[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eI9aphC8Hk"]YouTube - 1/12 DR. LLAILA AFRIKA - THE EFFECTS OF FAIRY TALES ON BLACK CHILDREN[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsUMYcRfSGc&feature=related"]YouTube - Black People are Scary! (Davos)[/ame]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgSYBa4Vjes"]YouTube - The Dogon Dance of the Mask[/ame]
[nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ-5oGsm7uM&feature=PlayList&p=FA0FDD59C7925EC2&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=1"]YouTube - Dogon Mask Dance - Entrance of dancers[/nomedia]
[ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qhUx1y14l0&feature=PlayList&p=166B7361FC0D48F7&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=27"]YouTube - On the Pale Fox's trail. (part 1 of 5)[/ame]
Welcome to Bura Folk Culture! Please read these traditional folktales from my homeland in Northeastern Nigeria (shown on map).
These stories are reproduced from Education of Primitive People: A Presentation of the Folklore of the Bura Animists With a Meaningful Experience Curriculum A. D. Helser. (1934). New York: Fleming H. Revell Company*. Despite the book's objectionable title, the intent of the author, Church of the Brethren missionary Albert Helser, was quite advanced at the time. The founder of the missionary school in Garkida, Dr. Helser incorporated existing Bura folk wisdom in the educational curriculum for Bura children instead of only using out-of-context Western material. Therefore, each folk tale begins with the lesson objectives that Helser identified and deemed important for Bura children to know.
Back to BuraWeb
Back to Hadiza's Home Page
Email Tom Johnson, Page Editor *Used by Permission of Fleming H. Revell, a divison of Baker Book House Company, Copyright 1934. All rights to this material are reserved Materials are not to be distributed to other web locatoins for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company. To view a copy of the permission letter, click here
South AfricaThe Religious System of the Amazulu
by Henry Callaway 
Specimens of Bushman Folklore
by W.H.I. Bleek and L.C. Lloyd 
South African Folk-Tales
by James A. Honey 
Kaffir (Xhosa) Folk Tales
by Georg McCall Theal 
The BantuMyths and Legends of the Bantu
by Alice Werner 
The rich traditions of the Bantu.
Most of the books below also have material on the Bantu of West Africa.
West and Central AfricaThe West African area is important because this is where the majority of slaves departed for the New World. Hence large elements of West African, particularly Yoruba, religion (blended with Catholicism) can be found in religions such as Vodun (also known as Voodoo) (Haiti), Candomblè (Brazil) and Santeria (Carribean). For more information on New World African-derived religions, refer to the The Santeria page at Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance.
Myths of Ífè
by John Wyndham 
Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort
by R. E. Dennett 
At the Back of the Black Man's Mind
by R. E. Dennett 
Folk Stories from Southern Nigeria
By Elphinstone Dayrell, Introduction by Andrew Lang. 
Fetichism in West Africa
by Rev. Robert Hamill Nassau. 
by Maalam Shaihu, translated by R. Sutherland Rattray. 
One of the few African folklore books actually written by an African, not a European.
Woman's Mysteries of a Primitive People
by D. Amaury Talbot 
The Yoruba Speaking Peoples
by A.B. Ellis 
by M. I. Ogumefu 
Religion and Myth
by James Macdonald 
One of the first comparative studies of African spirituality.
Drums and Shadows
Georgia Writer's Project; Work Projects Administration, Mary Granger supervisor 
Coastal Georgia folklore from the 1930s and connections to African spiritual practices.
Jamaica Anansi Stories
by Martha Warren Beckwith .
Jamaican folklore, music and riddles, featuring an indominable trickster hero.
The Kebra Nagast
translated by E. A. Wallis Budge 
The legendary history of Ethiopia.
The Holy Piby
by Robert Athlyi Rogers [1924-8]
A classic--and very rare--Afrocentric religious text from the early 20th century, acclaimed by many Rastafarians as a forerunner of their beliefs.
The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy
By Fitz Balintine Pettersburg [1926?]
A rare proto-Rastafarian text from Jamaica.
The Promised Key
By G.G. Maragh (Leonard Percival Howell) [1935?]
Howell advanced ideas similar to later Rastafarian beliefs, particularly casting Haile Selassie as the Black Messiah.
A heavily edited version of the Royal Parchment Scroll.
The Wisdom of Rastafari
by Haile Selassie
A short anthology of quotes from Haile Selassie compiled by a Rastafarian group.
Two short articles by Lafcadio Hearn about New Orleans Voodoo. Hearn, a New Orleans native, also wrote extensive works about Japan, available in the Shinto section.
Last of the Voudoos 
New Orleans Superstitions 
Here are two books relating to Haitian Voodoo (Vodun). They were written by an outsider to the religion who was ultimately unable to penetrate its inner mysteries; however both of these books has strengths as historical and ethnographic background on the topic:
Voodoo and Obeahs
By Joseph J. Williams 
Important historical context for Vodun, with extensive quotes from contemporary accounts.
Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica
By Joseph J. Williams. 
A study of supernatural activity in Jamaica, including the abusive duppy...
Afrocentric HistoriansThe Negro
by W.E.B. Du Bois 
A great introduction to Black history by a noted African-American activist and scholar.
Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire
by Drusilla Dunjee Houston 
A pioneering work of Afrocentric history.
by George G.M. James 
Did the Greeks steal classical philosophy from an Ancient Egyptian mystery tradition?
Here is what you can find.
