The Rain Bull

There was drought upon the land. The clouds that carried the rain sailed high above, not seeming to notice the suffering of Africa. No fruits, no fodder and hardly anything to drink. But there came a day when the rain sniffed at the scents of the Earth and sensed the enticing fragrance of a young woman. He looked down on her. She had skin as shining as wet rock and hair as dark as dew-moist berries and the rain desired her.

So the rain made himself into the shape of a bull, though he had the thoughts of a man. On the shaft of lightning, the great Rain Bull came down from the sky and he trod the Earth like rippling thunder. He stood by the low hut where the young woman slept and the place became misty with his breath like a cloud heavy with moisture.

The sweet smell of rain filled the hut and the young woman woke. She watched as the Rain Bull laid his ears back, lowered his lashing tail and bent his forelegs to kneel before her.

“Who is this?” she said to herself. “Is he man or Bull?” So, as there seemed to be magic at work, she took up some twigs of buchu, for its aromatic leaves have a magic of their own. Buchu soothes and calm. Perhaps it would have the same calming effect on the Rain Bull.

She gathered up her kaross, made of soft skin and covered herself with it, tying it round her body. As the Rain Bull came to her, she could smell only the strong bull sweat of desire. She pressed buchu on the hard forehead between the bull’s curving horn and she tried to push him away.

The Rain Bull stamped his hoof and the Earth rumbled with thunder. He wanted to take the young woman away and it was clear that she did not wish to accompany him. His eyes were dark and clouded. But the strange charm of the buchu was starting to work. He stamped his hoof again, unsure of what to do next.

The young woman was wise. She did not wish to make him angry. Somewhere, behind the bull’s shape and the man’s mind, she caught the sweet smell of rain – and she knew that any hope of rain must be welcomed with love. So as he stood there, shaking his great head in frustration, she smiled and climbed up on his back.

The Rain Bull trotted away and the sound of his hooves was like rain pattering on dry ground. Across the veld he went with her, trotting, trotting, trotting towards the far distant mountains where the rain comes from. When they left behind the dryness, the stones and the parched sand, she saw a single kiepersol tree spreading its shade leaves.

“My bones ache from riding on your back”, she called to the Rain Bull. “Wherever it is you are taking me, I shall never be able to please you when I get there. Let me take some rest. There is a cool shade under that tree. Let us stop there.”

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So the Rain Bull walked beneath the kiepersol tree and stopped. The young woman slipped down from his back. In the concealing shade, she reached under her kaross and took out a sprig of buchu. 

The Rain Bull arched his back with pleasure as the young woman started to stroke his neck, though in truth she was rubbing it with buchu. The fragrant scent crept into his nostrils and drowsed his senses. So it was the Rain Bull, not the young woman, who settled down to sleep.

At first the woman was frightened at what she had done. She climbed into the tree to find safety. But as the Rain Bull slept on, she felt her courage return and she climbed softly down again and ran away back to her own village.

The Rain Bull awoke in the cool of the evening. There was no smell of Bull or Man, only the fresh green scent of the buchu leaves. Her forgot that he had been courting the young woman and he remembered only rh rain. So it was rain that fell lightly on the thirsty Earth and rain that brought new life to the grazing plants and life-giving rain that filled up the empty water holes.

The people were glad for there was water to drink. All admired the young woman. She had not angered the Rain Bull when he was a man, but she had not given herself to him either. They looked everywhere for her in order to sing her praises but she was not with them. She was inside her hut rubbing her body with buchu to take away the scent of the bull, until all that remained was the sweet smell of the rain.

Stories and pictures reproduced from the book ‘South African Myths and Legends’ told by Jay Heale