The Maasai Legend of the Girls of the Knee

A Maasai folktale on how a cruel man lost his beloved daughters

The Girls of the Knee, Maasai folktale (2020) by Advithi EmmiProject FUEL

Once upon a time, there lived a cruel old man. His wife conceived; but, as was his habit, the old man did not like seeing her take a rest. As soon as she completed one task, she was told to take on another. And no sooner had she completed the second task, that she was commanded to take up yet another. This routine was repeated every day, from morning till night, so that the poor old woman, though pregnant, was kept on her feet each day until the early hours of the morning.

And so, many months went by. The woman persevered and kept on working, since her husband would never permit her to rest. She would wake up every morning before dawn to do the milking, after which she would lock up the calves in their pens. Having done this she would scamper to the river to fetch water for the household. Then firewood. It was also her duty to plaster the house. Every single job around the home was supposed to be her responsibility. And as though that was not enough, she was often called upon to water the cattle while her husband rested at home. The old man kept pestering his wife thus until one day, overwhelmed with fatigue, she collapsed and died. She was seven months pregnant.

The morning after his wife died, the old man woke up with a large swelling on one knee. At first he thought it was a boil, but the swelling grew bigger and heavier by the day, until the old man could barely walk. After what seemed like months the old man's patience wore out. He took a knife and said to himself: "Since this boil is never coming to a head, I am going to lance it come what may." And as he lanced the boil, to his great surprise, there emerged two adorable little girls. Amazed as he was at this strange occurrence, the old man was nevertheless delighted at the arrival of his twin daughters. He named one of his daughters Nasira and the other Noltau.

The old man brought up his daughters with a certain amount of difficulty. Whenever he went to fetch water or firewood he strapped one child on his stomach and the other on his back. He also carried the children while he was out grazing cattle, when he plastered the house, and while he did everything else. He endured many difficulties but nevertheless succeeded in bringing up his daughters until they were big girls.
When they were big enough to be left on their own, the old man locked up the girls in the house whenever he had to go out. They remained there until his return. When he came back, he would sing a song he had composed to alert his daughters, thus:
It had grown tender
But would not burst
My daughters of the knee
Nasira, Noltau, my beloved ones
Let me in.

On hearing the song, the children would immediately know it was their father and they would open the door for him.

This went on for a long time. Then, one day, some people from an enemy country came into the old man's village. They heard the voices of the two girls talking inside the house. They hid away in the nearby bushes to await the parents of the children whose voices they had heard. In the evening the old man returned and sang his usual song. The enemies listened to the old man's song.

They spent the night in that country. Early next morning, the old man took his cattle out grazing, leaving the children locked up in the house. The enemies timed the old man. On realising that he was about to return home, they went to the door and sang his song, asking the girls to open the door for them. The girls did so thinking it was their father who had returned. Thereupon the enemies abducted the twin girls to their country.

The old man arrived soon after, but when he sang his usual song he received no response. Finding the door ajar, he entered, only to find no one in the house. He realised that his children had been stolen. He conducted a search for them far and wide, but to no avail. The old man had lost a wife and then his children because of his cruelty. And there ends the story.

Credits: Story

Project FUEL would like to thank the Maasai community in the Losimingori village of Arusha, Tanzania for opening their hearts and home to this research. 

This exhibit is part of the Wise Wall Project, an initiative of Project FUEL, to document, design, and strengthen the wisdom of rural communities and marginalized villages using art and community outreach programs. In the third edition of this project, we collaborated with the Maasai, in Arusha, Tanzania, to build an on-ground community centre for the people and bring an exclusive insight into the life, lifestyle, and learnings of this inspiring community.

Illustration: Advithi Emmi
Story: Oral Literature of the Maasai by Naomi Kipuri
Research, Interviews and Curation: Project FUEL
Project Partners: Vijana Inspiring Foundation, Vikram Solar Ltd., Lions Club of Dar es Salaam and Arusha, Google Arts & Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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