THIS IS AN ANCIENT EVENT.
A man said to his wife, “I want you to arrange my hair in four parts.” The woman did as he directed. Then he went and sat under a tree and invited everybody to come and guess what each of the four parts stood for. Each person was to come with a cow-calf. The person who guessed correctly was to take all the cow-calves. He told his wife what the parts represented: “A wife is a stranger.” “A half brother from a stepmother is a stranger.” “A dog is a loyal friend.” “A mother’s brother is a loyal friend.”
People came and guessed, but no one guessed correctly. Many days passed, and no one guessed correctly. All that time the man remained under the tree. He did not work at home or in his fields.
The Government decided that he was a troublemaker; they decided that he would be hanged if anyone guessed correctly. The man was guarded by four policemen armed with guns.
One day a son of his half brother said to the man’s wife, “Why has Uncle abandoned his home? What is so important about this guessing game that it makes a man leave his wife and his home to sit under a tree?”
Then she said, “He is making much out of nothing. What he wants people to guess is very simple. His four truths are: ‘a wife is a stranger’; ‘a half brother from a stepmother is a stranger’; ‘a dog is a loyal friend’; and ‘a mother’s brother is a loyal friend.’ It is all very simple.”
The boy spent the night at his uncle’s home. In the morning he went and worked in the fields. Then he went and sat under the tree. People continued to guess while he listened. Eventually, he said, “Uncle, may I try?” “Of course you may,” said his uncle.
“Those four parts stand for: ‘a wife is a stranger;’ ‘a half brother from a stepmother is a stranger;’ ‘a dog is a loyal friend;’ and ‘a brother of your mother is a loyal friend.’ ”
His uncle looked down and said nothing. “Did he guess correctly?” asked one of the policemen. “Yes,” he answered.
The man was carried away to Headquarters. The Chief said that he would be executed the following day.
The man begged the Chief, “Please do not kill me before I pay my last visit to my family! Allow me to talk to my wife before I die.”
The Chief allowed him to go, guarded by four policemen. When he got to his house, he said to his wife, “My dear wife, what began as a game has destroyed me!”
“I do not want to hear anything now,” she said. “Who told you to do it? Leave me alone. Go to your death.”
“Won’t you at least give me some milk to drink?” he begged. “I am hungry!”
“No!” she said, “I will not give you milk. Why should I waste my milk on a dying man.”
So he went into the cattle-byre and cried. When the dogs saw him cry, they attacked the policemen, killing two of them. The dogs were then caught and killed.
The other two policemen took the prisoner back to the Chief. On the way, they met his half brother from a stepmother. The half brother said to him, “Brother, has that game really destroyed you? Are they really going to kill you?” “Yes, Brother,” he said, “they are going to kill me.”
“If you are really going to die, then Brother, it would be a terrible waste to go with that beautiful robe you are wearing. Would you please give it to me? I will give you this one to die in.”
“No!” the man said. “Keep your robe. I will die in my own robe.”
So they parted and continued their separate journeys. In the meantime, the man sent word to his sister’s son, saying “I am dying. Would at least one of you come and talk to me before I die?”
His sister had six sons. The youngest said he want to go alone. The eldest said he wanted to go alone. Each of the six wanted to go alone. The youngest said that unless he was allowed to go alone, he would kill himself. So he went. He ran and ran until close to dawn. When he arrived, he found his uncle had been taken to be hanged. He went to the policemen and said, “Let my uncle go; otherwise someone will die with him.”
The policemen said to him, “How can we let him go when the Chief has sentenced him to death?”
“Let us go back to the Chief and discuss the matter there,” he said.
When the policemen refused, the boy told them that if they proceeded with the execution they would be sure to lose one of their own.
The policemen hesitated and then decided to take the boy back to the Chief. When they got there, the boy offered to take his uncle’s place and be hanged in his place: “My uncle is an only son. He has no brothers to look after his things. My mother has six sons. I am the sixth. I can die, and the five brothers will take care of our things. Please, Chief, let my uncle live.”
The matter was debated and debated. Then the Chief turned to the prisoner and asked, “Why did you decide to play such a game?”
“I wanted to prove what has just happened,” the man said. “I gave the secret to my wife, and she gave it away to the only person who guessed correctly. When I went to talk to her before I was to die, she rebuked me. As I was about to be taken back, my dogs attacked the policemen and killed two of them. As I came back with the remaining two policemen, I met my half brother on the way. All he cared for was my beautiful robe. And now you have just seen what my nephew has done. That is what I wanted to prove.”
They saw what he meant. The Chief decided to pardon him without punishing the boy. So both the man and his nephew returned free and happy.
[#22] Dinka: “The Folktale of the Four Truths,” from Francis Mading Deng, Dinka Folktales: African Stories from the Sudan, New York and London: Africana Publishing, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1974, pp. 137-139.