- Wanjiru The Maiden (North Africa)
- The Spirit In The Tree (Zulu)
- The Story-Tree (Chaga)
- The Girl Who Broke Her Pot (Ronga)
- How The Crocodile Got Its Skin (Namibia)
- Thunder And Lightning (Nigeria)
- Anansi And The Ear Of Corn (West Africa)
- How Anansi Tricked God (West Africa)
- Anansi And The Chameleon (West Africa)
- How Anansi Became A Spider (West Africa)
- The Leopard Woman (Liberia)
- No-King-As-God (Hausa)
- The Origins Of Procreation (Ashanti)
- Luyia (Kenya)
- Marwe In The Underworld (Kenya)
- Murile And The Moonchief (Kenya)
- Lituolone (Sesuto)
- Tortoise And The Lizard (Bantu)
- Tortoise And The Baboon (Nyanja)
Wanjiru The Maiden (North Africa)
The sun blazed upon the earth; there was no rain. The crops died and hunger was manifest among the people. This happened one year, again the next, and then for a third year. So the people gathered at the praying place and asked of each other the reason for their plight; then the question was posed to the Medicine-Man. He spilled his gourd of its contents, upon the ground again and again. Then he declared that the rains would come only when the maiden Wanjiru was bought. He told them that each, from the youngest lad to the oldest man, must bring, on the appointed day, a goat to purchase Wanjiru from her family. The day arrived, and all the people were present, with each man leading a goat. The people gathered in a circle, and the relations of Wanjiru stood together, and she herself stood in the middle. As they stood there Wanjiru began to sink into the ground. Soon she was in to her knees. She cried, "I am lost!" The people pressed close and placed goats in the keeping of Wanjiru's parents. She sank lower to her waist. Again she cried out, "I am lost but much rain will fall!" More goats were thrust upon her family. She sank to her breast, and still no rain came. Wanjiru cried out another time, "A great rain will come!" Now she sank to her neck, and then the rain poured down. The people shoud have come forward to save her, but instead they placed more goats upon the family. Then Wanjiru said, "My people have undone me", and she sank down to her eyes. As one or another of her family moved toward her to save her, another of the people would present him or her with a goat and that family member would step back. Wanjiru cried out for the last time, "My own family has undone me!" Then she sank from sight. The rain poured down in a great deluge and the people hurried for shelter in their homes. There was a young warrior who lamented the loss of Wanjiru. He swore to find her and bring her back. He wandered for a long time, and eventually returned to the spot where Wanjiru had disappeared. Here as he stood where she had stood, he slowly began to sink into the ground; and he sank lower and lower until the ground closed over him. He found himself on a road beneath the ground, and as he trod down the road he came upon Wanjiru, all muddy and disheveled, and without her clothing which had disintegrated. He picked her up and carried her upon his back to where they had sunk beneath the ground. Here they rose up together into the open air. He took her to his mother's house where she was fed the fat from slaughtered goats and clothed with their skins, until she, again, was beautiful and well-dressed. It came to pass that the village was having a dance, and she and her warrior attended. When her family saw her they attempted to approach her, but her lover beat them off. When her family made repeated attempts to see her over the course of the next few days, the warrior repented. He paid the family the purchase price and allowed them to reconcile.
Return to Top
The Spirit In The Tree (Zulu)
There was once a girl whose mother had died and whose stepmother was very cruel to her. One day, when she was crying at her mother's grave, she saw that the earth of the grave parted and a stalk came out, which grew into a sapling and soon into a tree. The wind rustled its leaves and the tree whispered to the girl, telling her that her mother was near and that she should eat the fruits of the tree. The girl did and the fruits were very tasty and made her feel much better. This happened every day from then on, but as soon as the cruel step-mother discovered what was happening, she went to her husband, the girl's father, and insisted that he had the tree cut down. The tree lay withering and the girl wept on its maimed trunk for a long time, until she heard a whisper and saw a lump growing up from the grave. It grew and grew until it was a pumpkin. There was a hole in it, from which leaked a trickle of juice. The girl licked up a few drops and found them very nourishing, but again her stepmother soon found out and, one dark night, cut the pumpkin off and threw it on the dungheap. Next day the girl wept and wept until she heard a trickling sound and saw a little stream, which whispered, 'Drink me, drink me!' She did, and felt much refreshed, but now the step-mother made the girl's father throw sand in the stream and bury it. The girl went back to the grave where she cried and cried. She had been sitting there a long time when a man appeared from the bush. He saw the dead tree and decided it was just what he needed to make a bow and arrows, for he was a hunter. He talked to the girl, who told him that the tree had once grown on her mother's grave. He liked her and decided to go to her father and ask for her hand in marriage. The father consented on condition that the hunter killed a dozen buffalo for the wedding feast. The hunter had never killed more than one buffalo at a time - that was difficult enough. But this time, taking his new bow and arrows, he had not been in the bush long when he saw a herd of a dozen buffalo resting in the shade. Setting one of his new arrows to his bow, he let fly. The fsrst buffalo sank down dead. And the second, and the third. An hour later the hunter came back to tell the father to send men to bring the meat to the village. There was a big feast when the hunter married the poor girl who had lost her mother.
Return to Top
The Story-Tree (Chaga)
A Chaga story tells of a girl who one day went out with her friends to cut grass. She saw a place where it was growing luxuriantly, but when she put her foot there she sank at once into the mud. Her friends tried to catch hold of her hands but she sanker deeper into the mud and disappeared, singing out that the ghosts had taken her and her parents should be told. The girls ran home and called all the people to the quagmire. Here a diviner advised that a cow and a sheep must be sacrificed. When this was done the girl's voice was heard again, but eventually it faded away and was silent. However on the spot where the girl had sunk a tree began to grow, which got taller and taller till it reached the sky. It was a useful tree under which boys would drive their cattle in the heat of the day. One day two boys climbed up into the tree, calling to their companions that they were going to the world above. They never returned. The tree has since been called the Story-tree.
Return to Top
The Girl Who Broke Her Pot (Ronga)
On the way to draw water a Ronga girl had the misfortune to break her water-pot. In great distress she cried out for a rope, and looking up she saw one hanging from a cloud, like the ropes in the stories of God leaving the earth. Climbing up she found a ruined village in the sky and an old woman sitting there asked what she wanted. The girl told her story and the old woman told her to continue walking, and if an ant crawled up into her ear she must leave it alone. As she walked an ant did crawl into her ear. The girl continued walking, and coming to a new village heard the ant whisper to her to sit down. As she sat at the gate some elders came out in shining clothes and asked what she was doing there. The girl said she had come to look for a baby(??). The elders took her to a house, gave her a basket, and told her to collect some corn from the garden. The ant whispered that she should pull one cob at a time, and arrange it carefully in the basket. The elders were pleased with her work, and with the cooking that she did on the ant's instructions. Next morning they showed her two babies, one wrapped in red cloth and one in white cloth. She was going to choose the one in the red clothes, when the ant told her to choose the white one instead. This she did, and the elders gave her the baby, and as many cloths and beads as she could carry. Then she found her way back to her family and they were overjoyed at her treasures and her baby. The girl's sister was jealous and set off for the heavenly land to seek the same good fortune. She got up to the sky, but she was a very rude and willful creature, who refused to listen to the old woman or heed the warnings of the Ant. When she saw the babies she chose the red-clothed one, there was a great explosion and she fell down dead. Her bones dropped on her home, and people commented that heaven was angry with her because she had a wicked heart.
