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Mnanya's Task


There was a sultan once who had many wives in his harem. His wives were the most beautiful women in the land. They lived in the harem, which was behind the sultan's throne. The wall behind the throne was made of glass. Every day there would be visitors to the sultan's court who could not help staring past him at his wives. When the visitors left the sultan's court, he would charge them a thousand gold pieces for the privilege of having seen all his wives.

One day a man named Mnanya came to see the sultan on some business. If Mnanya looked at the women, no one could tell. He discussed the business terms with the sultan and then began to leave. The sultan told him to pay the thousand gold pieces, but Mnanya refused.

"Every man who comes here must pay a thousand gold pieces for being allowed to look at my wives," said the sultan. "Did you not see my wives behind the glass?"

Mnanya replied, "I saw nothing in the glass but the reflections of your throne, your people, and my own face."

The sultan's men had to admit that Mnanya had not seemed to pay any attention to the women behind the glass. The sultan thought for a moment, and then declared, "I shall not charge you the fee, but I am commanding you to perform a task for me. You will be given a goat, a leopard, and a bundle of grass. Take them to my son who lives across the river. If you lose anything of mine, you will be put to death."

Mnanya had no choice but to accept the task. This was supposed to be a lesson to those who did not pay what the sultan demanded. Both the leopard and the goat were given to him on leashes. The leopard seemed tame enough, but Mnanya had no idea how hungry it was. He stayed between the two animals and carried the bundle of grass on his back as he left the palace.

The river was nearby. It was too deep to cross on foot. There was a small boat that a man used to take people across the river for the sultan. The man looked at Mnanya and said, "My boat is small. I can only take two of you across at a time."

Mnanya then saw the difficulty of the task. If the goat and the leopard were left by themselves, the leopard would probably eat the goat. If the goat and the grass were left together, the goat would doubtless eat the grass.

Mnanya crossed the river with the goat. He tied the goat to a tree on the other side, went back across and brought over the grass. Then he brought the goat back to the first bank, where he had tied the leopard to another tree. He brought the leopard to where the grass was, and tied it up. Lastly he brought over the goat. With all three of his charges safely across, he went to the home of the sultan's son and completed the task he had been given.

Mnanya was not yet home when the sultan's men caught up with him and asked him to come back to the palace. The sultan was so impressed with Mnanya's cleverness that Mnanya was put in charge of all the royal possessions. Mnanya was well paid and lived in peace the rest of his days.