When they arrived, they locked the door and put out
all their pots and pans. The husband then said to the bird,
“Please make milk now.”
At once the bird filled all the pots and pans with mafi.
Mafi—Zulu Amasi— is made from milk that has been
allowed to go sour overnight. Perhaps junket, or
curds and whey would be the nearest American equivalents
but South Africans sometimes translate it as yogurt.
In any case, it is the staple food in South Africa, usually
eaten with millet porridge.
Mamasilo’s husband constructed a cage for the milkbird,
placed the bird within, and put it on the top shelf of the
hut with the family’s precious possessions. From then on,
every night, when the children were asleep, Mamasilo would
put out the pots and pans, and her husband would command
the bird, with threats and menaces, to produce mafi. One
night, however—it had to happen once—the eldest child had
difficulty sleeping and heard the exchange between his parents
and the milkbird.
At the same time, quite naturally. Mamasilo’s neighbors
had begun to notice that her children were looking fatter
and healthier, with skins shiny like milk chocolate. One
day, while Mamasilo and her husband were away, some of the
neighbors’ children crowded into the hut wanting to see
all of the food. Foolishly, Mamasilo’s children let them
eat from the pots full of mafi, and very soon there was
none left. This frightened Mamasilo’s children, who did
not want to be punished by their parents. So they pushed
the other children out of the hut, shut the door, and begged
the milk-bird to refill the pots with mafi.
the children it was time to return home, Tlatlasolle
took them under his wings and whoosh! flew into the
But it was not so willing. “Only if you let me out
of this cage for a while,” the bird responded.
So they opened the cage and the bird flew out and fluttered
around the hut. Then it made mafi. As soon as the children
thought the bird had flown enough and there was enough mafi,
they caught the milk bird and put it back in the cage. No
sooner had they done this when Mamasilo and her husband
returned. Mamasilo asked what all the commotion was about
but the children just blamed it on the neighbor’s boys.