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The Physician’s Son and the King of the Snakes

Tanzanian Folktale

Once there was a very learned physician, who died leaving his wife with a little baby boy, whom, when he was old enough, she named, according to his father’s wish, Hassee′boo Kareem′ Ed Deen′.

When the boy had been to school, and had learned to read, his mother sent him to a tailor, to learn his trade, but he could not learn it. Then he was sent to a silversmith, but he could not learn his trade either. After that he tried many trades, but could learn none of them. At last his mother said, “Well, stay at home for a while;” and that seemed to suit him.

One day he asked his mother what his father’s business had been, and she told him he was a very great physician.

“Where are his books?” he asked.

“Well, it’s a long time since I saw them,” replied his mother, “but I think they are behind there. Look and see.”

So he hunted around a little and at last found them, but they were almost ruined by insects, and he gained little from them.

At last, four of the neighbors came to his mother and said, “Let your boy go along with us and cut wood in the forest.” It was their business to cut wood, load it on donkeys, and sell it in the town for making fires.

“All right,” said she; “to-morrow I’ll buy him a donkey, and he can start fair with you.”

So the next day Hasseeboo, with his donkey, went off with those four persons, and they worked very hard and made a lot of money that day. This continued for six days, but on the seventh day it rained heavily, and they had to get under the rocks to keep dry.

Now, Hasseeboo sat in a place by himself, and, having nothing else to do, he picked up a stone and began knocking on the ground with it. To his surprise the ground gave forth a hollow sound, and he called to his companions, saying, “There seems to be a hole under here.”

Upon hearing him knock again, they decided to dig and see what was the cause of the hollow sound; and they had not gone very deep before they broke into a large pit, like a well, which was filled to the top with honey.

They didn’t do any firewood chopping after that, but devoted their entire attention to the collection and sale of the honey.

With a view to getting it all out as quickly as possible, they told Hasseeboo to go down into the pit and dip out the honey, while they put it in vessels and took it to town for sale. They worked for three days, making a great deal of money.

At last there was only a little honey left at the very bottom of the pit, and they told the boy to scrape that together while they went to get a rope to haul him out.

But instead of getting the rope, they decided to let him remain in the pit, and divide the money among themselves. So, when he had gathered the remainder of the honey together, and called for the rope, he received no answer; and after he had been alone in the pit for three days he became convinced that his companions had deserted him.

Then those four persons went to his mother and told her that they had become separated in the forest, that they had heard a lion roaring, and that they could find no trace of either her son or his donkey.

His mother, of course, cried very much, and the four neighbors pocketed her son’s share of the money.

To return to Hasseeboo.

He passed the time walking about the pit, wondering what the end would be, eating scraps of honey, sleeping a little, and sitting down to think.

While engaged in the last occupation, on the fourth day, he saw a scorpion fall to the ground—a large one, too—and he killed it.

Then suddenly he thought to himself, “Where did that scorpion come from? There must be a hole somewhere. I’ll search, anyhow.”

So he searched around until he saw light through a tiny crack; and he took his knife and scooped and scooped, until he had made a hole big enough to pass through; then he went out, and came upon a place he had never seen before.

Seeing a path, he followed it until he came to a very large house, the door of which was not fastened. So he went inside, and saw golden doors, with golden locks, and keys of pearl, and beautiful chairs inlaid with jewels and precious stones, and in a reception room he saw a couch covered with a splendid spread, upon which he lay down.

Presently he found himself being lifted off the couch and put in a chair, and heard some one saying: “Do not hurt him; wake him gently,” and on opening his eyes he found himself surrounded by numbers of snakes, one of them wearing beautiful royal colors.

“Hullo!” he cried; “who are you?”

“I am Sulta′nee Waa′ Neeo′ka, king of the snakes, and this is my house. Who are you?”

“I am Hasseeboo Kareem Ed Deen.”

“Where do you come from?”

“I don’t know where I come from, or where I’m going.”

“Well, don’t bother yourself just now. Let’s eat; I guess you are hungry, and I know I am.”

Then the king gave orders, and some of the other snakes brought the finest fruits, and they ate and drank and conversed.

When the repast was ended, the king desired to hear Hasseeboo’s story; so he told him all that had happened, and then asked to hear the story of his host.

