Painting of Mamad, the man who never lied, walking with a king in Africa.

The Man Who Never Lied (African Folktale)

The Man Who Never Lied is an old African folktale. It isn’t about lying. Not quite. The moral is far more useful than that. I’ll explain it at the end.

This is a retelling in my own words, but I’ve kept the meaning true to the original.

The Folktale

A long time ago, there lived a man named Mamad, known far and wide for his unwavering honesty. Tales of his integrity were whispered by travellers and merchants, spreading through the kingdom, until one day, they finally echoed through the grand halls of the royal palace.

Intrigued by these rumours, the king summoned Mamad to court. “Mamad,” he asked, “is it true you have never told a lie?”

“It is true, Your Majesty.”

“And can you swear a lie shall never mar your words in all your days?”

“With all my heart, I am certain of it,” Mamad affirmed.

The king nodded, intrigued but unconvinced. “Very well,” he said. “But remember, lies are like shadows, harshest when the light is brightest.”

Mamad seemed unperturbed, so the king sent spies to follow him home, waiting for him to tell a lie.

Days flowed into nights, and nights fell into months, and yet still the spies had not returned. The king decided to speed things along. He summoned Mamad once more, this time on the morn of a great hunt. The courtyard was abuzz with excitement, the air filled with the scent of horses and the sound of clattering armour.

With one foot already in the stirrup, the king turned to Mamad and said, “I have been impressed with your honesty, Mamad. Ride to my summer palace and inform the queen of my arrival for lunch. Tell her to prepare a grand feast, for you shall dine with us.”

With a respectful bow, Mamad departed. As soon as he was out of earshot, the king began to chuckle. “The hunt is a ruse!” he proclaimed to his courtiers. “We shall not go! Tonight, Mamad will unknowingly speak untruths to the queen, and tomorrow we shall revel in his flawed humanity!”

Mamad soon arrived at the summer palace. He told the queen, “The king may soon arrive for a grand lunch.”

The queen pressed for clarity. “Be clear, man. Will he or won’t he?”

Mamad simply replied, “The king told me he would come, and when I departed, his right foot was in the stirrup, and his left foot had lifted from the ground. That is all I can say for certain.”

The queen prepared the feast, hoping that the king would keep his word, but he did not, and the food spoiled in the hot summer sun.

The king arrived early the next morning, grinning triumphantly, eager to expose Mamad. He told the queen, “Mamad, the man who never lies, has misled you!”

But upon seeing his wife’s furious face, the king’s smile faltered, replaced by a dawning realization. Mamad had spoken only of what he knew for certain. It was the king who had been caught in a lie. It was he who had to bear the queen’s fury.

The Meaning & the Moral

Most folktales have dark twists and grim endings, and I have to admit I like them that way. Still, every once in a while, it’s nice to get one with a happy ending. Mind you, Mamad’s victory was a pyrrhic one. Those who humiliate cruel kings don’t usually live very long.

The obvious moral of the story is to tell the truth. You’ll earn a reputation for it, and you’ll get to enjoy the many benefits of being trusted. But you probably already knew that.

The deeper moral lesson is that things don’t always go according to plan. It’s better to promise that you’ll try, not that you’ll succeed. It’s often wiser to say probably than certainly. As time goes on, and fate makes folly of your best-laid plans, you’ll break fewer promises and earn a better reputation.

Similar Fables and Folktales

If you liked The Man Who Never Lied, you might like some of these other stories, too:

Or you can browse our entire collection of fables, folktales, myths, and legends.

If you have any thoughts or questions, leave a comment below.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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