Return to Top
How The Crocodile Got Its Skin (Namibia)
This story is from a book called "The Secret of the Crocodile", a Namibia Oral Tradition Project, published by New Namibia Books. (Paraphrased) How the crocodile got its knobbly textured skin: The crocodile originally had a smooth golden skin, and it stayed that way because the crocodile would spend all day in the muddy waters and only come out at night. All the other animals would come and admire it's beautiful golden skin. The crocodile became very proud of its skin and started coming out of the water to bask in the other animals' admiration, even while the sun was shining. He bagan thinking he was better than the other animals and started bossing them around. The other animals became bored with his change in attitude and fewer and fewer started showing up to look at his skin. But each day that the crocodile exposed his skin to the sun it would get uglier and bumpier and thicker, and was soon transformed into what looked like bulging armor. Crocodile never recovered from the humiliating shame and even today will disappear from view when others approach, with only his eyes and nostrils above the surface of the water.
Return to Top
Thunder And Lightning (Nigeria)
A long time ago, both thunder and lightning lived on this earth, among the people. Thunder was a mother sheep and Lightning was her son, a ram. Neither animal was very popular with the people, for when somebody offended Lightning, he would fly into a furious rage and begin burning whatever he came across. This often included huts and corn bins, and even large trees. Sometimes he damaged crops on the farms with his fire and occasionally he killed people who got in his way. As soon as Thunder knew he was behaving this way, she would raise her voice and shout at him as loudly as she could, and that was very loud indeed. Naturally the neighbors were very upset, first at the damage caused by Lightning and then by the unbearable noise from his mother that always followed his outbursts. The villagers complained to the king on many occasions, until at last he sent the two of them to live at the very edge of the village, and said that they must not come and mix with the people any more. However, this did no good, since Lightning could still see people as they walked about the village streets and so found it only too easy to continue picking quarrels with them. At last the king sent for them again. "I have given you many chances to live a better life," he said, "but I can see that it is useless. From now on, you must go away from our village and live in the wild bush. We do not want to see your faces here again." Thunder and Lightning had to obey the king and agree to abide by his ruling; so they left the village, angry at its inhabitants. But still there was plenty of trouble in store for the villagers, since Lightning was so angry at being banished that he now set fire to the whole bush, and since it was the dry season this was extremely unfortunate. The flames spread to the little farms of the people, and sometimes to their houses as well, so that they were in despair again. They often heard the mother ram's mighty voice calling her son to order, but, since it was always after the fact, it made very little difference in his actions. The king called all his counselors together and asked them to advise him, and after much debate they hit on a plan. Why not banish Thunder and Lightning completely away from the earth, and send them to live in the sky. And so the king proclaimed. Thunder and Lightning were sent away into the sky, where the people hoped they would not be able to do any more damage. Things did not work out quite as well as they had hoped, however, for Lightning still loses his temper from time to time and cannot resist sending fire down to the earth when he is angry. Then you can hear his mother rebuking him in her loud rumbling voice.
Return to Top
Anansi And The Ear Of Corn (West Africa)
Anansi was one of God's chosen, and he lived in human form before he became a spider. One day he asked God for a simple ear of corn, promising that he would repay God with one hundred servants. God was always amused by the boastful and resourceful Anansi, and gave him the ear of corn. Anansi set out with the ear and came to a village to rest. He told the chief of the village that he had a sacred ear of corn from God and needed both a place to sleep for the night and a safe place to keep the treasure. The chief treated Anansi as an honored guest and gave him a thatched-roof house to stay in, showing him a hiding place in the roof. During the night, while the entire village was fast asleep, Anansi took the corn and fed it to the chickens. The next morning Anansi woke the village with his cries. "What happened to the sacred corn? Who stole it? Certainly God will bring great punishment on this village!" He made such a fuss that the villagers begged him to take a whole bushel of corn as a demonstration of their apologies. He then set down the road with the bushel of corn until it grew too heavy for him to carry. He then met a man on the road who had a chicken, and Anansi exchanged the corn for the chicken. When Anansi arrived at the next village, he asked for a place to stay and a safe place to keep the "sacred" chicken. In this new village, Anansi was again treated as an honored guest, a great feast was held in his honor, and he was shown a house to stay in and given a safe place for the chicken. During the night Anansi butchered the chicken and smeared its blood and feathers on the door of the chief's house. In the morning he woke everyone with his cries, "The sacred chicken has been killed! Surely God will destroy this village for allowing this to happen!" The frightened villagers begged Anansi to take ten of their finest sheep as a token of their sincere apology. Anansi drove the sheep down the road until he came to a group of men carrying a corpse. He asked the men whose body they were carrying. The men answered that a traveler had died in their village and they were bearing the body home for a proper burial. Anansi then exchanged the sheep for the corpse and set out down the road. At the next village, Anansi told the people that the corpse was a son of God who was sleeping. He told them to be very quiet in order not to wake this important guest. The people in this village, too, held a great feast and treated Anansi as royalty. When morning came, Anansi told the villagers that he was having a hard time waking the "son of God" from sleep, and he asked their help. They started by beating drums, and the visitor remained asleep." Then they banged pots and pans, but he was still "asleep." Then the villagers pounded on the visitor's chest, and he still didn't stir. All of a sudden, Anansi cried out, "You have killed him! You have killed a son of God! Oh, no! Certainly God will destroy this whole village, if not the entire world!" The terrified villagers then told Anansi that he could pick one hundred of their finest young men as slaves if only he would appeal to God to save them. So Anansi returned to God, having turned one ear of corn into one hundred slaves.
