The following epic poem was transcribed by Dr Alice Werner, who was the professor of Swahili and Bantu languages at London’s School of Oriental Studies between 1917-1930. Dr Werner first encoutered the story of Miqdad and Mayasa during her visit to the village of Bomani, a village in Kenya’s Kilifi County, in 1913. During her visit Dr Werner met Sharif Hassan and his wife, Mwana Bamu, who entertained their guests by reading aloud from her treasured manuscript of the poem.
The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa opens with an encounter between the storyteller Miqdad and the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca. Taking shelter in a cave from the rain outside, Muhammad requests that Miqdad tells a story to pass the time.
There does not appear to be any versions of the story in Arabic and Dr Werner believed that the poem may have been transmitted through the oral tradition within Kenya for many years before being finally committed to writing. This may explain why from time to time the author of the text appears to forget that Miqdad is the narrator and speaks of him in the third person.
I begin with the name of the Compassionate,
and pray for the faithful one,
that I may set forth the story of that which happened long ago.
One day, Muhammad, the Friend, and Miqdad, at Mecca,
outside the town were going for a walk.
When they were walking, the rain came down upon them,
and they went to seek shelter and placed themselves in a cave.
Into the middle of the rock the men entered,
with Muhammad the Prophet, to escape from the rain.
“Let us amuse ourselves, Miqdad;
for the rain has increased;
tell us some story or other.”
“Which shall I tell, my lord?
Whether what I have seen,
or what I have heard of?”
The Messenger replied:
“What thou hast seen is better,
it is the perfection of beauty,
I have a desire to hear it.”
“Some time ago, my wife Mayasa said to me
‘Some people have come to me,
who have come in a large company;
they have invited me to a feast,
and I have granted their request.
I ask permission from you to go to the feast tomorrow, my lord;
by the evening I shall return to you.’
‘Do not go’, I said to her, ‘my state is known to you;
I have nothing for you to contribute;
afterwards you will weep for envy.’
The One who knows answered me:
‘She who wears pearls,
is not startled by the array of others:
I am wearing hundreds upon hundreds,
How many I have used of the necklaces which I have worn?
Do not be surprised, I quite understand what you have said to me.’
I said to her:
‘You have permission,
go your way, Mayasa,
but understand that afterwards you are not to blame me.’
When day dawned, Mayasa set forth;
she went in haste and entered with joy.
When she entered the place of the feast,
she saw many kinds of precious things belonging to those who were assembled,
Such as necklaces and ornaments, as it were of diamonds:
as to Mayasa, a little cloud entered her spirit.
She was angry exceedingly and grieved full sore;
in her heart she remembered that which had befallen her.
Wrath entered into her, but as to her mouth, she was silent,
not speaking even one word till she went forth again.
And when she came to the house,
she stopped and did not speak to me, though I desired speech;
wrath had entered into her.
I spoke to her and said:
‘Now you also have seen:
my thought foreboding has been fulfilled,
Lady, that which I thought.’
I said a hundred words,
she answered me not one
– for it was quite clear to me,
and I made a calculation and went forth on myown business.
And said to her:
‘I am going my way;
I will throw away my life,
or, my lady, I will succeed in bringing you wealth.’
I went forth then and there, and night was there;
in the morning, when I had found a place to lie in wait,
I found a place to rest in, with food and drink, and just there,
I cut across the country and entered the wilderness.
I went out into the wilderness in order to seek for plunder,
until, one day, a caravan appeared.
I saw the men carrying store of goods,
when they were in front of me,
I spoke to them thus:
Now they were a hundred men, not one was wanting,
with swords and daggers and weapons all complete,
I said to them:
‘Give me your goods, leave them,
or today ye shall enter into torment and trouble.’
They answered with one voice:
‘You are one man only – will you overcome us all, being a hundred?
You shall see these things for yourself’
When they had said this to me,
I rushed upon them and attacked them with sword and dagger together.
I gathered all their goods together with their weapons;
they were stripped of their clothes, and I got store of wealth.
They remained as captives, they entreated for peace, and as for me,
I appointed them to herd the camels for me.
I went on for two days and saw a second caravan having wealth,
with horses and camels.
My own caravan, I caused it to stop at once,
and I went on until I was near to them.
