I’m a man and I knocked him down and escaped. He’s waiting to beat you. You’d better not go home now. He will certainly beat you.”
She thought for a moment and said, “I can get in, never mind. I have another plan to trick him.”
“But he will kill you!”
“No, he will not kill me. And you, as usual, will meet me in the market as before, on market day.”
She called her husband as she approached the house, “Oh dear husband, oh dear husband, please come and rescue me.”
The husband was surprised and thought, “My wife is in trouble. What’s happened to her?”
“What’s happened to you?” he said.
“Well, just like a miracle, today something happened. There is something that changes men into women and women into men. So some men have been changed into women and some women have been transformed into men. I came home from the market running, because they were chasing me. So come and take me home so that they may not transform me and you will not be alone without a wife.”
“So is that why your sister was transformed into a man and ran away? I thought she was a man, but I was wrong,” he said.
“Yes, I am the only one who escaped from being transformed,” she says.
So he took her home peacefully and they remained husband and wife.
Listeners say: Tochuke, tochube, genebite
(Let God give keep you till old age
So that you may tell us more stories.)
Narrator says: Ito kasho genjabe
(And also you,
So that you may listen to more stories.)

Narrated by Imahoy Zewditu Wudineh
Once there was an immature rat going out into the world, without the knowledge of her mother, alone. She admired everything she saw and came to where a cat was sleeping, a beautiful white one, coiled up on itself. She loved him the moment she saw him.
“How beautiful is that creature, with white fur and nice whiskers. I must go and talk to him. I want to know him. He’s so attractive.”
While she was creeping up to the cat, the cock was there. So the cock was big and had a red crest, and the rat feared him with his beak and crest. She shuddered and retreated, looking for chances to get to the cat. The cock flapped his wings, and shouted, and she was terrified and ran away, back to her mother.
The mother had been worried, missing her baby.
“I was worried. Where were you? Why did you go out without telling me?”
“Oh Mummy, I was in the world today for the first time and I was very happy. I saw the birds. I saw the dog and beautiful things. And this is what happened. While I was going to a very attractive creature who had white fur and whiskers and attracts everyone when he says ‘Miaow’, and I was trying to be his friend, and a big creature, red colour with his crest and beak, flapped his wings at me and I was afraid he would eat me, and so I ran home to tell you.”
“Oh, what a pity that you are so small and innocent that you didn’t know all this. Such a child, with no knowledge of friends and enemies. That creature whom you feared and ran away from is so innocent. He can do no harm to our race. Even when human beings kill him and eat the meat, we get the bones from him. But the other one who you thought was so peaceful and attractive is the cat, the enemy of our race, from whom we hide and run, so don’t go to him again.”


Narrated by Worku Alemu
In the old days there was a certain tribe called the Matto, who are present to this day. They are wise and intelligent and were advisors to kings, who were the Minjo – the kings of Kafa - until they were thrown out. So the Matto, being competitive with the king, he ordered that they be hanged and killed and destroyed altogether and exterminated from society. So most Mattos were hanged and some of them were exiled. But one small Matto boy lived in hiding and grew up with the Mannos (another tribe who were tanners and who were discriminated against and despised).
One day the King thought he should build a palace, bigger and more beautiful than the one of the neighbouring kings. So he ordered his attendants to fetch him a pole that is so long it reaches to the sky. So the attendants started looking for such a pole, because no one dared to disobey the King. The consequence if they don’t bring the pole is to be hanged. So they began to search far and wide.
They hunted for ten years until their nails had grown very long and their hair was very long, and was like a dress on their back as they couldn’t even find time to cut it, as they were doing their best to find the long pole that reached the sky. Until they had fetched the pole they were not to return to the King or see their families.
So they wanted to go to a village, and they did, because they were tired of living in the forest, hunting for the pole and hiding from the King. There in the village they talked to some children and there was the Matto boy.
This boy grew up with the Mannos and the Mannos were afraid of these people, who had long hair and nails and they thought, “What are these creatures?”
