Gufi The Fool

Giufa came to Italy through Sicily from travelling Arabs. He is the ultimate fool for whom everything turns out well despite expectations. He is featured in traditional stories across the island, two of which I have brought together here.

Gufi the Fool

Poor Gufi was a fool. There’s no nice way to say it. His mother Lucia despaired of him. But she was a shrewd woman and knew how to take care of things. Easter was coming and she knew that Gufi had to work to make some money.
She sent Gufi to her cousin the inn-keeper. He would put Gufi to harness in the tavern. It would keep him out of her hair. But after just one hour the inn-keeper was close to despair and so he gave Gufi a wine barrel to take to the beach to clean out.
‘And don’t come back until it is as clean as can be!’ said the inn-keeper.
So Gufi, who was a happy and good fool, worked hard on the beach, cleaning and scraping the barrel. He worked all morning until the thought came to him, ‘How will I know when this barrel is clean enough? Who can I ask?’
There was not a soul on the beach, but a little way off was a fishing boat, which had just put out from the harbour. Gufi waved and called until he had their attention. Fearing some calamity ashore the Captain turned back at once. When they were close enough the Captain called out, ‘What is the emergency?’
‘Thank you sir,’ said Gufi, ‘but I need to know whether my wine barrel is clean enough.’
At that the Captain was enraged. He shouted and called poor Gufi any number of names which I fear I am unable to recount as I am not a qualified sailor. The Captain waved his arms and conjured so strenuously that his face became quite red.
‘But what should I have said sir?’ Asked Gufi.
The Captain drew in a deep breath, regained his composure after a minute or two and said ‘Say Lord let them go faster, so we may make up the time you have lost us.’
So Gufi thanked the Captain for his wisdom, picked up the wine barrel and returned to the path from the beach to the town, calling out as he went, ‘Lord let them go faster! Lord let them go faster!’
On his way he came across a hunter taking aim at some plump wild rabbits.
‘Lord let them go faster! Lord let them go faster!’ said Gufi, and the rabbits pricked up their ears and dashed away before a shot could be fired.
‘Why you little so-and-so,’ said the hunter, ‘why would anyone go and do that? I should turn my sights on your backside!’
‘Please sir,’ said Gufi, ‘I really am very sorry. What should I have said?’
‘Say Lord let them be killed,’ said the hunter, ‘then my family might enjoy a good rabbit stew for supper.’
So Gufi continued on the path into town with the wine barrel on his shoulder, thinking of the hunter and his supper, and calling out, ‘Lord let them be killed! Lord let them be killed!’
Almost at once he met two men in a violent argument, their fists raised ready for a fight.
‘Lord let them be killed! Lord let them be killed!’ said Gufi, and the men at once turned on him.
‘What?’ said one man, ‘You would fan the flames?’
‘What is it to you?’ said the other, ‘You would have us fight to the death for your own amusement?’
And so the two set into Gufi, their own disagreement forgotten.
‘Please sirs,’ said Gufi, ‘I really am very sorry. What should I have said?’
‘Say Lord let them be separated,’ said one man, while the other nodded in earnest agreement, now his brother in all things.
So Gufi continued on his way, calling out as he went, ‘Lord let them be separated! Lord let them be separated!’ As it would happen he found himself passing the church, from which a joyful crowd was emerging, with the Bride and Groom at their head as Husband and Wife.
‘Lord let them be separated! Lord let them be separated!’ said Gufi at the top of his voice.
The Husband was furious and flew into a rage, his new Wife was mad as well. ‘What? Are you thinking to put a curse on our first day of wedded bliss?’ she said.
‘I should thrash you and tan your hide!’ said the Husband.
‘Please I am so sorry!’ said Gufi, ‘I don’t know what I should say!’
Seeing he was a fool and that there was no malice in him the couple at once smiled, because there was little that could dampen their true joy. ‘Say Lord make them laugh,’ said the Bride.
So Gufi put down his barrel and climbed on top so to mimic the priest in his pulpit, ‘Lord make them laugh! Lord make them laugh!’ he said as loudly as he could, and so the young couple laughed, because the fool was a very funny sight indeed.
Soon Gufi was back on the path back to the inn with the barrel on his shoulder, calling out ‘Lord make them laugh! Lord make them laugh!’ as he went, and people he met all seemed to find his command irresistible.
But then he came upon a crowd all dressed in black, gathered at the door of a house where all the shutters were drawn tightly closed and a single candle could be seen fluttering in the hallway.
