Once upon a time, at the town of Senna on the banks of the Zambesi, was born a child. He was not like other children, for he was very tall and strong; over his shoulder he carried a big sack, and in his hand an iron hammer. He could also speak like a grown man, but usually he was very silent.
One day his mother said to him: ‘My child, by what name shall we know you?’
And he answered: ‘Call all the head men of Senna here to the river’s bank.’ And his mother called the head men of the town, and when they had come he led them down to a deep black pool in the river where all the fierce crocodiles lived.
‘O great men!’ he said, while they all listened, ‘which of you will leap into the pool and overcome the crocodiles?’ But no one would come forward. So he turned and sprang into the water and disappeared.
The people held their breath, for they thought: ‘Surely the boy is bewitched and throws away his life, for the crocodiles will eat him!’ Then suddenly the ground trembled, and the pool, heaving and swirling, became red with blood, and presently the boy rising to the surface swam on shore.
But he was no longer just a boy! He was stronger than any man and very tall and handsome, so that the people shouted with gladness when they saw him.
‘Now, O my people!’ he cried, waving his hand, ‘you know my name–I am Makoma, “the Greater”; for have I not slain the crocodiles into the pool where none would venture?’
Then he said to his mother: ‘Rest gently, my mother, for I go to make a home for myself and become a hero.’ Then, entering his hut he took Nu-endo, his iron hammer, and throwing the sack over his shoulder, he went away.
Makoma crossed the Zambesi, and for many moons he wandered towards the north and west until he came to a very hilly country where, one day, he met a huge giant making mountains.
‘Greeting,’ shouted Makoma, ‘you are you?’
‘I am Chi-eswa-mapiri, who makes the mountains,’ answered the giant; ‘and who are you?’
‘I am Makoma, which signifies “greater,”‘ answered he.
‘Greater than who?’ asked the giant.
‘Greater than you!’ answered Makoma.
The giant gave a roar and rushed upon him. Makoma said nothing, but swinging his great hammer, Nu-endo, he struck the giant upon the head.
He struck him so hard a blow that the giant shrank into quite a little man, who fell upon his knees saying: ‘You are indeed greater than I, O Makoma; take me with you to be your slave!’ So Makoma picked him up and dropped him into the sack that he carried upon his back.
He was greater than ever now, for all the giant’s strength had gone into him; and he resumed his journey, carrying his burden with as little difficulty as an eagle might carry a hare.
Before long he came to a country broken up with huge stones and immense clods of earth. Looking over one of the heaps he saw a giant wrapped in dust dragging out the very earth and hurling it in handfuls on either side of him.
‘Who are you,’ cried Makoma, ‘that pulls up the earth in this way?’
‘I am Chi-dubula-taka,’ said he, ‘and I am making the river-beds.’
‘Do you know who I am?’ said Makoma. ‘I am he that is called “greater”!’
‘Greater than who?’ thundered the giant.
‘Greater than you!’ answered Makoma.
With a shout, Chi-dubula-taka seized a great clod of earth and launched it at Makoma. But the hero had his sack held over his left arm and the stones and earth fell harmlessly upon it, and, tightly gripping his iron hammer, he rushed in and struck the giant to the ground. Chi-dubula-taka grovelled before him, all the while growing smaller and smaller; and when he had become a convenient size Makoma picked him up and put him into the sack beside Chi- eswa-mapiri.
He went on his way even greater than before, as all the river-maker’s power had become his; and at last he came to a forest of bao- babs and thorn trees. He was astonished at their size, for every one was full grown and larger than any trees he had ever seen, and close by he saw Chi-gwisa-miti, the giant who was planting the forest.
Chi-gwisa-miti was taller than either of his brothers, but Makoma was not afraid, and called out to him: ‘Who are you, O Big One?’
‘I,’ said the giant, ‘am Chi-gwisa-miti, and I am planting these bao-babs and thorns as food for my children the elephants.’
‘Leave off!’ shouted the hero, ‘for I am Makoma, and would like to exchange a blow with thee!’
