Swahili Tales/The Story of Hasseebu Kareem ed Deen and the King of the Snakes

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Swahili Tales  (1870)  by Edward Steere
The Story of Hasseebu Kareem ed Deen and the King of the Snakes


There was a man, a very great medicine man, and he lived withont having any children many days; and he was a great physician: there was not one medicine in the world which he did not know. And the learning was great which he knew. And he stayed until when he was very old his wife became pregnant, and he had nothing beside his books of medicines.

And the man was sick, and he called his wife, and said to her, "Give me my book," and she gave it him, and he opened and looked into the book, and said, "You are pregnant, you will bear a male child, call his name Hasseebu Kareem ed deen." And the father died.

And the woman remained, and bare a son, and brought him up till he was grown.

And the child asked his mother, "What is my name?" And she said, "Wait, to-morrow we will make a feast, we will invite people to come and eat, that I may give you the name your father gave you."

And he waited; and in the morning she made a great feast, and invited the astrologers, and they came to eat the feast, and she said to them, "To-day I will give to your child the name his father gave him." And they said, "Give it." And she said, "His name is Hasseebu Kareem ed deen." And they said, "It is well."

And he was put to school to read, and when he had finished reading, he was put at a workshop, to learn to sew clothes, and did not learn; and he was put to do silversmith's work, and did not learn; and whatever work he was taught, he did not learn it. And his mother said, "Well, stay at home, my son." And he stayed at home, eating and sleeping.

And he said to her, "What was my father's business?" And she said, "He was a very great physician." And he said, "Where are his medical books?" And she said, "Many days have passed, look inside, if they are there." And he went and looked, and saw them eaten by insects; there remained one parcel, and he took it and read, and saw all those medicines.

At last one day his neighbours came and said to his mother, "Give us this boy, that we may go together to cut wood." And it was the business of those four people to cut wood, and they came and sold it in the town. And they used to load donkeys with it. And his mother said, "Very well, to-morrow I will buy him a donkey, that you may all go together."

In the morning his mother bought him a donkey, and the people came, and they went to their work together. And they went, and got much firewood, and came with it into the town, and divided the money.

And the next day they went again, and the third day, and the fourth day, and the fifth day, and the sixth day. But on the seventh day, when they went, the clouds gathered, and the rain fell, and they went to hide under the rocks.

Hasseebu sat in a place by himself. And he took a stone, and knocked on the ground, and heard it sound hollow. And he called his companions and said to them, "Here it sounds hollow."

And they said, "Knock." And he knocked, and they heard it sound hollow, and said, "Let us dig." And they dug, and found a large pit: it was like a well, and they saw in it honey; it was very full.

And they left the firewood, and every day carried away honey. And it was Hasseebu who was the first to find the pit of honey. And they said, "Do you go inside and dip out the honey, and give to us, and we will go and sell it in the town, and when we have finished, let us divide the money." And he said, "Very well."

And it was their employment every day for three months, and they got much wealth.

At last, when the honey was finished, there remained some quite at the bottom, and that far off, and they said, "Go in, inside there, and scrape up what is left, and when you have done we will give you a rope, take hold of it, and we will hoist you up." And he consented, and gathered it, and said, "Give me the rope." And they said to him, "There is no rope: wait a bit, it is coming." And they consulted together and said, "Let us leave him, there inside the pit, and let us divide the money."

And one arose and said, "What shall we say to his mother?" And one arose and answered, and said, "We will tell her, your son arose to go on his private business, and was caught by a lion, he and his donkey, and there in the forest we could not seek for him much, but we heard the lion crying, and we knew that it was the lion that had taken him."

And they went away into the town and told his mother. And his mother wept much, and made her mourning, till it was ended. And they divided the money, and said, "And let us send a little money to our friend's mother." And they sent some to her. And so, every day, one took her rice, one took her oil, one took her meat, one took her cloth, every day.

Enough here, let us return to where Hasseebu was.

He remained the first day, the second day, and the third day, and he knew his companions had cast him off, and was comforted. And he walked about inside the pit, and the pit was very large. At night he slept inside, and in the morning when he awoke he took a little honey and ate. Till one day he sat thinking, and he saw a scorpion fall to the ground, a very large one, and he killed it.

