Gateway to the Classics: The Seven Sisters by Jane Andrews
The Seven Sisters by  Jane Andrews

The Little Dark Girl,

Who Lives in the Sunshine

IN this part of the world, Manenko would certainly be considered a very wild little girl. I wonder how you would enjoy her for a playmate. She has never been to school, although she is more than seven years old, and doesn't know how to read, or even to tell her letters; she has never seen a book but once, and she has never learned to sew or to knit.

If you should try to play at paper dolls with her, she would make very funny work with the dresses, I assure you. Since she never wore a gown or bonnet or shoes herself, how should she know how to put them on to the doll? But, if she had a doll like herself, I am sure she would be as fond of it as you are of yours; and it would be a very cunning little dolly, I should think. Perhaps you have one that looks somewhat like this little girl in the picture.


Now I will tell you of some things which she can do.

She can paddle the small canoe on the river; she can help to hoe the young corn, and can find the wild bees' honey in the woods, gather the scarlet fruit when it is fully ripe, and falls from the trees, and help her mother to pound the corn in the great wooden mortar. All this, and much more, as you will see, Manenko can do; for every little girl on the round world can help her mother, and do many useful things.

Would you like to know more of her,—how she looks, and where she lives, and what she does all day and all night?

Here is a little round house, with low doorways, most like those of a dog's house; you see we should have to stoop in going in. Look at the round, pointed roof, made of the long rushes that grow by the river, and braided together firmly with strips of mimosa-bark; fine, soft grass is spread all over this roof to keep out the rain.

If you look on the roof of the house across the street you will see that it is covered with strips of wood called shingles, which are laid one over the edge of the other; and when it is a rainy day you can see how the rain slips and slides off from these shingles, and runs and drips away from the spout.

Now, on this little house where Manenko lives there are no shingles, but the smooth, slippery grass is almost as good; and the rain slides over it and drips away, hardly ever coming in to wet the people inside, or the hard beds made of rushes, like the roof, and spread upon the floor of earth.

In this house lives Manenko, with Maunka her mother, Sekomi her father, and Zungo and Shobo her two brothers.

They are all very dark, darker than the brown baby. I believe you would call them black, but they are not really quite so. Their lips are thick, their noses broad, and instead of hair, their heads are covered with wool, such as you might see on a black sheep. This wool is braided and twisted into little knots and strings all over their heads, and bound with bits of red string, or any gay-looking thread. They think it looks beautiful, but I am afraid we should not agree with them.

Now we will see what clothes they wear.

You remember Agoonack, who wore the white bear's-skin, because she lived in the very cold country; and the little brown baby, who wore nothing but a string of beads, because she lived in the warm country. Manenko, too, lives in a warm country, and wears no clothes; but on her arms and ankles are bracelets and anklets, with little bits of copper and iron hanging to them, which tinkle as she walks; and she also, like the brown baby, has beads for her neck.

Her father and mother, and Zungo her brother, have aprons and mantles of antelope skins; and they, too, wear bracelets and anklets like hers.

Little Shobo is quite a baby and runs in the sunshine, like his little sister, without clothes. Dear little Shobo! how funny and happy he must look, and how fond he must be of his little sister, and our little sister, Manenko! We have all seen such little dark brothers and sisters. His short, soft wool is not yet braided or twisted, but crisps in little close curls all over his head.

In the morning they must be up early; for the father is going to hunt, and Zungo will go with him. The mother prepares the breakfast; small cakes of bread made from the pounded corn, scarlet beans, eaten with honey, and plenty of milk from the brown cow. She brings it in a deep jug, and they dip in their hands for spoons.

