The Nine Brothers
Narrated by Abebe Kebede
Once upon a time there was a man who had nine sons. He named the first child “Son Number One” and the second one “Number Two”, and all the way up.
Now one day the father sent child Number Nine, the youngest boy, to go and to buy a ‘billaco’, a white gabi, from Wolayita, where such billacos are made very well. Therefore the son got up and went, because it was a long journey, something like five days there, and five days back. While the son was away, travelling to Wolayita to buy the billaco, unfortunately the father became sick and suddenly died.
The remaining eight sons divided up all the property; the cattle, the land, the crops, everything, and all they left for Number Nine was one skinny ox who was very sick and wasn’t much good.
When son Number Nine came home with the billaco they said, “Look, our father is dead, and all that he has left for you is the skinny ox.”
Now obviously Number Nine wasn’t very happy about this, and so he thought about what to do. He slaughtered the ox, ate the meat, and took the cow hide to the market.
Everywhere he went and tried to sell the cow hide, nobody was willing to buy it, because cow hides weren’t such sellable commodities in that market place. And he spent all day in the market and didn’t know what to do.
As evening approached, it began to rain and it began to pour. There was a huge tree under which everybody went and took shelter with their goods and their money and everything.
Now son Number Nine, slowly and carefully, without anybody seeing him, climbed up into the branches of the tree, and lay down. After some time, huge flashes of lightning began flashing across the sky. Son Number Nine stretched out the cow hide and began beating it roughly against the tree trunk.
When the noise of the cow hide banging against the trunk made such a noise, everybody was sure that the tree had been struck by thunder. Therefore they panicked, they didn’t look up, and they ran in various directions, leaving their money and all their goods.
So, Number Nine climbed down and took all the valuable things and headed home to his brothers.
“How on earth did you get all this wealth and all these goods?” the brothers asked.
“Oh, haven’t you heard, cow skins are very, very expensive in the market today. Imagine that the small, skinny, emaciated ox that you gave me, with its lousy skin, got me all this. Can you imagine how much the skin of a big fat ox would get in the market place?” he said to them.
So the eight brothers slaughtered all their animals and carried their skins to the market place.
But when they came to the market place, there was, in fact no place to sit down and sell skins - one place was for onions, and others were for other things. And they would go and sit down somewhere, and the merchants would say, “Get lost! We don’t want your stinky skins around our goods. Go and sit in the place where cow hides are sold.” But there was no such place.
So at the end of the day the brothers were furious and they went home, and they said, “You’ve tricked us, you’ve fooled us. What are you up to?”
And Number Nine said, “It’s OK, I’ll tell you what I’m up to. But first you’ve got to do me a favour, if you want to hear the secret.”
And they said “OK."
So he said, “Take me out onto the road, and I want you to put me into a bee hive and tie me up in the branches of a tree.”
So they did as he requested, and they took him to a huge tree, put him in a bee hive and tied him up in the branches.
Then he said, “Go home, and I’ll tell you what everything is about when I come back.”
So they left him and they went.
After some time a rich merchant came riding by on a mule, and he looked up and was surprised to see a man in a beehive in the branches of the trees. And he said “Hey! What are you doing up there?”
And the son said, “Well the people of this area want me to be their king, therefore this is how they are training me to be their king.”
And the merchant, who was power-hungry, said, “Wow, I’d like to be a king too.”
So the son said, “Why don’t we trade places?”
So the merchant brought down Number Nine and he got into the hive, and Number Nine put him up in the tree trunk, and he took the beautiful mule and went home.
Obviously his brothers were surprised to see him coming on this beautiful mule back to their place.
“How on earth did you get such a beautiful mule?” the brothers asked in surprise.
“One mule’s nothing. I can’t tell you the secrets, but up there in the bee hive you can get anything you want. In fact I rushed to come and tell you the news, otherwise I could have stayed and got more things. So I just took one of the mules to come and tell you the good news.”
So all the brothers were excited and said “Do you really mean it?”
He said, “Yes I do. Imagine if one person in the bee hive could get such a lot, how much eight people could get.”
So they all went rushing back to the tree, and they helped each other get up into a different bee hive. They used some ropes, and one pulled and the other one pulled on a pulley system, and they put up all the brothers into the tree. But Number Nine hadn’t actually let go of the ropes. So after all of them were in the trees, one by one he let the ropes go and they came zooming down to the earth and fell down and died.
So having disposed of his eight brothers in this way, he went back to their father’s land, and even though they had no cattle he inherited everything else; the coffee plants, the enset to the land, the huts and everything, and he lived happily ever after with all the riches of his father.
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