They ran away but the Matto boy approached them and asked them what they were looking for.
They said, “Why do you ask us? What can you do for us?”
“Never mind. Just tell me,” he said.
So they told him how the king had ordered them to find this pole and how they lived in the jungle eating berries and wild animals, for fear.
“Our only hope is just to be hanged,” they said.
“So this is the problem which made you hide in the forest and run here and there for such a little problem?” said the Matto boy.
“Yes,” they said.
“I will solve this, “ he said.
They couldn’t believe him
“Oh no, we don’t trust you.”
They did not believe him.
“If you solve this problem for us, we’ll do anything for you,” they said.
The boy said, “If I don't help you, the King of Keffa will have you hanged. I’ll tell you what to do, but don’t say who told you. Now get a drum and sing ‘Yubbo’, a song of congratulation (Keffa word), and, singing this, go directly to the King. When you reach the palace say, ‘Oh, beloved King, we wish you to reign for a thousand years. We have got the pole you wanted. But we don’t know what the height should be, because the sky is so high. Will Your Majesty give us a measuring rod for the pole?'”
They came drumming the drum and singing the Yubbo, and they came to the palace.
The King was laughing, saying, “They are only pretending! How can they get a pole as high as the sky? So I’ll hear what they’ll say. They are rejoicing as if they have found it.”
So saying, the King was waiting for them.
“Oh King, may you reign for a thousand years. We have got the pole.”
“Why didn’t you bring it?”
“We don’t have the measuring rod. Please give it to us and we’ll bring the pole.”
The King says, “It must be one left from the Mattoni tribe, a mischievous Mattoni, who told you to say this.”
They said, “No one told us.”
They refused to tell him. But they knew he would hang them if they didn’t. And so they told him a certain little boy told them.
The King ordered the soldiers to fetch him, and he came and said he was a Mattoni, living among the tanners.
“I grew up among the Mannos to escape hanging and death.”
Hearing this, the King said, “I you can solve this problem, you can also solve problems for me. You are wise.”
So saying, he admired him.
“And from now on, no one shall hang you. Your tribe must never be hanged or killed from now on. You will be my advisers, along with the tribe of Mattos,” he declared.
And he gave amnesty to those who were in exile.
“All your tribe will return and live in peace with me. From now on, you will never live far from my palace and those in exile shall come home.”
So, from that day on, the Matto tribe lived peacefully, advising the kings of Keffa.


Narrated by Ayelew Haile
There was once a chief in a certain village who had a very foolish servant. He was so foolish that he never did anything without orders. You must tell him always to fetch things.
You must say, “Do this, do that,” otherwise he wouldn’t do it.
He wouldn’t pick up anything unless you tell him to do so.
One day the chief was riding his mule and going to the court, and his purse fell onto the ground and he didn’t see and the servant didn’t pick it up, because he was not told to do so. So later on the chief put his hand into his pocket and found that his purse was missing.
“Oh! What a bad day! I have lost my purse!”
The servant said, “Oh, I have seen it. It fell down in such and such a place.”
“Well, so how could you keep quiet when I lose money? I had money in my wallet. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh master, you didn’t tell me to pick it up. No one told me, so I kept quiet.”
The man was angry. So he gave him a warning not to keep quiet when anything drops from his pocket, or from his horse’s bridle or tack.
On another day, the master was riding the mule and the servant was following him on foot, waiting for anything that drops from his master or from the mule.
So he collected the dung that dropped from the horse and put it in a sack, along with the mud kicked up from the hooves.
When they reached the court, the master said, “Didn’t you see anything fall to the ground today?”
“Oh yes, master!”
The master reached into his pocket but his purse was there.
“What else dropped?”
He showed him the sack full of mud and manure.
“This is not what you should have kept!”
He was angry.
He said, “From now on, you will pick up the following: my wallet, my money, my hat, my whip and any part of the horse’s tack.”
He took a piece of paper and wrote all the items down on the list.
“From now on,” the master said, “These are the items which you will pick up and you will not pick up anything beside them.”