And I said to them:
‘Dismount and leave your goods,
or today into the next world ye must needs enter’.
No sooner had I said this to them, than they attacked me,
but I rushed into the midst of the and felled many of them to the earth.
A few only were left:
‘Will you herd for me?
Or shall I come upon you and kill you at once?’
They answered with all speed:
‘My lord, we will follow you,
we are your slaves’.
When I gathered up their goods I found that they exceeded the first,
and I wished to go forward to seek yet more wealth.
I went forward again and suddenly saw him
– a gallant young man on horseback he appeared to me.
With his weapons complete, he was glorious and had all the marks of greatness;
like the most splendid lion – and I drew near to him.
He saw me striking at him, he fell down on the spot
– when I looked at him he was already dead.
I took his clothes which he had in reserve in his bag,
together with his horse – I carried off everything.
I and my camels and all the herdsmen,
as we were walking on,
we saw a cloud of dust.
A great cloud of dust in sooth,
until it stopped in the desert,
and a valiant man presently appeared to us.
He carried weapons, he was a man of renown;
he shone like the sun with ornaments and necklaces.
His horse was a horse of price – a thoroughbred – and I placed myself in front of him:
‘Give me and then you shall pass.
Give me now into my hand, or, in this very hour,
you shall go into the Hereafter and forget this world.’
He answered: ‘Come, let us fight,
that I may see you and you see me;
come, let us strive together,’
And we began to fight.
We fought mightily;
I had found my match, O my lord!
And I began to repent.
And I missed safety,
he turned me round,
with my hands behind me,
and I was like a slave;
he took from me my weapons,
And he then said:
‘I will unbind you, sir, we will fight again,
you and I, that you may be able to see for yourself’
Then he unbound me, and I was given weapons,
as I had at the beginning – he gave me them all.
And the man said to me: ‘Let us fight again,’
and I consented, and we returned to the combat.
We swayed back and forth many times;
we exchanged sword-strokes;
at last he bound me again,
returning to the same state as at first.
And, as for me, I was in bonds, but he said:
‘What are you, to put yourself to such trouble?
What is your intention?’
And I told him my story, of myself and my wife:
‘I want goods, my lord, that I may take them to her.’
And he said to me:
‘Today I have come here because my soul has trouble:
I will tell you my tale.
I have a sweetheart,
we have loved since her childhood and mine,
when my uncle has sought a stranger as her bridegroom,
He has rejected me;
he has sought a stranger;
today ill-luck comes upon me;
it is better to fly from it.
I have fled from the town that I might not hear the rejoicings,
but now let us go to stop them – you and I together.
Now let us be friends,
let us go everywhere and destroy the town,
also the town is near;
we shall arrive even now.’
Then we set forth together,
with laughter and talk and told each other our news as we approached the town,
And he then said to me, as we heard those drums:
‘There is no need to enter; we will wait here.’
Then he advised me and said to me:
‘Stay here! My heart misgives me;
I must needs go to them.
Take my horse and give me yours, my friend;
if you find, my brother, that I do not return, then follow me.
Mount my horse, ride him with a loose rein;
he will quickly show you the way;
he knows the road to our home.’
That noble youth, whose name was Abdallah,
mounted in haste and soon reached the town.
When he appeared before the town, people met him and said:
‘We tell thee, the wedding is about to begin, with dances and gifts.’
And he saw those people going home with dances,
and entered in among them with drawn sword, I tell you.
There were more than a hundred, he was seized by them all at once;
he was hard pressed on every side, both to right and left.
His uncle said:
‘This is indeed a great matter!
The like of this there is not,
nor have I ever heard of it.
Go with all speed and bring him into the corner of the bride chamber
and tie him to the leg of the bedstead on which the bridegroom will sleep.
This is his punishment – let him hear the breathing of Salima, his sweetheart;
and that will teach him to behave.’
Abdallah then was entangled in a rope
and thrust into a corner of the bride-chamber.
He was tied between the feet of the bed,
and his love was above him:
he felt this was terrible
– it were better to die at once.
He said in his heart:
‘Better I were in the grave than in this torment into which my uncle has put me.’
considering how best to cut his bonds,
but the cords resist all his efforts,
so closely have they enwound him.