“Well,” said the king of the snakes, “mine is rather a long story, but you shall hear it. A long time ago I left this place, to go and live in the mountains of Al Kaaf′, for the change of air. One day I saw a stranger coming along, and I said to him, ‘Where are you from?’ and he said, ‘I am wandering in the wilderness.’ ‘Whose son are you?’ I asked. ‘My name is Bolookee′a. My father was a sultan; and when he died I opened a small chest, inside of which I found a bag, which contained a small brass box; when I had opened this I found some writing tied up in a woolen cloth, and it was all in praise of a prophet. He was described as such a good and wonderful man, that I longed to see him; but when I made inquiries concerning him I was told he was not yet born. Then I vowed I would wander until I should see him. So I left our town, and all my property, and I am wandering, but I have not yet seen that prophet.’

“Then I said to him, ‘Where do you expect to find him, if he’s not yet born? Perhaps if you had some serpent’s water you might keep on living until you find him. But it’s of no use talking about that; the serpent’s water is too far away.’

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘good-bye. I must wander on.’ So I bade him farewell, and he went his way.

“Now, when that man had wandered until he reached Egypt, he met another man, who asked him, ‘Who are you?’

“‘I am Bolookeea. Who are you?’

“‘My name is Al Faan′. Where are you going?’

“‘I have left my home, and my property, and I am seeking the prophet.

“‘H’m!’ said Al Faan; ‘I can tell you of a better occupation than looking for a man that is not born yet. Let us go and find the king of the snakes and get him to give us a charm medicine; then we will go to King Solomon and get his rings, and we shall be able to make slaves of the genii and order them to do whatever we wish.’

“And Bolookeea said, ‘I have seen the king of the snakes in the mountain of Al Kaaf.’

“‘All right,’ said Al Faan; ‘let’s go.’

“Now, Al Faan wanted the ring of Solomon that he might be a great magician and control the genii and the birds, while all Bolookeea wanted was to see the great prophet.

“As they went along, Al Faan said to Bolookeea, ‘Let us make a cage and entice the king of the snakes into it; then we will shut the door and carry him off.’

“‘All right,’ said Bolookeea.

“So they made a cage, and put therein a cup of milk and a cup of wine, and brought it to Al Kaaf; and I, like a fool, went in, drank up all the wine and became drunk. Then they fastened the door and took me away with them.

“When I came to my senses I found myself in the cage, and Bolookeea carrying me, and I said, ‘The sons of Adam are no good. What do you want from me?’ And they answered, ‘We want some medicine to put on our feet, so that we may walk upon the water whenever it is necessary in the course of our journey.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘go along.’

“We went on until we came to a place where there were a great number and variety of trees; and when those trees saw me, they said, ‘I am medicine for this;’ ‘I am medicine for that;’ ‘I am medicine for the head;’ ‘I am medicine for the feet;’ and presently one tree said, ‘If any one puts my medicine upon his feet he can walk on water.’

“When I told that to those men they said, ‘That is what we want;’ and they took a great deal of it.

“Then they took me back to the mountain and set me free; and we said good-bye and parted.

“When they left me, they went on their way until they reached the sea, when they put the medicine on their feet and walked over. Thus they went many days, until they came near to the place of King Solomon, where they waited while Al Faan prepared his medicines.

“When they arrived at King Solomon’s place, he was sleeping, and was being watched by genii, and his hand lay on his chest, with the ring on his finger.

“As Bolookeea drew near, one of the genii said to him ‘Where are you going?’ And he answered, ‘I’m here with Al Faan; he’s going to take that ring.’ ‘Go back,’ said the genie; ‘keep out of the way. That man is going to die.’

“When Al Faan had finished his preparations, he said to Bolookeea, ‘Wait here for me.’ Then he went forward to take the ring, when a great cry arose, and he was thrown by some unseen force a considerable distance.

“Picking himself up, and still believing in the power of his medicines, he approached the ring again, when a strong breath blew upon him and he was burnt to ashes in a moment.

“While Bolookeea was looking at all this, a voice said, ‘Go your way; this wretched being is dead.’ So he returned; and when he got to the sea again he put the medicine upon his feet and passed over, and continued to wander for many years.

“One morning he saw a man sitting down, and said ‘Good-morning,’ to which the man replied. Then Bolookeea asked him, ‘Who are you?’ and he answered: ‘My name is Jan Shah. Who are you?’ So Bolookeea told him who he was, and asked him to tell him his history. The man, who was weeping and smiling by turns, insisted upon hearing Bolookeea’s story first. After he had heard it he said:

“‘Well, sit down, and I’ll tell you my story from beginning to end. My name is Jan Shah, and my father is Tooeegha′mus, a great sultan. He used to go every day into the forest to shoot game; so one day I said to him, “Father, let me go with you into the forest to-day;” but he said, “Stay at home. You are better there.” Then I cried bitterly, and as I was his only child, whom he loved dearly, he couldn’t stand my tears, so he said: “Very well; you shall go. Don’t cry.”

