Smimie'ennda, the son of the snake

Yasmina Sarhrouny, Mohamed V University, Rabat, Morocco

[Part 7 (tale 5) of the author's "Gendering Tales: A Feminist Reading of Seven Wonder Tales"]

"There was a girl living with her younger brother, her father and her stepmother, for her own mother was dead. Her father was a hunter. He used to bring every night a pair of partridges for dinner. And his wife complained every night about the necessity to cut them into four parts instead of two:

"If only you got rid of those children, we would then have a whole partridge each!"

She harassed him thus until, one foggy day, he resolved to take them to the forest. His daughter, who sensed some malice behind that trip, stole a handful of ashes from the kanoun and, while walking, left a tiny line of it from their tent until the heart of the forest. Once there, their father disappeared in the fog and went back home, leaving the poor children alone. The brother, who was rather simple-minded, quickly burst into tears. But his sister comforted him in these words:

"Don't worry, we won't be lost, I know the way back home."

Thus the two children followed the grey line until they reached home. At that moment, their stepmother was setting the table for dinner, and their father was sighing:

"Eh, how can I dine without my children?"

"Here we are father, here we are!"

Exclaimed the children. The father was so happy that he embraced them, apologising:

"I was lost in the fog, I thought I'd never see you again!"

The wife was infuriated. That night, she heavily attacked her husband:

"If you don't get rid of your children, I'll go back to my parents!" she threatened. The following day, the father was taking his children again to the forest, as if to make up for the day before. That time, the young girl carried a little bag of bran under her clothes, and, accordingly, left a line to ensure their return. Again, the father vanished between the trees, and the two children followed the bran track until they reached home. They waited for their stepmother to bring the dinner and their father to complain: "eh, how can I dine without my children?" to rush back crying: "Here we are, father, here we are!""

That was too much for the stepmother's patience; as soon as they were alone, she accused her husband of cheating her, and threatened to leave him if he did not dispose of his children, the sooner the better.

The following day, the little company was heading out to the forest all over again. However, before they left, the brother caught sight of his sister stealing some dates from their jar. He went behind her so that, whenever she threw a date, he picked it up and ate it. Once alone, his sister looked for the trail of dates but found none. She panicked and frantically searched between the bushes, while her brother leant on a tree and told her:

"What are you looking for? I hope you are not hungry, because I am not! I have been eating dates since we left!"

"What did you do, stupid boy? These dates were our path back home!"

This time they realized that they had been abandoned and were really lost.

Eventually, the night came and the two children roamed in the forest looking for a shelter; they perceived a faint light and went towards it, hoping it was the kanoun of some woodmen. Alas! The light was indeed that of a kanoun, but its owner was a horrifying Maghoula . She was big, ugly, and had only one eye, but her tent was crammed full of victuals. She also had flocks of sheep, goats and cows. When they reached her tent, she was busy cooking mounds of bread in her clay oven. It smelled so tasty, and the children were so hungry, that they ventured near her tent and silently observed her. The girl, who was shrewd, noticed that Maghoula piled up the bread loafs she was cooking beside her, where she could not see because of her missing eye. So she sneaked into the tent and stealthily took a bread loaf, then crept back to her brother and they both dined and slept in a nearby bush. The following day, they wandered helplessly in the forest, looking for a way out of it, but found none and hurried back to Maghoula's whereabouts at night. But then the brother insisted on accompanying his sister in her stealing expedition:

"No, you won't come with me. You'll surely laugh at her and she'll eat us both!"

Yet he plagued her until she agreed to take him. And as predicted, the moment the boy set his eye on Maghoula, he burst into laughter, leaving his sister stunned with horror. The ogress seized them both in an instant with her huge arms, and threw each one of them in a jar. The boy found himself in a jar of almonds, and the girl in one of walnuts. Maghoula's obvious intention was to fatten them like lambs in order to eat them. The girl waited till she was asleep to talk to her brother:

"Listen to me: if she ever asks you to show her your arm, show her a needle instead."

Accordingly, a week later, as Maghoula opened the jars and ordered them to raise their arms, they let her feel needles instead. She closed the jars, grumbling, to let them fatten more. Thus, every time she checked, she only sensed needles.

Meanwhile, the two children grew plump and mocked their jailer's poor eyesight, until, one day, the brother, who was definitely foolish, laughed at Maghoula openly and told her:

"You are really gullible! These are not our arms, but just needles. Now feel our arms and you'll see how fat we are!"

As the ogress ran to her kanoun to make a big fire and roast them, his poor sister was fuming. She did not lose hope, nevertheless. While the ogress was watching her fire, she conspired with her brother to kill her. When she took them out of their jars, they followed her meekly, and then hurled her into the blaze. There she burnt and they were at last free. Not only were they safe, but they became also incredibly rich; Maghoula's tent was full of gold and goods of all sorts. They inherited her wealth and cattle, and enjoyed living there.

However, the tent sheltered another host, a snake who married the girl. She gave birth to a supernatural child she called Smimie'ennda Ould Lehnech . Gradually, the snake stirred up the sister against her brother; they both decided to dispose of him so they could live with their son in peace in Maghoula's tent. But the boy, Smimie'ennda, loved his uncle dearly, more than his father, and resolved to protect him from his mother and his father's malevolence. Thus, one day, the snake hid in a date jar to bite his brother-in-law. His sister waited till the whole household was around the fire to ask him:

"Please bring me some dates from that jar, brother."