Return to Top
How Anansi Tricked God (West Africa)
Anansi was terribly conceited after the whole affair of the ear of corn. God found Anansi entertaining, but his bragging was growing tiresome. So God gave Anansi a sack and said, "I have something in mind; figure it out and bring it back to me in the sack." Anansi asked questions, but God would give no further clues as to what that "something" might be. God sent the mortal on his way, saying that if he were only half as clever as he boasted he was, then he should have no problem figuring out what "something" God wanted. Anansi was puzzled. How was he to know what God wanted in the sack? He left heaven and had a meeting with the birds, explaining his predicament. The birds were sympathetic, but had no clues to offer. However, each agreed to give Anansi one feather, enabling Anansi to fly. Anansi made these feathers into a beautiful cloak, and then flew up to heaven, where he perched in a tree next to God's house. Some of the people of heaven saw this strange "bird" and began talking about it. They asked each other what kind of bird this might be. God himself did not recall making any sort of creature that looked like that. One of those present suggested that, if Anansi were clever, he might know what sort of bird this was. Anansi, in the tree, heard all of this. God's attendants were speaking among themselves when one said, "Good luck finding Anansi - God sent him on an impossible mission. How was Anansi to know that God wanted the sun and the moon brought to him in a sack?" Overhearing this, Anansi went out to fetch the sun and the moon. He went to the python, the wisest of all things, and asked how one might capture the sun and the moon. The python advised him to go to the west, where the sun rests at night. The moon could be found in the east around the same time. So Anansi gathered the sun and the moon, placed them in the sack, and took them to God. God was so pleased with Anansi's ingenuity that he made Anansi his captain on earth.
Return to Top
Anansi And The Chameleon (West Africa)
As we have said, Anansi grew more and more conceited and arrogant. In fact, God became so annoyed by Anansi's boast that he had "tricked" God in the episode of the sun and the moon that he was seriously considering removing his patronage from Anansi. Anansi lived in the same village as the Chameleon. Anansi was rich and owned the finest fields in the area, while the Chameleon was poor and worked hard in his meager fields to make ends meet. However, one year rain fell on Chameleon's fields, which were now abundant with beautiful crops. No rain fell on Anansi's land and the crops dried up and dust blew everywhere. Anansi then resolved to take Chameleon's fields for himself. Anansi first tried to buy the fields, but Chameleon refused to sell. Anansi offered more and more in exchange, but Chameleon still held on to the land. Early one morning, Anansi walked boldly down the road to Chameleon's fields and began harvesting the crops. When Chameleon saw this, he became very angry and chased Anansi away. When a chameleon walks, it leaves no tracks; it is virtually impossible to tell where a chameleon has been. Knowing this, Anansi took Chameleon to court to sue for possession of the fields. The chief asked Chameleon to prove that the fields were his; Chameleon had no proof to offer. Anansi, on the other hand, took the chief to Chameleon's fields, showing the many footprints on the road. These were Anansi's footprints, and the chief awarded the fields to Anansi right then and there. Although the court decision gave the land to Anansi, God has a higher justice than that which the courts mete out. Chameleon dug a deep, deep hole and put a roof on it. From the outside, the hole looked tiny. But, in fact, Chameleon had dug a vast cavern under-ground. Then the Chameleon took some vines and some flies and made a cloak. When the sun hits flies, they shine a variety of colors, but they are still flies. Chameleon went down the road wearing this cloak of flies when he encountered Anansi. Anansi's first words to Chameleon were, "Hello, my friend. I hope that there are no hard feelings between us." Anansi saw what appeared to be a beautiful cloak and offered to buy it. Chameleon pretended to be magnanimous and told Anansi that the cloak would be his if only Anansi filled Chameleon's "little hole" with food. Anansi readily agreed, bragging that he would fill it twice over. Anansi then took the cloak to the chief who had acted as judge in the lawsuit and gave it to the chief as a gift. The chief admired the cloak and thanked him profusely. Anansi worked day and night to fill Chameleon's hole with food and still the hole was not full. He worked weeks and still the hole was not full. Anansi knew that Chameleon had tricked him. In the meantime, the chief was walking down the road wearing the cloak of flies. One day the vines broke and the flies buzzed off in every direction, leaving the chief naked and livid with anger at Anansi. The chief grew angrier with each step he took. When the chief found Anansi, he ordered him not only to return Chameleon's property but to give Chameleon the best of his own fields as well. As soon as Chameleon took possession of Anansi's best field, it rained on that field for the first time in months, and now Chameleon was the richest in village.
Return to Top
How Anansi Became A Spider (West Africa)
There was once a king who had the finest ram in the world. When this ram happened to be grazing on Anansi's crops one day, Anansi threw a rock at it, hitting it between the eyes and killing it. Anansi knew that the king would punish him for what he had done to the prize ram, and he immediately schemed how to get out of the situation. Needless to say, Anansi resorted to trickery. Anansi sat under a tree to think of an escape when, all of a sudden, a nut fell and struck him on the head. Anansi immediately had an idea. First, he took the dead ram and tied it to the nut tree. Then he went to a spider and told it of a wonderful tree laden with nuts. The spider was delighted and immediately went to the tree. Anansi then went to the king and told him that the spider had evidently killed the prize ram; the ram was hanging from a tree where the spider was spinning webs. The king flew into a rage and demanded the death penalty for the spider. The king thanked Anansi and offered him a great reward. Anansi returned to the spider and warned it of the king's wrath, crying out to the whole world that the spider had killed the ram. The spider was very confused. Anansi told the spider to go to the king and plead for mercy, and perhaps the spider's life would be spared. Meanwhile, the king had gone home for lunch and told his wife what happened. The wife laughed and said, "Have you lost your mind? How on earth could a little spider make a thread strong enough to hold a ram? How in the world could that little spider hoist the ram up there? Don't you know, Anansi obviously killed your ram!" The king was angry that he had been deceived and told his court to fetch Anansi immediately. When the king's men came for him, Anansi assumed that it was to bring him to the palace for his reward for turning in the spider. So Anansi went along willingly. He walked into the palace as if he owned the place and then said to the king, "Well, what is my reward for the killer of your ram?" This enraged the king so much that he kicked Anansi, splitting him into many pieces; he was no longer a man, but a spider with long legs.