“‘Thus we went to the forest, and took many attendants with us; and when we reached the place we ate and drank, and then every one set out to hunt.

“‘I and my seven slaves went on until we saw a beautiful gazelle, which we chased as far as the sea without capturing it. When the gazelle took to the water I and four of my slaves took a boat, the other three returning to my father, and we chased that gazelle until we lost sight of the shore, but we caught it and killed it. Just then a great wind began to blow, and we lost our way.

“‘When the other three slaves came to my father, he asked them, “Where is your master?” and they told him about the gazelle and the boat. Then he cried, “My son is lost! My son is lost!” and returned to the town and mourned for me as one dead.

“‘After a time we came to an island, where there were a great many birds. We found fruit and water, we ate and drank, and at night we climbed into a tree and slept till morning.

“‘Then we rowed to a second island, and, seeing no one around, we gathered fruit, ate and drank, and climbed a tree as before. During the night we heard many savage beasts howling and roaring near us.

“‘In the morning we got away as soon as possible, and came to a third island. Looking around for food, we saw a tree full of fruit like red-streaked apples; but, as we were about to pick some, we heard a voice say, “Don’t touch this tree; it belongs to the king.” Toward night a number of monkeys came, who seemed much pleased to see us, and they brought us all the fruit we could eat.

“‘Presently I heard one of them say, “Let us make this man our sultan.” Then another one said: “What’s the use? They’ll all run away in the morning.” But a third one said, “Not if we smash their boat.” Sure enough, when we started to leave in the morning, our boat was broken in pieces. So there was nothing for it but to stay there and be entertained by the monkeys, who seemed to like us very much.

“‘One day, while strolling about, I came upon a great stone house, having an inscription on the door, which said, “When any man comes to this island, he will find it difficult to leave, because the monkeys desire to have a man for their king. If he looks for a way to escape, he will think there is none; but there is one outlet, which lies to the north. If you go in that direction you will come to a great plain, which is infested with lions, leopards, and snakes. You must fight all of them; and if you overcome them you can go forward. You will then come to another great plain, inhabited by ants as big as dogs; their teeth are like those of dogs, and they are very fierce. You must fight these also, and if you overcome them, the rest of the way is clear.”

“‘I consulted with my attendants over this information, and we came to the conclusion that, as we could only die, anyhow, we might as well risk death to gain our freedom.

“‘As we all had weapons, we set forth; and when we came to the first plain we fought, and two of my slaves were killed. Then we went on to the second plain, fought again; my other two slaves were killed, and I alone escaped.

“‘After that I wandered on for many days, living on whatever I could find, until at last I came to a town, where I stayed for some time, looking for employment but finding none.

“‘One day a man came up to me and said, “Are you looking for work?” “I am,” said I. “Come with me, then,” said he; and we went to his house.

“‘When we got there he produced a camel’s skin, and said, “I shall put you in this skin, and a great bird will carry you to the top of yonder mountain. When he gets you there, he will tear this skin off you. You must then drive him away and push down the precious stones you will find there. When they are all down, I will get you down.”

“‘So he put me in the skin; the bird carried me to the top of the mountain and was about to eat me, when I jumped up, scared him away, and then pushed down many precious stones. Then I called out to the man to take me down, but he never answered me, and went away.

“‘I gave myself up for a dead man, but went wandering about, until at last, after passing many days in a great forest, I came to a house, all by itself; the old man who lived in it gave me food and drink, and I was revived.

“‘I remained there a long time, and that old man loved me as if I were his own son.

“‘One day he went away, and giving me the keys, told me I could open the door of every room except one which he pointed out to me.

“‘Of course, when he was gone, this was the first door I opened. I saw a large garden, through which a stream flowed. Just then three birds came and alighted by the side of the stream. Immediately they changed to three most beautiful women. When they had finished bathing, they put on their clothes, and, as I stood watching them, they changed into birds again and flew away.

“‘I locked the door, and went away; but my appetite was gone, and I wandered about aimlessly. When the old man came back, he saw there was something wrong with me, and asked me what was the matter. Then I told him I had seen those beautiful maidens, that I loved one of them very much, and that if I could not marry her I should die.

