There’s been a bit of a break in my writing up the stories I collected in the Congo, when I was there with Save the Children last year. It’s been a busy summer and autumn, with a new book out and Andersen press Re-issuing The Cry of the Wolf. But I’m back at my desk now; so here’s another one, collected from the street children of Kinshasa. This story has witches, and a witch child right at the heart of it – which is poignant because many of the children I spoke had been accused of witchcraft themselves, and chased out of their homes and onto the street by their own families
Three Dogs is a classic folk tale of entrapment. It’s well known that witches love to eat human flesh, and that pregnant women love to eat the fruit of the safu tree. Put the two together – and the witches know they’re onto a good thing.
Safu fruit, by the way,is a purple-ish fruit that has to be carefully prepared before it tastes good. Even so, it is said to be incredibly bitter to western tastes. But it must have something good in it, because pregnant women are known to often have cravings for it. Many thanks to Exhause, one of the children I men in the Sainte Famille open center for street children in Kinshasa, last year,
for telling me this great tale.
A man a woman owned three dogs. One of these dogs was black – as strong as a wolf. Another one was white, a fierce, brave, loyal dog. They were obedient and loyal. But the last one was a weak dog, a dog the colour of mud, who never did anything good. He was lazy, disobedient and impossible to train. So they called their dogs black dog, white dog and weak dog.
Soon after the man and woman got married, the woman fell pregnant. As soon as her belly started swelling, like many other pregnant women before and since, she developed a sudden passion for safu fruits. She would hardly eat anything else – all she wanted was safu fruits, safu fruits – as many as she could get.
Her husband wanted to do everything for his wife, so he went into the woods looking for safu trees. Pretty soon, as the weeks went by and the craving continued, he’d picked all the fruits near his village, and was having to go further and further afield to satisfy his wife’s craving. One day, in a part of the forest he had never been in before, he found a wood full of safu trees, all full of fruit. He picked all he could carry and went home with a big bag of fruit. But his wife was so greedy for the fruits, that she ate the lot within two days.
“Let’s go back to that woods together,” she said. “We can carry enough between us to last us for ages.”
Her husband agreed, and they went back to find the fruits.
Now, what that couple did not know was that these trees belonged to a witch. In all innocence they went there, climbed up the trees and started to pick. There was one tree with the biggest, ripest, fattest safu fruits they had ever seen, and the wife climbed straight up that one and began to pick the best fruits she could reach.
It was at that moment that a witch child came along. This was the son of the most important witch, the chief of all the witches in the area. The husband and wife did not know that anyone else owned that tree, but even so, they were surprised to see someone from another village, so they kept very still.
The boy stopped beneath the tree with the wife in it.
“I feel someone is hiding in our tree,” he said out loud. Then he sniffed the air. “I can smell someone hiding in our tree!” he said. “And I’m sure it’s a pregnant woman.”
He looked up – and there she was.
“I want you to come down from our tree,” said the boy. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t run away. You are welcome to eat this lovely safu fruit. I want to introduce you to my father. He’s always happy to see visitors to our part of the forest.”
The husband and wife knew that they should ignore the boy and go home, but somehow, they didn’t seem able to do what they wanted. They climbed down from the trees and followed him through the woods to the village of the witches. The boy led them straight to the house of his father, the most senior witch. This man, whose importance was shown by his incredibly long nose, was, as the child had said, delighted to see the visitors.
“Well done, my son,” he said. “Thank you for bringing such delicious meat to me. Oh, I’m going to enjoy eating these two!”
The couple tried to run away, but it was already too late. They were held in a nearby house while the chief witch sent out a message to all the other witches in the area. “On this Saturday,” he told them, “We are going to have some good things to eat!”
Saturday came. The senior witch called all the witches together for the feast. One of them, a huge, hungry witch, rolled out a huge cauldron from his house and filled with water. This was the witch cook. The witches built a fire and boiled the water. Then, the cook grabbed hold of the husband and prepared to throw him in.
The man had one last chance to save himself, his wife, and his unborn child. He shouted at the top of his lungs ….
“My black dog, my white dog, my weak dog – help me, please help me!”
Far away in the home village, the dogs heard his cry. They were tied up and locked in the house, but they pulled so hard that all three of them, even the weak dog, broke their leaches. But they were still trapped inside.
The man called out again. “My black dog, my white dog, my weak dog – help me! Come running quickly to me!”
“Shut him up – he makes too much noise,” said the senior witch crossly.
But the dogs had heard. The black dog broke jumped up and shook the door. The white dog jumped up and shook the door. They jumped up and banged against the door over and over, until at last until the door burst open …
And those three dogs came running, running, running through the woods!
The man heard them barking and he laughed.
“Why do you laugh?” asked the chief witch.
“Call this laughing?” said the man. “I’m not laughing. I’m just feeling sad that this is my last day on earth.” And he grinned at them
The witches looked at him as if he was mad. The chief witch jumped to his feet. “Enough!” he shouted. “Fling him in the pot. Let the feast begin!”
The witch cook grabbed hold of the man and dragged him to the pot of water, which was bubbling away. But just at that moment, the three dogs came bursting into the village. The witch cook wasted no time – he lifted up the man above his head and prepared to throw him in. The strong dogs, the black dog and the white dog, were held up by the crowd of witches who jumped to try and stop them. But the little weak dog, the dog the colour of mud, the dog who did nothing good, leaped forward and sank his stubby blunt teeth right into the cooks big toe.
“Agh!” yelled the cook. He dropped the man, who rolled across the ground out of the way. Then the three dogs really began their work.
The strong black dog grabbed hold of the chief witch by his ridiculous nose and began to drag him around the village. The strong white dog seized hold of the big witch chef and shook him until he died. And the little weak dog, the dog the colour of mud who did nothing good, chased and harried the witches round and round the village, snapping at their heels and barking at them when they hid, so that the other two, the strong black and the strong white dog, could come and finish them off.
When it was all over, the man and his wife walked around to have a look. All the witches were dead. There was only one they couldn’t see, and that was the witch child that had trapped them in the first place. The husband, the wife and the three dogs went to hunt for him – and guess who found him. It was the weak dog, the dog the colour of mud who never did anything good who found him, hiding under his bed.
That was the end of him, and the end of the village witches, too. From that day, all the pregnant women in the village had all the safu fruit they wanted.
That’s it – Three Dogs. And that’s the last story from Kinshasa, and the street children – the child witches themselves, who didn’t get all that much to eat from what I could see – let alone meat. The next stories up will come from a different source, from Everista, a family man I was introduced to, who lived just in the suburbs of Kinshasa. You may find it interesting to see how different his stories were, how they were told and used in the context of a family – as they were always intended.
The street children, of course, had no such luxury. Tragically, many of them had been chased or scared away from their own families because they were feared as witches themselves, who might eat human flesh in the night-world. Accusations of this kind can come from almost anything – bed wetting, bad behavior, or just an odd appearance. Even more tragically, up to 80% of the families who had let them down so badly realise their mistake once it is simply pointed out to them what the real cause of their children’s behavior is; often – as usual – a break up in the family.
Save the Children do valuable work re-uniting children and their families in Kinshasa. You can help with a donation, no matter how small. Don’t let our current economic woes blind us to the nature of real poverty as it exists for so many millions of people in the third world. Make a donation now, and help a child find a family.