Climbing a Rope to Heaven is a classic African folklore story from Mozambique in which a long braid rope connects heaven and earth to give riches to the good and misery to the evil.
Climbing a Rope to Heaven
There was once a girl who was sent by her mother to fetch water from the river. On the way, talking and hiding from her little brother, she lost him and could not find him anywhere.
|Climbing a Rope to Heaven|
"Oh, what shall I do now?" she cried, in great distress, as little babies are not so easily replaced, and she knew there would be trouble awaiting her on her return. She screamed, "Bukali bwa ngoti! Oh, that I had a rope!" and looking up, sure enough she saw a rope uncoiling itself from a cloud. She seized it and climbed, and soon found herself in the country above the sky, which appeared to be not unlike the one she had left.
There was what looked like a ruined village not far off, and an old woman sitting among the ruins called to her, "Come here, child! Where are you going?" Being well brought up and accustomed to treat her elders with politeness, she answered at once, and told her story. The old woman told her to go on, and if she found an ant creeping into her ear to let it alone. "It will not hurt you, and will tell you what you have to do in this strange country, and how to answer the chiefs when they question you."
The girl walked on, and in a little while found a black ant crawling up her leg, which went on till it reached her ear. She checked the instinctive impulse to take it out, and went on till she saw the pointed roofs of a village, surrounded by the usual thorn hedge. As she drew near she heard a tiny whisper: "Do not go in; sit down here." She sat down near the gateway. Presently some grave old men, dressed in white, shining bark-cloth, came out and asked her where she had come from and what she wanted. She answered modestly and respectfully, and told them she had come to look for a baby.
The elders said, "Very good; come this way." They took her to a hut where some women were at work. One of them gave her a basket to get some of the new season's corn from the garden. She showed no surprise at this unexpected request, but obeyed at once, and following the directions of the ant in her ear pulled up only one stalk at a time, and arranged the cobs carefully in the basket, so as not to waste any space.
When she returned the women praised her for performing her task so quickly and well, and then told her first to grind the corn and then to make porridge.
|Baby brother from heaven|
Again instructed by the ant, she put aside a few grains before grinding, and, when she was stirring the porridge, threw these grains in whole, which, it seems, is a peculiar fashion in the cooking of the Heaven-dwellers. They were quite satisfied with the way in which the girl had done her work, and gave her a place to sleep in.
Next morning the elders came to fetch her, and lead her to a beautiful house, within which a number of infants were laid out on the ground, those on one side wrapped in red cloth, on the other in white. Being told to choose, she was about to pick up one of the red bundles, when the ant whispered, "Take a white one," and she did so.
The old men gave her a quantity of fine cloth and beads, as much as she could carry in addition to the baby, and sent her on her way home.
She reached her village without difficulty, and found that everyone was out, as her mother and the other women were at work in the gardens. She went into the house, and hid herself and the baby.
When the others returned from the fields, towards evening, the mother sent her younger daughter on ahead to put on the cooking-pots. The girl went in and stirred the fire; as the flames leapt up she saw the treasures her sister had brought home, and, not knowing how they had come there, she was frightened, and ran back to tell her mother and aunts. They all hurried in, and found the girl they had thought lost, with a beautiful baby and a stock of cloth to last a lifetime.
They listened to her story in great astonishment; but the younger sister was seized with envy, and wanted to set off at once for that fortunate spot. She was a rude, willful creature, and her sister, knowing her character, tried to dissuade her, or, at any rate, to give her some guidance for the road. However, she refused to listen. "You went off without being told anything by anybody, and I shall go without listening to anyone's advice."
Accordingly when called by the old woman she refused to stop, and even spoke insultingly; whereupon the crone said, Go on, then! When you return this way you will be dead!" "Who will kill me, then?" retorted the girl, and went on her way. When the ant tried to get into her ear she shook her head and screamed with impatience, refusing to listen when it tried to persuade her. So the ant took itself off in dudgeon.
|Mental Heirlooms of Mozambique’s Folklore|
In the same way she gave a rude answer to the village elders when they asked her why she had come, and when requested to gather corn she pulled up the stalks right and left, and simply ravaged the garden. Having refused to profit by the ant's warnings, she did not know the right way to prepare the meal or make the porridge, and, in any case, did the work carelessly.
When taken to the house where the babies were stored she at once stretched out her hand to seize a red-wrapped one; but immediately there was a tremendous explosion, and she was struck dead.
Heaven, gathered up her bones, made them into a bundle, and sent a man with them to her home on earth. As he passed, the place where she had met with the ant that insect called out, "Are you not coming back dead? You would be alive now if you had listened to advice!"
Coming to the old woman's place among the ruins, the carrier heard her cry, "My daughter, haven't you died on account of your wicked heart?" So the man went on, and at last he dropped the bones just above her mother's hut. And her sister said, "She had a wicked heart, and that is why Heaven was angry with her."