All the meat is eaten, and to-day the men must go out over the broad, grassy fields for more. They will find the beautiful young antelope, so timid and gentle as to be far more afraid of you than you would be of them. They are somewhat like small deer, striped and spotted; and they have large, dark eyes, so soft and earnest you cannot help loving them. Here, too, are the buffalo, like large cows and oxen with strong horns, and the great elephants with long trunks and tusks. Sometimes even a lion is to be met, roused from his sleep by the noise of the hunters; for the lion sleeps in the daytime and generally walks abroad only at night. When you are older you can read the stories of famous lion and elephant hunters, and of strange and thrilling adventures in the "Dark Continent."

It would be a wonderful thing to you and me to see all these strange or beautiful animals, but Zungo and his father have seen them so many times that they are thinking only of the meat they will bring home; and, taking their long spears and the basket of ground-nuts and meal which the mother has made ready, they are off with other hunters before the sun is up.

Now the mother takes her hoe, and, calling her little girl to help, hoes the young corn which is growing on the round hill behind the house. I must tell you something about the little hill. It looks like any other hill, you would think, and could hardly believe that there is anything very wonderful to tell about it. But listen to me.

A great many years ago there was no hill there at all, and the ground was covered with small white ants. You have seen the little ant-houses many a time on the garden-path, and all the ants at work, carrying grains of sand in their mouths, and running this way and that, as if they were busy in the most important work. Oh, the little ants are very wise! They seem to know how to contrive great things, and are never idle. "Go to the ant; consider her ways, and be wise," said one of the world's wisest men.

Well, on the spot where this hill now stands, the white ants began to work. They were not satisfied with small houses like those which we have seen; but they worked day after day, week after week, and even years, until they had built this hill higher than the house in which I live; and inside it is full of chambers and halls, and wonderful arched passages. They built this great house, but they do not live there now. I don't know why they moved,—perhaps because they didn't like the idea of having such near neighbors when Sekomi began to build his hut before their door. But, however it was, they went, and, patient little creatures that they are, built another just like it a mile or so away; and Sekomi said: "The hill is a fine place to plant my early corn."

There is but little hoeing to do this morning; and, while the work goes on, Shobo, the baby, rolls in the grass, sucking a piece of sugar-cane, as I have seen children suck a stick of candy. Haven't you?

The mother has baskets to make. On the floor of the hut is a heap of fine, twisting tree-roots which she brought from the forest yesterday; and under the shadow of her grassy roof she sits before the door weaving them into strong, neat baskets, like the one in which the men carried their dinner when they went to hunt. While she works, other women come too with their work, sit beside her in the shade, and chatter away in a very queer-sounding language. We couldn't understand it at all; but we should hear them always call Manenko's mother Ma-Zungo, meaning Zungo's mother, instead of saying Maunka, which you remember I told you is her name. Zungo is her oldest boy, you know; and ever since he was born she has been called nothing but Ma-Zungo,—just as if, when a lady comes into your school, the teacher should say: "This is Joe's mother," or "This is Teddy's mamma," so that the children should all know her.

So the mother works on the baskets and talks with the women; but Manenko has heard the call of the honey-bird, the brisk little chirp of "Chiken, chiken, chik, churr, churr," and she is away to the wood to follow his call, and bring home the honey.

She runs beneath the tall trees, looking up for the small brown bird; then she stops and listens to hear him again, when close beside her comes the call, "Chiken, chiken, chik, churr, churr," and there sits the brown bird above a hole in the tree, where the bees are flying in and out, their legs yellow with honey-dust. It is too high for Manenko to reach; but she marks the place and says to herself: "I will tell Ra when he comes home." Who is Ra? Why, that is her name for "father." She turns to go home, but stops to listen to the wild shouts and songs of the women who have left the huts, and are coming down towards the river to welcome their chief with lulliloo, praising him by such strange names as "Great lion," "Great buffalo."

The chief comes from a long journey with the young men up the river in canoes, to hunt the elephant, and bring home the ivory tusks, from which we have many beautiful things made. The canoes are full of tusks; and, while the men unload them, the women are shouting, "Sleep, my lord, my great chief." Manenko listens while she stands under the trees,—listens for only a minute, and then runs to join her mother, and add her little voice to the general noise.

