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A FOLKTALE



Man-eater Akuekue1 and the Swinging Human’s Hand

Retold by Atem Yaak Atem

Once upon a time, Man, who had gone to visit another village was following a footpath that passed through a forest. It was the beginning of nightfall. The full moon was shining bright. That moonshine made Man’s silhouette visible to Akuekue, the man-eater.

Akuekue had hidden himself behind the thicket, waiting for any prey to come his way. Akuekue had eaten nothing for several days. He was very hungry.

“Lucky me! At long last here is my meal,” Akuekue told himself as he furtively rose to follow Man. Akuekue was sure that he was going to feast on Man.

Keeping a discreet distance between him and Man, Akuekue followed each step Man took. Man was carrying a spear. He rested the shaft of his spear on his left shoulder; while he held the spearhead in his left hand. With the right hand Man was carrying a thick club.

Akuekue thought and thought about the best way to knock out Man. He desperately wanted to kill Man and feast on him. How to do that was the problem.

To attack Man there and then would not be the wisest thing to do as Man was armed as he was, Akuekue told himself. Any subterfuge to use? There was none available to Akuekue

As he was pondering over the next safest strategy for killing Man, Akuekue all of a sudden noted something exceedingly strange. Man’s right arm with which he was carrying a thick club was doing a strange thing. The hand swinging forward and backward, in the manner of a sausage fruit being swayed this and that way by a gentle wind.

“Why should I endanger myself?” Akuekue asked himself. Since the dangling arm was going to drop off on its own accord, like a ripe fruit, there was no reason to use force. An attack on Man would be both reckless and unnecessary. Akuekue knew he might lose the battle. So he decided it was better to wait and then pick the hand and feed on it. His hunger would be banished.

With that change of mind Akuekue then followed Man, firmly and patiently. Each time Man slowed down for whatever reason, Akuekue did likewise. They walked, slowed down, and resumed to walk again at their measured paces, and all in tandem. Man did not know Akuekue was almost at heels.

After a long walk lasting several hours, Man and Akuekue finally left the thicket behind them. The two suddenly were then face to face with an open space, a clearance that was a sorghum field made ready for the next season’s plantation.

Not far behind the garden were clusters of homesteads. Man had arrived. He lived there. And that village was overflowing with humanity, some of them armed to the teeth. People were still awake; others talking or singing. Man and Akuekue could clearly hear all those. Two different ends at the same time. This was an end to a long and exhausting return home for Man. He was going to drink cold water, rest and eat. For Akuekue, it was an end to a tantalising hope a juicy meal from an arm that he was going to pick. Two ends, with a loser, and another a winner.

The stalking game had ended dismally for Akuekue. The swinging arm did not fall after all.

With that turn of events, Akuekue stopped, sat on its haunches and made rueful groan “Wiiwiiu!” followed by silence. Hunger was now gnawing inside him at its most furious bites. A meal had escaped Akuekue. For good. It was time for him to return to his lair.

1 Akuekue or Akuekuek (Akuɛkuɛ/Akuɛkuɛk), is an animal that is said to belong to the cat family, and of the size of a fox. Stories circulated about this animal describe it as a carnivore (flesh eater). Although a feared and famous animal, no one is known to have seen this famous animal, that could be classed with unicorns. As a child in living in rural areas of what is South Sudan today, we used to be told of akuɛkuɛ (in other Dinka dialects it is likely to be called akuɛkuɛk) as a dangerous animal that was said to attack children and goats for food.

Atem Yaak Atem is a South Sudanese journalist and translator currently living in Australia, where in 2009 he was one of the recipients of “Awards in Excellence and Innovation in Teaching and Learning”, given by South Western Sydney Institute. At that time, he was teaching Dinka language, and ethics of interpreting and translation at Granville TAFE (Technical and Further Education), Sydney. Atem has translated into Dinka some of the famous Aesop’s Fables, among them, “Lion’s Share”, “Unity is Strength”, “Think Before You Leap.”

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