THE STORY OF THE HERO MAKÓMA
From the Senna (Oral Tradition)
Once upon a time, at the town of Senna on the banks of
the Zambesi, was born a child. He was not like other
children, for he was very tall and strong; over his shoulder
he carried a big sack, and in his hand an iron hammer.
He could also speak like a grown man, but usually
he was very silent.
One day his mother said to him: ‘My child, by what
name shall we know you?’
And he answered: ‘Call all the head men of Senna
here to the river’s bank.’ And his mother called the
head men of the town, and when they had come he led
them down to a deep black pool in the river where all
the fierce crocodiles lived.
‘O great men!’ he said, while they all listened, ‘which
of you will leap into the pool and overcome the crocodiles?’
But no one would come forward. So he turned
and sprang into the water and disappeared.
The people held their breath, for they thought: ‘Surely
the boy is bewitched and throws away his life, for the
crocodiles will eat him!’ Then suddenly the ground
trembled, and the pool, heaving and swirling, became
red with blood, and presently the boy rising to the surface
swam on shore.
But he was no longer just a boy! He was stronger
than any man and very tall and handsome, so that the
people shouted with gladness when they saw him.
‘Now, O my people!’ he cried waving his hand, ‘you
know my name—I am Makóma, “the Greater”; for have
I not slain the crocodiles in the pool where none would
Then he said to his mother: ‘Rest gently, my mother,
for I go to make a home for myself and become a hero.’
Then, entering his hut, he took Nu-éndo, his iron hammer,
and throwing the sack over his shoulder, he went away.
Makóma crossed the Zambesi, and for many moons
he wandered towards the north and west until he came
to a very hilly country where, one day, he met a huge
giant making mountains.
‘Greeting,’ shouted Makóma, ‘who are you?’
‘I am Chi-éswa-mapíri, who makes the mountains,’
answered the giant, ‘and who are you?’
‘I am Makóma, which signifies “greater,”’ answered
‘Greater than who?’ asked the giant.
‘Greater than you!’ answered Makóma.
The giant gave a roar and rushed upon him. Makóma
said nothing, but swinging his great hammer, Nu-éndo,
he struck the giant upon the head.
He struck him so hard a blow that the giant shrank
into quite a little man, who fell upon his knees saying:
‘You are indeed greater than I, O Makóma; take me
with you to be your slave!’ So Makóma picked him up
and dropped him into the sack that he carried upon his
He was greater than ever now, for all the giant’s
strength had gone into him; and he resumed his journey,
carrying his burden with as little difficulty as an eagle
might carry a hare.
Before long he came to a country broken up with
huge stones and immense clods of earth. Looking over
one of the heaps he saw a giant wrapped in dust dragging
out the very earth and hurling it in handfuls on either
side of him.
‘Who are you,’ cried Makóma, ‘that pulls up the earth
in this way?’
‘I am Chi-dúbula-táka,’ said he, ‘and I am making
‘Do you know who I am?’ said Makóma. ‘I am he
that is called “greater”!’
‘Greater than who?’ thundered the giant.
‘Greater than you!’ answered Makóma.
With a shout, Chi-dúbula-táka seized a great clod of
earth and launched it at Makóma. But the hero had his
sack held over his left arm and the stones and earth fell
harmlessly upon it, and, tightly gripping his iron hammer,
he rushed in and struck the giant to the ground. Chi-dúbula-táka
grovelled before him, all the while growing
smaller and smaller; and when he had become a convenient
size Makóma picked him up and put him into
the sack beside Chi-éswa-mapíri.
He went on his way even greater than before, as all
the river-maker’s power had become his; and at last
he came to a forest of bao-babs and thorn trees. He
was astonished at their size, for every one was full grown
and larger than any trees he had ever seen, and close by
he saw Chi-gwísa-míti, the giant who was planting the
Chi-gwísa-míti was taller than either of his brothers,
but Makóma was not afraid and called out to him: ‘Who
are you, O Big One?’
‘I,’ said the giant, ‘am Chi-gwísa-míti, and I am
planting these bao-babs and thorns as food for my
children the elephants.’
‘Leave off!’ shouted the hero, ‘for I am Makóma, and
would like to exchange a blow with thee!’
