Woodcutter of Gura
African (Ethiopian) Tale
A man from the
village of Gura went out one day with his ax to get
firewood for his house. The trees nearby had been cut
away, so he walked across the plain and down to the
Adi Gulgul riverbed, which he followed for several
miles until he came to a large dead olive tree at the
edge of the running water. His eyes lighted up with
pleasure, for it was a tree that would make many
fires in his house.
So he climbed
up into its branches and sat upon the largest and
most comfortable of them. Then he began to chop upon
the very limb on which he was sitting. While he
worked, a priest from a nearby village came along. He
looked up into the tree and saw the woodcutter from
the priest asked, "what are you trying to do up
there?" "Chopping wood for my
fire" the man said. "What else could it
be?" "That's a poor way to chop
wood," the priest said with great concern.
only way to chop wood," the woodcutter said.
"You take your ax and you chop."
don't you chop the tree down first," the priest
suggested. "If you sit there on the same branch
you are cutting off you are going to fall down and be
very silly," the man said. "When you want
wood you chop." The priest shook his head
and went away. The man chopped and chopped, thinking
about the stupidity of the priest. And suddenly,
without warning, the branch broke off and the man
fell to the ground. He lay on the ground with the
branch lying across his chest, and as he lay there he
thought about what the priest had said.
that the branch would break and I would fall and be
killed. The branch really did break, the way he said
it would. He knew what he was talking about! Yes, he
really did! So that must mean that I am dead too!
Yes, yes, I must really be dead!"
he was dead, the woodcutter didn't try to get up at
all, but just lay there without moving.
After a while
some of his friends came along, and finding him
stretched out on his back under the broken branch,
they set up a great clamor. They shook him and talked
to him and rubbed his head, but he didn't move or
speak, because he had decided he was dead. They
picked him up and set him on his feet, but he fell
down again, because whoever heard of a dead man
So his friends
also decided that he was dead, and they picked him up
to carry him back to Gura.
the ax," the woodcutter said as they started
off, so someone went back and picked it up. All the
way along the trail they talked about the misfortune
of their friend. When they came to a fork in
the trail they stopped, not knowing which way to go.
Some of them said they should go along the river
trail, while others thought they should go over the
hill. They argued hotly about it, still holding their
friend on their shoulders like a corpse. Finally, he
sat up impatiently and pointed to the hill trail.
"That's the best way, it's the way I came,"
Then he lay
down and closed his eyes. His friends stopped arguing
and carried him over the hill trail, still lamenting
the accident that had occurred. They passed over the
hill and there, sure enough, was the village.
the truth," his friends said. "It really
was the shortest route. He always was an honest
As they passed
before the church the priests came out to see what
had happened, and they put him on the ground to look
him lying dead under an olive tree," one of them
explained. "A branch fell on him and killed
not the way it happened," the woodcutter said,
opening his eyes for a minute. "I was sitting on
the branch and it broke." Then he closed his
shook their heads sadly, and the man's friends picked
him up again and carried him to his house. But when
they arrived there was no one home. So they put him
on the ground and began to argue about what they
should do. Everything was very confused. And while
they argued a dog wandered in, and he came over to
the woodcutter and licked his face.
away!" the woodcutter shouted. "Is there no
respect for the dead?"
So they drove
the dog out of the house and began to argue again. At
last, since nothing seemed to be happening, he sat up
and said angrily:
my wife! She's probably gossiping down by the
spring!" Then he lay down again and closed
his eyes, while his friends sent for his wife. In a
little while she came running to the house, crying in
grief, with the other women of the village behind
her. Many villagers crowded into the house until it
was full, and then the men told once more how they
had found him.
from an olive tree fell on him and killed him,"
they said. "Oh!" the man groaned.
"I told you before, I was sitting on the branch
and it broke! How many times do I have to tell
you?" "Ah, yes, he was sitting on the
branch and it broke," they all repeated
together. "He fell from the olive tree and was
he talks, how can he be dead?" his wife asked.
you see, he is dead," the others replied.
he isn't dead at all," his wife suggested.
sat up and said with irritation: "The priest
from Mai Nebri passed while I was in the tree. He
said I would surely fall and be killed. I fell. The
priest was right. He has spoken only the truth.
Therefore, I must be dead."
he was mistaken. He didn't see you after you fell,
only before." "Argue, argue,
argue!" the man said, getting up from the ground
in disgust. "Will there be no end to it?"
And he picked up his ax and went out of the house.
are you going?" his wife called after him.
some wood for the fire," he said, disappearing
down the hill. "What a fine man," the
villagers said. "Even at a time like this he
thinks only of his wife's comfort!"