A Bushman Legend.
Outa, having disposed of his nightly tot, held his crooked hands towards the cheerful
blaze and turned his engaging smile alternately on it and his little masters.
“Ach! what it is to keep a bit of the Sun even when the Sun is gone! Long ago Outa’s
people, the Bushmen, did not know about fire. No, my baasjes, when the Big Fire,
that makes the world warm and bright, walked across the sky, they were happy. They
hunted, and danced, and feasted. They shot the fine big bucks with their little
poisoned arrows, and they tore pieces off and ate the flesh with the red blood dripping
from it: they had no fire to make it dry up. And the roots and eintjes that they dug out
with their sharp stones—those, too, they ate just as they were. They did not cook, for
they did not know how to make fire. But when the white man came, then they learnt.
Baasjes see, Outa’s head is big—bigger than the Baas’s head—but that does not help.
It’s the inside that matters, and the white man’s head inside here”—Outa tapped his
wrinkled forehead—“Alla! but it can hold a lot!
“In the olden days, when Outa’s people were cold they crept into caves and covered
themselves with skins, for they had no fire to sit by. Yes, they were sorry when the
Old Man in the sky put down his arms and lay down to sleep.”
“What Old Man?” asked Pietie. “Do you mean the Sun?”
“Aja! Don’t baasjes then know that the Sun was once a man? It was long, long ago,
before Outa’s people lived in the world: perhaps in the days of the Early Race that
were before even the Flat Bushmen, who were the first people we really know
anything about. In those days at a certain place lived a man, from whose armpits
brightness streamed. When he lifted one arm, the place on that side of him was light;
when he lifted the other arm, the place on that side of him was light; but when he
lifted both arms, the light shone all around about him. But it only shone around the
place where he lived; it did not reach to other places.
“Sometimes the people asked him to stand on a stone, so that his light could go
farther; and sometimes he climbed on a kopje and lifted up his arms: ach! then the
light streamed out far, far, and lighted up the veld for miles and miles. For the higher
he went, the farther the light shone.
“Then the people said: ‘We see now, the higher he goes the farther his light shines. If
only we could put him very high, his light would go out over the whole world.’
“So they tried to make a plan, and at last a wise old woman called the young people
together and said: ‘You must go to this man from whose armpits the light streams.
When he is asleep, you must go; and the strongest of you must take him under the
armpits, and lift him up, and swing him to and fro—so—so—and throw him as high
as you can into the sky, so that he may be above the kopjes, lifting his arms to let the
light stream down to warm the earth and make green things to grow in summer.’
“So the young men went to the place where the man lay sleeping. Quietly they went,
my baasjes, creeping along in the red sand so as not to wake him. He was in a deep
sleep, and before he could wake the strong young men took him under the armpits
and swung him to and fro, as the wise old woman had told them. Then, as they swung
him, they threw him into the air, high, high, and there he stuck.
“The next morning, when he awoke and stretched himself, lifting up his arms, the
light streamed out from under them and brightened all the world, warming the earth,
and making the green things grow. And so it went on day after day. When he put up
his arms, it was bright, it was day. When he put down one arm, it was cloudy, the
weather was not clear. And when he put down both arms and turned over to go to
sleep, there was no light at all: it was dark; it was night. But when he awoke and
lifted his arms, the day came again and the world was warm and bright.
“Sometimes he is far away from the earth. Then it is cold: it is winter. But when he
comes near, the earth gets warm again; the green things grow and the fruit ripens: it is
summer. And so it goes on to this day, my baasjes: the day and night, summer and
winter, and all because the Old Man with the bright armpits was thrown into the sky.”
“But the Sun is not a man, Outa,” said downright Willem, “and he hasn’t any arms.”
“No, my baasje, not now. He is not a man any more. But baasjes must remember how
long he has been up in the sky—spans, and spans, and spans of years, always rolling
round, and rolling round, from the time he wakes in the morning till he lies down to
sleep at the other side of the world. And with the rolling, baasjes, he has got all
rounder and rounder, and the light that at first came only from under his arms has
been rolled right round him, till now he is a big ball of light, rolling from one side of
the sky to the other.”
