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Tshilembi and the Rat


At the edge of the forest there lived a hunter named Tshilembi. He lived alone except for his dog. Tshilembi made a good living by hunting. With his dog, bow, and arrows, he hunted for game every day to sell in the village marketplace.

The villagers had been hungry for guinea birds, so Tshilembi went hunting for them. The day was hot. He knew that the guineas would stay in the shade of the forest, and so he took a path deep into the forest to find them. His dog ran around in the forest itself to look for the birds. Tshilembi stayed on the path.

When the morning was nearly over, he rounded a turn in the path and found his way blocked by an army of driver ants. They were dragging and carrying a small rat which they had caught. The rat was still alive, looking miserable as the ants bit its head and legs while keeping a tight hold on its long tail.

The rat saw Tshilembi and cried out, "Save me, O Great Hunter! These ants will tear me into pieces and eat me." Tshilembi did not care much for rats. He had no wish to be bitten by so many ants just to save a rat, either. He stepped off the path to go around the ants. He saw the ants' hill nearby. Behind him he heard the rat crying more loudly than ever, "Save me, Mighty Hunter! Or I shall be dragged into the hill and eaten alive!"

Tshilembi was a kind man. Seeing the rat had no other way to escape the grip of the ants, he scooped up the rat and brushed off the ants while ignoring their stings. Then he gently set the rat down in the forest so that it could scurry away safely.

It turned out that the rat had better luck than Tshilembi that day. He only found and killed one guinea. Looking for more, he went further into the forest than ever before, grumbling about the heat. Without warning, the sky grew dark and thunder crashed around him. Tshilembi called his dog to him and they tried to take a short cut through the jungle back to his hut. But the jungle growth was thicker than he remembered, and they were still far from home when the rains and the night came.

Unable to see in the darkness and the heavy rain, Tshilembi knew he was lost. Everything around him was moving in the howling wind. He did not know whether he was feeling a thorn or the claw of a hungry leopard. Even the tree roots seemed to move, as if they were large snakes. Frightened, the hunter and his dog stayed still next to the trunk of a large tree, hoping that it would not fall onto them.

Then Tshilembi saw a tiny light. The light did not move. He hoped that it was from a home in his own village. Taking courage, he and his dog made their way toward the light. It was from a home, but the home was not of any village. the door was open. They went in and warmed themselves beside the fire. There was no one else there. From the size of the hut, Tshilembi thought that many people lived in it. Soon he and the dog had fallen asleep with the guinea beside them.

At dawn he was awakened by voices and a shaking of the ground. Through the doorway came a giant who grinned when he saw Tshilembi and the dog. After the giant came another giant with two heads. Then came another with three heads, and so on till the last giant entered the house, who had seven heads. They sat in a circle around Tshilembi, laughing and telling each other that they had already found their meal for the day.

Tshilembi was ordered to feed the guinea to the dog, and then he and his dog would be eaten. Tshilembi looked around carefully; there was no way to escape. Slowly he cut up the guinea.

"Hurry up!" the seven-headed giant moved next to Tshilembi and leaned over him. Tshilembi fed a piece of the guinea to his dog. The giant prodded him with his finger to go faster. One of his heads whispered loudly into Tshilembi's ear, "Are you trying to wait until you are ripe enough?" The others laughed loudly.

Then another head whispered quietly, "Are you the man who saved the rat?"

Fearfully, Tshilembi nodded.

The giant whispered again, so that the others could not hear. "I was that rat. A spell has been put on me, so that at times I must be a small and helpless rat. In a moment I shall start a fight. Get away as soon as you can."

The giant leaned back. With one head he butted one of his brothers. With another head he bit a second brother. Whirling his huge arm, he slapped a third and punched a fourth Then he kicked a fifth and spit on the sixth. Tshilembi had never seen such a brawl, but knew that if he stayed to watch he would never see another fight again. With the pieces of the guinea in his hands and the dog at his side, he leaped through the open door and raced down the path from the giants' house. He did not stop till he had found the path to his village and gotten safely home.

Tshilembi hunted in another part of the forest from then on. Each day in the marketplace, he reminded the village children not to tease or torment an animal, since no one knew which one might really be a giant with more than one head.