So on their third journey the servant was following his master while reading the list on the paper. He didn’t collect the dung and the mud this time because it wasn’t written.
"My master never ordered this," he thought.
On the fourth journey he did the same. He strictly followed the list on the paper. But that day there was an accident. The horse fell and the master fell into a pit, wounded.
The master cried, “Come! Rescue me! Take me out of this pit!”
But the servant said, “Oh master, it is not written here, so I will not touch you,” and he went on his journey.


Narrated by Worku Alemu
Once upon a time there was a man who had a dog. The dog was pregnant. One day when he was going out of his house, the dog was sleeping. When the man passed by her, he heard a sound from the foetus and was astounded.
“How can the foetus make such a sound? What a miracle it is. There is a well-known philosopher. I should go to him and ask him about this miracle,” he thought.
And he went.
When he reached a certain village he met a man who was very old and bent down almost on all fours.
“Are you the philosopher?” he asked him. “I have come to consult you with my problem. A weird thing happened to me.”
“No, I’m only a young man. My father is tilling the land and ploughing." (Ploughing needs great strength). "You can go to my father. He is living in a certain place. He can solve the mystery. Go and consult him.”
“How can you say you are a young man? You look not less than one hundred. If he is your father he must be more than one hundred years old.”
But off he went.
Then he met a middle-aged man.
“Are you the philosopher who solves problems? I went to a very old man and he told me in mockery that you are his father.”
“No, he didn’t mock. He’s right. I’m not a philosopher. I can’t solve your problem. Go over yonder mountains to a certain village and you will meet my father who will solve the mystery. Go to him. You will find him training horses.”
And he went there. He was even more surprised. He went on to the third man and he sees a young man, training horses and riding them in full strength.
“Are you the philosopher?”
“Yes,” he said.
“When I met the first man he said he was your grandson, and the man ploughing was your son. How could you be their father or grandfather since you are so young?”
“Yes, it is true. The one who ploughs is my son and the old man is my grandson.”
“How can this be true?” the man asked.
“Come, I will show you,” he said and he took him home to serve him coffee.
“Bring the philosopher’s chair,” he ordered his wife when they arrived.
She brought it.
“I didn’t mean this one. Bring the other one,” he said.
She took it to the next room and brought a chair, but it was the same chair.
“No, it’s not this one. Bring the other one,” he says again.
She goes in and brings the same chair.
He sits on it. He tells his wife to bring cheese. She brings it.
“I don’t mean the cheese of the black cow, but of the red cow.”
She brings the same cheese.
“Bring the cheese of the white cow,” he orders again.
She brings the same cheese.
They ate lunch. He explains then.
“I told her to bring my chair three times and she did. I told her to bring my cheese three times and she did. They take my orders. And because she takes my orders, I live at peace with my wife. We don’t argue and antagonise each other.
Now let me tell you why my son is older and my grandson is very much older than me. When I order my son he brings everything and does everything as I tell him. When I tell my horse, “Come,” he comes. When I say, “Stop,” he stops. Everyone obeys my orders. My ploughing ox comes when I call him and I do my farming perfectly and live with peace of mind. I get good harvests. Even the cows give milk by their own will. So everything becomes successful, year in and year out.
My son is older than I am. When he calls his horse, his horse runs away, but somehow he manages to ride it. His ploughing ox doesn’t want to do his job, but somehow he gets him and ploughs his land the hard way. His wife doesn’t take orders, but he makes her angry by some argument. He always struggles to get something done. He can do nothing confidently, only the hard way. Things don’t run smoothly, but he manages it somehow. That’s why he’s older than me.
My grandson is so unfortunate in catching his horse that it comes and kicks him. The ploughing ox doesn’t do his work peacefully, and butts him with his horns. His wife doesn’t give him food and drink when he wants, and she doesn’t let him sleep in peace. She nags him. She “burns his stomach” with a torrent of words and makes him angry, so he sleeps without supper. He suffers a lot. He’s afraid to ask her for coffee. She serves him only when she wants to. He worries, thinking of his bad kicking horse, who might kick someone so he will go to jail. He’s worried to bring a friend home to have coffee with him because she will be angry. And he has to pay a fine when his horse breaks people’s legs. He lives in great unhappiness. That’s why he’s so old and weak, though he is my grandson. That’s why things have happened in a reverse way. (And that’s an answer to your question. Things can be young when they are old.)
