Okeny’s mother and the ugly bitch
Long ago, a small hilly village gained fame for its girls. Tall. Beautiful. White teeth. Thick black hair. Five of the girls were close friends and went everywhere together. Ayaa was the most beautiful of them all.
Everywhere the girls went, people commented that Ayaa was the most beautiful. The more the praise poured, the more envious the girls became of Ayaa. They plotted to make Ayaa non-human.
One day, as the girls took a walk around the village, they turned Ayaa into a walking stick. After a short walk, they met a group of boys.
“Who is the most beautiful of us all?” the girls asked.
“You are all beautiful but that walking stick is more beautiful,” the boys said.
This did not sit well with the girls.
The girls then turned Ayaa into a head pad. They continued their journey. Shortly, the girls met three men.
“Who among us is the most beautiful girl?” they asked.
“You are all beautiful but that head pad is more beautiful,” the men said.
The girls were speechless.
They decided to turn Ayaa into a very ugly dog. They hoped anyone who saw the dog would despise it since it was an ugly animal. On the way, they saw four women seated in a courtyard. Each of them had their eyes set on the village path, waiting to book beautiful girls for their sons as wives. When the women saw the girls, they ran and each of them held the hand of the girl they thought suitable for their son. One of the women, whose son was called Okeny, arrived shortly after her colleagues had booked all the girls. Only the dog was unclaimed.
She said: “Let me take this dog to my home even if it’s ugly. I’ll serve it any leftover food instead of throwing it away.”
When Okeny got home that day, he learned that all the women had got beautiful girls for their sons, except his mother. He was angry and heartbroken that all his mother brought home was a dog. His mother explained that she arrived a little too late when all the girls were already claimed. Still, Okeny was inconsolable.
Early the next day, people in the village went to their farms. Okeny and his mother left Aputa and the dog home. Aputa was crippled and couldn’t engage in farm work. As soon as everyone was gone, the dog slipped out of its skin and became the beautiful Ayaa again. She started doing house chores immediately. Aya began by sweeping the house, then she went to the stream to fetch water. Later, Ayaa picked dry millet fingers from the granary, pounded and winnowed it. She ground the millet into flour. Next, Ayaa prepared sauce and mingled millet bread. She served some food and ate together with Aputa. Ayaa also put aside food for Okeny and his mother. She covered it with calabashes. She warned Aputa not to tell anyone that she was human. Aputa agreed. She wore back her dog skin and lay on the veranda.
Okeny and his mother finished farm work late in the afternoon. On their way home, Okeny’s mother kept lamenting how tired she was. “I’m exhausted. Who will fetch water from the stream for me today? There’s also food to be prepared. Unlike me, my fellow women have their daughters-in-law to quickly prepare food for the family.”
When they arrived home, Okeny’s mother noticed that the house was clean, all pots were filled with water and food was ready for them to eat. She was incredibly happy and showered Aputa with praise for his hard work.
“Aputa, you have just proved that you can take care of the home and do all domestic chores,” she said.
Aputa smiled but said nothing.
They took a bath and went to bed.
The next day, everyone went to the farm again. When the dog was sure it was alone with Aputa, it peeled off its skin and Ayaa emerged. She went through the same routine as she did the previous day. When Okeny’s mother got home from the farm, she found food had been served. Water pots were full, the house and courtyard swept clean. She thanked Aputa for the great work. This continued for another two days.
Aputa kept Ayaa’s secret until he couldn’t anymore.
“You see that dog over there? It’s human,” he whispered to Okeny’s mother one day. “Whenever you two go to the farm, the dog turns into a beautiful girl; beautiful than all the girls in this village.”
Okeny’s mother was in shock.
Aputa continued: “If you want to confirm my words, tomorrow, Okeny should hide on the tree and watch everything that will happen here.”
Okeny and his mother thought about all the housework and admitted that Aputa couldn’t have performed those tasks owing to his physical disabilities.
The next morning, everyone went to the farm as usual. Okeny and his mother also set off to the farm but along the way, Okeny stopped and climbed the tree on the edge of the homestead. He waited. When the dog was sure everyone had left, it took off its skin and became Ayaa, the beautiful one. She did all the house chores and served Aputa food. Thereafter, Ayaa picked a pot and headed to the stream. Okeny watched quietly as she walked past the tree. Once Ayaa had disappeared down the valley, Okeny climbed down, ran back home, picked the dog’s skin and burned it. When Ayaa finished fetching water, she served food for Okeny and his mother and covered it nicely. When she went to pick her skin, it was gone. Ayaa started crying. Okeny, who had hidden on the wood rack in the house now jumped down. He held Ayaa as she cried and pleaded to be allowed to wear her dog skin.
Okeny was swept away by Ayaa’s beauty. He was excited that a beautiful girl had been hiding behind a dog’s skin all along. He thanked his mother for bringing it home even when he didn’t want it.
Okeny and Ayaa fell in love, got married and became the most enviable couple in the village.
Photo Credit: Pixabay
NOTE: The Ododo Series is a project launched in April 2020 to translate, document and share Acoli folktales in English. These folktales were narrated to children by (grand) mothers in a fireplace setting in homesteads of the Acoli of Northern Uganda and elsewhere. Care has been taken to stick to the story-line as originally told in the Acoli language, but small variations are inevitable.
Edited by Caroline Ayugi