Resource 1: The snake chief
Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils
This is a Zulu folk tale.
Nandi was very poor. Her husband was dead and she had no sons to herd cattle and only one daughter to help in the fields.
In summer, when the umdoni trees were full of creamy flowers, she and her daughter dug for amadumbe to eat with their maize porridge. But in autumn, she collected the umdoni berries, purple and sweet, and gave them to her neighbours in return for strips of dried goat meat or calabashes of thick creamy sour milk.
One hot day, Nandi went to the river as usual to gather the purple berries, but she found nothing.
Just then she heard a loud hissing. Looking up, she saw a great green-grey snake wound around the dark red trunk of the tree, his head swaying among the branches. He was eating all the berries.
‘You are stealing my berries,’ she called. ‘Oh snake, you are stealing all my berries. What will I have to exchange for meat if you take all the fruit?’
‘What will you give me in exchange for the umdoni berries?’ he hissed. ‘If I fill your basket, will you give me your daughter?’
‘Yes,’ cried Nandi, ‘I’ll give you my daughter this very night. Only let me fill my basket with the purple fruit.’
But once her basket was full, she began to tremble at what she had promised. How could she give her daughter to such an ugly creature? She must make sure that snake did not find out where she lived. She must not go straight home lest he were watching.
At last she reached her hut and cried out to her daughter, ‘My child, I have promised you to snake in return for this basket of purple fruit.’ And she burst into tears.
Meanwhile, snake had followed Nandi to her hut. Just as she burst into tears, snake hissed at the entrance to her hut.
‘No! No!’ cried Nandi. ‘I did not mean my promise.’ The young girl looked up fearlessly and said, ‘A promise is a promise, Mother.’ She put out her hand and stroked his grey-green head. She gave snake food and made a bed for her snake master. During the night, Nandi heard voices, one deep and strong. She silently crept from her skin blankets and she saw a handsome young man, tall, brown and strong sitting with her daughter. Surely he was a chief’s son or a chief himself. Her daughter was making a bead necklace, weaving a wedding pattern with the multicoloured beads. The young man was talking gently and lovingly to her as she worked.
Nandi looked at the folded blanket where snake had slept and on it lay a long coiled green-grey skin. She snatched the skin and threw it into the fire that still burned low in the middle of the hut.
‘Now the spell is broken,’ spoke the snake chief. ‘For a virtuous girl took pity on me and a foolish old woman has burned my skin.’ But in spite of his harsh words he smiled gently at Nandi.
Adapted from: Pitcher D. in Gordon M Ed, Madiba Magic: Nelson Mandela’s Favourite Stories for Children, Tafelberg2002, page 26