The small seed | Nal'ibali

Written stories

The small seed


Retold by Kirstin Hartmann


Heidel Dedekind

Listen to the story here

There once was an old chief. He was both wise and kind. But there was one thing that made him sad – he didn’t have a son who could become chief after him.  


The chief needed someone to become the next ruler to look after his lands and all his people. One morning, after the rains, he called all the older boys together and spoke to them.  


“Today is a special day,” he said, “the time has come for me to choose a new chief and I will choose one of you.” There was great excitement and everyone began talking at once. The chief raised his hands, “... but you must listen to me carefully.” Everyone fell silent and watched the chief as he explained what he wanted them to do.  


“I will give each of you one seed. You must plant the seed, water it and care for it every day.” Then he said, “On this same day next year, you must bring back the plants that you have grown and I will choose the next chief.” Then he gave each boy one seed.  


Njabulo and his friends were excited. They all started talking at once.  


“My sister grows mielies, so she will help me,” said one boy.  


“My mother knows how to grow morogo, so she will tell me what to do,” said another.  


“My uncle knows where to get good soil,” said someone else, “and he also knows how to make sure that the birds don’t eat the seed.”  


Njabulo just listened to them.  


As he walked home, Njabulo held his seed in his hand. It was so small – no bigger than a small beetle.  


“I wonder what you will grow into?” he said to the tiny little seed.  


“I wonder what you will grow into?” he said to the tiny little seed.  


“Mmm,” said his mother. “I cannot help you. It is something the chief asked you to do. But,” she added, “I can give you this.” And she gave him a small clay pot to plant the seed in.  


Njabulo went down to the river and dug up some soil to put into the pot. Then with his nger he carefully made a small hole and dropped the seed into it. Gently he covered the seed with soil and then he dribbled some fresh water from the river over it.  

After that, he found a nice spot to put the pot – a place that was neither too hot nor too cool. “There you go, little seed. I hope you are happy,” he said and smiled.  

After a few days Njabulo looked to see if the seed had started to grow. But nothing had happened. The soil still looked as at as the day he had planted the seed. So Njabulo made sure that the soil was damp enough. Then he whispered, “It’s okay, little seed, you grow when you are ready.”  


But the next time he looked, Njabulo could not see any green sprouts or leaves. And the time after that, still nothing. Days and weeks went by and Njabulo was sad to see that his seed was not growing. It made him even sadder that by this time all of his friends were talking about their plants!  


“Mine is as big as my foot!” said one boy.  


“And mine is as green as the hills in summer!” said another. Njabulo’s heart felt heavy, but he did not say anything.  


Months went by and everyone had to get bigger pots for their plants. Njabulo still had the same small pot that his mother had given him because his seed had still not grown.  


Finally, the day came for everyone to show their plants to the chief. At rst Njabulo was scared. He did not want to go, but his mother said that he must show the chief his pot. Njabulo knew she was right.  


When Njabulo arrived at the chief’s hut he was amazed to see all the different plants that his friends had grown. There were so many different shapes, sizes and colours. And they were all very beautiful.  


Njabulo held his clay pot tightly and whispered to it, “I am sorry little seed, I did not know how to make you happy.” And he placed the pot on the ground with the others. Then he stood right at the back where he thought the chief would not see him.  


When the chief appeared, everyone went quiet. They all stood proudly hoping that their plant would be chosen as the best.  


“This is a very exciting day,” the chief said loudly. “I see so many beautiful plants!” He slowly walked up and down, taking a closer look at all of the plants. Everyone watched him closely. Suddenly he stopped and picked up a pot. It was Njabulo’s. Njabulo felt sick with worry.  


“Whose pot is this?” the chief asked. Everyone was quiet. Njabulo was so scared, he thought the chief would get cross and chase him away. “Whose pot is this?” the chief asked again.  


Njabulo took a deep breath and said loudly, “The pot that you hold, is mine, my chief.”  



Everyone turned around to look at Njabulo and some boys started to laugh, but they stopped when the chief asked Njabulo to come to the front. As he was standing next to the chief, Njabulo felt ashamed.  


“What is your name?” asked the chief.  


“My name is Njabulo,” he said looking up at the chief.  


The chief took a deep breath and then said loudly, “I have chosen a new chief and his name is Njabulo!”  


Njabulo was so surprised. How could this be? Even though he had been very careful, he had not been able to grow the seed that the chief had given him.  

Then the chief said, “One year ago today, I gave each of you a seed to grow. I told you to plant it, to look after it and to bring it back here to me today. You have all done what I asked of you,” he said. “But, I gave each of you a seed that I had boiled in water, which means that those seeds could not grow. When you found that your seed did not grow, each of you planted another seed in its place. All of you have brought me those plants. All of you, except Njabulo. He has shown me that not only has he done what I asked of you, but he has also had the courage to be honest. This is who I choose to be chief, and he will be a very good chief!”  

The chief smiled at Njabulo, knowing that he had made a good choice.