Cousin Minnie, who had been listening in a desultory way to the fireside chatter, as
she wrote at the side-table, started and leant toward the little group; but a single
glance was enough to show that so interested were the children in the personal aspect
of the tale that there was no fear of confusion arising in their minds from Outa’s
decided subversion of an elementary fact which she had been at some pains to get
them to understand and accept.
“And his arms, Outa,” inquired little Jan, in his earnest way, “do they never come out
Outa beamed upon him proudly. “Ach! that is my little master! Always to ask a big
thing! Yes, baasje, sometimes they come out. When it is a dark day, then he has put
his arms out. He is holding them down, and spreading his hands before the light, so
that it can’t shine on the world. And sometimes, just before he gets up in the morning,
and before he goes to sleep at night, haven’t baasjes seen long bright stripes coming
from the round ball of light?”
“Yes, yes,” assented his little listeners, eagerly.
“Those are the long fingers of the Sun. His arms are rolled up inside the fiery ball, but
he sticks his long fingers out and they make bright roads into the sky, spreading out
all round him. The Old Man is peeping at the earth through his fingers. Baasjes must
count them next time he sticks them out, and see if they are all there—eight long
ones, those are the fingers; and two short ones for the thumbs.”
Outa’s knowledge of arithmetic was limited to the number of his crooked digits, and
the smile with which he announced the extent of his mathematical attainments was a
ludicrous cross between proud triumph and modest reluctance.
“When he lies down, he pulls them in. Then all the world grows dark and the people
go to sleep.”
“But, Outa, it isn’t always dark at night,” Pietie reminded him. “There are the Stars
and the Moon, you know.”
“Ach, yes! The little Stars and the Lady Moon. Outa will tell the baasjes about them
another night, but now he must go quick—quick and let Lys rub his back with buchu.
When friend Old Age comes the back bends and the bones get stiff, and the
rheumatism—foei! but it can pinch! Therefore, my baasjes, Outa cooks bossies from
the veld to rub on—buchu and kookamakranka and karroo bossies. They are all good,
but buchu is the best. Yes, buchu for the outside, and the Baas’s fire-water for the
He looked longingly at the cupboard, but wood and glass are unresponsive until acted
on by human agency; so, possessing no “Open, Sesame” for that unyielding lock,
Outa contented himself by smacking his lips as he toddled away.
The Stars and the Stars’ Road.
Darkly-blue and illimitable, the arc of the sky hung over the great Karroo like a
canopy of softest velvet, making a deep, mysterious background for the myriad stars,
which twinkled brightly at a frosty world.
The three little boys, gathered at the window, pointed out to each other the
constellations with which Cousin Minnie had made them familiar, and were deep in a
discussion as to the nature and number of the stars composing the Milky Way when
Outa shuffled in.
“Outa, do you think there are a billion stars up there in the Milky Way?” asked
“A billion, you know,” explained Pietie, “is a thousand million, and it would take
months to count even one million.”
“Aja, baasje,” said the old man readily, seizing, with native adroitness, the unknown
word and making it his own, “then there will surely be a billion stars up there.
Perhaps,” he added, judicially considering the matter, “two billion, but no one knows,
because no one can ever count them. They are too many. And to think that that bright
road in the sky is made of wood ashes, after all.”
He settled himself on his stool, and his little audience came to attention.
“Yes, my baasjes,” he went on, “long, long ago, the sky was dark at night when the
Old Man with the bright armpits lay down to sleep, but people learned in time to
make fires to light up the darkness; and one night a girl, who sat warming herself by a
wood fire, played with the ashes. She took the ashes in her hands and threw them up
to see how pretty they were when they floated in the air. And as they floated away
she put green bushes on the fire and stirred it with a stick. Bright sparks flew out and
went high, high, mixing with the silver ashes, and they all hung in the air and made a
bright road across the sky. And there it is to this day. Baasjes call it the Milky Way,
but Outa calls it the Stars’ Road.