And he sat and considered, "Where did this scorpion come from? Perhaps there is a hole somewhere, I will go and look for it." And he went, and saw a little hole, and saw light far off, and he picked with his knife, and the hole became very broad, and he passed, and saw beyond, clear space and light, and went on. When he reached it he found an open space, and came out upon a very large place.

And he saw a path, and followed the path, and went on, and found a large stone house; and he saw many chairs, and the door was of gold, and its padlock of gold, and its key of pearl; and he took it and opened, and saw inside a large reception-room, and many chairs, and he saw one chair of gold, inlaid with pearls and jewels, and precious stones; and he saw a couch very beautifully spread, and he went and lay down.

So at once he hears many people coming. And they came to the house, and saw the door open, and they came inside, and he who had come was the king of the snakes.

And his soldiers filled the courtyard, and he and his vizirs entered inside, and they were astonished, and found a man lying on the couch, and that was the king's couch which he was lying upon. And they waated to kill him, but he said to them, "Leave him alone, do not kill him; put me in a chair." And they put him upon a chair.

And he said, "Wake him gently." And they woke him. And he arose, and sat up, and saw many snakes surrounding him, and he saw one of them very beautiful, wearing royal robes.

And he asked him, "Who are you?" And he said, "I am the king of the snakes, and this is my house." And he asked him, "And who are you?" And he said, "I am Hasseebu Kareem ed deen." "Where do you come from?" And he said, "I don't know whence I come, nor whither I am going." And he said, "Do not disturb yourself;" and he told his soldiers, "Go and bring all the fruits of the forest, and let us feast our guest."

And they went and brought every fruit, and set before him a large tray, and told him to eat. And he ate till he had had enough, and they gave him water, and he drank. So he sat, and they conversed.

And the king of the snakes asked Hasseebu, "Give me your story, from your leaving home till to-day." And he gave him the story of all that he had met with on the way till he arrived there.

And Hasseebu Kareem ed deen asked the king of the snakes, "Give me your story also, that I may know it." And he said, "My story is a long one."

And he said, "I was living formerly, we had left this place to go to the mountains of Al Kaf, for change of air. And I stayed till one day I saw a man coming, and I asked him, 'Where do you come from?' And he said, 'I come from our town, and am wandering in the wilderness.' And I said, 'Whose son are you?' And he said to me, 'My name is Bolukia, and my father the Sultan had died, and I went and opened a chest, and found a bag and opened it, and a small brass box was in it, and I opened it, and inside it was tied up in woollen cloth, and I opened the cloth, and found a book, and I read it, and found many praises of the prophet. And I was taken with a longing to see that man. And I asked people, and they told me, he is not yet born. And I said, I will wander till I see him. And I left my town and my property, and I am wandering; I have not yet seen the man.'

"And I too said to him, 'Where will you find him, he is not yet born? Perhaps, if you had the serpent's water, you might be able to live without dying, till you meet him, but now it is of no use, for the serpent's water is far off.'

"And he said to me, 'Farewell again, I shall wander on.' And I said, 'Farewell.' And he went his way.

"And so he reached Egypt, and met a man, and he asked him, 'Who are you?' And he said, 'I am Bolukia.' And he asked him, 'And who are you?' And he said, 'My name is Alfán.' And he said to him, 'Where are you going.' And he said, 'I have left my town, and my kingdom, and my property; I am seeking the prophet.'

"And he said, 'Where will you find him, when he is not yet born? But let us go and look for the king of the snakes, if we find him, he will give us a medicine, and we will go to where the prophet Solomon is; and we will get his rings, and govern all the genii, they will be under us, we will order them whatever we wish.'

"And he said, 'I have seen the king of the snakes at the mountain of Al Kaf.' And he said, 'Let us go then.' And that Alfan in his heart wanted the ring of Solomon that he might govern, that he might be the king of the genii and of the birds. Bolukia wanted to see the prophet, that was his longing.

"And Alfan said to Bolukia, 'Now let us make a cage to catch the king of the snakes, and when he has gone into the cage let us shut it and carry him off.'

