A Hippo Swallowed a Little Girl

Once upon a time there were two orphaned children who lived in a hut near a river. Every morning before the young boy left to care for his goats and cows he warned his little sister to stay in the hut and to keep the door locked. Every evening when he returned he stood at the door of the hut and sang: “Open the door for me, Luthi, this is your brother, Luthi”

Upon hearing the brother’s voice the little girl would unlock the door and she and her brother would have their evening meal together.

Every day a large hippo that lived in the river nearby saw the boy leaving and coming home. He longed to get into the hut with the little girl.  So, one morning after the boy had left he went to the door and sang: “Open the door for me, Luthi, this is your brother, Luthi.”

“No, you cannot be my brother, my brother has a sweet voice,” the little girl answered.

The hippo went away. The next day he arrived again and sang in a much sweeter voice: “Open the door for me, Luthi, this is your brother, Luthi”

The little girl listened carefully and said: “No, you cannot be my brother, my brother has a sweeter voice.”
The hippo went away.

The next day the hippo came again and sang with a very sweet voice: “Open the door for me, Luthi, this is your brother, Luthi”

That is my brother, the little girl thought and opened the door.

In walked the hippo. He looked at everything in the hut and asked: “Whose blanket is this?”

“It was my mother’s blanket.”

“Gulp,” the hippo swallowed the blanket. “Whose spoon is this?”

“It was my mother’s spoon.”

“Gulp,” the hippo swallowed the spoon. “Whose clay pot is this?”
“It was my mother’s clay pot,” said the girl.

“Gulp!”  The hippo swallowed the clay pot. “Whose little girl are you?”

“I was my mother’s little girl.”

“Gulp” and the hippo swallowed her.

That evening the brother arrived home and saw the hippo had been inside the house. He made himself a bow with strings which could bring forth beautiful music. At the edge of the river he sat down and played and sang the following song: “I dare the one who swallowed my sister to swallow me too!”

After some time the brother saw the dark water moving. There came the hippo. When the hippo reached him he quickly pulled out a knife and stabbed the hippo. Out jumped the little sister. The brother grabbed her hand and they ran back to the hut and slammed the door shut.

Copyright© Dr. Ina le Roux

Interpretation

Orphans are at the mercy of unscrupulous relatives. Inherited property or any other form of financial support for young children (such as welfare grants) is managed on their behalf by their adult relatives, but in practice such children rarely receive any significant benefit. Song in stories is often used to criticize the culprit publicly and thus to shame him into submission. Traditionally women and children are powerless, and they find relief from their frustrations in the sharing of their common problems in the telling of these stories.


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