Return to Top
The Leopard Woman (Liberia)
A man and a woman were once making a hard journey through the bush, The woman had her baby strapped upon her back as she walked along the rough path overgrown with vines and shrubbery. They had nothing to eat with them, and the longer they traveled, the hungrier they became. After a long while they emerged from the heavily wooded forest into a grassy plain. There they came upon a herd of bush cows grazing quietly. The man said to the woman, "You have the power of transforming yourself into whatever you like; change now to a leopard and kill on of those animals, so that I may have something to eat." The woman looked at the man with a hard stare, and said, "Do you really mean what you ask, or are you joking?" "I mean it," said the man, for he was very hungry. The woman untied the baby from her back, and put it upon the ground. She removed her loincloth; a change came over her face. Hair began growing upon her neck and body. Her hands and feet turned into claws, In a few moments, a wild leopard was standing before the man, staring at him now with fiery eyes. The man was frightened nearly to death and clambered up a tree for protection. When he was nearly to the top, he saw that the little baby was so close to the leopard as to be almost within the leopard's jaws, but he was so afraid, that he couldn't make himself go down to rescue it. When the leopard saw that she had the man good and frightened, and full of terror, she ran away to the flock of cattle to do for him as he had asked her to. Capturing a large young heifer, she dragged it back to the foot of the tree. The man, who was still as far up in its top as he could go, cried out, and piteously begged the leopard to transform herself back into a woman. She did so; slowly, the hair receded, and the claws disappeared, until finally, the woman stood before the man once more. But so frightened was he still, that he would not come down until he saw her take up her clothes and tie her baby to her back. Then he descended from the topmost branches of the tree. She said to him, in a voice that resembled the growl of a leopard, "Never ask a woman to do a man's work again." (Women must care for the farms, cook the food, tend the children, etc., but it is man's work to do the hunting and bring in the meat for the family.)
Return to Top
When an ordinary man comes before the king he salutes him thusly: "May the king live forever!" But once lived a man who refused to say this obligatory phrase, instead substituting: "There is no king like God." After many visits to the king, and many repetitions of this heretical phrase, the king grew angry and plotted to destroy the man. He gave the man two silver rings and told him they were a present to keep, but in reality the king meant to avenge himself through them. The man, whom everybody now called No-King-as-God, took the rings, put them into a dried and empty ram's horn, and gave them to his wife to keep for him. A week later the king called No-King-as-God and sent him to a distant village, to tell the people to come and help build up the city walls. As soon as he had gone the king sent for the man's wife and offered her a thousand cowries (imported small shells used as money or ornaments), and a hundred head-cloths and body-cloths, if she would give him that which her husband had entrusted to her. Tempted by the splendid presents the wife agreed and brought the ram's horn, and when the king looked inside, there were the two rings safely stored. He placed them back in the horn, and gave it to his servants with instructions to throw it far into a lake. They did so, and as the horn fell into the water a great fish swam by and swallowed it. On the day that No-King-as-God was returning home he met some friends who were going fishing. He went with them and caught that great fish. As his son was cleaning it, his knife struck something hard and he called to his father. The father pulled out the horn, and when he opened it and looked inside he saw the rings which the king had given him for safe keeping. "Truly," he said, "there is no king like God." They were still fishing when a royal messenger came and told the man he was wanted by the king at once. He stopped at his house first and asked his wife where was that precious thing he had entrusted to her. She replied that she could not find it and thought a rat had eaten it. Shaking his head at her perfidy the man set off for the royal court. The other counsellors all saluted by saying, "May the king live forever." But the man said only, "There is no king like God." So the king told the counsellors to be quiet, and advancing towards the man he said, "Is it true that there is no king like God?" The man replied firmly, "Yes". Then the king demanded that thing which he had entrusted to the man, and signaled his guards to close round him to kill him. But No-King-as-God put his hand under his robe and pulled out the horn and handed it to the king. The king opened it and took out his two silver rings. "Indeed, there is no king like God", he said, and all his counsellors shouted in approval. Then the king divided his city into two, and gave half of it to No-King-as-God to rule.
Return to Top
The Origins Of Procreation (Ashanti)
Long ago a man and a woman came down from heaven, while another man and woman came out of the ground. The Lord of Heaven also sent a python, the non-poisonous snake, which made its home in a river. In the beginning men and women had no children, they had no desire for one another and did not know the process of procreation and birth. It was the Python who taught them. He asked the men and women if they had any children, and on being told that they had none, the Python said he would make the women conceive. He told the couples to stand facing each other, then he went into the river and came out with his mouth full of water. This he sprayed on their bellies, saying "Kus, kus" (words that are still used in clan rituals). Then the Python told the couples to go home and lie together, and the women conceived and bore children. These children took the spirit of the river where the Python lived as their clan spirit. Members of that clan hold the python as taboo; they must never kill it, and if they find a python that has died or been killed by someone else, they put white clay on it and bury it human fashion.
Return to Top
The first man and woman had no children for a long time. They did not know the secret of procreation and tried to have union in various ways without success. One day the man saw the woman climbing a tree and noticed her private parts, and so that night he sought union with her again. She refused at first, saying that he had only seen an ulcer, but later she gave in. She suffered great pain at this union but, in due course, she bore a son, much to the surprise of both of them. That was the beginning of their family, for they had found the secret of getting children.
Return to Top
Marwe In The Underworld (Kenya)
There was once a girl named Marwe. She and her brother were responsible for keeping the monkeys from raiding the family bean fields. One day they had faithfully done their duty when both of them became very thirsty. They turned their backs on the fields and went to a pool to take a drink. When they returned to the fields, the monkeys had eaten all the beans. Marwe so feared the wrath of her parents that she drowned herself; her brother rushed home with the terrible news. Her parents were so shocked and grieved that they forgot about the bean field. Marwe sank to the bottom of the pool until she entered the land of the dead. She first came to a house where an old woman lived with her children. The old woman identified herself as Marwe's guide in the land of the dead. For many years Marwe lived with the old woman and helped with the chores. After a time Marwe became very homesick and began to think of her parents and brother. The old woman was able to read the girl's heart, and she knew that Marwe wished to rejoin the living. So one day the old woman asked Marwe if she preferred the hot or the cold. Marwe didn't understand and the woman repeated the question. Finally Marwe answered that she preferred the cold, not knowing what this meant. The old woman had Marwe dip her hands into a clay jar of cold water, and when she pulled her hands out, they were covered with jewels. She put her feet and legs into the jar, pulled them out, and they too were covered with jewels. Smiling, the old woman dressed Marwe in the finest robes and sent her home. The old woman also had the gift of prophecy, and told Marwe that she would soon marry the finest man in the world, a man named Sawoye. When Marwe arrived home in her fine robes and jewels, her family was overjoyed. They had given her up for dead long before. They marveled at her fine clothing and their newfound wealth. Word spread quickly through the countryside that there was a rich, eligible young woman in the territory, and Marwe's home was visited by hundreds of suitors. Marwe ignored all of the men, including the most handsome, except for a man named Sawoye who suffered from a terrible skin disease that made him look ugly. But, having been to the land of the dead, Marwe was able to read the hearts of men and knew that Sawoye was best. Sawoye and Marwe were married with great feasting, and after their wedding night, when the marriage was consummated, Sawoye's skin disease disappeared, showing his face to be the most handsome of all. As Marwe had plelity of fine jewels to spare, they bought a herd of cattle. Soon Marwe and Sawoye were the wealthiest people in the land. One might expect that they would now live in happiness, but the many suitors of Marwe were envious of Sawoye. All of their friends and neighbors changed, resenting the wealthy young couple. The hostility grew more bitter with each day until a group of neighbors attacked Sawoye and killed him. But Marwe had herself already died, and knew the secrets of the Underworld, including how to revive the dead. She took her husband's body inside their home and recited magic incantations that she had learned from the old woman in the land of the dead. Sawoye revived, stronger than ever. When their enemies returned to divide up the wealth, Sawoye slew them all. Marwe and Sawoye lived in prosperity and happiness for the rest of their lives, and since both had died, they met their ends without fear.