The giant, plucking up a monster bao-bab by the roots, struck heavily at Makoma; but the hero sprang aside, and as the weapon sank deep into the soft earth, whirled Nu-endo the hammer round his head and felled the giant with one blow.
So terrible was the stroke that Chi-gwisa- miti shrivelled up as the other giants had done; and when he had got back his breath he begged Makoma to take him as his servant. ‘For,’ said he, ‘it is honourable to serve a man so great as thou.’
Makoma, after placing him in his sack, proceeded upon his journey, and travelling for many days he at last reached a country so barren and rocky that not a single living thing grew upon it–everywhere reigned grim desolation. And in the midst of this dead region he found a man eating fire.
‘What are you doing?’ demanded Makoma.
‘I am eating fire,’ answered the man, laughing; ‘and my name is Chi-idea-moto, for I am the flame-spirit, and can waste and destroy what I like.’
‘You are wrong,’ said Makoma; ‘for I am Makoma, who is “greater” than you–and you cannot destroy me!’
The fire-eater laughed again, and blew a flame at Makoma. But the hero sprang behind a rock–just in time, for the ground upon which he had been standing was turned to molten glass, like an overbaked pot, by the heat of the flame-spirit’s breath.
Then the hero flung his iron hammer at Chi- idea-moto, and, striking him, it knocked him helpless; so Makoma placed him in the sack, Woro-nowu, with the other great men that he had overcome.
And now, truly, Makoma was a very great hero; for he had the strength to make hills, the industry to lead rivers over dry wastes, foresight and wisdom in planting trees, and the power of producing fire when he wished.
Wandering on he arrived one day at a great plain, well watered and full of game; and in the very middle of it, close to a large river, was a grassy spot, very pleasant to make a home upon.
Makoma was so delighted with the little meadow that he sat down under a large tree and removing the sack from his shoulder, took out all the giants and set them before him. ‘My friends,’ said he, ‘I have travelled far and am weary. Is not this such a place as would suit a hero for his home? Let us then go, to-morrow, to bring in timber to make a kraal.’
So the next day Makoma and the giants set out to get poles to build the kraal, leaving only Chi-eswa-mapiri to look after the place and cook some venison which they had killed. In the evening, when they returned, they found the giant helpless and tied to a tree by one enormous hair!
‘How is it,’ said Makoma, astonished, ‘that we find you thus bound and helpless?’
‘O Chief,’ answered Chi-eswa-mapiri, ‘at mid- day a man came out of the river; he was of immense statue, and his grey moustaches were of such length that I could not see where they ended! He demanded of me “Who is thy master?” And I answered: “Makoma, the greatest of heroes.” Then the man seized me, and pulling a hair from his moustache, tied me to this tree–even as you see me.’
Makoma was very wroth, but he said nothing, and drawing his finger-nail across the hair (which was as thick and strong as palm rope) cut it, and set free the mountain-maker.
The three following days exactly the same thing happened, only each time with a different one of the party; and on the fourth day Makoma stayed in camp when the others went to cut poles, saying that he would see for himself what sort of man this was that lived in the river and whose moustaches were so long that they extended beyond men’s sight.
So when the giants had gone he swept and tidied the camp and put some venison on the fire to roast. At midday, when the sun was right overhead, he heard a rumbling noise from the river, and looking up he saw the head and shoulders of an enormous man emerging from it. And behold! right down the river-bed and up the river-bed, till they faded into the blue distance, stretched the giant’s grey moustaches!
‘Who are you?’ bellowed the giant, as soon as he was out of the water.
‘I am he that is called Makoma,’ answered the hero; ‘and, before I slay thee, tell me also what is thy name and what thou doest in the river?’
‘My name is Chin-debou Mau-giri,’ said the giant. ‘My home is in the river, for my moustache is the grey fever-mist that hangs above the water, and with which I bind all those that come unto me so that they die.’
