The Tale of the Lion's Whisker ~ Bedtime Stories from Cultures of Color
This is the folktale story of the Lion's Whisker from Ethiopia in Africa. It is part of our Stories from Cultures of Color collection. It is brought to you by Stories to Grow by.
Long ago in Ethiopia a woman named Leeya married a man who had a son. His wife had died several years before. Try as Leeya might, she could not seem to spark a connection with the child.
She offered the boy food, and he refused to eat. She spoke softly to him, and he turned away. She sat next to him, and he would get up and walk away. After several months of this, Leeya didn’t know what to do.
Now in Leeya’s village there was a medicine man, a healer, who lived off in the mountains. When anyone in the village was sick or hurting, a visit to him would do the trick. Most of the time, Leeya felt she could fix her own problems. But not this time. She needed help!
As Leeya came up to the healer’s hut, she saw the door was open. The old doctor said without turning around, "I hear you coming. What’s the problem?"
She introduced herself and explained.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “I understand. But what do you expect me to do about it?"
"Make me a potion, an amulet" cried Leeya. "Anything! Whatever it takes to get this child to respond to me."
The medicine man looked her in the eye. "Young woman,” he said. “This is not the same as fixing a broken bone or curing an ear infection. I’m going to need some time to think about. Come back in three days."
Three days later, Leeya returned to the hut.
"Leeya," said the old man with a smile, "I have good news for you! There is a potion that will change the child’s behavior toward you. But you should know that it needs a special ingredient. You must bring me a whisker from a live lion."
"A lion's whisker?!?” said Leeya with shock. "Such a thing is not possible!"
"You want your stepson to turn around?!" he shouted. “Bring me a whisker from a lion.” Then he turned his back. "There is nothing more to say. As you can see, I’m a very busy man."
That night Leeya tossed and turned. How could she get a whisker from a live lion?
The next day, she left the house. In her hand was a bowl of rice covered with meat sauce.
Leeya went to a grove of shady trees where lion tracks had been seen and a lion was known to live. She walked up to a safe distance from the shady trees and very quietly set the bowl down on the grass.
Then as quietly and safely as she could, she backed away and went home.
The next day at the same time, she took another bowl of rice covered with meat sauce to the cave. When she saw that the old bowl was empty, she took it and put down the new, full one. Again she left quietly.
Every day, she did this. Months went by. Leeya never saw the lion. But she knew from footprints on the ground that it was the lion who was eating her food.
Then one day, she noticed the lion's head poking out from behind some trees. Being sure not to look the lion in the eye, she stepped very slowly to the same spot as always. She put down the new, full bowl of food, picked up the empty bowl, and stepped away.
Day by day, the lion’s head poked from behind trees that were closer and closer to where she set down the bowl. Until one morning the lion was sitting next to the empty bowl when she arrived, waiting for her. This time she sat and waited while the lion ate. When he was done, she petted its thick fur, just like a house cat. She looked into its gentle lion eyes and saw that it now trusted her.
"Actually,” she thought, “it is a rather friendly creature, when you get to know it."
This went for for awhile until finally Leeya thought the time had come to see if she could get the whisker.
The next day, she brought with her a small knife. After she set down the bowl of food, and the lion allowed her to pet its head, she said in a low voice, "Oh, dearest lion! Might I have please just one of your many fine whiskers?"
While petting the lion with one hand, she quickly cut off the whisker with the other, careful not to hurt the lion in any way. “Thank you, my gentle friend,” she said.
Quickly, she ran to the medicine man's hut. Holding the whisker tight in her hand, she cried, "I have it! I have the lion's whisker!"
"You don't say?" said the healer, turning around. "From a live lion?"
"Yes!" she said.
"Tell me," said he. "How did you do it?"
She explained the steps.
With pride she handed him the whisker. The healer looked at it with care. Then he walked over to the fire and threw it in, where it burned up right away to a crisp.
"What have you done?!" Leeya cried. “What it took for me to get that!”
"Leeya," said the old doctor softly, "you don’t need the whisker. Tell me, is this child really more dangerous than a lion? If a wild beast will respond to your patient, loving care, don’t you think a child who misses his mother will, too?"
Leeya was startled. But she thought .. maybe? And by the time she got back home, she knew what she could do.