Dawa Ya Mwanamke

Dawa Ya Mwanamke
(Medicine Woman)

Outside the Kraal close to the dry riverbed lived Dawa Ya Mwanamke, the medicine Woman. Her hut was made of grasses and dried mud, her robe was made of antelope skins, her headdress was a plumage of feathers of the prettiest birds of the country.

All day long she wandered beside the dry riverbed and collected plants and roots. The roots she used as food and as medicine. Her medicine was considered superior to all others and the villagers came to see her whenever someone was sick or had a problem. They respected her for her knowledge and wisdom.

One day the chief came to visit and told her that their people were starving. There had not been any rain and their crops had failed. Since the river was dry, there had also not been any antelopes coming to the river and the people had no meat. He asked Dawa to help them and save them from starvation.

When Dawa was alone again she cooked up a strong potion of her special roots and lay down to listen to the spirits. Just as she was dozing off to sleep she heard a voice and when she woke with a start she noticed a dark shape.
“This must be a spirit” she thought as there was nobody else here but me. The voice said: “Medicine woman, I have come to invite you to my home.”
Dawa arose, wrapped in her robe and started toward the voice. Outside her door she looked around, but could not see anyone.
“Wait for me, whatever or wherever you are, I do not know where to go to find your home” she called but there was no answer. Since there was no moon, she walked in the dark for a long way, stumbling and falling down often but she could not find anyone, so she went back in her hut.

The next night again she heard the voice. This time she had been waiting for it and quickly she went out and followed the dark shadow, but again the spirit had escaped her.

She was getting angry and wanted to make sure if he came back the next night she would not let him get away again. She set up a trap outside her hut and when the spirit came back, he was caught in the trap and could not escape. The spirit had changed into a jackal and he looked at her from the trap with mean yellow eyes.

He said to her: “Old woman, set me free and I will grant you whatever wish you have.” The medicine woman knew that Jackals always lie and she did not set him free. Instead she took her heavy club and beat his head in. She knew that spirits don’t stay dead long and she had to work quickly. She cut out his heart and boiled it to make sure it would stay dead.

Then she cut open his stomach and there she found that it was full of little seeds. She dried the seeds and planted one beside her hut, then put the rest of them into a jar. She then went to sleep.

When she woke up the next morning the seed had grown into a beautiful big tree with rich fruit hanging from it. She tasted the fruit and it was delicious. She then called the chief and his people together and gave them the rest of the seeds with instructions on how to plant them. The people did so and were never hungry again. They called the fruit of the tree “breadfruit” and people all over Africa eat the fruit of this tree to this day. 

Stories from Africa, translated from Swahili, Author unknown

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