"And he said, 'Come on,' And they made a cage, and put in it two cups, one of milk and one of wine. And they went on till they reached the mountain.

"I was there, I had not yet left to go to my own town. And they went and placed the cage, and I went into it and drank the wine, and intoxicated myself, and they fastened me in and carried me away.

"So when I awoke, I saw that I was being carried by men, and that Bolukia was there and was carrying me. And I said, 'The sons of men are not good, what is it now that you want?' And they said to me, 'We want a medicine to anoint our feet with, that we may walk upon the sea till we arrive where we wish to go.' And I said, 'Let us go on.'

"And they went with me as far as an island, and that island had many trees. And those trees when they saw me all said, 'I am a medicine for such a thing;' 'I am a medicine for such a thing;' 'I am a medicine for the head;' 'I am a medicine for the feet;' till one tree said, 'I, if any one anoints his feet with me, he can walk upon the sea.'

"And they said, 'That is what we want.' And they took plenty. And they returned and took me there to the mountain. And they unfastened me, and let me go. And they said to me, 'Good-bye,' and I said to them, 'Good-bye.'

"And they went on their way, and when they reached the sea, they anointed their feet, and passed over it. And they went thus till they arrived after many days, and came near the place where slept the prophet Solomon. In a place near it, Alfan prepared his medicines, and they went on.

"And the prophet Solomon was waited upon by genii. And they too drew near, and heard some one speaking. And the prophet Solomon slept, and his hand was laid on his chest, and the ring on his finger. The being spoke to them, and called to Bolukia, 'Wither are you going?' And he said, 'I have come with Alfan, he is going to take that ring.' And it said to him, 'Go back, this man will die.'

"And Alfan said to Bolukia, 'Wait for me here.' And he went on, and drew near, wanting to take hold of the ring, and a cry was made at him, and he was thrown from hence yonder. And he returned, not consenting, and went the second time and wanted to take hold of the ring, and he was breathed upon and burnt up like ashes.

"And Bolukia was looking on at all this, and he heard some one say to him, 'Go back, go on your way, this wretch is already dead.'

"And Bolukia went back, and came until in his way he found the sea, and he anointed his feet with his ointment and passed over, and went to another island, and then he put on the medicine again and passed over. And this was his employment very many days, and many months, and many years were ended upon him in his journey.

"And he went until one morning he came upon a man, and saw him sitting down, and saluted him, and he replied. And he asked him, 'Who are you?' And he said. 'My name is Jan Shah, who are you?' And he said, 'I am Bolukia,' and he asked him, 'What are you doing here?'

"There were two graves, and the man was sitting between the graves, and wept much, and then he smiled and was comforted. And he asked him, 'Give me your story?' And he said, 'My story is a long one, but give me your story first. Whence did you come, and whither are you going?'

"And he said, 'I am the son of a Sultan, and my father died, and I governed. At last one day I opened my father's chest, and saw a bag and within it a book, and I read that book, and saw the praises of the prophet, and I longed much to see him, and I set out from our town and wandered in the forest seeking for the man. And every one I find says to me, 'He is not yet born.' And till now I am still seeking him. And I am going through the wilderness."

"And he said, 'Sit down then, that I may give you my story from the beginning until now.' And he said, 'Give it me, I am already set down.'

"And he said, 'My name is Jan Shah, and my father's name, Taighamus, a great Sultan. And every day for a month he used to go into the forest to shoot game. And I was his only son, and he loved me much. Till one day I said to him, 'Father let us go together to the forest.' And he said, 'Stay at home, and go nowhere.' And I cried much, and my father said, 'Let us go, do not cry.'

"And we went away to the forest, and there were many people who went. And when we reached the forest we ate our food, and then every one went into the forest to kill game.

"And I and seven men, my slaves, we went another way of our own, till we reached the forest, and we saw a very beautiful gazelle, and chased it as far as the sea without getting it. And the gazelle went into the water, and we took a boat, and went in, I and four of my slaves, and three of them went back to my father. And we chased the gazelle till we lost sight of the town, and we caught the gazelle and killed it. And when we had killed it, a great wind blew, and we lost our way.