The giant, plucking up a monster bao-bab by the roots,
struck heavily at Makóma; but the hero sprang aside,
and as the weapon sank deep into the soft earth, whirled
Nu-éndo the hammer round his head and felled the giant
with one blow.
So terrible was the stroke that Chi-gwísa-míti shrivelled
up as the other giants had done; and when he
had got back his breath he begged Makóma to take him
as his servant. ‘For,’ said he, ‘it is honourable to serve
a man so great as thou.’
Makóma, after placing him in his sack, proceeded
upon his journey, and travelling for many days he at last
reached a country so barren and rocky that not a single
living thing grew upon it—everywhere reigned grim
desolation. And in the midst of this dead region he found
a man eating fire.
‘What are you doing?’ demanded Makóma.
‘I am eating fire,’ answered the man, laughing; ‘and
my name is Chi-ídea-móto, for I am the flame-spirit,
and can waste and destroy what I like.’
‘You are wrong,’ said Makóma; ‘for I am Makóma,
who is “greater” than you—and you cannot destroy
The fire-eater laughed again, and blew a flame at
Makóma. But the hero sprang behind a rock—just in
time, for the ground upon which he had been standing
was turned to molten glass, like an overbaked pot, by
the heat of the flame-spirit’s breath.
Then the hero flung his iron hammer at Chi-ídea-móto,
and, striking him, it knocked him helpless; so
Makóma placed him in the sack, Woro-nówu, with the
other great men that he had overcome.
And now, truly, Makóma was a very great hero; for
he had the strength to make hills, the industry to
lead rivers over dry wastes, foresight and wisdom in
planting trees, and the power of producing fire when
Wandering on he arrived one day at a great plain,
well watered and full of game; and in the very middle
of it, close to a large river, was a grassy spot, very
pleasant to make a home upon.
Makóma was so delighted with the little meadow
that he sat down under a large tree, and removing the
sack from his shoulder, took out all the giants and set
them before him. ‘My friends,’ said he, ‘I have travelled
far and am weary. Is not this such a place as would
suit a hero for his home? Let us then go, to-morrow, to
bring in timber to make a kraal.’
So the next day Makóma and the giants set out to get
poles to build the kraal, leaving only Chi-éswa-mapíri
to look after the place and cook some venison which they
had killed. In the evening, when they returned, they
found the giant helpless and tied to a tree by one enormous
‘How is it,’ said Makóma, astonished, ‘that we find
you thus bound and helpless?’
‘O Chief,’ answered Chi-éswa-mapíri, ‘at midday a
man came out of the river; he was of immense stature,
and his grey moustaches were of such length that I could
not see where they ended! He demanded of me “Who
is thy master?” And I answered: “Makóma, the
greatest of heroes.” Then the man seized me, and
pulling a hair from his moustache, tied me to this tree—even
as you see me.’
Makóma was very wroth, but he said nothing, and
drawing his finger-nail across the hair (which was as
thick and strong as palm rope) cut it, and set free the
The three following days exactly the same thing happened,
only each time with a different one of the party;
and on the fourth day Makóma stayed in camp when the
others went to cut poles, saying that he would see for
himself what sort of man this was that lived in the river
and whose moustaches were so long that they extended
beyond men’s sight.
So when the giants had gone he swept and tidied the
camp and put some venison on the fire to roast. At midday,
when the sun was right overhead, he heard a rumbling
noise from the river, and looking up he saw the
head and shoulders of an enormous man emerging from
it. And behold! right down the river-bed and up the
river-bed, till they faded into the blue distance, stretched
the giant’s grey moustaches!
‘Who are you?’ bellowed the giant, as soon as he was
out of the water.
‘I am he that is called Makóma,’ answered the hero;
‘and, before I slay thee, tell me also what is thy name
and what thou doest in the river?’
‘My name is Chin-débou Máu-giri,’ said the giant.
‘My home is in the river, for my moustache is the grey
fever-mist that hangs above the water, and with which
I bind all those that come unto me so that they die.’
