Variations: Nundá, Eater of People
The cat of Sultan Majnún was unusually fierce. One day it killed a calf, but the Sultan dismissed the event, stating that “the cat is mine, and the calf is also mine”. Then the cat proceeded to kill and eat a goat, then a cow, a donkey, a horse, and a camel, with the good Sultan shrugging each time. “I will not kill it, let it even eat a man”. Sure enough, the cat killed a human child next, and followed up with a man.
By this time the creature had grown large and monstrous on its diet of flesh, and it left the town on its own. It hid in the undergrowth outside city, and feasted on anyone who passed by, human or animal. At night, it would sneak into the dark roads and abduct hapless wanderers. Sultan Majnún still refused to see the danger. “You all want me to kill this cat. It’s my cat and everything it eats is mine”. He refused to address any more complaints, and the population of the town slowly dwindled. Anyone and anything not locked up indoors was at risk.
Eventually, it would come to pass that Sultan Majnún went out to look at the countryside with six of his sons, whereupon the cat pounced on them and killed three of the sons. It was then that Sultan Majnún finally came to his senses. “That is no longer my cat”, he said firmly. “That is a Nunda, and it will eat even me if I give it the chance”. He sent his soldiers to kill the nunda, but it killed some of them and scattered the rest.
Sultan Majnún’s seventh son, having heard of the carnage, swore a solemn oath that he would slay the nunda. “I shall find the nunda who killed my brothers”, he told his mother as he set out alone with a spear and a knife.
The young prince was nothing if not zealous. The first vaguely intimidating creature he ran into was a large dog, which he promptly killed and dragged home. “Mamá, wee, niulága nundá mla wátu“, he sang triumphantly. “O mother, I have killed the nunda, eater of people”. But his mother shook her head sadly and said “My son, this is not he, the nunda, eater of people. The nunda is much larger”.
So the son set out again, and successively killed a civet, a larger civet, a zebra, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, and an elephant, bringing each one back in turn only to be corrected by his mother. In time, he gathered a small group of followers, and managed to piece together a description of the nunda: it was elephant-sized or larger, had small ears, was broad and not long, had two blotches like a civet, and had a thick tail.
Finally, the youth’s efforts paid off, and the nunda was found asleep in the shade of a grove of trees. That was clearly the nunda, as it fit his mother’s description of it perfectly, and did not resemble anything else he had killed so far. He and his slaves fired their guns into the nunda at close range, but did not hang around for fear that it was still alive. Instead they slept through the night, and checked on it in the morning. The huge cat was undeniably dead.
The beast was dragged back to the city in triumph, and the prince sang of his victory, to which his mother chanted back “Mwanangu, ndiyeye nundá mla watu. My son, this is he, the nunda, eater of people”. The nunda’s carcass was buried, a house was built on top of it, and a guard was placed at the house.
This is but one tale of the insatiable nunda. It is another “swallowing monster”, and sometimes it swallows up the entire populace except for one hero. The hero kills the nunda and cuts it open, releasing the victims unharmed.
Steere, E. (1870) Swahili Tales. Bell & Daldy, London.