Return to Top
Murile And The Moonchief (Kenya)
Once there was a youth named Murile, whose mother incessantly nagged at him, criticizing him over every little thing. Nothing he did was ever right; even his best efforts brought snide remarks from her. Growing tired of this, Murile borrowed his father's stool, which had been in the family for countless generations. He sat on the stool and recited every magic incantation he knew. Suddenly the stool began to fly up off the earth in the direction of the moon. When he landed on the moon, he came to a village and asked for directions to the home of the Moonchief. The villagers asked Murile to work for them in exchange for the information. They came to like him and they told him how to get to his destination, and he went on his way. When Murile arrived at the village of the Moonchief, he was appalled at how backward the people there were. They knew nothing of fire; they ate their meat raw, had no pottery, and shivered at night from the cold. So Murile took sticks and built a fire, which made him a great hero to the moon people and a favorite of the Moonchief. He was hailed as the greatest magician the people had ever known. In recognition of his services, Murile was showered with gifts and honors. The Moonchief and his subjects could not give Murile enough cattle and wives. Every father wanted Murile to marry his daughters. Soon a very rich man with many cattle and wives, Murile prepared to return to earth in triumph: Now his mother would see that her son had amounted to something. So he sent his friend, the mockingbird, to announce his imminent return to earth. However, Murile's family did not even believe their son was alive; they had given him up for dead long ago. When the mockingbird flew back to the moon with his report, Murile could not believe that the mockingbird had spoken to his family. So the mockingbird went back to Murile's earthly village and brought back his father's walking stick as proof of the visit. Finally convinced, Murile prepared to return to earth. He dressed his wives and many children in their finest clothing and covered them with jewels. He had so much wealth to show off that his mother was sure to be impressed. With this great entourage to bring with him, Murile could hardly travel back on the magic stool, so the entire party left on foot. Murile became exhausted. One of his finest bulls told Murile that he, the bull, would carry his master back to earth in exchange for a promise: that Murile would never kill him and eat him. Murile gladly consented. The family of Murile on earth were thrilled to see him and marveled at his wealth and fine new family. Even his mother rejoiced to have him home. Consistent with her character, she went about bragging to everyone of her rich and powerful son. Murile made his parents swear never to harm the bull that had brought him home, and they agreed. However, as time passed, the parents forgot their promise. After all, Murile had so many cattle that they probably forgot which bull was which. So his parents killed the bull and Murile's mother prepared a dish seasoned with its fat and broth. As Murile sat down to eat, the meat spoke to him, reminding him of the promise. As Murile took the first taste of the bull's meat, the earth swallowed him up..
Return to Top
Once there was a monster, named Kammapa, that devoured humans. Eventually the only person left in the world was an old woman who had fearfully gone into hiding when she saw what was happening. One day, without the aid of a man, she gave birth to a boy-child who was adorned with amulets. She named her son Lituolone in honor of her god. By nightfall the boy was full-grown. He asked his mother where the other people were, and being told of Kammapa, grabbed a knife and went forward to fight it. The monster swallowed him in one gulp; finding himself unharmed in the beast's stomach, Lituolone used his knife to cut his way out. In tearing apart the beast's entrails he allowed thousands of human beings to escape with him. The world was repopulated again.