“Ai! but the girl was pleased! She clapped her hands and danced, shaking herself like
Outa’s people do when they are happy, and singing:—
‘The little stars! The tiny stars!
They make a road for other stars.
Ash of wood-fire! Dust of the Sun!
They call the Dawn when Night is done!’
“Then she took some of the roots she had been eating and threw them into the sky,
and there they hung and turned into large stars. The old roots turned into stars that
gave a red light, and the young roots turned into stars that gave a golden light. There
they all hung, winking and twinkling and singing. Yes, singing, my baasjes, and this
is what they sang:—
‘We are children of the Sun!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!
Him we call when Night is done!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!
Bright we sail across the sky
By the Stars’ Road, high, so high;
And we, twinkling, smile at you,
As we sail across the blue!
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’
“Baasjes know, when the stars twinkle up there in the sky they are like little children
nodding their heads and saying, ‘It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’” At each repetition Outa
nodded and winked, and the children, with antics of approval, followed suit.
“Baasjes have sometimes seen a star fall?” Three little heads nodded in concert.
“When a star falls,” said the old man impressively, “it tells us someone has died. For
the star knows when a person’s heart fails and the person dies, and it falls from the
sky to tell those at a distance that someone they know has died.1
“One star grew and grew till he was much larger than the others. He was the Great
Star, and, singing, he named the other stars. He called each one by name, till they all
had their names, and in this way they knew that he was the Great Star. No other could
have done so. Then when he had finished, they all sang together and praised the Great
Star, who had named them.2
“Now, when the day is done, they walk across the sky on each side of the Stars’
Road. It shows them the way. And when Night is over, they turn back and sail again
by the Stars’ Road to call the Daybreak, that goes before the Sun. The Star that leads
the way is a big bright star. He is called the Dawn’s-Heart Star, and in the dark, dark
hour, before the Stars have called the Dawn, he shines—ach! baasjes, he is beautiful
to behold! The wife and the child of the Dawn’s-Heart Star are pretty, too, but not so
big and bright as he. They sail on in front, and then they wait—wait for the other
Stars to turn back and sail along the Stars’ Road, calling, calling the Dawn, and for
the Sun to come up from under the world, where he has been lying asleep.
“They call and sing, twinkling as they sing:—
‘We call across the sky,
Dawn! Come, Dawn!
You, that are like a young maid newly risen,
Rubbing the sleep from your eyes!
You, that come stretching bright hands to the sky,
Pointing the way for the Sun!
Before whose smile the Stars faint and grow pale,
And the Stars’ Road melts away.
Dawn! Come Dawn!
We call across the sky,
And the Dawn’s-Heart Star is waiting.
It’s so! It’s so! It’s so!’
“So they sing, baasjes, because they know they are soon going out.
“Then slowly the Dawn comes, rubbing her eyes, smiling, stretching out bright
fingers, chasing the darkness away. The Stars grow faint and the Stars’ Road fades,
while the Dawn makes a bright pathway for the Sun. At last he comes with both arms
lifted high, and the brightness, streaming from under them, makes day for the world,
and wakes people to their work and play.
“But the little Stars wait till he sleeps again before they begin their singing. Summer
is the time when they sing best, but even now, if baasjes look out of the window they
will see the Stars, twinkling and singing.”
The children ran to the window and gazed out into the starlit heavens. The last sight
Outa had, as he drained the soopje glass the Baas was just in time to hand him, was of
three little heads bobbing up and down in time to the immemorial music of the Stars,
while little Jan’s excited treble rang out: “Yes, it’s quite true, Outa. They do say, ‘It’s
so! It’s so! It’s so!’”
It is both curious and interesting to find the identical belief obtaining amongst races so widely
different as the Scandinavians of Northern Europe and the Bushmen of South Africa.—See Hans
Andersen’s Little Match Girl: “Her Grandmother had told her that when a star fell down a soul mounted up
“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”—Job xxxviii. 7.