Down on the edge of the river tall reeds are growing, like thick, tall grass, high enough to wave over the heads of the men who are wading through it, bringing their ivory to shore. The chief is very proud and happy to bring home such a load; before sunset it will all be carried up to the huts, the men will dress in their very best, and walk in a gay procession. Indeed, they can't dress much; no coats or hats or nicely polished boots have they to put on; but some will have the white ends of oxen's tails in their hair, some a plume of black ostrich feathers, and the chief himself has a very grand cap made from the yellow mane of an old lion. The drum will beat, the women will shout, while the men gather round a fire, and roast and eat great slices of ox-meat, and tell the story of their famous elephant-hunt.

How they came to the bushes with fine, silvery leaves and sweet bark, which the elephant eats, and there hiding, watched and waited many hours, until the ground shook with the heavy tread of a great mother-elephant and her two calves, coming up from the river, where they had been to drink. Their trunks were full of water, and they tossed them up, spouting the water like a fine shower-bath over their hot heads and backs, and now, cooled and refreshed, began to eat the silvery leaves of the bushes. Then the hunters threw their spears thick and fast; after two hours, the great creature lay still upon the ground,—she was dead.

So day after day they had hunted, loading the canoes with ivory, and sailing far up the river; far up where the tall rushes wave, twisted together by the twining morning-glory vines; far up where the alligators make great nests in the river-bank, and lay their eggs, and stretch themselves in the sunshine, half asleep inside their scaly armor; far up where the hippopotamus is standing in his drowsy dream on the bottom of the river, with the water covering him, head and all. He is a great, sleepy fellow, not unlike a very large, dark-brown pig, with a thick skin and no hair. Here he lives under the water all day, only once in a while poking up his nose for a breath of fresh air. And here is the mother-hippopotamus, with her baby standing upon her neck, that he may be nearer the top of the water. Think how funny he must look.

All day long they stand here under the water, half asleep; sometimes giving a loud grunt or snore, and sometimes, I am sorry to say, tipping over a canoe which happens to float over their heads. But at night, when men are asleep, the great beasts come up out of the river and eat the short, sweet grass upon the shore, and look about to see the world a little. Oh, what mighty beasts! Men are so small and weak beside them. And yet, because the mind of man is so much above theirs, he can rule them; for God made man to be king of the whole earth, and greater than all.

All these wonderful things the men have seen, and Manenko listens to their stories until the moon is high and the stars have almost faded in her light. Then her father and Zungo come home, bringing the antelope and buffalo meat, too tired to tell their story until the next day. So, after eating supper, they are all soon asleep upon the mats which form their beds. It is a hard kind of bed, but a good one, if you don't have too many mice for bedfellows. A little bright-eyed mouse is a pretty creature, but one doesn't care to sleep with him.

These are simple, happy people; they live out of doors most of the time, and they love the sunshine, the rain, and the wind. They have plenty to eat,—the pounded corn, milk and honey, and scarlet beans, and the hunters bring meat; and soon it will be time for the wild water-birds to come flocking down the river,—white pelicans and brown ducks, and hundreds of smaller birds that chase the skimming flies over the water.

If Manenko could read, she would be sorry that she has no books; and if she knew what dolls are, she might be longing every day for a beautiful wax doll, with curling hair, and eyes to open and shut. But these are things of which she knows nothing at all; and she is happy enough in watching the hornets building their hanging nests on the branches of the trees, cutting the small sticks of sugar-cane, or following the honey-bird's call.

If the children who have books would oftener leave them, and study the wonders of the things about them,—of the birds, the plants, the curious creatures that live and work on the land and in the air and water,—it would be better for them. Try it, dear children; open your eyes and look into the ways and forms of life in the midst of which God has placed you, and get acquainted with them, till you feel that they, too, are your brothers and sisters, and God your Father and theirs.

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