"And those three slaves, when they reached my father, he asked them, 'Where is your master?' And they said 'We chased a gazelle, till we reached the shore, and the gazelle went into the sea, and the master and four men went into a boat and pursued it, and we came back.'

"And my father said, 'My son is lost.' And he went away to the town, and made a mourning, and was comforted.

"And we fell upon an island. There there were many birds. And we looked for fruit and ate it, and looked for water and drank. And at night we climbed into a tree and slept. In the morning we entered our boat and wandered on, and reached a second island, whereon was no one whatsoever. And we landed, and ate much fruit, and at night climbed into a tree and slept, and many savage beasts came, and made great games.

"Then in the morning we fled, and went to a third island, and we arrived and looked for fruit, and saw a tofaa tree which had borne abundantly. And we wanted to pick from it, and we heard some one forbid us, and say, 'Do not pick them, this tofaa tree is the property of the king, and I am put to watch it.' And at night many monkeys came, and they were very glad when they saw us; and they looked for fruit and brought us, and we came and ate till we were satisfied.

"And they said 'Let us make this man our Sultan.' And one said, 'These people will run away in the morning.' And they said, 'And break up their boat.' And they went and broke it.

"In the morning, when we arose to escape, and went to the shore, our boat was broken to pieces. So we returned and remained, and they brought us food, and we ate, and water, and we drank. And those monkeys loved us very much, and did not like us to go away. And we stayed many days.

"Till one day we went walking about, and we saw a great stone house, and its door had an inscription. I read how that, 'Any man who comes to this island, these monkeys will not leave him, through loving exceedingly to make him their king. And when he shall go away, he will find no way; but there is a way, it lies to the north. One follows this way, and one finds a great plain; there are lions, and leopards, and snakes; you shall fight with them; if you overcome them, you will find a way; you will go forward, you will see another plain, where are huge ants, like dogs, and their teeth like dogs, very fierce; you shall fight with them; if you overcome them you will find a way to pass.

"And we consulted together, and those my slaves said to me, Let us go, that we may die or live, and we all have our weapons.'

"And we went till we reached the first plain, and we fought, and two of my slaves died. And we went our way, and passed on and went to the second, and fought, and my two slaves died, and I escaped.

"And I wandered many days, till I came out upon a town. And I stayed there in the town, looking for work, and not finding it. And a man came out, and said to me, 'Do you want work?' And I said, 'I do.' And he said, 'Let us go our way;' and we went to his house.

"And he slaughtered a camel and took its skin, and said to me, 'I shall put you in this skin, that you may go to the top of the mountain; a bird will carry you. When you arrive, it will unfasten you; push down the precious stones, and then I will get you down.'

"And he put me into the skin, and the bird came and carried me to the top of the mountain, and was going to eat me; and I arose and scared the bird, and it flew away. And I pushed down many precious stones, and I said, 'Take me down, then.' And he answered me not a word, and went his way.

"And I said, 'I am a dead man.' And I went through the forest many days. And I came out upon a single house, and I saw an old man in the house, and he gave me food and water, and I was comforted.

"And I remained there, and he loved me as his son. And he gave me all the keys of the house, and said to me, 'Open whatever you like, except this one chamber; open it not.' And I said, 'Very well, father.'

"And I stayed, and he went out travelling, and I opened it, and saw a large garden and a stream flowing. All at once three birds came, and settled there by the stream. Immediately they were changed into people, and bathed in the river, and they were three most beautiful women. And I looked at them till, when they had finished bathing, they put on their clothes, and flew away.

"And I returned, and locked the door, and could not eat anything. When my father came, he asked me, 'What is the matter with you?' And I said, 'I went into the garden, and I saw three women; they were come to bathe; they did so, and flew away, and one of them I love exceedingly; I want to marry her; if I have her not I shall die.'

"And he said to me, 'They are not to be had; they are the children of a Sultan of the genii, and their home is far away, a journey of three years.' And I said to him, 'I know not; you must get her for me.' And he said, 'Wait this time, and when they come to bathe hide yourself, and take the clothes of the one you love so much.'

