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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Folktales



The Bear and the Dervish

Once upon a time there was a shepherd who tended a flock of sheep. He was bothered day after day by a bear who would come along and steal five or six of his sheep. One day, a dervish came by. The shepherd greeted him and told him his tale of woe about the thievish bear. "I'll slay him for you," said the dervish. "I just need three pieces of goat's cheese." The shepherd gave him the cheese and the dervish went off to meet the bear who was on his way as usual to steal some sheep. The dervish pretended that he wanted to make a bet with the bear to find out who was the stronger of the two. The bear said that he was the stronger but the dervish replied, "I can crush you like this rock," put his hand into the basket and took out the first piece of cheese, then the second, and then the third, crushing them all until they were nothing but crumbs. The bear was amazed, picked up a white stone but couldn't crush it as the dervish had done, so the two decided to make friends.

After a while, the bear became hungry and asked the dervish to bring him an ox while he cut wood in the forest. The dervish replied, "You go ahead and get your ox, that's nothing for me. I want a lion." With this trick, the dervish succeeded in not having to get the ox, and went into the forest to cut wood. The bear sauntered off to a herd, seized an ox and heaved it over his shoulder. The dervish went into the forest, took a rope and tied all the trees up into one as if he wanted to pull them all out together. The bear waited for the dervish, but the dervish didn't come, so he went into the forest himself and came upon the dervish who was pretending to pull out all the trees at once. The bear was astounded and thought to himself that the dervish must be a thousand times stronger than he was. He said to the dervish, "What are you going to do with all the trees you're pulling out?" A couple of branches would be enough." The dervish replied: "I'm not the sort of person to take just two pieces of wood. You take them if you want them." The bear immediately broke off two branches and returned to his ox.

Now the ox had to be roasted. The dervish said to the bear, "I'll go and fetch some water. You turn the meat on the spit, but don't weary yourself." The dervish only said this because he couldn't turn such a huge ox on the spit himself. He took a goatskin bag and went off to the spring at the foot of a cliff. There he filled the goatskin bag and wanted to heave it over his shoulder, but it was so heavy that he couldn't even lift it. The bear waited for an hour, two hours, and finally set off for the spring. When he arrived, he found the dervish and asked, "What are you waiting for?" The dervish replied, "I keep wondering whether I shouldn't bring the whole spring with the cliff, because it fills up so slowly. I would be ashamed of myself to bring back just the goatskin bag, so you carry it." The bear heaved the goatskin bag over his shoulder and they set off. On their way back, the bear said to the dervish, "Let's have a wrestle!" The dervish replied, "What? You can't match your strength with mine." But they wrestled nevertheless. The bear hugged the dervish with such strength that the dervish's eyes bulged out of his head. When the bear saw the dervish's blood red face and his bulging eyes he asked what was wrong. The dervish replied, "Oh nothing, I just don't know what to do. If I throw you to one side, it would cut you to pieces. If I throw you to the other side, it would be even worse." The bear then said to him, "Take pity on me, let me go!" And the dervish let him go.

They carried on to the place where the ox was roasting and sat down to eat. After a couple of bites, the dervish was full and the bear asked why he ate so little. The dervish replied that he had just eaten a huge mutton on leaving to get the water. Once they had finished their meal, the bear said, "Let's go to my place because we are friends now." When they arrived, the bear ordered his mother and sister to sharpen the axe because he wanted to kill his new friend to get away from him, since the dervish was stronger than he was.

But the bear's sister overheard everything and warned the dervish. After they had finished dinner, they all went off to sleep. But the dervish just pretended to go with them to the place where they slept and instead hid under a donkey's saddle. At midnight the bear got up, took the axe and struck the dervish three or four times with it. Thinking he had killed the dervish, he returned to bed and went back to sleep. At the crack of dawn, the bear went out to gather wood. When he returned he saw the dervish coming out of the house. His eyes opened wide in astonishment and he asked the dervish how he had slept. The dervish declared, "I slept very well, except for a couple of fleas that bit me at midnight."

The bear was astounded once again that the dervish had felt the axe as if it were a fleabite. It was all too much for him, so he told the dervish what he had done in the middle of the night. He then begged the dervish to make him just as strong as he was. "That's easy," said the dervish, "All I need is some milk." The bear went off to the herd of the shepherd who was sorry indeed to see him come back alive. The bear returned with a goatskin bag full of milk, and on the orders of the dervish he lit a fire and placed a cauldron of milk on it. When the milk began to boil, the dervish said, "Stick your head into it and you'll be strong." The bear stuck his head into the cauldron a first time and burned himself; he stuck his head in a second time and then a third time, whereupon the dervish gave him a kick and he fell into the cauldron and boiled to death.

Thereafter, the dervish return to the shepherd and told him that he had slain the bear. The shepherd didn't know how to repay the dervish and asked him what he would like. But the dervish wanted only a little kid goat and taking it with him, he departed. He spent the night in a valley of wolves. While the dervish was sleeping, a wolf seized the kid goat and gobbled it up. Furious, the dervish took off his trousers and hung them in front of the wolf's den. When the wolf then tried to leave his den, he tangled himself in the trousers. The dervish wrapped the wolf up in the trousers and set off with his bundle.

He arrived in a village on a Sunday. The priest was just coming out of the church when he saw the stranger and asked him where he had come from and what he wanted. The dervish replied, "I have come here to sell a shepherd. He is very good. He just eats too much. But aside from food, he asks for no wages." The priest asked where he had the shepherd. "Here in my trousers," replied the dervish and gave the trousers to the priest who took them home. The dervish departed leaving the priest his shepherd. The next morning the priest opened his window to see if the new shepherd had already taken the sheep out to pasture. But there was nothing to be seen, because the shepherd, who was of course a wolf, had not left behind a single sheep. The priest went out to the pen where he kept his animals, but there were no more sheep there either. He slung a rifle over his shoulder and set off in search of the dervish.

On his way, the dervish had met up with some thieves who were fighting over how to divide the money they had stolen. When they saw the dervish, they gave him the money to divide. The dervish declared, "I don't like squabbling, so I am going to tie you all to a tree." He took the first thief's money and put it in his pocket, then he took the second thief's money and put it in his pocket, and then he took the money of all the other thieves, put it in his pocket and fled.

A short while later, the priest arrived at the place where the dervish had tied up the thieves. "Has a dervish passed by on this road?" he inquired. "He sold me a shepherd who ate all my sheep." The thieves replied, "He was just here and tied us all up." So they set off with the priest in search of the dervish, but he was nowhere to be found. Finally they went to his house and surprised him there. When the dervish saw them coming, he called all the people in the village. As soon as the villagers heard that the dervish was being attacked, they rushed forth, seized the thieves and the priest and thrashed them to bits.


[Source: Manuel de la langue chkipe ou albanaise par Auguste Dozon, consul de France. Grammaire, vocabulaire, chrestomathie (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1879), reprinted in Folklor shqiptar 1, Proza popullore (Tirana 1963). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]