Sebgugugu the Glutton

In today’s tale, a story from Rwanda retold by Verna Aardema, Sebgugugu the Glutton, a foolish man, learns an important lesson: men should listen to their wives. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely the moral of the story, but it’s a good place to start.

Sebgugugu was a poor man whose sole wealth was a white cow. One day, while his wife was away hoeing her garden-plot in the jungle, and he was sitting in the sun outside his hut, a bird came and perched on a shrub. It began to sing, and as he listened he seemed to hear these words: “Sebgugugu, Sebgugugu, kill the cow, kill the cow, and get a hundred.” When his wife came home, the bird returned and sang again. When Sebgugugu told her what he heard the bird saying, she told him he was being ridiculous, that they had to have the cow’s milk to feed their two children, but the stupid, greedy man didn’t listen and killed the cow. Granted the family had meat to eat for several days, but of course no cows appeared to replace it and eventually they all became quite hungry. I don’t know why there was no produce from the garden, maybe it was the wrong season, so the family tromped off in search of food.

The family walked for a long time and at last sat down by the trail for a rest. Sebgugugu cried out “Oh, Imana, Lord of Rwanda, what shall we do?” Imama heard the plea and provided a vine full of all kinds of fruits but warned them that they could pluck the fruit but not harm the vine. For a while Sebgugugu was happy but eventually trimmed the plant against his wife’s wishes so it would produce more. The vine, of course died. Twice more Imana provided food, once from a crack in a rock and the other allowing Sebgugugu to milk a herd of cattle that were cared for by a crow. Each time, Sebgugugu is happy for a while but then wants more and goes against his wife’s advice and disobeys Imana. When Sebgugugu in the end kills the crow, even though his wife begs him not too, Imana is fed up with him. Imana makes the cattle and Sebgugugu’s wife and children all disappear. Sebgugugu, because of his greed and disobedience, had lost all that he had.

Sebgugugu would have been so much better off in the end if he had listened to his wife, or, probably more importantly, obeyed Imana. He should have been grateful for what he had and taken care of it.

Aardema’s retelling is well done, and I love how she incorporates sounds into the story: tch, tch, tch is the chopping of branches: gwe, gwe, gwe calls the bird,  and looo it falls from the sky. Also, before the story starts there is a short glossary and ponunciation guide, which I found very helpful. It make the tale much easier to read aloud when you an idea of how to pronounce the more foreign words like amasi, which is similar to cottage cheese, and Gitale, the name of the cow. The illustrations by Nancy  L. Clouse are simple and full of warm rich colors, they felt like Africa to me. It would make a nice-read aloud choice.

This story would be a good one for a child’s library, highliting cultural differences, but it has a universal moral. I also really like Aardema’s Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, another African tale that I should feature soon.

Purscahse Sebgugugu the Glutton on Amazon.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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