“‘The old man told me I could not possibly have my wish. He said the three lovely beings were the daughters of the sultan of the genii, and that their home was a journey of three years from where we then were.

“‘I told him I couldn’t help that. He must get her for my wife, or I should die. At last he said, “Well, wait till they come again, then hide yourself and steal the clothes of the one you love so dearly.”

“‘So I waited, and when they came again I stole the clothes of the youngest, whose name was Sayadaa′tee Shems.

“‘When they came out of the water, this one could not find her clothes. Then I stepped forward and said, “I have them.” “Ah,” she begged, “give them to me, their owner; I want to go away.” But I said to her, “I love you very much. I want to marry you.” “I want to go to my father,” she replied. “You cannot go,” said I.

“‘Then her sisters flew away, and I took her into the house, where the old man married us. He told me not to give her those clothes I had taken, but to hide them; because if she ever got them she would fly away to her old home. So I dug a hole in the ground and buried them.

“‘But one day, when I was away from home, she dug them up and put them on; then, saying to the slave I had given her for an attendant, “When your master returns tell him I have gone home; if he really loves me he will follow me,” she flew away.

“‘When I came home they told me this, and I wandered, searching for her, many years. At last I came to a town where one asked me, “Who are you?” and I answered, “I am Jan Shah.” “What was your father’s name?” “Taaeeghamus.” “Are you the man who married our mistress?” “Who is your mistress?” “Sayadaatee Shems.” “I am he!” I cried with delight.

“‘They took me to their mistress, and she brought me to her father and told him I was her husband; and everybody was happy.

“‘Then we thought we should like to visit our old home, and her father’s genii carried us there in three days. We stayed there a year and then returned, but in a short time my wife died. Her father tried to comfort me, and wanted me to marry another of his daughters, but I refused to be comforted, and have mourned to this day. That is my story.’

“Then Bolookeea went on his way, and wandered till he died.”

Next Sultaanee Waa Neeoka said to Hasseeboo, “Now, when you go home you will do me injury.”

Hasseeboo was very indignant at the idea, and said, “I could not be induced to do you an injury. Pray, send me home.”

“I will send you home,” said the king; “but I am sure that you will come back and kill me.”

“Why, I dare not be so ungrateful,” exclaimed Hasseeboo. “I swear I could not hurt you.”

“Well,” said the king of the snakes, “bear this in mind: when you go home, do not go to bathe where there are many people.”

And he said, “I will remember.” So the king sent him home, and he went to his mother’s house, and she was overjoyed to find that he was not dead.

Now, the sultan of the town was very sick; and it was decided that the only thing that could cure him would be to kill the king of the snakes, boil him, and give the soup to the sultan.

For a reason known only to himself, the vizir had placed men at the public baths with this instruction: “If any one who comes to bathe here has a mark on his stomach, seize him and bring him to me.”

When Hasseeboo had been home three days he forgot the warning of Sultaanee Waa Neeoka, and went to bathe with the other people. All of a sudden he was seized by some soldiers, and brought before the vizir, who said, “Take us to the home of the king of the snakes.”

“I don’t know where it is,” said Hasseeboo.

“Tie him up,” commanded the vizir.

So they tied him up and beat him until his back was all raw, and being unable to stand the pain he cried, “Let up! I will show you the place.”

So he led them to the house of the king of the snakes, who, when he saw him, said, “Didn’t I tell you you would come back to kill me?”

“How could I help it?” cried Hasseeboo. “Look at my back!”

“Who has beaten you so dreadfully?” asked the king.

“The vizir.”

“Then there’s no hope for me. But you must carry me yourself.”

As they went along, the king said to Hasseeboo, “When we get to your town I shall be killed and cooked. The first skimming the vizir will offer to you, but don’t you drink it; put it in a bottle and keep it. The second skimming you must drink, and you will become a great physician. The third skimming is the medicine that will cure your sultan. When the vizir asks you if you drank that first skimming say, ‘I did.’ Then produce the bottle containing the first, and say, ‘This is the second, and it is for you.’ The vizir will take it, and as soon as he drinks it he will die, and both of us will have our revenge.”

Everything happened as the king had said. The vizir died, the sultan recovered, and Hasseeboo was loved by all as a great physician.

Zanzibar Tales

Zanzibar Tales

Notes: Contains 10 folktales told by natives of the East Coast of Africa.

Author: Various
Translator: George W. Bateman
Published: 1901
Publisher: A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago

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