Once there was a man who was strong.
When he gathered firewood, he hauled twice as much as anyone else in the village. When he hunted, he carried home two antelopes at once.
This man’s name was Shadusa, and his wife was named Shettu. One day he said to her, “Just look at these muscles. I must be the strongest man in the world. From now on, just call me Master Man.”
But Shettu said, “Quit your foolish boasting. No matter how strong you are, there will always be someone stronger. And watch out, or someday you may meet him.”
The next day, Shettu paid a visit to a neighboring village. On the walk home she grew thirsty, so she stopped by a well. She threw in the bucket—splash—then she pulled on the rope. But though she tugged and she heaved, she could not lift the bucket.
Just then a woman walked up with a baby strapped to her back. Balanced on her head was a calabash, a hollow gourd for carrying water.
“You’ll get no water here today,” said Shettu. “The bucket won’t come up.”
The two women pulled together, but still the bucket would not budge.
“Wait a moment,” said the woman. She untied her baby and set him on the ground. “Pull up the bucket for Mama.”
The baby quickly pulled up the bucket and filled his mother’s calabash. Then he threw in the bucket and pulled it up once more for Shettu.
Shettu gasped. “I don’t believe it!”
“Oh, it’s not so strange,” said the woman. “After all, my husband is Master Man.”
When Shettu got home, she told Shadusa what had happened.
“Master Man?” yelled Shadusa. “He can’t call himself that! I’m Master Man. I’ll have to teach that fellow a lesson.”
“Oh, husband, don’t!” pleaded Shettu. “If the baby is so strong, think what the father must be like. You’ll get yourself killed.”
But Shadusa said, “We’ll see about that!”
The next morning, Shadusa set out early and walked till he came to the well. He threw in the bucket—splash—then he pulled on the rope. But though he tugged and he heaved, he could not lift the bucket.
Just then the woman with the baby walked up.
“Wait a minute,” said Shadusa. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m getting water, of course,” answered the woman.
“Well, you can’t,” said Shadusa. “The bucket won’t come up.”
The woman set down the baby, who quickly pulled up the bucket and filled his mother’s calabash.
“Wah!” yelled Shadusa. “How did he do that?”
“It’s easy,” said the woman, “when your father is Master Man.”
Shadusa gulped and thought about going home. But instead he thrust out his chest and said, “I want to meet this fellow, so I can show him who’s the real Master Man.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” said the woman. “He devours men like you! But suit yourself.”
So Shadusa followed the woman back to her compound. Inside the fenced yard was a gigantic fireplace, and beside it was a pile of huge bones.
“What’s all this?” asked Shadusa.
“Well, you see,” said the woman, “our hut is so small that my husband must come out here to eat his elephants.”
Just then they heard a great ROAR, so loud that Shadusa had to cover his ears. Then the ground began to shake, until Shadusa could hardly stand.
“What’s that?” he shouted.
“That’s Master Man.”
“Oh, no!” wailed Shadusa. “You weren’t fooling. I’ve got to get out of here!”
“It’s too late now,” said the woman. “But let me hide you.”
By the fence were some large clay pots, each as tall as a man, for storing grain. She helped him climb into one, then set the lid in place.
Shadusa raised the lid a crack to peek out. And there he was, coming into the compound with a dead elephant across his shoulders. It was Master Man!
“Did you have a good day, dear?” asked the woman.
“Yes!” bellowed Master Man. “But I forgot my bow and arrows. I had to kill this elephant with my bare hands.”
As Shadusa watched in terror, Master Man built a huge fire in the fireplace, roasted the elephant, and devoured every bit of it but the bones.
Suddenly he stopped and sniffed. “Wife! I smell a man!”
“Oh, there’s no man here now,” said the woman. “One passed by while you were gone. That must be what you smell.”
“Too bad,” thundered Master Man. “He would have been tasty.” Then he rolled over on the ground, and before long the leaves were trembling from his snores.
The woman hurried over to the pot and slid off the lid. “Quick!” she whispered. “Get away while you can.”