‘You cannot bind me!’ shouted Makóma, rushing
upon him and striking with his hammer. But the river
giant was so slimy that the blow slid harmlessly off his
green chest, and as Makóma stumbled and tried to regain
his balance, the giant swung one of his long hairs around
him and tripped him up.
For a moment Makóma was helpless, but remembering
the power of the flame-spirit which had entered into
him, he breathed a fiery breath upon the giant’s hair and
cut himself free.
As Chin-débou Máu-giri leaned forward to seize him
the hero flung his sack Woro-nówu over the giant’s
slippery head, and gripping his iron hammer, struck him
again; this time the blow alighted upon the dry sack and
Chin-débou Máu-giri fell dead.
When the four giants returned at sunset with the poles
they rejoiced to find that Makóma had overcome the
fever-spirit, and they feasted on the roast venison till
far into the night; but in the morning, when they awoke,
Makóma was already warming his hands at the fire, and
his face was gloomy.
‘In the darkness of the night, O my friends,’ he said
presently, ‘the white spirits of my fathers came unto
me and spoke, saying: “Get thee hence, Makóma, for
thou shalt have no rest until thou hast found and fought
with Sákatirína, who has five heads, and is very great
and strong; so take leave of thy friends, for thou must
Then the giants were very sad, and bewailed the loss
of their hero; but Makóma comforted them, and gave
back to each the gifts he had taken from them. Then
bidding them ‘Farewell,’ he went on his way.
Makóma travelled far towards the west; over rough
mountains and water-logged morasses, fording deep rivers,
and tramping for days across dry deserts where most
men would have died, until at length he arrived at a hut
standing near some large peaks, and inside the hut were
two beautiful women.
‘Greeting!’ said the hero. ‘Is this the country of Sákatirína
of five heads, whom I am seeking?’
‘We greet you, O Great One!’ answered the women.
‘We are the wives of Sákatirína; your search is at an end,
for there stands he whom you seek!’ And they pointed
to what Makóma had thought were two tall mountain
peaks. ‘Those are his legs,’ they said; ‘his body you
cannot see, for it is hidden in the clouds.’
Makóma was astonished when he beheld how tall
was the giant; but, nothing daunted, he went forward
until he reached one of Sákatirína’s legs, which he
struck heavily with Nu-éndo. Nothing happened, so
he hit again and then again until, presently, he heard a
tired, far-away voice saying: ‘Who is it that scratches my
And Makóma shouted as loud as he could, answering:
‘It is I, Makóma, who is called “Greater”!’ And he
listened, but there was no answer.
Then Makóma collected all the dead brushwood and
trees that he could find, and making an enormous pile
round the giant’s legs, set a light to it.
This time the giant spoke; his voice was very terrible,
for it was the rumble of thunder in the clouds. ‘Who is
it,’ he said, ‘making that fire smoulder around my feet?’
‘It is I, Makóma!’ shouted the hero. ‘And I have
come from far away to see thee, O Sákatirína, for the
spirits of my fathers bade me go seek and fight with thee,
lest I should grow fat, and weary of myself.’
There was silence for a while, and then the giant spoke
softly: ‘It is good, O Makóma!’ he said. ‘For I too have
grown weary. There is no man so great as I, therefore
I am all alone. Guard thyself!’ And bending suddenly
he seized the hero in his hands and dashed him
upon the ground. And lo! instead of death, Makóma
had found life, for he sprang to his feet mightier in
strength and stature than before, and rushing in he
gripped the giant by the waist and wrestled with him.
Hour by hour they fought, and mountains rolled
beneath their feet like pebbles in a flood; now Makóma
would break away, and summoning up his strength, strike
the giant with Nu-éndo his iron hammer, and Sákatirína
would pluck up the mountains and hurl them upon the
hero, but neither one could slay the other. At last, upon
the second day, they grappled so strongly that they could
not break away; but their strength was failing, and, just
as the sun was sinking, they fell together to the ground,
In the morning when they awoke, Mulímo the Great
Spirit was standing by them; and he said: ‘O Makóma
and Sákatirína! Ye are heroes so great that no man may
come against you. Therefore ye will leave the world
and take up your home with me in the clouds.’ And as
he spake the heroes became invisible to the people of the
Earth, and were no more seen among them.