Ngap and Nyakwiy

A Nuer Story

Before you read the story

  • Are you the oldest, the youngest, or the middle one in your family?
  • Are you like your brothers and sisters, or are you different from them?
  • Do your parents have a favourite child?
  • What are the good things about having brothers and sisters?
  • What are the bad things?

This story is long. There are three parts to it. Answer the questions to each part before you read on.

Part One

Once upon a time, there were two sisters called Ngap and Nyakwiy. They lived in their parents' home under an old mango tree in the forest. 

Ngap was a beautiful girl but she was lazy and selfish. She never carried the fish home from the river for her father. She never brought water for her mother. Every morning, she stood at the edge of the river and looked at her beautiful face in the water. Every afternoon, she lay down on a cowskin under the mango tree.

"I'm hungry!" she called out to her sister Nyakwiy. "Bring me a mango. I'm thirsty! Get me something to drink."

The girls' parents loved Ngap.

"Oh Ngap," they said. "You are very beautiful. One day you'll marry a rich man. Come here, my darling, and sit beside me."

Poor Nyakwiy did all the work in the house.

"Nyakwiy!" her parents always said. "Go to the river and bring some water! Put some wood on the fire! Where's our dinner? Haven't you cooked it? Be quick, you lazy girl!"

One day, the girls' father went to catch fish.

"Come to the river this afternoon," he said to Nyakwiy. You can help me bring the fish home."

That afternoon, Nyakwiy began to walk to the river.

"Where are you going?" her mother shouted. "You lazy girl! You want to go and play with your friends! Come back here. Sweep the floor. Bring wood for the fire. Help your sister to comb her hair."

"But my father said..." began Nyakwiy.

"Be quiet," said her mother, "and do your work."

The sun began to go down and the girls' father came back from the river. He was angry.

"Where's Nyakwiy?" he said.

"Here I am, father," said Nyakwiy.

"You lazy girl," said her father. "Why didn't you come to the river and help me? Look at all this fish! I needed you to carry it home."

"But my mother said..." Nyakwiy began.

"That's enough!" her father shouted. "I don't want to hear another word from you. Bring me a knife. We must cut up the fish."

"I'll help you," said Nyakwiy quickly.

Ngap was watching them. She was frowning.

"Don't cut the fish on the ground," she said. "I don't want any dust on my fish."

"You're right, my darling," her mother said. "Nyakwiy must be the table. Lie down, you stupid girl. I'll cut the fish on your back."

So Nyakwiy lay down with her face in the dust. Her mother put the fish on her back and began to cut it. The knife was sharp. Sometimes it went through the fish and cut into Nyakwiy's back. Her blood ran down into the dust. Tears fell from her eyes, but she didn't say anything.

"Look at her," Ngap said. "She doesn't feel the knife. She doesn't feel the blood. What a stupid girl!"


Exercises for Ngap and Nyakwiy Part 1

Part Two


But Ngap and Nyakwiy had an older sister. She was married to an ogre and he lived far away in the forest. One day, a messenger came to the house.

"Your oldest daughter sends her greetings," the messenger said to the girls' father. "She wants one of her sisters to visit her."

"I don't want to walk for miles through the forest," said Ngap. "I don't want to go to that ugly ogre's house."

"Of course you can't go, my love," said her mother. "There are leopards in the forest, and snakes, too. It's not safe. Nyakwiy can go. We don't want her here, at home."

So the next morning, Nyakwiy left her home and began her journey. She took a little water and a small bag of food.

"I can't give you any more," her mother said. "Your sister will feed you. Now go."

It was a long way to her sister's house. Nyakwiy walked quickly. Once, she heard a leopard in the trees. Once she saw a snake on the path. But she walked on and on.

Evening came. Nyakwiy was tired and hungry. Then, at last, she smelled the smoke of a fire. She followed the smell to her sister's hut.

Everyone was pleased to see her. Her sister's children kissed her. They wanted her to play with them. They were good and sweet. Nyakwiy loved them at once.

Soon, Nyakwiy's brother-in-law, the ogre, came home. Nyakwiy helped her sister to cook his food. The ogre's teeth were long and he had big red eyes, but he smiled at Nyakwiy. 

"You are welcome in my house," he said.

