One Man and His Precious Cow
I was thinking today about our beginnings with the Fulani, especially of the early days with our friend Mogodi, those days when we were going about from camp to camp trying to convince the Fulani chiefs, heads of families and herdsmen to enroll their children in school. So many of these men were dead set against it.
“Why,” I asked Mogodi, “of all the tribes in Nigeria, do so many Fulani not want to send their children to school?”
“It’s part of our history that began a long time ago,” Mogodi answered. “My grandfather told me about it. You know my grandfather used to tell me many stories before he died, (I was his favorite,) and one story was about the time the ‘whites’ first came to Nigeria. Grandfather was very old when he died, about one hundred and sixteen years old, so he was alive when the first colonists arrived and remembers those days very well.
“In those days,” Mogodi went on, “our people were very primitive – we didn’t wear proper clothes, only skins around our bodies – and we were fearful and suspicious of anyone not like ourselves. We loved and trusted only ourselves and our cattle. You know that God gave cows to Fulani only? Yes! He reached down from Heaven and put cows into our hands for safekeeping. That is why we must take very good care of our cows. Cows are our responsibility, and ours alone.
“Anyway, when the white men came, they settled in the north where many of our people lived; they saw and fell in love with the Fulani people. When they built their first primary schools, it was the Fulani they invited to bring their children for an education. But the Fulani were immediately suspicious, fearing that the whites were planning to kidnap their children and take them away, never to be seen again. So instead of sending their own children to the white men’s schools, they sent the sons and daughters of their Yoruba slaves!
“That is why today, it is the Yoruba who are the governors, senators, doctors, judges, police and professors. That is why we Fulani have little or no voice in what happens to us. We are not educated, so we have no representation in these levels of society and government.”
I don’t remember how I came across the authentic, Fulani folktale, One Man and His Precious Cow, but it was back then in those early days of trying to convince Fulani fathers to send their children to school. It was exactly what I needed, and from then on, whenever Mogodi and I went on our school enrollment missions, this was the story I told. And by the way, it was very effective! Today, the NGO Schools for Africa has opened six additional schools with requests, from the Fulani themselves, for three more!
Now, here’s the story!
One Man and His Precious Cow
Once there was a man with three sons and one precious cow. The man was very proud of his cow because she gave birth to a healthy calf every year. One day, the man asked his eldest son to take the cow grazing. The son took the cow to the fields where green grass grew and then to the water-hole for a nice long drink.
Later, the man asked his cow, "Cow, did you have enough to eat?".
"NO," the cow lied. "Your wicked son took me to the wilderness where no grass grows. Then he tied me up and went to sleep."
The man was angry with his eldest son and sent him away from home.
The eldest son wandered through the countryside until he arrived at a farmhouse. There he met a kind farmer who taught him how to plant vegetables and fruit in both dry and wet seasons. The farmer told the boy, "One day I will have to send you back to your father, so you can teach him how to farm. Then he can depend less on that wicked cow."
Meanwhile, the boy's father had called his second son. "Go and graze the cow. She must be well fed and washed." The second son took the cow to the green fields where she grazed. Then he gave her a bath and tied her to a tree to dry. As he waited for the cow to dry, he dozed off.
The father came by to see how his cow was doing. "Have you eaten?" the man asked the cow.
"NOT AT ALL," the cow lied. "Your wicked son took me to the wilderness where no grass grows. Then he tied me up and went to sleep."
The man was again very angry. He grabbed a big stick and woke his son up. Then he chased him away.
The second son wandered for days until he came upon the house of a carpenter. The carpenter taught him how to build houses and make furniture. The carpenter told the boy, "One day, I will have to send you back to your father so you can teach him how to build these things. Then he can depend less on that wicked cow."
The father had now called his third and favorite son. "Go and graze the cow. Be sure to take good care of her for it will break my heart to send you away like your brothers," he warned his son.
The son took the cow to the green fields where she grazed and bathed. Then he tied her to a tree to dry. Just then the father arrived.
"Cow," he asked. "Did you have enough to eat?"
"NEVER!" the cow lied. "Your favorite son is just as wicked as his brothers. He took me to the wilderness where no grass grows. Then he tied me up here to die."
The man was very sad to hear this but he wouldn't listen to his son's pleas. He sent him away just like his brothers before him.
The third son wandered for many days until he reached the house of a great doctor who taught him how to heal and care for sick people.
The father who was now alone took the cow grazing. He took the cow to a pasture where she ate plenty of lush grass and drank plenty of water while the man dozed under a tree. When the man woke up, he asked the cow, "Have you eaten and taken all the water you need?"
The cow laughed. "You're just like your sons. You took me into the wilderness. You gave me no food and no water. Then you ask me if I'm satisfied?"
The man couldn't believe what he heard. "Ahhh! You've been lying to me all along,” he wailed. "I sent my sons away because of your lies!"
The man wandered from village to village looking for his sons but with no luck. After many months, he was a poor, lonely and sad old man.
One market day, the man decided to try and beg for some food. But when he got to the edge of the market, he was so exhausted that he fell over and fainted. People ran to help him. The noise attracted everyone.
Everyone, including the eldest son who had come to sell some of his farm produce, the second son who had come to sell some furniture he made and the third son who was helping the doctor at their medical clinic. The boys saw that it was their father who had fainted and at the same moment, they saw each other! They were overjoyed.
When the old man was revived, he wept with joy at seeing his sons once again. He asked for their forgiveness and pleaded with them to come back home. "My eyes were opened long ago,” he said.
“You are more precious to me than a cow."
The third son gave his father some vitamins and minerals and brought him back to health, the second son built the family a lovely house filled with furniture and the first son planted rice and beans. Of course, they brought back the cow, but didn’t listen to her silly talk –
The father hired a neighbor to take her for food and water, because he himself was too busy learning how to read and write!
“One is never too old to learn,” he always said.