So the interpretation is that this foetus will be very wise, and his grandchildren will be wise. A puppy will be born who is wiser than his father. While the mother is asleep she should be barking, but the foetus cried out and will be wiser than his father. (Mother and puppy are symbols of life in general.)”


Narrated by Worku Alemu
Once there lived a poor man. And he had a trap, a pit, and he put grass on it to trap animals. He arranged a trap for a bushbuck. Instead the lion, leopard, a man, a snake and a jackal fell into it one by one.
The man came to see what he had caught. He found all five of them in his trap. He was surprised to see five different animals including a man.
They all called, “Get us out of this pit and we’ll reward you.”
“What if you eat me?”
“No, no, we won’t hurt you. We promise.”
He asked the lion first.
“I am a very poor man. What will you do for me?”
“I will get you any domestic animal, as many as you want, and you can be rich.”
He got him out of the trap.
He asked the leopard the same question.
“Was it not to eat good meat that you made this trap? So I’ll get you every fat bull and cow and sheep and goats so that you may have more than enough food for your family.”
He got him out.
“What about you, snake?”
“I will save you at the time of your greatest danger,” he promised.
He got him out.
“How about the jackal?”
The jackal says, “I can’t help you. I don’t have the capacity to help you, except I’ll only give you one piece of advice.”
He got him out.
The man said, “I will be your shepherd and look after your cattle. You have so many cattle. I will be your shepherd and I will not say a word about you to any man. I will be discreet.”
So they were all out.
Finally, when all were out, the jackal says to the man, “Here’s my advice. Beware only of the man.”
He runs to the forest.
The man goes home, followed by his new captive shepherd. The others all disperse to fulfil their promise. The leopard brings him meat – a sheep and a goat. In two or three years time the lion brought flocks and herds to fill his “beret” (corral). The man became very rich.
Now three men were passing the pen of the rich man and the captive shepherd. He was listening to them.
One of them said, looking at all the cattle, “Oh, that horse looks like my horse, which was stolen by a lion.”
The other says, “Look at that cow, same colour, looks like mine, maybe the lion also took it.”
The third says, “Look at that bull. It looks like my bull.”
The servant listens. The strangers didn’t know they were their own animals. They thought they had been eaten by the lion.
The man servant tells them the whole story, starting from the trap and all that had happened since and he advises them, “Why don’t you accuse him at the king’s court? I’ll be a witness.”
“Oh, if you’ll be our witness, come and accuse him and we’ll reward you and you’ll be a rich man.”
So they accused him at the king’s court.
“And we have a witness,” they said.
The man came and he claimed all the animals were his own and that he was innocent.
“They say they have a witness,” said the king.
“No, they are lying,” the man said. “They have no proof.”
The manservant came as a witness. He was about to speak. The king wanted to find an excuse to hang the wealthy man because he was afraid of his power. The wealthy man was under the rope, getting his neck in the noose and he had lost all hope.
The snake came from nowhere and bit the witness before he could utter a word. The man fainted and couldn’t say a word, and he died. And there he was, dead.
The accused wealthy man said to the king, “Your majesty, this is the judgement of God and his greatness. He was a false witness and he died.”
So the king said that he was speaking the truth and let him go free.


Narrated by Imahoy Zewditu Wudineh
A father had three children.
“I am now in my old age awaiting death. I’ll tell you something and you will do as I say. You have to fulfil my orders,” he said.
And they agreed.
Then, without their knowledge, he got three boxes. In one of the boxes he put money, and he sealed it. In the second he put soil, and had it sealed. And in the third, he put gold, and he did all this without their knowledge. Then, after sealing the three boxes, he died and the burial service was conducted and the elders got together to discuss his will.
