Selection of a Mate for a Feisty Daughter

A folk riddle from the Jamaican countryside, in which the audience must decide the wise and just ending. Extracted from the novel. The Harder They Come, by Michael Thelwell (pp. 50–54).


Mr. Joe, the storyteller begins the story:

You have the wise man and you have the fool.
But the answer to this, they don't teach in school.

One time this African King had a daughter that was very pretty. Every man who saw her wanted her for his wife. I say, the gal was pretty, very pretty. But she was also feisty, so that none of the men she saw satisfied her. So one day her father got so vexed he said:

"So…no man pleases you, huh? We're gonna see. Any man who can catch me a wild bull without a rope or gun or anything but his bare hands is gonna get you for marriage. And I don't care if he's ugly… I don't care if he's a fool. Any man who can tame a wild bull can tame you."

None of the young men in that place even bothered to try. They all said, "Bull is trouble and the gal is worse, so why even put yourself to that botheration?"

But one day two strong-looking, good-looking young Black men walked in and said they would go catch the bull. So, they took to the bush after the bull. Two weeks passed and no word of them. The people decided the bull must have killed them, or else they fell into a sinkhole or some quicksand. But one evening, the younger brother came staggering in. He was all scratched up, his clothes were torn and ragged and the whole of him was battered so that he could hardly walk. He said,

"I come to claim my wife. I know I didn't catch the bull but I ran over a hundred miles. I ran through hush. I swam over a river. I ran up a mountain. I ran up a mountain. I ran down a mountain, but I couldn't catch him. The last I saw of the bull, it and my brother dropped over a cliff. They both must be dead. So, since it's only me left, I claim the gal."

Well, the King and all his people reasoned together and decided that it didn't look like anybody could catch the bull and come back alive. They decided to give the gal to the boy in marriage. So, they planned a bug festival. They killed plenty fowl and goats, gathered yams and bananas and got out plenty rum. They invited people from all around. Musicmen and dancers announced a big feast. When the feast began, the boy and the gal sat next to each other. They both looked well pleased with each other. The King's heart was glad, very glad. Just then, they heard a voice cry out, "Not a man eat, not a man drink. I say not no food be tasted, not no rum drunk. I came to claim my wife."

Every body was frightened and looked up and what do they see but the older brother. And he was a big strapping, muscular black man. His clothes were all torn up and his body looked like it had been chopped up with a machete. And, he was wrapped in a bloody bullskin with the head and tail still on it, favoring a masked dancer with a bull's head.

"Y'all said whosoever catches the bull is supposed to get her and see here…it is me who caught the bull."

The King said, "It is true and I can't break my work. But see, the trouble here is I already told your brother that he could have my daughter. You see, we all thought that you were dead. It was almost a month now before you came back."

"Well, I'm back now, and I want my wife."

With that, he didn't say another word, only cut his eyes and gritted his teeth like he was vexed. So, the King called all his people together so that they could discuss the problem with him. He had given his word to two men and anything he decided would vex one of them. What must he do?

What do you think the resolution should be?

The King's Resolution