Hausa Folklore by Maalam Shaihu and translated By R. Sutherland Rattray
A STORY ABOUT AN ORPHAN WHICH WAS THE ORIGIN OF THE SA YING 'THE ORPHAN WITH A COAT OF SKIN IS HATED, BUT WHEN IT IS A METAL ONE HE IS IS HONOURED'
This story is about orphans. A story, a story. Let it go. Let it come.
A certain man died and left two sons, and their mothers, two women. Then among the mothers one fell sick. She was taking medicine for her illness, (but) it refused to mend. When she saw she was apparently going to die; then she said to her sister, that one (her late husband's) second wife, 'You have seen this illness of mine will not go away. I know I am going to die, when Allah, the exalted one, has taken my life from me, behold there is a son (lit. your son) I have left to you and put in your charge, for the sake of Allah and the prophets.' She said, 'It is well, I have heard.'
And it came to pass the day came when she died, and the boy had not reached an age when he had full knowledge. Then the funeral rites were completed. Some time passed after her death. Now her son and the son of the other (woman) possessed fowls, (and) were rearing them, he (had) one, (and) the orphan one. One day she lifted a stick, and hit the orphan's (fowl) on purpose, (and) killed it (when) he was not at home. When he returned he saw his hen dead; he did not say anything except 'Alas! Allah, the powerful one, today my hen has died.'
Then he picked it up, (and) plucked it, (and) put it on the fire, and prepared it well, (and) placed a pot on the fire, (and) cooked it thoroughly. He took it up, (and) went (with it) to the market.
Whoever came and said he wanted to buy it, he would answer he would not sell it, except for a horse. Then the chief's son came, the one the chief loved; he too was quite a little boy. He was mounted on a powerful horse; and he said the flesh of this hen was what he wanted and it must be sold to him. But the orphan said, if he did not give him the horse, as for him, no one would eat his meat. So he was given the horse, (and) the chief's son the meat, and the former took his horse home.
But his mother said, 'Take your horse (and) put it in this house, and close up the door with earth; in about seven days, if you open it, you will see it has become fat enough to burst its house.' Her idea was if he did so it (the horse) would be dead. Now the boy thought this was true, so he put the horse in the house, and plastered up the door. When about ten days had elapsed, he opened the door, and he saw his horse had become fat.
But his step-mother got black of heart because the horse did not die. Well, things went on, and one day she said, 'To-day there are no grain-stalks to cook with.' He must sell his horse and buy stalks of grain. But he said, 'Oh my mother, why must the horse be sold to buy stalks of grain?' She said, 'Because I am not your mother, because of that do you argue with me?' He said, 'I am not disputing, I shall go and seek the grain stalks.' She said, 'Stop! If you do not sell the horse leave things as they are.' And the orphan said, 'It cannot be helped.'
He went and sold. the horse and received the grain stalks, (and) brought them to her. She burned all the stalks; she did not leave any at all, except three very small pieces which were left. He picked them up, sewed a little bag and tied them inside.
Another day he rose up and went to another village for a walk, and climbed up on the fetish altar. They saw him, (and) seized him, (and) said they would cut (his throat). But he said, 'I have heard the news that your chief is blind, and for that reason I came to make medicine for him. If you don't want (me to) then kill me.' But they said, 'We wish (it).'
So he was brought to the chief's house and given a hut. When night came he lifted up his grain stalks; these which the fire had left. He set fire to one (stalk) and walked round the back of the chief's house till it died out. And the chief began to see a very little. Then he lit another, when it was finished (burned out), then both the chief's eyes opened. Thereupon they gave him honour. At dawn the chief assembled the people (and) said, I You have seen the boy has made medicine for me. My eyes are healed, and I shall give him half of the town to rule over.' But he (the boy) answered, I am only a trader, passing, and I do not rule.' They said, If you will not rule, take whatever you wish and go.'
So he took slaves, and cattle, and everything beautiful, and went off with them, and entered (his) town with them. The people were astonished. But his step-mother said, 'Come, let us go to the road by the stream, I have seen a rat enter a hole; you dig it for me to make soup.' And he said, 'Come now, my mother, what kind of meat (is a rat's)? Behold guinea-fowls, and hens, and rams.'
And she said, 'We all know you have wealth; as for me though, rat's meat is what I want.' So he said, 'There is no harm in that. Let us go, you show me.' Now really she has seen it was a snake's hole (but she told him this) in order that she might bring him trouble. Now a big slave of his rose up (to accompany him). She said, 'Sit down, I have seen you are the owner of slaves, but it is you alone we (1) will go with. If you will not come, then stay.' So he told his slaves to sit down and he would go (alone). They sat down. They set off, (he) and his step-mother. She went and showed him the hole.
When he was about to dig, then she said, 'Put down your hoe (and) push in your hand.' So he put in (his) hand and drew out a bracelet. He said, 'There it is.' She said, 'That is not it. A rat, I said, was there.' So he put in his hand again and drew out a golden bangle. But she got angry and went back home. She called her own son; he came, whereupon she said he must put in his hand and catch a rat for her. On putting in his hand a snake bit his hand, and they carried him home.
He died before they reached home. She also died in three days.
The orphan inherited the house (property). This is the origin of the saying,
'The orphan with the cloak of skin is hated, but when it is a metal one he is looked (favourably) on.'
That is all.
Off with the rat's head.