Oral Literature: How fire came to stay with man

In the distant, dim past, when the world first began, there lived a powerful family of witches. There were many lesser witches, but the mother of them all was the ruler as well. All the other witches feared and obeyed the mother witch because she had a secret weapon more powerful than any other- fire. She was able to control the others with fire and also provide them with food caught by means of fire.

Around her neck she hung the fire on a necklace, and it glowed in the darkness. Any animal that she confronted was compelled to stare at this wonderful phenomenon in a hypnotic trance. Then the mother of the witches would draw closer and with a blow kill the poor animal and take it home to share it with the other witches.

For this reason she had great respect among the other witches. Not far away, there lived the very first family of Man. They were a poor lot, forever hungry and oppressed by the cold and darkness of the night, and terrified by the presence of the witches who prowled at night with a single glowing eye. The only companion Man had been fortunate to find was the dog, who comforted him in his misery.

One day the chief of the people was walking with his dog, looking for mushrooms and roots to satisfy the hunger of his family. As he strolled along he saw a white and shining stone, which he picked up and thoughtlessly threw for his dog to retrieve. The dog bounded after the stone. The white stone rolled into the compound of the witches who were invisible by day. The dog followed after it and ran into the witches’ compound looking for the white stone, and seeing the glowing fire tied around the neck of the witch, mistook it for the stone. She snatched it from the sleeping witch’s neck and streaked back home to her master.

The mother witch rose up in great anger and gave chase, almost catching the dog, but the dog was extremely clever, and dodged in and out between the trees and eluded her.

The dog ran panting into the village of man with the now smoking firebrand in her mouth, dropped the fire at the foot of the chief, and collapsed in exhaustion. Snatching up the fire, the chief shouted, ‘Now fire has come to stay with man!’ The people rose up and lit small bundles of grasses and went shouting after the witch, who ran off in terror. They set fire to the dry grass and as it burned it drove the witches before them. Following after, they collected up the charred bodies of small animals trapped in the fire. For the first time they ate roasted meat, and cried with joy, for its taste was better than any food they had ever eaten before.

To this day the dog stays with man, and when he sees the smoke of a grass fire he bounds up eagerly to hunt, for he remembers that first fire, and is proud that it was his mother who first brought fire to man. (Folktale from Tanzania)

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts