Adapted from the narration of the Late Jali Alagie Mbye. May his wonderful soul continue to rest at ease.
Many many years ago, deep inside a forest, there was a little village called Mochongololo. In Mochongololo, there lived a wonderful storyteller called Chamakanda. Morning and evening, night and day, people came from places near and places far, to listen to Chamakanda’s stories. Chamakanda was very welcoming, and his house was always full of people. He was never tired of telling his stories. But there was one thing special about Chamakanda —his hat. He always had his hat on, all day, every day, as he told his stories. No one had ever seen Chamakanda without his hat. He had it on when he went to the toilet, he had it on when he ate his meals, and he even had it on when he took his naps!
One little boy in the village was very curious. He wondered and wondered why Chamakanda always kept his hat on. He scratched his head and rubbed his beardless chin and furrowed his brows, but he still could not figure out why Chamakanda always had his hat on. Finally, one day, he bit his index finger and snapped it against his hand and declared “I will find out!”
He went to Chamakanda’s house and listened to some stories, then he said, “Chamakanda, can I come back tomorrow to listen to more stories?”
Kind Chamakanda said, “Of course! You are always welcome here. I can tell you stories about animals, I can tell you terrrriible stories, I can tell you stories about the lion!” Chamakanda growled like a lion and the little boy laughed.
“But can I sleep at your house, Chamakanda?”
“Of course you can! We will have dinner, then we will sit by the fire and I will tell you stories until you sleep”
“Oh, we will see who will be doing the sleeping”, the little boy thought to himself, giggling.
The little boy went to Chama Kanda’s house the next evening. They prepared a big nice dinner and ate their fill. Then they sat by the fire and listened to Chamakanda, their faces gleaming orange. Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they clapped, other times their eyes widened in fear. Sometimes they would jump up, startled, or sigh in relief and sink into their seats, other times they would wipe away tears with the backs of their hands. Then the yawning began, and one by one, Chamakanda’s sleepy audience said goodnight and left. Soon only Chamakanda and the little boy were left by the fire.
The little boy stretched his arms and yawned too.
“I’m tired, Chamakanda. I want to go to bed now,” he said.
“I am tired too, little boy. Let’s go to sleep,” said Chamakanda.
They waddled their way inside the house and got into their bamboo beds.
Goodnight little boy!
The little boy held his breath, waiting for Chamakanda to remove his big hat. But Chamakanda did not remove his hat, he just wriggled his head into the pillow until it felt right, then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
The little boy pretended to sleep too, but he wasn’t sleepy at all! He waited patiently until he heard Chamakanda’s snores wafting across the room, then he snuck out of his bed and tiptoed his way to Chamakanda’s bed. He stood over Chamakanda for a while, just to make sure he was really sleeping, and then he reached out with his nimble little fingers and began to gently, gently prise off Chamakanda’s hat. Immediately, Chamakanda’s eyes snapped open, and in a big angry voice, he asked “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
The little boy was mortified. He stuttered “I– I’m so-sorry I was ju-just Chamakanda I was just… I just wanted to know why you never take off your ha-hat. Don’t be angry Chamakanda…”
Chamakanda sighed. “Well, if you must know…”
He got up and walked to the fire. The little boy followed.
“I will show you why I always keep my hat on. But you cannot ever, ever, tell anybody. Do you hear me?”
“I will not tell anybody, Chamakanda!”
“Don’t tell anyone!”
Chamakanda lifted his hands up slowly and pulled off his hat. As soon as he did so, two long grey ears sprang up. They swayed left and right, and twitched! They were just like the ears of a donkey, but glossier!
The little boy gasped and held his mouth.
Chamakanda sighed. “You can’t tell anyone, little boy.”
“I won’t tell.”
They went back to bed. The little boy woke up very early in the morning, as soon as he heard the first cock’s crow. He could hardly wait to get home. But Chamakanda, who had woken up even earlier, made him stay for breakfast. So he stayed and made breakfast with Chamakanda. As they ate, the little boy was rushing; slurping porridge too quickly and not chewing his bread enough. Chamakanda noticed and so he asked, “Why are you in such a hurry to go?”
“It’s aah– my mother. My mother must be looking for me now. I want to go home.”
“Very well. Just remember what I told you last night. Do not tell a soul”
“I won’t!” he said, running down the path from Chamakanda’s house.
The first group of people he met were his friends.
“Where have you been”, they asked him. We looked for you everywhere last evening.
“Oh I was at Chamakanda’s house last night.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “He showed me something but he doesn’t want me to tell anyone at all. So if I tell you, don’t you dare tell anybody?”
“No, no! We will not tell anybody,” they chorused.
“Chamakanda has long ears like a donkey,” he whispered. “Don’t tell anybody!”
“We will not tell anybody,” they gasped.
But they all suddenly had a reason to go home at once. One ran to his father, one ran to his sister, another to his grandma, and they said, “My friend went to Chamakanda’s house last night. He said Chamakanda has long ears like a donkey, that’s why he always has his hat on. But Chamakanda didn’t want him to tell anybody, so please don’t tell anybody.”
“No, no! We won’t tell anybody,” they said.
Before midday, the whole village knew about Chamakanda’s ears. They all wanted to see the ears with their own eyes. So the whole village took the narrow winding path to Chamakanda’s house, with the big mouth little boy right in front, leading the way.
Chamakanda looked out of his window and saw the large crowd walking towards his house. He quickly grabbed a sack and threw a few of his prized possessions in it, then he quickly ran off into the dense, dark forest never to be seen again.
The little boy woke up the next morning and found long grey hairs growing out of his ears. His ears didn’t become long like Chamakanda’s, but they grew gray hairs on them every night and his mother had to shave them off every morning. And on the days when he was particularly naughty, the hairs were longer and bushier the next morning. Sometimes he had to wear a hat all day too. It wasn’t easy at all! But as he grew older, he became very good, because he remembered not to tattletale or break promises, and the grey hairs stopped growing out of his ears.
The people missed Chamakanda and his stories bitterly. No one ever had as many stories, or told them as well as Chamakanda did. The one good thing is, some people could still remember some of Chamakanda’s stories, so they told them and retold them. Until today, we still hear some of Chamakanda’s stories, we just don’t know they are his stories.
You can find more of the author’s work on her blog, YÉMU.