Shadusa leaped out and bolted down the path. But he hadn’t gone too far when he heard a distant ROAR and felt the ground tremble beneath him. Master Man was coming!
Shadusa ran till he came upon five farmers hoeing a field.
“What’s your hurry?” called one.
“Master Man is after me!”
“Take it easy,” said the farmer. “We won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Just then they heard a terrible ROAR. The farmers all dropped their hoes and covered their ears.
“What was that?” asked the farmer.
“That was Master Man!”
“Well, then,” said the farmer, “you’d better keep running!” And the five farmers fled across the field.
Shadusa ran on till he met ten porters carrying bundles.
“What’s your hurry?” called one.
“Master Man is after me!”
“Relax,” said the porter. “No one can fight us all.”
Just then the ground quaked, and they all bounced into the air. The porters fell in a heap, all mixed up with their bundles.
“What was that?” asked the porter.
“That was Master Man!”
“Then run for your life!” And the ten porters bolted from the path.
Shadusa ran on till he rounded a bend—then he stopped short. There beside the path sat a stranger, and there beside the stranger lay a huge pile of elephant bones.
“What’s your hurry?” growled the stranger.
“Master Man is after me,” moaned Shadusa.
“You better not say so—’cause I’m Master Man!”
From behind Shadusa came another ROAR, and once again he bounced into the air. The stranger caught him in one hand as Master Man ran up.
“Let me have him!” bellowed Master Man.
“Come and get him!” growled the stranger.
Master Man lunged, but the stranger tossed Shadusa into a tree. Then the two strong men wrapped themselves around each other and wrestled across the ground.
The noise of the battle nearly deafened Shadusa. The dust choked him. The trembling of the tree nearly shook him down.
As Shadusa watched, the two men struggled to their feet, still clutching each another. Then each gave a mighty leap, and together they rose into the air. Higher and higher they went, till they passed through a cloud and out of sight.
Shadusa waited and waited, but the men never came back down. At last he climbed carefully from the tree, then ran and ran and never stopped till he got home safe and sound. And he never called himself Master Man again.
As for those other two, they’re still in the clouds, where they battle on to this day. Of course, they rest whenever they’re both worn out. But sooner or later they start up again, and what a noise they make!
Some people call that noise thunder. But now you know what it really is—two fools fighting forever to see which one is Master Man.
About the Story
“Master Man” is a tale of the Hausa, the largest ethnic group of northern Nigeria. The Hausa live mainly on the savannah (grassland with scattered trees) of Nigeria’s northwest quarter.
Though most Hausa live in rural villages—as portrayed in this story—the larger Hausa towns have possessed a sophisticated urban culture since long before European colonization. As traders, the Hausa have for centuries maintained economic and cultural contacts throughout West Africa. Their adoption of Islam led to early development of literacy and written literature.
Tall tales like this about fighting he-men are popular among the Hausa. Many such stories feature the stock character Mijin-Maza, or Namiji-Mijin-Maza. “Master Man” is my own rendering of this name, which has been translated variously as “A-Man-Among-Men,” “Manly-Man,” and “Superman.”
The main source for my retelling is No. 12, “A story about a giant, and the cause of thunder,” in Hausa Folk-Lore, Customs, Proverbs, Etc., by R. Sutherland Rattray, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913, Volume 1. I drew also on several other Hausa variants of the tale, collectively titled “The Story of Manly-Man” and found in Volume 2 of Hausa Tales and Traditions, by Frank Edgar, edited and translated by Neil Skinner, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1977 (a translation of Edgar’s Litafi Na Tatsuniyoyi Na Hausa, W. Erskine Mayne, Belfast, 1911–1913). And I received my first taste of the tale from the delightful “Superman,” told by Laura Simms, on her tape Stories: Old as the World, Fresh as the Rain, Weston Woods, 1981.
How to Say the Names
Shadusa ~ sha-DOO-sa
Shettu ~ SHET-oo