He had written their names on the boxes.
So each one of them got according to their names but they were very surprised when they saw the contents.
“Why did he do this? We can’t object because he told us not to.”
So they went to talk to a wise man.
On their way to the wise man they came to a riverThe nun narrating the story explained that the river, the grassland and the barren land in this story are symbols of the fact that God can do anything and that things are not under mankind’s control. where they saw a crocodile licking drops of water from the grass. And they were surprised.
“What does this mean?”
So they went on.
Then they came to grassland, very green, where a very thin horse was standing, unharnessed, with a free mouth so he could have eaten.
“What does this mean?” they wondered. “Why does this horse become skinny when there is this green grass in front of him?”
So they went on.
On their third adventure they came to a land which was barren and they saw a huge, fat donkey. And they were amazed.
“What could this mean? A crocodile licking the grass, a skinny horse in a green field, a fat donkey in barren land – it’s a puzzle for us.”
So they came to the wise man/soothsayer, who solved problems for people.
“What’s your problem?” the wise man asked.
They told him, “Well, our father gave us a will. One inherits money, one soil and one gold. So we don’t want to quarrel because we promised not to. That’s why we have come.”
The wise man said, “Go and see my older brother.”
They were amazed, because the first wise man was so old. They came to the older brother and told him their problems. He was a middle-aged man. They were surprised. His older brother walked bent and with a stick.
But he said, “I can’t solve this. Go and see my elder brother.”
And so they went.
So the elder brother was very young and he was ploughing.
“This is a miracle!” they said.
They were amazed.
He took them home to his house. Food was served. He ordered his wife to bring food.
Tradition is that you eat the meat at the end. You should eat gravy at the beginning with injeraInjera is a flat, round bread usually made from tef, a grain cultivated in the highlands of Ethiopia.. You eat the bones at the end. But he did the reverse. He chewed the bones, which should have been eaten last, and at the end he ate the gravy.
Then he said, “Thank God!”
“You have seen how I ate?” he asked them.
“Yes,” they replied.
He says again, “I ate all the bones before the gravy, which is not our custom. Did you see?”
They said, “Yes.”
He asked, “Do you know why I did that?”
“No,” they replied.
“It is because you never know when God comes to you, or rather the hour of your death. No one knows this. So I ate the bones first. We live a short time and never know when we will die. Nobody knows how God comes to us and takes us away, so I took the best first, as I was worried in case He came. If He takes my soul, I will not get it. We human beings run here and there and think a lot, but the decision is God’s. However we toil, whatever we do to make our life’s will, at last it’s God’s will.”
He asked them why they came and they told him.
After hearing them saying it again, the wise man said, “Your father gave you a good will. You,” he said to one of them, “are destined to be a farmer. So your father gave you soil (land). You,” he said to the one with the gold, “are destined to be a merchant, so he gave you gold. And you,” to the third one, “are destined to own flocks and herds, so he gave you money to buy cattle. In addition to this, he has suggested for you that all three of you will get money.”
“How?” they asked him.
“Just go back now to your village and you’ll understand.”
And so they went.
They took their portions: one bought cattle, one took land and the last one the gold. The one with the cattle didn’t have grassland to feed his cattle, so he asked his brother.
“No, the land is mine. You have cattle. If you want me to give you land, give me some of your cattle.”
So his brother gave him some cattle and got the land.
The merchant did all his trade and got money, but had no land to build a house, so he went to his brother.
When he saw him he said, “My father gave me land and gave you money. But I don’t have money.”
So the merchant gave him money, and the farmer gave him land and so they agreed.
The most deprived of them was the one who had soil. Cattle you can sell for money. The other had gold, but one had only land, and he was the most deprived. But he got money and cattle from his brothers. Also the three of them lived in peace getting what they needed.
The first of the Ten Commandments is, “Respect your father.” Children in the past were good and listened to their parents and never quarrelled and so they lived happily. These days people disagree with each other and make a world of misery.

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