Kua Tale, as Retold by Helga Ingeborg Vierich

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

Helga Vierich listening to Kua Stories in Botswana.

Written by Helga Ingeborg Vierich (*)

The Kua told me one of their sacred stories – of the beginning times – in which the creator spirit saw a human being marrying an animal instead of killing them for food.

“..So God was born as a human baby, so impatient that he cut himself out of the belly his mother. He healed her and after a few days of growing, asked her where he could find his older brother, the one who had married recently. The mother told him to go to the place of the buffalo people. His brother had married a buffalo and they were expecting their first offspring.

So the little fellow set off, eating masses of wild plants to make himself bigger. He even ate all the termites in great mound, hollowing it out. He grew bigger and bigger, and started to eat animals he killed with a look. He finally took parts of the hide of dead giraffe to make a bag. The bag was useful, so he could carry dried meat and other food to be cooked on a fire he made every night, instead of eating as he went along. He decided he could not waste time wandering around eating all day.

When he got to the place of buffalo people he found his brother, and was introduced to the big placid pregnant cow who was his sister-in-law. They shared a meal of the foods God had brought within with him. His brother was surprised at the novelty of cooked food – especially meat, and was fascinated by the making of a fire. His wife, however, only nibbled at the cooked vegetation, and she refused the meat of her cousin the giraffe. God/boy told them that his mother had sent him to meet them, and ask them to return with him to her place for the birth of the youngster they were expecting.

So they all set off. One night they camped at the place of the hollow termite mound. God sent his brother to fetch firewood. While he was gone, God killed his sister-in-law, the buffalo wife. When the brother returned he was horrified, but God sedately set about making up a fire to cook the meat. Then he pointed to the dead cow and told his brother – “that is a buffalo. She is also your relative, as are all creatures, but the buffalo people are not for wives – they are meat for you.”

His brother wept. So God took pity and said: “She died quickly and knows nothing. and it was me that made this happen and not you. Now we will butcher her and make a meal of her, and then every part of her body must be used. Nothing is to be wasted. Her death serves this unhappy purpose: because of her I must teach you that your place in the world is not the same as that of the buffalo people. You must kill some buffalo when they offer themselves to you, and eat their bodies, just as does your brother the lion. But unlike the lion you will know what you do to them. It is in your heart and this is why I made you. And unless you love these other people, like the buffalo, kill mercifully, and keep your heart in the world with them faithfully, they will all vanish, and you will be nothing and have lost your place here.”

So the brother began, weeping, to cut open the body of his beloved. “Her life and breath are gone”, said God: “I have taken them, they will be with me forever. When you die you will both be with me, and we will rejoice in this forever.”

The man wept, and told the dead wife: “wait for me at the door of God’s house. I will join you there soon enough”. and God said “she will wait for you.” Weeping still, the brother took the body of his child from her womb, and it died in his hands, and the waters of the womb ran away across the sand. Mixed with his tears, the waters ran all the way back to the buffalo people. The buffalo smelled the waters and knew immediately their daughter and sister had been killed.

The man and his little brother/God were almost done drying all the meat – God showed him how to cut it in strips and hang in the branches of the tree by the termite mound. It was three nights after the death of the buffalo wife, that they heard the thunder of many angry buffalo. “They are coming. Quick”, said God, “in here” …and opened the termite mound and shoved his brother inside. “I will handle this”.

Soon the buffalo were running around and around the fire and the mound and were very angry as they smelled the death of their sister and daughter and her unborn child. God calmly sad to them “it was not her husband who has done it, but me”. “You?” snorted the buffalo bull, the father of the buffalo wife, “you are just a small boy!”

“No” said God. “I am YOUR father. It was foolish of you take a man as a husband for your daughter.”

He told the buffalo that it was mistake they made because the man “smelled as a grass eating buffalo” and this had created foolishness and error. He then told them that he would show them a smell that proved humans were not buffalo, but creatures to be wary of, creatures who ate meat.

God, having eaten masses of meat for three days, now began to fart. They were terrible poisonous smelling farts. (NOTE: at this point, the story teller began to make suitable sound effects, and all around the campfire the children began to make similar sounds. Their relieved laughter took the place of the shock on their faces that had earlier attended the death of the buffalo wife and her baby.)…

The farts were so dreadful that some of the buffalo began to faint. Others ran away into the night. Soon all was quiet. “You can come out now” said God. And the trembling man emerged and stared around at the buffalo lying as if dead all around the fire. “They are not dead, don’t worry, why would I kill them?” said God, “and they will soon wake up, so we must hurry”.. and the brothers packed up all the dried meat in a bag made of the skin of the buffalo wife, (because the giraffe bag as not big enough to hold it all).

They returned to the place where the mother lived, to eat joyously with her. In the next days, after explaining to the mother that she could use the bags to gather vegetables, and how to make fire for cooking both vegetables and meat. God/child produced a human women to be the wife of his brother. He showed him how to hunt in ways that did not frighten the animals and to incapacitate them with poisoned arrows that made them want to lie down and rest. He told his brother to kill animals as if each was his own brother or his own beloved… Then he walked away from the fire and at last God returned thankfully to his rightful place outside of this material world…”

I remember sitting up late in my tent with a flashlight to remember the whole story and translate it as well as I could. I forgot some things just now repeating it from memory. One thing I forgot was that the God-boy, as he walked along that first day, plucked hair from his head as it grew in rapidly. He took the black tufts and threw them into the air, and they became birds. He sneezed and with each drop new insects came into the world. He… well, never mind, suffice it to say that this little “intervention in nature” produced a few rivers and pans, dung beetles, and quiet a few soil creatures as well as scorpions and snakes. And it was all the fault of the first foolish humans. I never did get told who the father of the elder brother was; my story teller did not know – or wasn’t revealing this to the likes of me.

Megan Biesele recorded similar story in N’gamiland among the hunter-gatherers there. In her story, the wife was an elephant. There were poisonous farts and a termite mound too, I think. I suppose this to be a very ancient myth, with many longer or shorter versions, and perhaps other embellishments another places.

So, youngsters become hunters, and they learn the lesson of kinship with animals from stories told to them in childhood. They learn why they should never waste any of the precious creature they have killed. So we “weep for her, she was like a person” one hunter explained to me. And, believe it or not, during my fieldwork I actually witnessed the ritual of the kill: hunters would repeat the prayer of thanks, and bid the spirit of the animal to wait for them at the door of God’s house, where they would meet again and be together as kinfolk forever. It always made me tear up. It does now. Still.

Having killed for meat myself, I learned that compassion is all you have left to give. A merciful and quick death is the only hope of sanity during such an act, I think. I shudder to imagine human beings who can kill with indifference, or actually enjoy creating suffering. Those who find only amusement or self-gratification in the murder or torture of another being, even a domestic animal, are dangerous, the Kua told me, for they will kill a human just as easily.

(*) I don’t normally do guest posts, but this is such a wonderful story, I really wanted to share it more broadly than just on Facebook. Thank you, Helga for giving me permission to share your (and the Kua’s) story.

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