Her son, whose mystical intuition never failed him, sprang and said:

"Don't move, uncle, I'll bring them myself."

He opened the jar and exclaimed, feigning astonishment:

"What are you doing here, father?"

The snake muttered:

"Uh, I was just looking for some tender dates, I am afraid my teeth are no longer what they were."

The following day, the snake curled behind the leben jar. Again, the sister asked her brother to fetch a pot of leben for her and her son went running instead. He approached the jar and asked his father:

"What are you doing behind that jar, father?"

"Oh, I felt so hot that I came seeking some freshness here, son," he replied, and their mischievous plan failed again. The third day, the sister put the snake in a woolsack and asked her brother to wash the wool for her. He willingly took it from her and started out for the river. Smimie'ennda, who, once again, guessed his uncle was in danger, ran after him and offered his help:

"Don't get the wool out of the sack; we'd rather soak it and beat it

While it is still inside, it would be much easier."

The uncle, who was still as dim-witted as ever, followed his nephew's instructions; he plunged the sack in the river, beat it vigorously, and proudly took it back to his sister.

When she opened it, she found the corpse of the snake reduced to pulp. Her fury was incredible. She accused her brother of murdering her husband and kicked him out of the tent. Her son decided to follow his uncle. He caught him at the edge of the forest:

"All right, uncle. You can go search for a job; but please, don't work for the blue-eyed man. Anyone but the blue-eyed man. We'll separate at this tree. If I come back again and find the tree green and leafy, I'll know you are fine. But if I ever find it dry, I'll know you are in trouble. May Allah help you, uncle."

Thus the uncle and the nephew parted each in his own direction.

The uncle soon reached a souk outside of the forest, and entered it looking for employers. A blue-eyed man accosted him and asked him to work for him. He refused, of course, remembering his nephew's advice. The blue-eyed man changed his clothes and appearance, and then came back to him again, only to see his proposal turned down again. Thus he spent the whole day disguising and urging the uncle to work for him, until the latter, worn out and hopeless, agreed to work for him, thinking that all people in that tribe had blue eyes. The blue-eyed man then set his conditions to the uncle:

"If you want to work with me, you'll have to obey blindly, and never ever contest to any of them. I won't contest your doings either. If any of us ever does, the other will have the right to behead him."

Thus the two went to the blue-eyed man's mansion. His first directives were:

"Make fire without smoke, carry my mother on your back to the rooftop, and catch some birds for my children to play with."

Fire without smoke was almost impossible; he strived the whole morning to make it, then he carried to heavy old woman to the rooftop, and ran after birds till he was dead tired. In the afternoon, the blue-eyed man told him:

"Go bring my guests from their houses on your back, I don't want their blaghi to be soiled by dirt, and get back my mother from the rooftop. I'll give you your dinner afterwards. You'll have to race with the dog to get it."

The uncle performed the tasks, and when dinnertime came, he was too exhausted to run for his meal. The (female) dog ate it and left him none. The following morning, the same strenuous tasks had to be done again and again and again, until, one day, the uncle simply refused to work.

"So you are contesting my orders, then!"

"Yes I am! I am hungry because the dog gets my dinner every night, and I can't even move, let alone carry or transport people."

The blue-eyed man drew his sword straight away and beheaded the poor man.

Meanwhile, Smimie'ennda regularly visited the tree, as he promised his uncle. One day, he found it dry and naked. He prepared himself for a journey to avenge him. Once outside of the forest, he came across the same souk, and was accosted by the same blue-eyed man. He agreed on all his conditions and went with him to his big mansion.

But Smimie'ennda did not execute his master's orders as his uncle had done. When he told him to make fire without smoke, carry his mother on his back, and fetch birds for his children, he burnt all his master's rifles in a big kanoun, to make a big fire with the gunpowder without smoke. After that, he took the old mother to the rooftop and rummaged for scorpions for the children to play with, instead of birds.

"What did you do? Why did you burn my rifles?" the blue-eyed man yelled at him, "What, are you contesting my work, isn't the fire set, your children playing, and your mother having her sun bath? Didn't you say the one who contests the other should die?" Smimie'ennda replied. The blue-eyed man shut up and gave his second set of orders:

"Go bring my guests from their houses on your back, I don't want their blaghi to be soiled by dirt, and get back my mother from the rooftop. I'll give you your dinner afterwards. You'll have to race with the dog to get it."

Instead of carrying the guests, Smimie'ennda killed all the sheep his master owned, skinned them and lined their fur from the guests' houses to the blue-eyed man's mansion. Thus they would not muck up their blaghi. At dinnertime, he did not race with the dog but knocked the latter out with a rock and ran to his dinner. And when the old mother wanted to come down from the roof, he did not carry her on his back but hurled her down. She, of course, died.

The blue-eyed man could not stand that:

"You killed my livestock, poisoned my children, and murdered my mother!"

"What, are you contesting my work?" Smimie'ennda enquired.

"Yes I am!" shouted the blue-eyed man.

That was what Smimie'ennda was waiting for. He drew his sword and beheaded his uncle's murderer.


Sunset. My grandmother returned to her loom again. I spent the whole afternoon trying to decipher the signs on her carpet. The girls, the birds, the geometric patterns, the lines and the curves. Colours were speaking but I could not translate.

Her hands were swift cutting, knotting, cutting, knotting, and weaving while telling me about that girl in red and yellow.

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Last modified: 14 December 2001