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THE VOICE WITHIN

VOICE

There once lived in Africa a mighty chief. But despite his wealth, his two children were unhappy. They wandered sullenly through the village, never smiling or playing with other children. They grew thin, their eyes dark and haunted, frightening the smaller kids.

In that village lived a poor farmer whose two children were just the opposite. All-day long they sang and frolicked about joyfully. Their eyes gleamed, their skin glistened in the sun, their limbs were strong.

When the chief saw this, he asked their father: “Tell me why your children are so happy and robust. Mine are sad and weak, though I give them everything they wish.”

“Chief,” said the farmer, “I feed my son and daughter with the meat of the tongue. It fills them with health and happiness.”

Delighted to learn of this secret remedy, the chief hurried home. He ordered his servants to fetch him tongues of every beast, then instructed his cook to prepare all kinds of tongue dishes — boiled, stewed, roasted, fried and grilled. These treats he fed to his children, day and night.

Still, the children would not smile. At his wit’s end, the chief called upon the farmer and scolded him:  “You have given me bad advice. Your punishment is this — you must exchange your children with mine.”

The chief’s word being law, the farmer had to give up his beloved children. Soon the chief’s unhappy children moved into his hut.

Days passed. The chief’s new children began to grow morose, pale and listless. He offered them toys and jewels, but they had forgotten to smile. The farmer meanwhile went about his work every day. Before long, the village began to notice the change in his new children. They had learnt to laugh, there was a spring in their gait, and soon enough, they were sporting about with other children in gay abandon.

Having grown weary trying to please his new children, the chief packed their bags and sent them home with his servants, asking them to return with his own. But when the servants arrived at the farmer’s hut, the chief’s children flatly refused to return home.

Furious, the chief hastened to learn from his children how the farmer had turned their minds. But he was in for a surprise. “Children,” he cried, amazed at his daughter’s cheerful look, at the joy he saw in his son’s eyes. “What has this wretched man done? How is it that he has made you so happy?”

The chief’s children then recounted the wonderful tales the farmer had told them every evening as they sat for their humble meal. They spoke of the ways of the sun and the moon and the stars, and sang the songs they had learned about the mountain and the river and the jungle and all the animals. They drew pictures on the sand just as the farmer used to do, describing how he worked the fields, caught fish in the hollows, hunted small game in the bush. They shared with their father the stories of the ancestors of their race the farmer had told them while tucking them into bed every night.

As he listened with rapt attention, the chief suddenly understood. “The meat of the tongue, indeed!” he exclaimed.

Smiling and nodding, the chief embraced the farmer: “Truly, the greatest gift a parent can give to his children is his companionship, his wisdom, and his words. You have taught me well.”

the harbinger

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