The Lionís Whisker: An Ethiopian Folktale
(as retold by Skywalker Storyteller)
I used this story to illustrate the universality of folk stories. One of the first stories I heard and liked was "The Tigerís Tale" told by Denver teller Linda Soon Curry. Since the story was recorded I decided not to learn it. But, a year later I came across a similar Ethiopian story called "The Lionís Whisker." I have found this story in several sources. I named the character of the step-mother after an Ethiopian student I worked with in the Writing Center of Denver Community College. The son is named after a well-known Ethiopian leader.
Haile was a happy little boy living with his mother and father in their home in Ethiopia. But, one day his mother died and Haile was so hurt, and so confused, and so angry. A year passed and his father decided to remarry. But, Haile remained so hurt, and so confused, and so angry. So when Zeynab met him and hugged him he pulled away from her. When she fixed him his favorite foods for dinner he didnít eat. When she made him a play suit out of fine cloth he ran through the woods and played so roughly he tore the clothes up. Whenever she spoke to him he ignored her.
One day when her husband was gone hunting, Zeynab went to Haileís bedroom to talk to him.
"Haile, I love you so much and I really need you to love. . ."
Before she could finish Haile jumped up and said, "I hate you, you arenít my mother. Iím running away."
Haile ran past Zayneb and out of the house. Zayneb sat down and cried and cried. When her husband returned she told him what had happened. He told her to go on and cook dinner and not to worry that he would find Haile. Haile was at the river in his favorite spot. The two walked home and ate dinner without a word.
That night, as the other two slept, Zayneb got out and walked deep into the forest to the home of the witch doctor. The witch doctor was a very wise woman who knew the ways of peoplesí minds and hearts.
"I need you to make me a love potion so my step-son will love me," said Zayneb.
"Well," the old woman said slowly, "Before I can give you a love potion, you must bring me the whisker from a ferocious lion."
Zeynabís eyes grew large as she said, "How am I supposed to do that?"
"Use your imagination," said the witch doctor.
Zeynab went home and slept just a few more hours. She got up before the sun rose and put several large pieces of raw meat in a bag and headed toward the hills. She walked until she found a cave which had large paw prints around it. Zeynab took a piece of meat out and placed it in front of the entrance to the cave. Then she hid in the bushes about 50 feet from the entrance and waited.
After a few minutes a large, very ferocious looking lion stepped out of the cave, looked around, smelled the meat, and ate it all up.
Zayneb waited for a couple of hours then she walked up to the entrance of the cave and placed a second piece of meat in front of it. Then she moved back only 25 feet and didnít hide in the bushes. After a few minutes the lion came out. He looked around, stared at Zayneb, smelled the meat, picked it up, and ate it all up.
Zayneb waited for a couple of hours then she walked up to the entrance of the cave and placed a third piece of meat in front of it. She moved back only 5 feet and didnít hide in the bushes. After a few minutes the lion came out. He looked around, stared at Zayneb, smelled the meat, picked it up, and ate it all up.
Zayneb waited for a couple of more hours then she walked up to the entrance of the cave and placed a third piece of meat in front of it. She moved back only two steps. After a few minutes the lion came out. He looked around, stared at Zayneb. She stared back at the lion. Although she was shaking inside, she didnít move her body. She just stared right back at the lionís large brown eyes. The lion smelled the meat, picked it up and began eating.
Very slowly Zayneb extended her hand, grabbed a whisker and quickly pulled it out. The lion kept eating as slowly, very slowly, as if walking on a tight rope, Zayneb backed away toward the bushes. When she got into the forest she ran back to the witch doctorís home.
Breathing heavily, she rushed into the witch doctorís house and held up the whisker. "See, here, I brought you a lionís whisker. Now, give me a love potion."
The witch doctor looked at the whisker. "Ah, this does look like a ferocious lionís whisker. But, I donít have any love potions."
"What, what do you mean?" screamed Zayneb.
"Now, tell me, how did you get that lionís whisker?" the old lady calmly asked.
"Well, I had to be very, very careful and patient. I was very gentle and very quiet, and persistent."
"Yes, and you were very courageous. See, you have all of the skills you will need to get your stepson to love you without a magic potion."
Then Zayneb understood. She returned home and treated Haile nicely as before. But, she did not make any special efforts to win his affection. She was just her sweet, giving self. When Haile was rude to her or ignored her, she continued on as if he had said nothing. In three weeks Haile began to smile and speak to Zayneb. In six weeks he offered to help her with chores. In nine weeks he invited her to walk with him to his favorite place at the river. One night about 12 weeks later, just before he fell asleep Haile looked up in Zaynebís eyes and said, "Zayneb, I love you."