Let us now return to Miqdad:
the hours went on,
he could no longer bear the suspense,
and mounted his horse.
I went as far as the wall,
yet I did not see the way to enter:
I hit him over the head, and the horse leapt.
He leapt over the wall, into the town and carried me indeed up to their door,
and I dismounted and entered.
The people were keeping watch, there was none to let me in;
they were dancing with all their might,
circling to the sound of the drum.
I stood in the midst of them;
presently I heard groans;
I crept up cautiously until I was near him.
Then I saw Abdallah bound miserably:
I cut him loose hastily from all his bonds.
As soon as he was able to see,
he drew aside the curtain and lifted up Salima – the man was still asleep.
He drew his knife and cut his throat and set his foot on him,
until he was quite dead.
We went forth together in haste, carrying Salima.
Abdallah rejoiced – as though he were not ashamed.
We went on, the three of us,
till we reached our place yonder,
where our spoil was lying,
and entered the tent.
And lo! when it dawned, the tidings went abroad:
‘The bridegroom, in truth, had been slain once for all,
And the wife had been carried off.
Today this has befallen it has been Abdallah’
said the folk, all speaking together.
The lady’s father, when he heard,
went to the Elders and said words like these:
‘It were well ye should listen.’
And he sent orators, all the Elders of the town:
‘Tell him he must not do such things to me.
Say to him, let him listen:
Salima is his and I am his uncle – he is putting shame upon me.
Let him give me my daughter;
his conduct will lead in the end to bitterness:
this is a sin against God and is not a good custom.’
The Elders of the town summoned each other,
they assembled themselves together,
and they all went together,
until they reached us.
Old men of name and note,
as they came quite near.
Miqdad saw them and said to Abdallah:
‘There they come, the old men,
accompanying each other, not a few,
they have come from your father’s
– perhaps it is as I have thought.’
Abdallah said to me:
‘Let them come near that we may know what it means,
and let us answer them at once.’
They came, all of them, they came,
till they where quite near and they cried to him with a loud voice,
‘Abdallah! We have come.’
Abdallah went forth and answered them,
‘Here I am!
Command me and I will serve you,
my fathers all!’
‘We have been sent by thy honoured father:
give us thy sister Salima,
and he has already held thee excused.’
Abdallah answered them:
‘To deliver her up is black shame;
and do not you follow us:
I will not do that for you.
Be pleased to depart, and tell him thus:
I do not think of handing her over, nor will it befall.’
The Elders betook themselves back to the town
they returned until they arrived and said to her father:
‘He has said he will not give her up do not think it, my lord;
there is no chance of that,
that is what he has told us.’
Her father was wroth with him;
then he considered and said:
‘It is better for me that we should make war on him.’
He sent out warriors,
a hundred, men of renown,
and a valiant captain to lead them on.
He said to them:
‘Go forth, and, first say to him:
If you want peace, give us Salima – hear!
Give us his daughter that we may take her to her father:
do not you be angry with us.’
The warriors went forth, with joy and laughter,
they think he will be reconciled,
because they are a hundred strong.
The warriors, men of name, when they came near,
Miqdad saw them and said to Abdallah:
‘There is a host coming from the town, many men, I think;
because I see dust on the plain moving till it has come near.’
Abdallah answered him:
‘That is no great wonder – wait till they are near,
and I will go forth to look at them.’
That host came on until it was quite near;
Miqdad said to him:
‘Come! They are already here.’
Abdallah went forth and met them all;
the captain demanded of him:
‘We have all come.
Your uncle has sent us,
if you want to depart in safety,
you must give us Salima quickly,
it is time to return.’
‘l will not give up Salima!
the matter has stopped;
do not tell me that again.’
The warriors answered:
‘There is war between us and you,’
And he answered them,
So Abdallah rushed on them.
Before the hour was out, he had slain many exceedingly;
others fled and told their father.
They set forth to him the tidings:
‘he has killed the warriors,
– we who were left,
it was better that we should come to inform you.’
Her father was not be moved and quickly called his sons to him,
to send them to Abdallah and tell him.
He said to them:
‘Go! bring your sister;
if he refuses definitely,
then fight, I tell you.’
The young men girded themselves,
took spears, daggers and swords;
there was no feeble one among them.
They were men terrible in war.