‘Lord make them laugh! Lord make them laugh!’ said Gufi.
‘How dare you?’ called out one of the mourners, ‘How can you say such a thing at such a sad time?’
Gufi set down the barrel, tired of trying to say the right thing. No matter how hard he had tried, all day he had upset people. ‘I don’t know what to say anymore.’ He sat down on the barrel and put his chin in his hands.
‘Just say nothing, nothing at all.’ Agreed the mourners.
Gufi thanked them and the mourners wished him well as he left them and at last he arrived back at the tavern.
‘So what have you been doing all day?’ asked the Innkeeper.
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
‘Nothing?’ said the Innkeeper, outraged.
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
‘So what should I pay you,’ asked the Innkeeper, ‘for doing all this nothing?’
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
‘Right enough,’ said the Innkeeper, ‘Now get out of my sight and don’t come back tomorrow.’
So Gufi went home tired and penniless to his Mother.
‘What did you do today son?’ said his Mother.
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
‘And what did my good friend the Innkeeper pay you?’ said his Mother.
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
‘So what do you think we will be having for supper?’
‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ said Gufi.
His Mother looked about their tiny cottage. In the corner was a trunk. She opened it with an old rusty key and drew out a skein of fine silk.
‘Here, take this in to town and sell it so we may eat.’
It was a very fine piece of cloth and was sure to fetch a good sum, but his Mother Lucia was worried that a buyer might talk Gufi into accepting too low a price, so she said, ‘Whatever you do you must not sell this cloth to a chatterbox!’
So Gufi picked up the roll of silk and walked back in to town. The first person to show interest in the cloth heaped praise upon the colour and the weave.
‘I can’t sell this silk to you,’ said Gufi, ‘you talk too much!’
The next person to show an interest went on at length about the exquisite quality of the stitching.
‘I can’t sell this silk to you,’ said Gufi, ‘you may never stop talking!’
Then Gufi came to a small square in the centre of which stood a plaster statue.
‘Good afternoon,’ said Gufi, ‘would you like to buy this fine silk?’
He waited a moment and then said again, ‘Do you want to buy my cloth?’
A minute later, when he again had no answer Gufi said, ‘At last, a person of few words. I would be happy to sell you this silk.’
He hung the cloth over the out-stretched arm of the statue and said, ‘I will return in an hour for my money. Is that agreed?’
A minute of silence later Gufi said ‘Good. Then it is agreed. I will return in an hour and meet you back here.’
Gufi returned home and as soon as his Mother saw him without the cloth she asked him for the money.
‘I will return for the money in a little while. Everything has been agreed.’ He said.
‘But is this person trustworthy?’ said his Mother.
‘You know how you hate a chatterbox Mother, well this man said not a single word. In the market square I could hardly hear myself think for all the hot air from people wanting to buy the silk.’ Said Gufi.
At the appointed time Gufi arrived back at the square to collect the money. The statue was there waiting, but the silk had vanished.
‘So you liked it well enough then?’ said Gufi, ‘So now you can pay me.’
The statue didn’t answer.
‘What did you like the most? Was it the fine stitching?’ said Gufi.
The statue didn’t answer.
‘Don’t tease.’ Said Gufi, ‘I expect it was the fine pattern?’
The statue didn’t answer.
‘So now you can pay me.’ Said Gufi, ‘If you don’t want a conversation that is okay. Just pay up and I will be on my way.’
Gufi waited but no bag of coins was produced, there was no jingle of gold or silver, no move made.
‘What are you waiting for?’ said Gufi, ‘Pay me or I’ll show you a thing or two.’
Gufi raised his fists at the statue. ‘Come on and pay me or you’ll be sorry.’ He said.
At last he picked up a garden broom and struck the statue across the back of its legs. The plaster statue shattered into a thousand pieces and clattered down across the square. At the base of the statue was revealed a pot brimming with gold. Quickly Gufi gathered it up and ran home to his Mother.
‘Mother!’ he said, ‘He did not want to pay me so I hit him with a broom and then he gave me all this.’
As we have learned already, Gufi’s Mother Lucia was a shrewd woman, and so she took and hid the money straightaway.

About 14thcenturypoet

Author of Mandorlinfiore, an historical fantasy based on traditional Italian folk tales...
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