The Chief, the Princess and the Leguaan
They Trade Cattle for Wives
Long, long ago somewhere in Africa… When the earth and all the people and animals were new… There was a chief with fine daughters and many suitors from whom he would receive much cattle. All chiefs and important men, trade their daughters to husbands for cattle. This is commonly called lobola amongst the people.
There is a twist in this story though, since it involves a leguaan. What’s a leguaan, you may ask – well a leguaan is of the monitor lizard family and can climb trees very well, in fact. So read on and find out how a leguaan fits into this twist of an African folktale.
Our story continues with the arrival of a young suitor to see the chief. He was a tall strong and handsome young man well clothed in fine tribal dress. From the look of him the chief could see he was a wealthy young man.
“Yes my son what is your name and what do you want of me.” Summoned the chief.
The young man politely answered. “My name is Jamba sir and I have come to ask for your daughters’ hand in marriage.”
The chief roared with laughter. “Jamba my son, I have many daughters, you will have to give me the name of this daughter you seek to marry.”
“I know her as princess Thandi sir”.
“Ah, this is a special daughter to me Jamba and I watch over her very carefully, you will have to have many cattle, for her price is high.” Proclaimed the chief proudly.
“I can pay sir” said Jamba.
“You will be surprised at her price”
The chief called the young man over to him and asked him to stretch out his hands. From the look of his hands the chief knew he was a hard and capable worker.
Jamba was not put off and agreed with the chief whatever the price. Surely it cannot be too high thought Jamba to himself.
The chief did not decline his daughter in marriage, but told Jamba to wait five days, to go and come back on the sixth. When the young man returned at the appointed time he was told: “Go away and come again tomorrow.”
Thandi Gets a Big Surprise
Next morning early, the girl named Thandi went to fetch water with her water-jar as usual, but this time, arriving at the river, she saw a strange creature drinking at the edge. As soon as the creature caught sight of her, it darted off and with a loud voice shouted at the girl.
“You are ugly” and climbed up a tree.
She stood wide mouthed gazing after this creature for some time, having never seen such a being before, and furthermore it spoke!
“Who do you think you are? I am beautiful; ask my father he is the chief.”
“Ugly, I said and that old goat would not know something beautiful if it stared him straight in the face. I of course am beautiful.” Shouted the leguaan back from the top of the tree.
My father will sort you out” Shouted the young girl back, then filled her jar.
She hurried home, calling out to her father, “Father, father… I’ve seen a beast with a long tail which ran away up a tree and shouted nasty things at me!”
Thandi then told the chief what the nasty beast had said to her.
“That is a leguaan my beautiful daughter. Do not let it trouble you I have plans for him. Let us go there so that I can see him for myself.” They went together, and he recognized the leguaan at once, but it had gone up to the topmost branches, where no human climber could reach it.
The chief was very pleased this had happened because he had been looking for this leguaan for some time.
Jamba’s Great Task
The chief thought for a while, and made up his mind that when the young suitor came back he would say to him, “If you want to marry my daughter you must catch that leguaan up in the top of the tree.”
Jamba was somewhat disconcerted when he heard this, but only asked to be shown the tree. When he was taken to see the huge smooth tree with the leguaan at the top branches, he was filled with hopelessness, and went away mournfully.
On Jamba’s return to the village, the girl’s father asked him, “Well, where is the leguaan?”
The young man answered, “I am stumped as to how to get up that tree!”
Then the chief said to him, “Well then, you cannot have my daughter. I told you she came at a high price” So Jamba went back to his own village full of heartache.
When he arrived at home, he found the old men sitting in the meeting place, and one ancient on seeing him asked, “Is it all established for your wedding, Jamba?”
The young man answered, “Much trouble over there sir!
“What sort of trouble is there yonder?” asked the wise old man.
The youth told his story, and the old man calling him aside, gave him this advice:
“Go and find a goat and also a dog. Take these animals; also take a vessel of pap and a bundle of grass and go back. When you get to the base of the tree, tie up the goat on one side and the dog on the other. You must give the pap to the goat and the grass to the dog and sit down, and you will see the leguaan come down at once.”
The youth did as the old man had spoken, and went back to the tree. Having tied up the goat and the dog as told, he sought out the girl’s father. The young suitor told the chief that he was going to try again and the chief said, “You were beaten the first time; but I see this second time I believe you will succeed, so go and try again!”
So Jamba went once more to the tree, and held out the pap to the goat and the grass to the dog. No sooner had he done that when he heard a shout of laughter from the top of the tree, and the great lizard spoke with a human voice, “Young man, you have no sense! How is it you are giving the pap to the goat and the grass to the dog?”
Then Jamba answered. “I see nothing wrong with that. If you’re so smart then come down here and show me the right way!” The leguaan laughed with no answer and again Jamba asked. “I said come down and show me the right way or are you afraid of me?” With this the leguaan came down, and the young man grabbed him and tying him up as tight as he could he ran off to the village to show the chief.
The people, seeing him from afar, raised cries of jubilation. The girl’s father hurried out to meet Jamba.
Jamba gave him the leguaan.
The chief went off dancing and singing amongst all the people carrying his leguaan high above his head in triumph, telling everyone the wedding is on for Thandi his beautiful daughter to marry the brave Jamba and all are welcome.
The wedding took place on this very same happy day, and of course, “they lived happily ever after.”