Nyakwiy worked hard at her sister's house. She brought the water from the river. She cooked the food. She told stories to the children. The weeks went past quickly. Nyakwiy was very happy. Her sister's family loved her and she loved them too.

But one morning, her sister said to her, "Nyakwiy, my dear, you must go home now. You have been with us for many months. You must go back to our parents."

Everyone was sad. The children asked for one last story. Nyakwiy's sister gave her a delicious breakfast and plenty of food for the journey.

"You must eat," she said. "It's a long way to our parents' house. I don't want you to be hungry."

"Where's my brother-in-law?" said Nyakwiy. "I must say goodbye to him."

"Oh, he's gone hunting," her sister said. "Now goodbye, little sister. Goodbye."

Nyakwiy began to walk down the path. She was sad. She didn't want to leave her dear sister's house.

Suddenly, she heard a noise in the trees above. A white bird was sitting there. It watched Nyakwiy go past. Then it flew away. But it wasn't a bird at all. It was Nyakwiy's brother-in-law, the ogre. 

Nyakwiy walked on. Then she heard a noise on the path in front. A little bushbuck was running away through the trees. But it wasn't a bushbuck at all. It was Nyakwiy's brother-in-law, the ogre. He watched Nyakwiy walk on down the path. Then he ran away.

Suddenly, Nyakwiy stopped. On the path in front of her was a beautiful tree. Red fruits were on its branches. Its leaves were made of gold. A lovely smell came from it.

"Nyakwiy! Nyakwiy!" said the tree. "Come here and eat my fruit!"

Nyakwiy put out her hand and nearly took a fruit. Then she remembered her sister.

"Thank you," she said, "but my kind sister gave me a delicious breakfast and plenty of food for my journey. I'm sad because I've left her, and her good husband and children. I don't want anything to eat. I'm not hungry."

  She walked slowly past the tree. She didn't want to break its beautiful branches. Then she walked on down the path. The tree changed into the ogre again. He smiled.

The journey was long. Nyakwiy was tired. Suddenly, she saw a beautiful plate on the path. A delicious dinner of fish and butter was on it, and a lovely spoon lay beside it.

"Nyakwiy! Nyakwiy!" said the plate. "Come and eat my dinner."

Nyakwiy wanted to eat the dinner, but then she remembered her sister.

"Oh no," she said. "Thank you very much, but I'm not hungry. This morning I left my dear sister and her good husband and children. They gave me plenty of food to eat. I don't want any more."

She went on down the path. The plate changed into the ogre again. He smiled. Then he turned into a leopard and ran back to his home.

The evening came. It was nearly dark. At last, Nyakwiy arrived at her parents' house. Her parents were happy to see her.

"You always went to get the water," her mother said, "but your sister never helps me. I'm glad you've come home again."

"You always carried my fish back from the river," her father said, "but your sister never helps me. I'm glad you're back at home."

"Oh, there you are," said Ngap. "Come here, and comb my hair."

Nyakwiy was surprised. It was better at home now. She worked hard, but her parents were kind to her. 

"You're a good girl, Nyakwiy," they said.

That evening, Nyakwiy's family asked her about the ogre and his wife. Nyakwiy told them everything. 

"They were very kind to me," she said. "Perhaps my brother-in-law is an ogre, but he is a good man. The children are very sweet. My sister is happy."


Exercises for Ngap and Nyakwiy Part 2

Part Three

The next day, Ngap said, "I want to go and see my sister. It's boring here at home."

"But there are leopards and snakes in the forest," her mother said. 

"It's a very long way," said her father.

"Don't try to stop me," Ngap said rudely. "I want to go."

Her mother gave her a big bag full of delicious food. 

"Go with her half the way," she said to her husband. "Now goodbye, my darling. Come home again soon."

Ngap and her father began to walk through the forest. Once they heard a leopard in the distance.

"He won't come near us," her father said.

Once, they saw a snake on the path.

"Wait here. I'll kill it," said her father.

In the afternoon, Ngap walked on alone. She was tired and thirsty. At last she came to her sister's house. 

Her sister was very pleased to see her. Her little nephews and nieces tried to climb into her arms and kiss her. But Ngap pushed them away.

"I'm tired," she said. "Leave me alone. Get me something to eat and drink."

Her brother-in-law came home from hunting. Ngap didn't smile at him. She didn't greet him. 

