I went looking for Kabyle fairy-tales on line, and found a collection at the National Library of France. This is the weirdest story from that volume. It’s not a tale from my wife’s village; it’s from a coastal town about 80 miles to the west.
Once upon a time, a man had two wives. One was intelligent, the other stupid. They shared ownership of a rooster. One day they got into an argument over it, which they resolved by cutting it down the middle. Each wife took half. The stupid wife cooked her half; the intelligent wife let her half live. It walked on one leg, and had one wing. After several days had passed, Half-Cock said to his mistress: “Pack me some provisions so I can go on a pilgrimage.” She gave him what he needed for his voyage.
Half-Cock woke up early the next morning and took the pilgrim’s road. Around mid-day, he felt tired and went down to a little brook to rest. At that same moment, a jackal came down to the brook to drink. Half-Cock jumped onto the jackal’s back, pulled out a hair, stuck it under his wing, and went back to the road. He kept going until nightfall, and climbed up in a tree to spend the night.
Before Half-Cock could get completely settled in, he saw a lion pass by his tree. As soon as he saw that, he jumped on the lion’s back and stole a hair, which he tucked under his wing with the jackal’s hair. The next morning, he got up early and got back on the road. When the road passed through the middle of a forest, he met a boar and said to him, “Give me a hair from your back, as the King of the Beasts and the most cunning of jackals have done!” The boar replied, “Since these two important Persons have done so, I also shall give you what you ask.” He pulled a hair from his back and gave it to Half-Cock.
Half-Cock resumed his journey and arrived at the great house of a king. He started to sing, and his song said, “Tomorrow the King will die, and I will take his wife.” When he heard these worlds, the King ordered his guards to seize Half-Cock and throw him in the pen with the sheep and the goats, so they would tread him into the dirt and kill him under their feet and the King would be rid of his song. The guards took him prisoner and threw him into the pen to perish.
But when he was in the pen, Half-Cock took the jackal’s hair from under his wing and burned it in a fire. As soon as he had put the hair near the flames, the jackal appeared, asking, “Why are you burning my hair? The moment I felt it, I came running!” Half-Cock replied, “You see my situation; get me out of here!”
“Easy enough,” said the jackal, and he gave a yelp to summon all his brothers. The whole pack joined him, and he ordered them, “My brothers, save this Half-Cock for me, because he has a hair from my back that he’s put in the fire. I don’t want to burn; pull him out of this stable full of the King’s beasts, and get my hair out of his hands.” As soon as he had spoken, the jackals ran into the pen, throttled all the sheep and goats, and rescued Half-Cock. in
The next morning, the King found the pen deserted and his livestock dead. He looked for Half-Cock, but without success. That evening, though, at dinner time, Half-Cock started singing as he had the previous night. The King called his guards and said, “Seize him and throw him in the stable with the oxen, so he shall be crushed beneath their hooves.” The guards took him prisoner again, and threw him into the middle of the stable. But once he landed in the stable, Half-Cock took the lion’s hair from under his wing and held it in the fire. Immediately the lion arrived and roared, “Why are you burning my hair? From my cave, I smelled the odor of burning hair. I came running to find out why you’re doing it.”
Half-Cock replied, “You see my situation; get me out of here.” The lion roared to summon his brothers. His brothers arrived quickly and asked, “Why did you call us?”
“Get Half-Cock out of the stable, because he has one of my hairs that he can put in the fire. If you don’t rescue him, he’ll burn it, and I don’t want to smell my hair burning as long as I live.” His brothers obeyed him, and they soon had killed all the cattle.
The next morning, the King saw that his cattle were all dead, and he was so angry that he almost choked on his fury. He went looking for Half-Cock to kill him with his own hands. The King searched a long time without finding him, and eventually went back home to rest.
At sundown, Half-Cock returned to his usual place and sang the same song as before. The King called his guards and commanded them, “This time, put him in the most secure room you can find, lock all the doors up tight, and leave him there all night. I will kill him myself in the morning.” The guards captured Half-Cock again and locked him in the King’s Treasury. When Half-Cock landed in the room, he saw all the money under his feet. He waited until the master of the treasury was asleep, took the boar’s hair from under his wing, lit a fire, and put the hair in it. Immediately the boar came running, and the earth shook beneath his feet. He shoved his head straight through the wall, halfway collapsing it, until he saw Half-Cock and demanded, “Why are you burning my hair?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but you see my situation. The King wants me dead, and tomorrow he will kill me with his own hands if you don’t get me out of this prison.”
The boar replied, “That’s easy. Don’t worry, I’ll open the door for you. But you’ve been here long enough. Get up, and grab enough money to keep you and your children.”
Half-Cock obeyed; he rolled around in the gold so the pieces got stuck in his wings and his feet and swallowed as much as he could until he was filled up. Then he went back along the road that he’d traveled the first day, and when he got home, he crawled underneath the mat. He called to his mistress and said, “Hit me now, don’t be afraid of hurting me.” His mistress set herself to striking him with a stick until he said, “That’s enough. Now roll up the mat.” She did as he said, and saw the floor underneath gleaming with gold.
At the time when Half-Cock returned from his pilgrimage, the two wives also had a dog, a female, that they owned together. The stupid wife, seeing that her sister wife had come into a lot of money, said to her, “We need to split up the dog, too.” The intelligent wife replied, “We can’t make anything of her; let her live. I give the half that I own to you.” The stupid wife said to the dog, “Go on a pilgrimage like Half-Cock did, and bring me back some money.”
The dog got up to obey her mistress. She set out on the road in the morning, and arrived at a fountain. She was thirsty, so she wanted to drink. When she lowered her head, she saw a yellow rock in the middle of the fountain. She picked it up in her mouth, and ran back home. When she got back to her mistress, the dog said, “Get the floor-mat and some sticks — I’m back from my pilgrimage.” The stupid wife lifted up the floor mat. The dog crawled underneath, and said, “Hit me, but not too hard.” The stupid wife grabbed the sticks and beat the dog as hard as she could. The dog cried a long time to make her stop, but she didn’t stop until the cries stopped. She lifted up the mat, and found the dog dead, with a worthless yellow stone in her mouth.
In answer to the obvious question, “WTF?”, Prof. Basset notes that there is a very similar Albanian folktale. The Albanian version begins with a husband and wife who have a pair of chickens. They divorce, and in the process one takes the cock and the other the hen. I suspect that somewhere along the line, a Kabyle storyteller couldn’t resist lofting a crude joke over the heads of the listening children.
The title of this story in French is “Moitié de Coq”. Although cocks are as masculine as it gets, “moitié” is feminine, so the pronouns used for the protagonist are all female. There’s an obvious temptation to read this story through a gender lens (as Sørina Higgins puts it); I’ll have to keep this fact in mind if I try that.
The word in the French that I have translated “guard” is “nègre”. I get the feeling from other stories in the volume that the reader is supposed to think of giant elite warriors from far away, like Varangians. But I’m a southerner from the USA, and as I wrote this down I unavoidably kept using Uncle-Remus locutions because to me that’s what folktales should sound like. In our kind of folktale, though, a Negro would be a trickster not a power-figure, and the stunt with the Treasury would have had a completely different meaning. So I seized on a piece of 19th-Century French military slang, in which “nègre” was the name for the best soldier among the cadets (like “honcho” for us) and just used “guards”.
Basset, René, Contes Populaires Berbères. Paris, E. Leroux, (1887). #42, pp. 83-89. PDF page 121.