Copyright 2000
by Phillip Martin
All rights reserved.
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Cast of Characters:

Chief,  Daughter/Wife,  Father/Old Man,   Members of the Family,  Sheep Herder 2,   Neighbor,  Sheep Herder,  Goats,  Sheep

 

Two shepherds enter before the paramount chief. They bow deeply.

Old Man: Oh, please, great chief, help me settle this dispute. It has been troubling me for many long days.

Chief: I'm always pleased to help my people. What is on your mind? I have yet to have a problem presented that I cannot handle. I assure you that I will solve your problem. There is none other as wise as I.

Old Man: I am a poor farmer and as humble as can be. Until recently, I had a few goats but now, I have nothing . . . nothing at all. My envious neighbor has stolen my herd. I confronted him saying they were mine and asked him to return them. He refused. Please speak to him. I am a poor old man and cannot convince him.

Chief: And you, what do you have to say about this? Did you take this man's goats?

Neighbor: Of course not! I am not a thief and I am not envious! I have always had many goats. My neighbor has never had any of his own. I do not know what he is talking about!

Chief: Do you have any witnesses that saw this man steal the goats? Do you have any records showing the number of goats you own?

Both shepherds shake their heads no.

Chief: This will not be an easy problem to settle. If there are no other witnesses, I will have to rely on my own wisdom. And, that is the kind of problem that I enjoy the most.

I have an idea!

My people, I have a question for the both of you. Whoever can answer it successfully will be the owner of the goats. It is merely one simple question. Answer me this: What is the fastest thing in the world? Go, and do not return until you know the answer.

Neighbor: How will anyone ever answer a question like that correctly?

Old Man: I think I need to return home and speak to my daughter. She is such a wise woman.

Ah, Daughter, you are not only beautiful, but so very clever. I come to you for your help.

Daughter: What is it, Father?

Old Man: The paramount chief has sent me away with a question that is unbearably hard to answer. I must get it right in order to get my goats back. Oh dear! What am I to do? He has asked what is the fastest thing in the world? It might be the fleet-footed cheetah, but then I think that it must be the eagle that swoops through the sky. It is impossible to know for sure. And I will never get my goats back unless it can be answered correctly.

Daughter: Why, Father, that's so simple. It's . . .

Grandchild 1: A lizard! I know it has to be. Every time I try to catch one, it leaps out of my reach!

Grandchild 3: Don't be so silly. Your brain certainly isn't the fastest thing in the world.

Grandchild 1: If you are so smart, what do you think it is?

Grandchild 3: I don't know either.

Grandchild 1: That's a first.

Grandchild 2: How could anyone know? What will happen to the old man's goats?

Grandmother: Well, the next morning, the paramount chief was very surprised to see the old man return so soon.

Chief: Do you have an answer to my question so quickly?

Old Man: Yes, my chief, the question was not that difficult.

Chief: So tell me, what is the fastest thing in the world?

Old Man: Time. We never have enough of it. It always goes too fast. There is never enough time to do everything that we want to do.

Chief: What an amazing answer! Could I have come up with such a reply? (Immediately he was suspicious of the man.) Who gave you these words? Whose wise thoughts do you share with me?

Old Man: They are my own words, my own thoughts. The credit is due to none but myself.

Chief: If you do not tell the truth, I will punish you. You will regret for the rest of your life the words that you have just spoken.

Old Man: I will be obedient for I fear your anger. I confess these are the words of my daughter. She is very wise.

Chief: She must be, to give such an answer. I would like to meet her.

Old Man: As you wish.

Grandmother: Now the Old Man gets his daughter to bring her before the chief. The attraction is instant and obvious to all. If the chief was impressed with the daughter's wisdom, he was captivated by her beauty.

Chief: You are indeed a wise and lovely woman, a rare jewel in the midst of my life. I would be honored to have you as my wife.

Daughter: The honor is mine, great chief.

Chief: Everything in my house is yours. I only have one rule for you. You must never become involved with any of the problems that are brought before me by the villagers. My judgments and solutions are entirely mine. I want no one else to interfere. This is your first and final warning. If you break this rule, I will banish you from my house.

Daughter: That is no problem for I will never let you be disgraced in any way.

Grandmother again speaks as actors get ready for a scene change.

Grandmother: As the days, weeks, and months went by, the chief helped the villagers with their problems. His wife was careful not to interfere with his wise tests and decisions. Usually she agreed with his decisions and she always remained silent. And then one day, two young shepherds came before the chief.

Grandchild 2: Something will go wrong.

All other family members: Shh!

Sheep Herder 2: Chief! Chief! He claims that my one and only sheep is his.

Sheep Herder 1: I only claim what is truly mine.

Sheep Herder 2: You may talk smoothly but the sheep is still mine.

Sheep Herder 1: Why don't we let our noble chief decide for that is the reason why we came here.

Sheep Herder 2: Yes, we will see that the sheep is mine.

Chief: Stop this babble and listen to me. I will give you a test that only the smarter of the two of you will be able to pass.

Sheep Herder 1: And what is this great task you ask of us?

Chief: I will give each of you an egg. Whoever hatches a chicken from it by tomorrow will claim the sheep you quarrel over. Now go away and think about how you will accomplish the task.

Shepherd 2 walks away very puzzled. She wanders to the chief's garden area where the new wife is resting.

Sheep Herder 2: Everyone knows that I really own that sheep. This other shepherd is only jealous and wants what is rightfully mine. She thinks so quickly and talks so smoothly that other people always notice her. I may sit in her shadow, but I know the truth. But how is the truth going to help me solve this impossible problem? How can anyone hatch an egg in just one day?