The days passed slowly. Ngap never went to get the water. She never helped to cook the food. She shouted at the children. She fought with her sister. She was rude to her brother-in-law. She ate all the nicest pieces of food.

"Send her back to her parents," said the ogre. "I don't want her here in my house."

Back in her parents' house, Nyakwiy was happy. Her parents loved her now. 

"You're better than your sister Ngap," her mother said. "You always work hard. You always help me."

"You're a good girl," said her father. "I'm going to find you a good husband."

One day, Nyakwiy's father came home and said, "I've found a husband for you, Nyakwiy, my dear. He's a good man, and he has many cows. You will be very happy."

"Thank you, father," Nyakwiy said. "But my sister Ngap will be angry. She wanted to get married first."

"Your sister Ngap must wait," her father said.

Ngap didn't know about her sister's wedding. But on the morning of Nyakwiy's wedding day, she decided to go home. Her oldest sister was happy.

"There'll be peace in my house at last," she thought.

She didn't love Ngap, but she made her a delicious breakfast, and she gave her food for the journey. The children didn't like their aunt at all. They didn't try to kiss her goodbye.

"Where's my brother-in-law?" Ngap said angrily. "Why doesn't he come to say goodbye to me? I don't like your husband, sister. He's a bad man."

"Oh, don't wait for my husband," her oldest sister said. "He's gone hunting."

At last, Ngap began her journey. She heard a noise above her head, and looked up. A white bird was sitting in the trees. It was the ogre. He watched Ngap go down the path. 

Then Ngap heard a noise on the path in front. A little bushbuck was running away through the trees. It was the ogre. He watched Ngap walk on down the path. Then he ran away.

Suddenly, Ngap stopped. On the path in front of her was a beautiful tree. Red fruits were on its branches. Its leaves were made of gold. A lovely smell came from it.

"Ngap! Ngap!" said the tree. "Come here and eat my fruit!"

Ngap ran up to the tree and took the biggest fruit.

"I need this," she said. "I've been in my sister's house. She's married to a horrible ogre. He has dirty brown teeth and his mouth smells bad. They didn't give me any nice food. They weren't kind to me at all."

She put the fruit into her mouth. The juice ran down her chin. She picked some more. Then she kicked the tree with her foot.

"Get out of my way," she said, and she went on down the path.

The tree changed into the ogre. He was very angry. 

"You'll pay for this!" he said.

Ngap walked on and on. It was late now and the sun was going down. She was happy.

"Soon I'll be at home," she thought. "Everyone will be very pleased to see me."

Suddenly, she stopped. On the path in front of her was a beautiful plate. And on the plate was a dinner of fish and butter. A lovely spoon was beside it.

"Ngap! Ngap!" the plate called out. "Aren't you hungry? Come here and eat your dinner."

Ngap didn't answer. She ran to the plate, and began to eat. The food ran down her chin.

She finished the last bit and stood up. 

"That was nice," she said. "I'm so hungry. I was staying with my sister and her naughty children. Her food is very bad. She can't cook nicely. And her husband eats in a very bad way. I don't like to see him. He puts all the food in his mouth and it runs down his chin."

She kicked the plate with her foot, and went on down the path. The plate changed at once into the ogre. He was very, very angry. His eyes were red and his mouth was open.

"You'll be sorry for this," he said. "I'm going to eat you up."

Then he jumped on Ngap and began to eat her. He ate, and he ate. He ate her arms and her legs and her body. But he didn't eat her head.

Ngap's head rolled down the path. It rolled on and on. At last it came to her father's house. A big crowd of people were there. They were guests at Nyakwiy's wedding. 

Ngap's head stopped at last in front of Nyakwiy. The singing stopped. The dancing stopped. The guests all ran away.

Then Ngap's mouth opened and it began to sing.

"Once I was Ngap and now I'm dead.
Look, look at my poor little head.
Oh sister Nyakwiy, you are a bride,
But I have nothing. I have died.
I'll come and haunt you for evermore,
I'll sing in your roof and cry at your door.
So catch my head and bury it deep.
Then I'll be at peace. Then I'll sleep."

So Nyakwiy caught Ngap's head and buried it. And Ngap never came back to haunt her.

And Nyakwiy and her husband lived happily together. They had many children and everyone loved them.


Exercises for Ngap and Nyakwiy Part 3 


Listen to the story: