The Orphan Boy

This Maasai tale from Africa is about a magical secret that will be ruined if found out—and the consuming curiosity to discover it anyway. An old man knows the stars so well that he notices when one is missing. That same night, a young boy appears before him, saying he’s an orphan named Kileken who has traveled very far, searching for a home. The childless old man is delighted to adopt him.

The boy immediately proves to be an ideal son, doing all the chores with astonishing speed and ease. He brews the tea just right, sweeps the compound clean, tends the cattle and fetches water from the distant spring. Soon the old man realizes the boy has supernatural powers. Even during a terrible drought, when all the other cattle are dying for lack of grass and water, the old man’s cattle thrive under Kileken’s care. The old man is consumed with curiosity to know how the boy does it, but Kileken warns him, “The day you discover my secret will be the end of your good fortune.”
 
Finally, the old man’s curiosity overcomes his better nature. He spies on Kileken, breaking the spell, and loses Kileken forever. The boy derived his magical power directly from the sun because he was the star that had disappeared from the sky. The old man’s cattle grow thin as Kileken (the Maasai name for the planet Venus) appears, surrounded by rain clouds, in the final illustration. There’s the sense that the boy is sending hope and solace even now that he’s returned to the sky, despite the old man’s betrayal of his trust.
 
The illustrations have deep colors, fascinating rich texture and detailed Maasai clothing.

Leave a Reply