Grandmother: The shepherd had not realized that she had spoken aloud. She didn't notice the other person in the garden. And, as it turned out, the person was the chief's wife. The shepherd had wandered into the wife's favorite resting spot in the garden. The wife could see how the girl was troubled and her heart was moved. And although she knew she shouldn't do it, she asked . . .

Daughter: What's the matter, young shepherd? Why do you look so sad?

Shepherd 2: The chief has asked something from me that is impossible.

Daughter: And what is that, shepherd?

Shepherd 2: He wants me to hatch a chicken egg in one day. What shall I do? He asks the impossible! I will fail the test and lose my only sheep.

Daughter: (turns aside in deep thought) I could help this young shepherd, but to do it would break the only promise my husband has asked of me. I did, after all, give my word. Even though it is important to keep a promise, how could I possibly ignore a child's pain? What would the gods think? What would I think of myself? (She thinks, then turns to the shepherd and smiles.)

Shepherd 2: Why do you smile? There isn't anything today worth smiling about? Are you making fun of my pain?

Daughter: Cheer up, young shepherd. There is a simple solution to your test. You only need to take some seed rice to the chief.

Shepherd 2: Rice?! Seed rice!

Daughter: Yes, rice. Tell him to plant it today so that in the morning you will have rice to feed your chicken.

Shepherd 2: I don't understand. How can planted rice give me a chicken?

Daughter: The chief will see the wisdom of your words. He knows it is just as impossible in one day to grow rice from a seed as it is to hatch a chicken from an egg. Give the rice to the chief and share these words. However, and do not forget this, you must not mention anything about my help.

Shepherd 2: Thank you so much, good lady. Count on me to keep the secret.

Daughter: You are welcome. Now be on your way.

The shepherd races around stage to find the chief.

Shepherd 2: Great chief, I have the answer to your test!

Chief: So quickly? I thought it was rather difficult.

Shepherd 2: It was not so hard for me.

Chief: If that is so, then speak up.

Shepherd 2: Here. Take this seed rice and plant it today so that in the morning I will have rice to feed my chicken.

Chief: (deep in thought) Well, well . . . who gave you this seed rice? And who gave you these words? Whose wise thoughts do you share with me? These words are too wise for one so young.

Shepherd 2: They are my own words, my own thoughts. The credit is due to none but myself.

Chief: If you do not tell the truth, I will punish you. You will regret for the rest of your life the words that you have just spoken.

Shepherd 2: Uhhh . . .

Chief: What do you say, shepherd?

Shepherd 2: I will be obedient for I fear your anger. I confess these are the words of your wife. She knew you, oh wise chief, would understand the wisdom of their meaning.

Chief: She was quite right.

Shepherd 2: I'm sorry I talked to your wife. I hope I have not displeased you.

Chief: You have been foolish. However, I do not believe that my wife would have helped you if she didn't think you were the rightful owner. I will respect her insight and let you take your sheep.

Shepherd 2: Yes, great chief, and thank you for your understanding.

Chief: Go on now!

And now, I must take care of the matter with my wife. (He crosses the stage to confront his wife.) My wife, I have a serious matter to discuss with you.

Daughter: Yes?

Chief: You have done the worst of all possible deeds. You have broken your promise to me. I believed in you and respected you as an obedient wife. Didn't you know all that I have is yours? Now you have thrown it all away. Was it hard for you to follow one rule? There was only one rule that I made for you and you have broken it. Now you must leave. Go back to your father's home.

Daughter: As you wish, my husband, I understand. I will be of no more trouble to you. I only ask one more thing. Please allow me to prepare one final meal for you before I go.

Chief: Do as you please. Make whatever you want. Take whatever you want. Just be certain that you do not remain here tonight!

The chief leaves and the daughter begins food preparation.

Daughter: What was I supposed to do? I know I broke my promise but thinking about it, what else could I have done? Let a child suffer? I couldn't do that.

But if my husband is as wise as he thinks he is, he should know what a wise woman he has for a wife. I must do something to remind him of that. Of course, I have a plan to win him back and a little palm wine should do the trick. Just you wait and see, husband. I've got you just exactly where I want you.

Grandmother: The wife set about to prepare a splendid feast. She knew all of the chief's favorite dishes -- cassava leaf soup, beans gravy, and palm butter. She ushered the chief into the meal and set about serving him a feast he would never forget. All those dishes, combined with a very generous supply of palm wine, helped the woman's plans to work like magic. It didn't take long for the very full chief to grow weary and settle down for a nap. And, as soon as that happened, the woman's relatives came to help her transport the chief to her family home. The chief had no idea what had happened to him. He slept soundly through the night, but in the morning, the chief awoke with a start!

Chief: Where am I? What am I doing here?

Daughter: Good morning, my chief. I hope you slept well.

Chief: Where am I? How did I get here?

Daughter: You are in my father's home.

Chief: What are you talking about? Explain yourself, wife. Why did you bring me here?

Daughter: I did what you told me to do, my chief. You said I could take anything I wanted from your house as long as I was gone by nightfall. There was only one thing I wanted from your home, you, so I took you.

Chief: You are certainly a wise woman. Come return with me to our home. Only a fool would send a woman like you away.

Daughter: And you, my chief, are no fool.

Grandchild 1: That's it? They all live happily ever after? What kind of story is that?

Grandchild 3: It's called romance, pangolin brain.

Grandchild 2: Well, I for one am so relieved. But what if she breaks her promise a second time?

Grandmother: I don't think we need to worry about that. What we need to worry about is getting home before it gets too dark outside. You don't want to hear my stories about the spirits that lurk in the bush after the sun goes down.

 

Part 1    Spider and the Honey Tree
Part 2   Black Snake and the Eggs


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