Return to Top
Tortoise And The Lizard (Bantu)
Tortoise had used up all his salt, and he found his meals so tasteless without it that he decided to call on his brother and ask him if he had any to spare. His brother had plenty. "How will you get it back to your home?" he asked Tortoise. "If you will wrap the salt in a piece of bark cloth, and tie it up with string, then I can put the string over my shoulder and drag the parcel along the ground behind me," said Tortoise. "A splendid idea!" exclaimed his brother, and between them they made a tidy package of the salt. Then Tortoise set off for his long, slow journey home, with the bundle going bump, bump, bump, along the ground behind him. Suddenly he was pulled up short, and turning round, he saw that a large lizard had jumped on to the parcel of salt and was sitting there, staring at him. "Get off my salt!" exclaimed Tortoise. "How do you expect me to drag it home with you on top of it?" "It's not your salt!' replied the lizard. "I was just walking along the path when I found this bundle lying there, so I took possession of it and now it belongs to me." "What rubbish you talk!" said Tortoise. "You know well it is mine, for I am holding the string that ties it." But the lizard still insisted that he had found the parcel lying in the road, and he refused to get off unless Tortoise went with him to the elders, to have their case tried in court. Poor Tortoise had to agree and together they went before the old men at the court. First Tortoise put his case, explaining that as his arms and legs were so short he always had to carry bundles by dragging them along behind him. Then the lizard put his side of the matter, saying that he had found the bundle lying in the road. '"Surely anything that is picked up on the road belongs to the one who picks it up?" cried the lizard. The old men discussed the matter seriously for some time; but many of them were related to the lizardand thought that they might perhaps get a share of the salt, so eventually they decreed that the bundle should be cut into two, each animal taking half. Tortoise was disappointed, because he knew it really was his salt, but he sighed with resignation and let them divide the parcel. The lizard immediately seized the half that was covered with the biggest piece of cloth, leaving poor Tortoise with most of his salt escaping from his half of the parcel, and spilling out on to the ground. In vain did Tortoise try to gather his salt together. His hands were too small and there was too little cloth to wrap round it properly. Finally he departed for home, with only a fraction of his share, wrapped up in leaves and what remained of the bark cloth, while the elders scraped up all that had been spilled, dirty though it was, and took it back to their wives. Tortoise's wife was very disappointed when she saw how little salt he had brought with him, and when he told her the whole story she was most indignant at the way he had been treated. The long, slow journey had tired him, and he had to rest for several days. But although Tortoise was so slow, he was very cunning and eventually thought up a plan to get even with the lizard. So, saying good-bye to his wife, he plodded along the road towards the lizard's home with a gleam in his eye, and after some time he caught sight of the lizard, who was enjoying a solitary meal of flying ants. Slowly and silently Tortoise came upon him from behind and put his hands on the middle of the lizard's body. "See what I've found!" called Tortoise loudly. "What are you doing?" asked the perplexed lizard. "I was just walking along the path when I found something lying there," explained Tortoise. "So I picked it up and now it belongs to me, just as you picked up my salt the other day." When the lizard continued to wriggle and demanded that Tortoise set him free, Tortoise insisted that they go to the court and get the elders to judge. The old men listened attentively to both sides of the story, and then one said: "If we are to be perfectly fair, we must give the same judgement that we gave concerning the salt." "Yes," said the others, nodding their white heads, "and we had the bag of salt cut in two. Therefore we must cut the lizard in two, and Tortoise shall have half." "That is fair," replied Tortoise, and before the lizard could escape, he seized a knife from an elder's belt and sliced him in half, and that was the end of the greedy lizard.
Return to Top
Tortoise And The Baboon (Nyanja)
One evening when the tortoise was crawling slowly home, he met the baboon on his path. "Hello, old fellow," said the baboon heartily. "Have you found much to eat today?" 'No,' replied Tortoise sadly. "Very little indeed." The baboon danced up and down, chortling with laughter at an idea which had just come to him. "Follow me, poor old Tortoise," he exclaimed, "and when you reach my home I will have supper all ready for you." "Thank you. Thank you," said the grateful Tortoise, as the baboon turned round and bounced gaily along the path that led to his home. Tortoise followed as fast as he could, which was very slow indeed, especially when he went uphill. Once or twice he stopped to rest, when the ground became so bumpy that he got disheartened, but holding in his mind the picture of a wonderful feast, he plodded on. At last he reached the place in the bush that the baboon called his home. There he was, leaping about and grinning to himself, and as soon as he caught sight of Tortoise he exclaimed:"Bless my tail! What a long time you have taken to get here. I declare it must be tomorrow already!" "I'm so sorry," said Tortoise, puffing a little after his long journey. "But I'm sure you have had plenty of time to get the supper ready, so do not grumble at me." "0h, yes, indeed!" replied the baboon, rubbing his hands together. "Supper's all ready. All you have to do is to climb up and get it. Look!" he said, pointing to the top of a tree. "Three pots of millet-beer, brewed especially for you." The poor tortoise looked up at the pots which the baboon had wedged in the branches high above his head. He knew he could never reach them, and the baboon knew that too. "Bring one down for me, there's a good friend," begged Tortoise, but the baboon climbed the tree in the twinkling of an eye and shouted down to him: "0h, no! Anybody who wants supper with me must climb up to get it." So poor Tortoise could only begin his long homeward journey with a very empty stomach, cursing at his inability to climb trees. But as he went he worked out a splendid plan for getting his own back on the unkind baboon. A few days later the baboon had an invitation to eat with Tortoise. He was very surprised, but knowing how slow and good-natured the tortoise was, the baboon said to himself: "0h, well, the fellow evidently saw the joke and bears me no malice. I'll go along and see what I can get out of him." At the appointed time the baboon set out along the track that led to Tortoise's home. Now it was the dry season, when many bush fires occur which leave the ground scorched and black. Just beyond the river the baboon found a wide stretch of burnt and blackened grass, over which he bounded towards Tortoise, who stood waiting beside a cooking pot from which issued the most savory of smells. "Ah, it's my friend the baboon!" said Tortoise. "I'm very pleased to see you. But did your mother never teach you that you must wash your hands before meals? Just look at them! They're as black as soot." The baboon looked at his hands, which were indeed very black from crossing the burnt patch of ground. "Now run back to the river and wash," said Tortoise, "and when you are clean I will give you some supper." The baboon scampered across the black earth and washed himself in the river, but when he came to return to Tortoise he found he had to cross the burnt ground again and so arrived as dirty as before. "That will never do! I told you that you could only eat with me if you were clean. Go back and wash again! And you had better be quick about it because I have started my supper already," said Tortoise, with his mouth full of food. The poor baboon went back to the river time and again, but try as he would he got his hands and feet black each time he returned, and Tortoise refused to give him any of the delicious food that was fast disappearing. As Tortoise swallowed the last morsel, the baboon realized he had been tricked and with a cry of rage he crossed the burnt ground for the last time and ran all the way home. "That will teach you a lesson, my friend," said the Tortoise, smiling, as, well-fed and contented, he withdrew into his shell for a long night's sleep.
Return to Top
Folklore from the African Tradition
These tales from the African tradition demonstrate some of the same characteristics of the Creole tradition they have influenced, most notably concern with spirits and tomfoolery.
Mr. Monkey, the Bridegroom
There was a monkey, which fell in love with a beautiful young girl. He dressed as a man and went to call on her. He was so well received that one day he took his best friend with him to see his lady-love. The young girl's father asked Mr. Monkey's friend some questions about his daughter's lover. The friend said that Mr. Monkey was good and rich, but there was a secret about him. The father wanted to know the secret, but the friend said he would tell him another day.
Mr. Monkey was finally engaged to the young lady, and the night of the wedding he invited his friend to the supper. The latter was jealous of Mr. Monkey, and at the end of the supper he began to sing. This was a song that made all monkeys dance, whether they wished to or not, so Mr. Monkey looked at his friend and beckoned him to stop singing.
