Advice in Exchage for a Camel

From a tale collected by the Hakawati project

Directed by Margareta Larson

Once upon a time there was a poor shepherd. He became even poorer after a drought hit the land, leaving very few grazing grounds. One day the shepherd told his wife:
– I have to leave in search of work.
The wife prepared his supplies for the long journey, and off he went on foot. He soon reached a town at the edge of the desert, and there he met an old man with several camels but no one to herd them. He suggested to the old man that he could take care of his camels, but since the old man had no money to give the shepherd in return for his services, they came to a peculiar agreement: for every year of work, the old man would give the shepherd a camel, with a minimum service of three years! And so it was.

After the three years had elapsed, the shepherd decided to return to his town and he informed the camel-owner of his wish and he was given, as promised, three camels in return for his three years of work. The old man’s wife prepared supplies for the shepherd´s travel and he left them, heading west.
The shepherd rode a camel and herded the other two. On the way he met an old sheikh sitting under a tree by the side of the road. He stopped to salute him. The sheikh returned the salutation warmly and asked him:
– How are you?
The shepherd responded by telling him his story of the three camels. The sheikh said:
– Listen, my son, you herd sheep and I sell advice. How about I give you three pieces of advice that will be useful to you forever, in return for your three camels?
The shepherd laughed, thinking it was all a joke, but the sheikh repeated his proposal, and the shepherd answered:
– These camels are my pay for three years of hard work away from my family: How do you expect me to give them up, and in return for what? Mere words?
The sheikh, however, persisted and insisted that he at least try one piece of advice and he wouldn´t regret it. The first advice he gave him was:
– Never sleep between two!
The shepherd was surprised by this simple advice, but he gave in to the condition and gave the sheikh a camel in return. He looked at the remaining two camels and thought to himself: what if the second advice is even more important and worth another camel?
When the sheikh asked him if he was ready to hear the second advice, he agreed to this immediately! And the second piece of advice was:
– Never sleep in a valley!
He quietly gave up the second camel, and then he felt like a gambler who thinks he is so close to the best stroke of luck. So, he demanded the third piece of advice. Perhaps it would lead him to a treasure or pave his way to unprecedented wealth. And the third piece of advice was:
– Tis better to sleep furious than regretful!

Seething with rage, he handed over the third camel. He had accepted the terms and so had to give it up. He continued walking on foot until the sun set. He stopped at the side of the road and opened his bag of supplies to eat. As he started eating, two men with a camel past by and saluted him. He answered their greeting and invited them to join his meal. They stopped and shared his food and talked until the wee hours of the night, after which they made their beds at the side of the road and bade each other good night.

Before he fell asleep the shepherd remembered the first advice: ”Never sleep between two.” So, he waited until they fell asleep and took his cloak and bag of supplies and went to higher ground. He tried to sleep but no sleep would come. As he was counting the stars he heard a commotion coming from the two men´s direction. When the noise stopped he went to see what happened and found them drenched in blood: they each drew a dagger and stabbed his companion thinking he was the poor shepherd!

And so, the shepherd survived the treachery of these two bandits and took their camel which was laden with stolen goods. He continued on his path, thankful to God, and happy to have used the advice he had underestimated earlier. He crossed an uninhabited desert and reached a valley between hills, with trees and a water spring. He passed by a caravan resting in the valley, saluting them. They invited him to their meal. He dismounted from his camel and shared their food and drink.

When darkness fell they decided to spend the night in the valley next to the water spring where it would be cooler. Each of them spread their cloaks on the ground to sleep on, putting a rock under their heads. Before the shepherd fell asleep he recalled the events of the past few days, especially the second piece of advice: ”Never sleep in the valley!” He jumped up, as if bitten by a snake, and took his camel to a nearby hill to sleep there.

In the morning he woke up to a terrible sight: a flood had drowned everyone who was sleeping in the valley, but the camels had fled to the nearby hills. The shepherd had found another gift from heaven: 100 camels carrying all kinds of goods and gold and precious artefacts. He herded them back towards home as if he was in a dream! He was so delighted that he wanted to rush to see his family, so he walked day and night until he reached the outskirts of his village and immediately went to his house.

It was night, with no one in the streets except barking dogs. Not wanting to wake anyone, he climbed up to the roof of his house to sleep there, as it was summer and the weather was beautiful outside. He found his wife sleeping next to a young man, and he went crazy. His blood boiled in his veins and he put his hand to his dagger to bury it in the heart of the woman who had betrayed him! But before he did that, he remembered the third advice: ”Tis better to sleep furious than regretful!” He released the dagger and fell on the mat, exhausted from the long trip and his domestic worries.

When the first rays o flight woke his wife and she found her husband sleeping next to her, she started ululating and singing his welcome, calling the neighbours to see that her husband has returned. The man awoke and sat up to see his wife presenting the stranger to him as his first born son who had grown and become a man! His anger dissipated, and he felt life flowing back into his veins after long years of poverty and hard work. H e thanked Fate that had put the old man in his path, the man who had given him the advice that not only saved his life but made him rich!

And since then, every time his children refused to heed his words he would remind them that an advice used to be worth a whole camel!


Read the fairy tale in Swedish