"And I went and waited, till when they came and took off their clothes, I took them and hid them. And she was the youngest of them, and her name was Seyedati Shems. And when they came out, her sisters put on their clothes, and she looked for hers without finding them. And I said, 'I have them.' And she said, 'Give them to me, whom they belong to; I want to go away.' And I said, 'I love you very much, I want to marry you,' 'I want to go away to my father.' And I said, 'You will not go.'

"And her sisters flew and went away, and I took her to our house, and my father married me to her. And he said to me, 'Do not give her these clothes, hide them well; if the owner gets them, she will fly away to her home.' And I dug in the ground and put them there.

"Till one day when I had gone out walking, she dug them up, and put them on herself, and flew up and stopped on the roof, and said to her slave, 'When your master comes, tell him that I am gone away home; if he loves me let him follow me.' And she flew, and went her way.

"When I came I was told, 'Your wife has gone away home.' And I wandered, following her, many years.

"Till when I arrived near a town I saw some people, and they asked me, 'Who are you?' And I said, 'I am Jan Shah.' 'The son of whom?' And I said, 'The son of Taighamus.' And they said to me, 'Are you he that married our mistress?' And I asked, 'Who is your mistress?' And they said, 'Seyedati Shems.' And I said, 'I am he.' And my heart rejoiced exceedingly.

"And they took me to their town. And she said to her father, 'This is my husband who married me.' And I was much loved, and stayed long.

"And her father said to me, 'Take your wife, if you wish, to go home.' And we were given genii, and they carried us three days. And we arrived, and stayed a year.

"And I said, 'Let us go and see our father.' And my wife said to me, 'Let us go.' Till when we arrived here, my wife went to bathe. Then when she came out she died, and I buried her here. The genii went to her father to tell him, 'Your daughter is dead.' And her father said, 'Call Jan Shah, and let him come and marry another daughter.' And they came to tell me. I said, 'I do not wish it, I will dig another grave, and when I die, I will go into it. And this is my story.'

"And he remained till he died. And Bolukia went his way, and died on his journey."

And the King of the Snakes said to Hasseebu, "And you, when you go home, will do me evil." And he said, "I will do you no evil, send me home." And he said, "I know it, if I send you home, you will come back, and come and kill me. And he said, "I dare not; give me an oath, that I may swear it." And he said, "When you get home, do not go to bathe where many people are." And he said, "I will not." And he sent him home, and when they arrived, those who went with him returned, and they said, "Good-bye." And he went to his mother's house, and his mother rejoiced much.

Now in their town the Sultan was very ill, and for his medicine, it was necessary to get the King of the Snakes and kill him, and that his flesh should be boiled; that was the medicine.

And the Vizir had set people at the public baths, and told them, "If any one comes to bathe with a mark on his stomach, seize him."

Hasseebu stayed three days, and he forgot the words of his friend the King of the Snakes, and went to bathe.

And the soldiers seized him, and took him to the Vizir. And the Vizir said to him, "Take us to the place where the King of the Snakes lives." And he said, "I do not know it." And he said to them, "Bind him." And he was bound and beaten much, and his back was all torn. And he said, "Loose me, that I may take you."

And they went together and went, till when they arrived, the King of the Snakes said to him, "Did I not tell you, you would come to kill me?" And he said, "It was not I, look at my back." And he asked, "Who has beaten you in this way?" And he said, "The Vizir." And he said, "Well, then, I am already dead; but you must carry me to your place yourself." And he carried him, and the soldiers returned, and the Vizir was there within.

And he said to his friend on the road, "When I arrive I shall be killed, and my flesh will be cooked; the first skimming the Vizir will tell you to drink, but do not you drink it; put it in a bottle and set it on one side. The second you must drink, and you will become a great physician. It is the third that is your Sultan's medicine. And that first one, when he comes and asks you, 'Have you drunk the first?' tell him, 'I have, and this is your second one.' The Vizir will take it, and when he has drunk it he will die, and your soul will rest."

And they went their way, till they arrived in the town, and they did just as his friend had directed him.

The Vizir drank and died, and the second one he drank himself, and the third he prepared as the medicine for the Sultan, and he was cured.

And the Sultan loved him much, and he became a great physician in that city, and dwelt in peace and health until the end.