Three of them, in truth, were brothers of the bridegroom;
they were like a furious lion pursuing his revenge.
And two who stood up there were brothers of Salima;
they stood up for war, and on war were they resolved.
They set forth as one man;
they were resolved on war,
until they had drawn near,
and Abdallah heard the noise which was in it,
truly, and the neighing of the horses,
and he said quickly:
‘Miqdad! look out!’
When Miqdad came forth,
he saw them straightway:
they were coming with speed,
three men at once,
‘They are three young men advancing together;
they have girded themselves like nobles;
they have already come near’.
And he said, to me:
‘My friend! bring my weapons;
now this fight is before me – an exceeding great affray,
A fight without compare,
for these are men of violence,
heroes of renown;
wait and you shall see for yourself’.
My heart misgave me – and not on account of a hundred men;
the way in which the three came on made me feel the need of caution.
When they had already come near, those Arabs said:
‘Abdallah, we request of you one thing.
Your father greets you and entreats you to pay him due respect;
give him Salima unharmed, as you took her from him.
Your uncle sends word you have defied him four times:
give him up the young maid quickly;
you could do everything asked of you.
Your uncle has said, give him the maiden quickly, that done,
you and he will have been reconciled:
and that is how he spoke to us.
If you refuse to hand her over, understand, it is a trial of strength:
we have come to kill you – let us fight at once’.
‘I will not give her up’, he said – this was his answer;
and her brother came forward and rushed on him with the sword.
He struck at him with the sword,
– Abdallah warded off the blow,
– he struck him without wavering;
they fought exceeding fiercely.
Abdallah killed all three alike and took their weapons with which they had fought.
All those who were present, when they looked on these things
– the fight which befell, and that three had fallen –
Returned to their tents and slept in peace:
in the morning, you must understand, a cloud of dust appeared.
And Miqdad said to him:
‘A cloud of dust has appeared to us,
and one man, who is coming swiftly, also’.
And Abdallah answered:
‘Now that is our peril – it is the Red Death which has appeared’.
When it approached,
the dust alone was visible it settled,
and there was his uncle;
there, as he came on, he shouted and said to Abdallah:
‘Abdallah, give me my daughter!
And then I will go my way;
this is my shame, my son,
and thine likewise!’
He said to him:
‘O my father! Forgive me, my lord!
it is abhorrent to me to agree such a thing as this’.
‘Then let us fight – since there is no way but this
today we must each have the others’s life
the choice is this’.
Abdallah went speedily and said to Salima:
‘I shall have to attack your father – but to give you up is sore grief to me’.
‘He is your father also, it is all the same
– go on, do you fight each other;
as for me, I consent’.
Abdallah went forth and seized his sword
… he drew the sword against him.
He and her father strove together a long time passed;
their strength failed them then, and they fell down together.
They fell exhausted, – they died, both of them;
the woman, in sight of them, cried out with a great and bitter cry.
She chanted a dirge, she praised them gloriously,
– and her tears flowing like a stream, I tell you!
She took her brother in her arms, and her brother-in-law – let me tell you;
she went to her father and praised him, weeping.
And Miqdad summoned up his resolution, saying to her:
‘Let us go our way – all this is over and done with;
let us go to my home – it is all one’.
Salima uttered these words:
‘I will betake me to my mourning,
you are a woman in truth
– you and I are all one’.
After she had answered me thus,
she went to Abdallah, and Salima laid him on her lap, weeping.
She laid him on her lap, weeping with all her heart,
– and bruising herself, poor soul!
– with bitter wailings.
And after they had died – Salima and all the rest,
I gathered up the spoil and carried it to Mayasa.
O Muhammad! Our Healer,
these things I saw with my eyes
– I did not hear them, my lord,
these things as I have told you them.
The Prophet said:
“That place, is it distinguishable?
do they still know it today?”
I answered him:
And he said:
“Let us go – I wish to see them,
those people, in truth”.
So we went both of us.
When we stopped at the right place,
I told the Prophet,
and he prayed to our Lord,
and they all came forth.
The story is finished,
by the help of the Bountiful and Taha the Apostle, the Hashimite,
from beginning to end.
from The Story of Miqdad and Mayasa,
transcribed by Dr Alice Werner,
Azania Press (1932)