ONCE upon a time there was a King of Uganda who had a little daughter called Namirembe, which means “Peace” (Salaam). She was a sweet child, and everybody loved her, and as she grew up she was kind to all her father’s subjects, and loved all the animals and birds and flowers in her father’s kingdom.
Every year the King went to the Sesse Islands to visit Mukasa the old wizard, and sometimes he took Peace with him.
The chief Gabunga prepared the two big war canoes, which were called “Waswa” and “Mbaliga,” and a fleet of smaller ones and hundreds of paddlers to take the King over the blue waters to the Sesse Islands.
Peace loved the big war canoes with their high red prows ornamented with antelope horns and parrots’ feathers and shells and beads and strips of leather. At the stern of one of the canoes the chief had a grass shelter built, and Peace and her nurse sat under this when the sun was hot.
The islanders have many songs, and they sing all the time they are paddling; sometimes one man sings and they all join in the chorus, and they keep time with their paddles.
They sang this “Song of Princess Salaam”:
What shall our song to the Princess be?–
One day Salaam asked her father: “Why do we always go to the same islands when there are so many in the Great Lake?” And the King told her:
But Salaam said: “I should like to go and see people who are different from us, and see their customs, and hear their strange language.” And her father laughed and said:
“Little Princess, do not travel in far countries; there is much for you to learn in your own beautiful land.”
Still Salaam always thought of the other islands and the strange countries that lie beyond the blue waters of the Great Lake.
One morning very early Salaam was picking up loquats under a tree in her father’s garden when a big crane came by, leaning forward as he walked and lifting his feet very high in the queer way all cranes have. He greeted the little Princess and told her he was going that day to Kavirondo to see his brother who had fever
“Where is Kavirondo?” asked Salaam.
“Far away over the Great Lake,” answered the crane. “It is a wild country, and the people have strange customs, and a language which is hard to understand.”
“Oh, if only I could go with you!” said Salaam.
“Why not?” said the crane. “If you are not afraid you can sit on my back and hold on to my feathers. My wings will keep you from falling off, and if you get giddy you can shut your eyes; but you must be brave and hold on very tightly, for it is a long journey, and we cannot stop in the middle. If you let go you will fall into the Great Lake and be drowned. We shall return this evening.”
Salaam climbed on the crane’s back, and he stretched his long neck, and put out his long legs behind him, and they started on their journey. Right over the blue waters they flew, passing the little islands, some of them so small that no one lives on them, only the diver birds who eat fish make their nests on the rocks.
Once they passed a flock of grey parrots with red tails, and called to them:
“Where are you going?”
“We are going to Kyagwe,” they called back, “for we hear that the loquats and wild plums are ripe.”
Salaam thought it all very beautiful, and she never forgot to hold very tightly to the crane’s feathers and to sit quietly right in the middle of his broad back.
At last they saw the shores of Kavirondo in the distance, and when they were well over the land the crane flew downwards.
They stopped near a great rock, and Salaam got down and looked round her, wondering at all she saw. Great dark hills jutting out into the Lake, the plain stretching for miles and miles round her, and beyond it the rugged Nandi escarpment, all so strange and different from the green slopes of Uganda.
The crane showed her a little crevice in the rock where it was cool and shady, and where she could sit comfortably and look down on the path below and see the people passing, and perhaps hear their language. Then the crane flew away to see his sick brother. Salaam saw some Kavirondo warriors coming down the path; they wore helmets made of cowrie shells and big bunches of ostrich feathers, and they wore no clothes but beads, and had painted themselves white and yellow and red; and then some women passed, and Salaam was rather shocked because they wore no clothes–only beads and shells and tags of leathers. She looked away over the plain and saw their villages, several houses together with a big fence round, and fields of grain outside, no green banana gardens or fruit-trees or grass.
Then the crane came back and said it was time to return or they would not reach Uganda before dark; so they started on again over the blue water towards the setting Sun, and when Salaam saw the islands and the green shores in the distance she laughed for joy and said:
“My beautiful country of Uganda, I shall never want to leave it again.”
The big islands looked pink below them, and the crane explained that the millet harvest was ripe and the fields looked rose-coloured in the setting Sun.
Then they reached the King’s palace, and Salaam ran to her father and told him where she had been and all she had seen that wonderful day, and the King called the crane and thanked him for taking care of the little Princess and said:
“I will give you a present of a golden crest with a little black bit at the foot of it, and you shall always wear it in memory of this day.”
The crane was very pleased, and lifted his feet higher than ever when he walked, and all the little cranes who were born after that had golden crests on their heads, and from that time they have been called “Golden-Crested Cranes.”
And if you go to Kavirondo you will still see the path by which Salaam sat, only now it is a broad road and goes from Kisumu to Mumias, and perhaps you can find the rock on which she sat in the comfortable little crevice the crane found for her.