The Talking Goat
- Africa, Liberia
- Folk Tale
Once there was a rich man named Tugba, who dressed in fine and fashionable robes. Every day he strolled through the village, arm-in-arm with his elegant wife. The villagers held their breath as the two passed: Never before had they seen such a handsome couple.
But Tugba wasn't admired only for his good looks and pretty wife. Farmers would travel many miles to Tugba's village just to catch a glimpse of his fields. Tugba's corn was more golden, his tomatoes more plump, and his cassava more abundant than any in the land. His animals, too, were fat and strong. He had two cows, five chickens, two roosters, three donkeys, and four goats.
Now Tugba's fortune wasn't just a matter of luck. He was a good and hard-working man who always remembered to thank the seeds for growing and the sky for raining. And Tugba took extra care to ensure that his animals were well fed and content. He kept his eye on one goat in particular, and always brought a special bundle of hay for her to chew on. This goat was Tugba's favorite. He had found her when she was just a kid, lost and wounded in the jungle.
One year, little rain fell. Throughout the land, crops wilted and animals died of thirst. Tugba's fields alone remained fertile. But Tugba no longer strolled through the village each day, since the villagers now rushed upon him, begging for food. Although Tugba always gave the villagers whatever cassava or corn he could spare, his wife was not so generous. Angered by his inability to say "no" to the villagers' pleas, she left Tugba, taking with her all the gold she could carry.
Meanwhile the hungry villagers devoured Tugba's crops and, one-by-one, they ate his animals, too.
Except for his favorite goat. Tugba refused to let the villagers eat the goat that he had found in the jungle many years before.
One day, when his fields were completely wasted and his stockroom empty, Tugba threw a cloak across his shoulders and walked out of his house. With only his favorite goat as a companion, Tugba left the village and journeyed into the jungle.
After traveling many miles, Tugba and the goat found a home for themselves inside a cave. During the day, Tugba gathered berries and nuts for the two to eat; at nightfall, he would lie beside a mountain stream, staring up at the sky to admire the stars.
Seven years passed. From time to time, Tugba would remember the life he had known in the village. Once he wore elegant robes; now he wore a rotting sheepskin. Once he slept each night with his beautiful wife at his side; now his only companion was a goat. Once he harvested the most delicious crops in the land; now he survived on little more than nuts. Still Tugba remained a good and hard-working man, who always made sure that his favorite goat had the choicest leaves to chew on.
One day, as he was gathering nuts, the goat spoke. "Thank you for saving me, Tugba," said the goat in a clear, deep voice. "You are a good man."
Tugba turned around in surprise. Even in the jungle, goats didn't talk. "Did you just say something?" Tugba asked the goat.
"I said that you are a good man," the goat repeated. "And I thanked you for saving me."
"But a goat ... talking?" Tugba asked incredulously.
"It is so," the goat replied calmly. "Again, thank you." With this, the goat turned her attention to a pile of leaves.
Tugba could not contain his excitement. "My luck is changing!" he shouted as he danced through the jungle. "A talking goat!" he laughed.
Sitting down next to a tree, he sketched out a plan. "If I take the goat to the village, I will be rich again," he reasoned."The villagers will certainly pay to hear my goat talk. Soon I will have enough money to buy a house and field once more."
The next morning, Tugba tied the talking goat to a tree and hastened to the village that he had left behind seven years before.
When Tugba arrived in the village square, he discovered that all of the villagers he had once known had died in the drought. A different tribe had settled there—none of whom remembered hearing any stories about a rich man named Tugba. Although disappointed that no memory of him had survived, Tugba remained in good humor and asked to speak with the village chief and elders.
Within the hour, the chief and elders, dressed in richly textured ceremonial robes, entered the village square to greet the stranger. Overlooking the rotted sheepskin draped across his waist, the elders offered Tugba a cool drink of water. As soon as Tugba finished the water, he joyfully announced, "My goat can talk!"
The chief and the village elders listened carefully as Tugba told them of his talking goat, and his seven years in the jungle. When Tugba finished, the chief deliberated with the elders for a few moments. Then, he stood up to deliver his verdict.
"If your story is true, this is a great fortune," said the chief. "But if it is not true, you have wasted our time and have made us fools for listening to you." The village elders nodded in agreement.
"If your goat can talk," the chief continued, "we will give you half of everything in the village. If your story is false, we will arrest you, tie you, and beat you until you are dead." Looking Tugba in the eyes, the chief announced, "Bring your goat to the square!"
Tugba promptly returned to the jungle and, as quickly as could, ran back to the village center, carrying the talking goat in his arms. The entire village was waiting for him.
"Speak to them, sweet goat," Tugba urged. But the goat was silent. The chief and elders raised their brows skeptically.
"Please, goat, speak!" Tugba asked again. The goat, however, was busy chewing on the chief's robe.
Tearing his robe from the goat's teeth, the chief roared, "You have made us all fools for listening to your story. Now you must die."
Immediately, the elders tied Tugba's arms and feet, and beat him with a whip. They then dragged his body up a mountain where a large tree grew. Along the way, everyone who saw him spit at him and threw stones. But just before they were about to tie a lasso around Tugba's head and hang him from the tree, the goat ran up the mountain and, at the foot of the tree, said in a loud and clear voice, "You must not kill him. Let him go."
The villagers were stunned. It was true! The goat could talk.
The elders released Tugba, and carried him back to the village center. There, the chief lay a carpet on the ground for Tugba to rest on, and ordered the women to attend to Tugba's bloody wounds.
"Gather up half the goods in the village," the chief further declared, "and bring them here as an offering to Tugba."
As Tugba lay on a carpet, he fell into a dazed sleep. When he finally opened his eyes, the goat was standing beside him, watching him.
"How could you act that way?" Tugba said to the goat as he slowly rose to his feet. "Look at me. They beat me. They almost killed me. What took you so long to speak?"
"What you do not suffer for," the goat replied, "you do not enjoy."