‘You cannot bind me!’ shouted Makoma, rushing upon him and striking with his hammer. But the river giant was so slimy that the blow slid harmlessly off his green chest, and as Makoma stumbled and tried to regain his balance, the giant swung one of his long hairs around him and tripped him up.
For a moment Makoma was helpless, but remembering the power of the flame-spirit which had entered into him, he breathed a fiery breath upon the giant’s hair and cut himself free.
As Chin-debou Mau-giri leaned forward to seize him the hero flung his sack Woronowu over the giant’s slippery head, and gripping his iron hammer, struck him again; this time the blow alighted upon the dry sack and Chin- debou Mau-giri fell dead.
When the four giants returned at sunset with the poles, they rejoiced to find that Makoma had overcome the fever-spirit, and they feasted on the roast venison till far into the night; but in the morning, when they awoke, Makoma was already warming his hands to the fire, and his face was gloomy.
‘In the darkness of the night, O my friends,’ he said presently, ‘the white spirits of my fathers came upon me and spoke, saying: “Get thee hence, Makoma, for thou shalt have no rest until thou hast found and fought with Sakatirina, who had five heads, and is very great and strong; so take leave of thy friends, for thou must go alone.”‘
Then the giants were very sad, and bewailed the loss of their hero; but Makoma comforted them, and gave back to each the gifts he had taken from them. Then bidding them ‘Farewell,’ he went on his way.
Makoma travelled far towards the west; over rough mountains and water-logged morasses, fording deep rivers, and tramping for days across dry deserts where most men would have died, until at length he arrived at a hut standing near some large peaks, and inside the hut were two beautiful women.
‘Greeting!’ said the hero. ‘Is this the country of Sakatirina of five heads, whom I am seeking?’
‘We greet you, O Great One!’ answered the women. ‘We are the wives of Sakatirina; your search is at an end, for there stands he whom you seek!’ And they pointed to what Makoma had thought were two tall mountain peaks. ‘Those are his legs,’ they said; ‘his body you cannot see, for it is hidden in the clouds.’
Makoma was astonished when he beheld how tall was the giant; but, nothing daunted, he went forward until he reached one of Sakatirina’s legs, which he struck heavily with Nu-endo. Nothing happened, so he hit again and then again until, presently, he heard a tired, far-away voice saying: ‘Who is it that scratches my feet?’
And Makoma shouted as loud as he could, answering: ‘It is I, Makoma, who is called “Greater”!’ And he listened, but there was no answer.
Then Makoma collected all the dead brushwood and trees that he could find, and making an enormous pile round the giant’s legs, set a light to it.
This time the giant spoke; his voice was very terrible, for it was the rumble of thunder in the clouds. ‘Who is it,’ he said, ‘making that fire smoulder around my feet?’
‘It is I, Makoma!’ shouted the hero. ‘And I have come from far away to see thee, O Sakatirina, for the spirits of my fathers bade me go seek and fight with thee, lest I should grow fat, and weary of myself.’
There was silence for a while, and then the giant spoke softly: ‘It is good, O Makoma!’ he said. ‘For I too have grown weary. There is no man so great as I, therefore I am all alone. Guard thyself!’ and bending suddenly he seized the hero in his hands and dashed him upon the ground. And lo! instead of death, Makoma had found life, for he sprang to his feet mightier in strength and stature than before, and rushing in he gripped the giant by the waist and wrestled with him.
Hour by hour they fought, and mountains rolled beneath their feet like pebbles in a flood; now Makoma would break away, and summoning up his strength, strike the giant with Nu-endo his iron hammer, and Sakatirina would pluck up the mountains and hurl them upon the hero, but neither one could slay the other. At last, upon the second day, they grappled so strongly that they could not break away; but their strength was failing, and, just as the sun was sinking, they fell together to the ground, insensible.
In the morning when they awoke, Mulimo the Great Spirit was standing by them; and he said: ‘O Makoma and Sakatirina! Ye are heroes so great that no man may come against you. Therefore ye will leave the world and take up your home with me in the clouds.’ And as he spake the heroes became invisible to the people of the Earth, and were no more seen among them.