The Story of the Rich Sultan

I read this folktale a while back in Waris Dirie’s autobiography and taught it was worth it to retell the tale about a Somali Sultan. It goes like this..

Once upon a time, there was a rich and famous sultan. He had embroidered shirts and soft carpets. He owned a palace in Mogadishu on the shores of the Indian ocean to catch the cool breeze. It was filled with precious jewels and silks from Arabia. The most expensive incense burned in the rooms whether he was there or not. Despite all his great wealth, he was not happy and he could not understand what was wrong. He had many wives who bickered constantly,
sons who fought with each other and daughters who sulked. He could buy anything he could think of, but he never felt happiness or contentment. One morning after a sleepless night, he called to his servants and told them, ‘Go and search until you find a truly happy man. When you find such a person bring him to me, I want to talk to him.’ The servants scoured the land and one day he noticed a poor man singing as he pulled water from a tiny well for his one and only camel. He hummed as he milked the beast and shared the tiny bit of milk
with the sultan’s servants. Even with an empty stomach he laughed and joked.
‘Are you a happy man?’ the servants asked. ‘What is there to be unhappy about?’ the man answered. ‘Please sir, come with me to the sultan’s palace,’ the oldest servant said. ‘My master would like to meet you.’ The poor man agreed and journeyed from the Haud into the great city of Mogadishu. He had never seen anything like it. There were so many people, so many colors, so many things to smell and taste. The sultan entertained him richly with wonderful fruits and sweetmeats, gave a lavish banquet and presented him with an embroidered goa. ‘What is the secret of happiness?’ the sultan asked perched on soft pillows. The poor man didn’t know what to say, his tongue tangled with his teeth and he couldn’t talk. He didn’t know what made him happy when he lived in the desert—it was just the way he felt. Disappointed the sultan sent him away and the man returned to his camel and his milk bowl carved out of wood. He never forgot all the wonders of the sultan’s palace and he was never happy again.

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