Wondrous Powers

An old man had three children, all boys. When they had grown up to manhood, he called them together and told them that now he was very old and no longer able to provide, even for himself. He ordered them to go out and bring him food and clothing.

The three brothers set out, and after a very long while they came to a large river. As they had gone on together for such a time, they decided that once they got across they would separate. The eldest told the youngest to take the middle road, and th esecond to go to the right, while he himself would go to the left. Then, in a year’s time, they would come back to the same spot.

So they parted, and at the end of a year, as agreed, they found their way back to the riverside. The eldest asked the youngest what he had gotten during his travels, and the boy replied: I have nothing but a mirror, but it has wonderful power. If you look into it, you can see all over the country, no matter how far away.

When asked in turn what he had gotten, the second brother replied: Only a pair of sandals that are so full of power, that if one puts them on one can walk at once to any place in the country in one step.

Then the eldest himself, said: I, too, have obtained but little, a small calabash of medicine, that is all. But let us look into the mirror and see how father fares.

The youngest produced his mirror, and they all looked into it and saw that their father was already dead and that even the funeral custom was finished. Then the elder said: Let us hasten home and see what we can do. So the second brought out his sandals, and all three placed their feet inside them and, immediately, they were borne to their father’s grave. Then the eldest shook the medicine out of his bag, and poured it over the grave. At once their father arose, as if nothing had been the matter with him.

Now which of these three sons has performed the best?

This story is from the book African Folktales by Roger D. Abrahams.

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