Mystery and marvel: Tere and the leopard

This week we are sharing a Central African tale about beauty. To fully understand this tale and the way it was written we recommend you read our introduction to our folklore series. 
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Tere went to talk with the parents of a woman he wanted to take as a wife. The woman’s name was Yinda. When Tere came to Yinda’s house, her parents showed him everything he would need to bring if he wanted to buy their child. In that day there was no money. Men used ankle bracelets of iron, hoes, arrows, and other things to buy their wives.

Yinda’s father and mother did not want Tere to take their child. They searched their hearts. What could they do? What if Tere would not leave the way of their child?

Yinda’s father said to his wife ”My wife, the leopard is a strong animal. He kills men all of the time. We know that no one can come near the leopard, even to put his hand on him. No man can touch him. If we do not want Tere to take our child, let us tell him to come with the leopard’s whiskers. If he comes to us wearing the leopard’s whiskers, we will give the woman to him. When we tell him this, fear will work him until he leaves the way of our child.” So they told Tere to come with the leopard’s whiskers.

Tere was a being of great cleverness. He walked, he meandered, he looked, wandered, he hunted for the leopard. One day he found a leopard. He said to the leopard ”Look Leopard, you are not really very beautiful. Do you want me to fix your beauty so that it becomes very great?” The leopard wanted that. He wanted to become very beautiful.

Tere went to hunt reeds. He fixed a large, loosely woven basket. He said, ”Look, Leopard, your body will become beautiful like the depth of the basket.” When the leopard looked into the depth of the basked his heart was happy.

Tere said to the leopard ”You sit in the basket,” and the leopard sat down in the basket. When the leopard was well-seated in the bottom of the basket, Tere began to weave the rest of the basket up around him. He wove the reeds tightly around the leopard’s body, leaving places where his skin showed through.

The leopard said to Tere ”The basket is hugging me quite tightly. It is really rather uncomfortable.” ”Oh,” Tere said, ”that is the way of beauty.” And he went on weaving in his own way until the mouth of the basked was closed very tightly over the leopard. He finished closing the top with strong cords. When it was securely tied, he picked up the leopard, who was now in the basket. He picked him up, basket and all. He put it all on the top of his head. Then he went into the village.

When they came near to the village the leopard said to Tere ”Look, I don’t want to go to the village because I have done much evil to the people of the village.” Tere said to the leopard ”Today you will go to the village.”

The leopard worked hard to get out of the basket but he couldn’t find a way, because Tere had closed him in very securely. Tere just walked on with the struggling leopard on his head until they came to the village.

When they arrived, Tere put the leopard on the ground. He called the father and the mother of Yinda and all the people of the village. He said to them ”One day, when I talked with the parents of my woman they said to me to come with the whiskers of the leopard and then I could have my woman. Well, I, Tere, am a strong man. I want to show them that I am a strong man so that they will give me their girl with no difficulties. They asked me for the leopard’s whiskers, but I have brought them the whole leopard.”

As they all came to look at the leopard, Tere said to them ”Now, he is yours. What you want to do with him, you can do it.” The people were very much afraid. Yinda’s father and mother quickly gave Yinda to Tere. She became his wife.

In the way of cleverness Tere got his wife, Yinda.

And just until today, the leopard has spots from the sun shining through the holes in the basket. The leopard wanted to be beautiful, but found himself captured instead.  If you put your heart on being beautiful for your own gain, you too may become captured.

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The tales we are sharing in this series were written down by Polly Strong, as told to her mainly by Moussa Andre and Bissafi Jeannot. These tales were originally published in a book  “African Tales, folklore of the Central African Republic” by TELCRAFT in 1992.