The Game Board
An African (Ethiopian) Tale
Once a man in the town of Nebri carved a beautiful gebeta board
for his son. He made it from the wood of an olive tree. When he
was finished he showed his son how to play games upon it. The
boy was very glad to have such a beautiful thing, and in the morning
when he went out with the cattle to the valley where they grazed
he took his gebeta board along. Everywhere he went he carried
his board under his arm.
While he followed the cattle, he came upon a group of wandering
Somalis with their camels, gathered around a small fire in a dry
"Where in this country of yours can a man get wood?"
the Somalis asked.
"Why, here is wood," the boy said. And he gave them
the fine gebeta board, which they put into the fire. As it went
up in flames, the boy began to cry:
"Oh, now where is my fine gebeta board that my father has
carved for me?"
"Do not make such turmoil," the Somalis said, and they
gave him a fine new knife in place of the game board.
The boy took the knife and went away with his cattle. As he wandered
he came to a place where a man was digging a well in the sand
of the riverbed, so that his goats could drink.
"The ground is hard," the man said. "Lend me your
knife to dig with."
The boy gave the man the knife, but the man dug so vigorously
with it that it broke.
"Ah, what has become of my knife?" the boy wailed.
"Quiet yourself," the man said. "Take this spear
in its place." And he gave the boy a beautiful spear trimmed
with silver and copper.
The boy went away with his cattle and his spear. He met a party
of hunters. When they saw him one ofthem said: "Lend me your
spear, so that we may kill the lion we are trailing."
The boy gave him the spear, and the hunters went out and killed
the lion. But in the hunt the shaft of the spear was splintered.
"See what you've done with my spear!" the boy cried.
"Don't carry on so," the hunter said. "Here is
a horse for you in place of your spear."
The hunter gave him a horse with fine leather trappings, and
he started back toward the village. On the way he came to where
a group of workmen were repairing the highway. As they worked
they caused a landslide, and the earth and rocks came down the
mountain with a great roar. The horse became frightened and ran
"Where is my horse?" the boy cried. "You have
made him run away!"
"Don't grieve," the workman said. "Here is an
ax." And he gave the boy a common iron ax. The boy took the
ax and continued toward the village. He came to a woodcutter who
said: "Lend me your large ax for this tree. My ax is too
He loaned the woodcutter the ax, and the woodcutter chopped with
it and broke it.
The boy cried, and the woodcutter said: "Never mind, here
is a limb of a tree."
The boy took the limb upon his back and when he came near the
village a woman said: "Where did you find the wood? I need
it for my fire."
The boy gave it to her, and she put it in the fire. As it went
up in flames he said: "Now where is my wood?"
"Here," the woman said, "here is a fine gebeta
He took the gebeta board under his arm and went home with the
cattle. As he entered his house his father smiled and said: "What
is better than a gebeta game board to keep a small boy out of