He continued, however, to sing, and all at once Mr. Monkey got up and began to dance. He jumped about so wildly that his tail came out of his clothes, and everyone saw that he was a monkey. The father understood the secret, and beat him dreadfully. His friend, however, ran off, dancing and singing. --Collected from Méranthe, colored nurse, Hospital Street, New Orleans.
The Singing Bones
Once upon a time there lived a man and a woman who had twenty-five children. They were very poor. The man was good, the woman was bad. Every day when the husband returned from his work the wife served his dinner, but always meat without bones.
He asked, "How is it that this meat has no bones?" "Because bones are heavy, and meat is cheaper without bones," she said. "They give us more for the money." The husband ate, and said nothing.
"How is it you don't eat meat?" he asked. "You forget that I have no teeth. How do you expect me to eat meat without teeth?" she said. "That is true," said the husband, and he said nothing more, because he was afraid to grieve his wife, who was as wicked as she was ugly.
When one has twenty-five children one cannot think of them all the time, and one does not see if one or two are missing. One day, after his dinner, the husband asked for his children. When they were by him he counted them, and found only fifteen. He asked his wife where were the ten others. She answered that they were at their grandmother's, and every day she would send one more for them to get a change of air. That was true, every day there was one that was missing.
One day the husband was at the threshold of his house, in front of a large stone. He was thinking of his children, and he wanted to go and get them at their grandmother's, when he heard voices saying:Our mother killed us,At first, he did not understand what that meant, but he raised the stone and saw a great quantity of bones, which began to sing again. He then understood that it was the bones of his children, whom his wife had killed, and whom he had eaten. Then he was so angry that he killed his wife, buried his children's bones in the cemetery, and stayed alone at his house.
Our father ate us.
We are not in a coffin,
We are not in the cemetery.
From that time he never ate meat, because he believed it would always be his children that he would eat. --Collected from an old negress, 77 Esplanade Avenue [New Orleans]. Source: Alcée Fortier, Louisiana Folk-Tales in French [Creole] Dialect and English Translation. Boston and New York: Published for the American Folk-Lore Society by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895. Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts
Why The Cheetah's Cheeks Are Stained (A Traditional Zulu Story)
Long ago a wicked and lazy hunter was sitting under a tree. He was thinking that it was too hot to be bothered with the arduous task of stalking prey through the bushes. Below him in the clearing on the grassy veld there were fat springbok grazing. But this hunter couldn't be bothered, so lazy was he! He gazed at the herd, wishing that he could have the meat without the work, when suddenly he noticed a movement off to the left of the buck. It was a female cheetah seeking food. Keeping downwind of the herd, she moved closer and closer to them. She singled out a springbok who had foolishly wandered away from the rest. Suddenly she gathered her long legs under her and sprang forward. With great speed she came upon the springbok and brought it down. Startled, the rest of the herd raced away as the cheetah quickly killed her prey.
The hunter watched as the cheetah dragged her prize to some shade on the edge of the clearing. There three beautiful cheetah cubs were waiting there for her. The lazy hunter was filled with envy for the cubs and wished that he could have such a good hunter provide for him. Imagine dining on delicious meat every day without having to do the actual hunting! Then he had a wicked idea. He decided that he would steal one of the cheetah cubs and train it to hunt for him. He decided to wait until the mother cheetah went to the waterhole late in the afternoon to make his move. He smiled to himself.
When the sun began to set, the cheetah left her cubs concealed in a bush and set off to the waterhole. Quickly the hunter grabbed his spear and trotted down to the bushes where the cubs were hidden. There he found the three cubs, still to young to be frightened of him or to run away. He first chose one, then decided upon another, and then changed his mind again. Finally he stole them all, thinking to himself that three cheetahs would undoubtedly be better than one.
When their mother returned half-an-hour later and found her babies gone, she was broken-hearted. The poor mother cheetah cried and cried until her tears made dark stains down her cheeks. She wept all night and into the next day. She cried so loudly that she was heard by an old man who came to see what the noise was all about.
Now this old man was wise and knew the ways of the animals. When he discovered what the wicked hunter had done, he became very angry. The lazy hunter was not only a thief, he had broken the traditions of the tribe. Everyone knew that a hunter must use only his own strength and skill. Any other way of hunting was surely a dishonour.
The old man returned to the village and told the elders what has happened. The villagers became angry. They found the lazy hunter and drove him away from the village. The old man took the three cheetah cubs back to their grateful mother. But the long weeping of the mother cheetah stained her face forever. Today the cheetah wears the tearstains on its face as a reminder to the hunters that it is not honourable to hunt in any other way than that which is traditional.
Where Stories Come From (A Traditional Zulu Story)
Once, a very long time ago, so long ago that it must have been close to the time when the First Man and the First Woman walked upon the earth, there lived a woman named Manzandaba (mah-nzah-ndah'-bah) and her husband Zenzele (zay-nzay'-lay).
They lived in a traditional home in a small traditional village. They had many children, and for the most part, they were very happy. They would spend the day working, weaving baskets, tanning hides, hunting and tilling the earth near their home. On occasion they would go down to the great ocean and play under the sun in the sand, laughing at the funny crabs they would see scuttling along there and rejoicing at the way in which the birds would dip and dive in the sea breezes. Zenzele had the heart of an artist and loved to carve. He would fashion beautiful birds out of old tree stumps. With his axe he could make the most wonderful impala and kudu bucks from stone. Their homestead was filled with decorative works by Zenzele the carver.
But in the evenings when the family would sit around the fire before going to sleep they would not be so happy. It was too dark for weaving or carving, and yet too early to go to sleep. "Mama," the children would cry, "Sifuna izindaba!" (see-foo'-nah ezee-ndah'-bah) "We want stories! Tell us some stories, Mama!" Manzandaba would think and think, trying to find a story she could tell her children, but it was of no use. She and Zenzele had no stories to tell. They sought the counsel of their neighbours, but none of them knew any stories. They listened to the wind. Could the wind be trying to tell them a story? No, they heard nothing. There were no stories, no dreams, no magical tales.
One day Zenzele told his wife that she must go in search of stories. He promised to look after the home, to care for the children, to mend and wash and sweep and clean, if only she would bring back stories for the people. Manzandaba agreed. She kissed her husband and children good-bye and set off in search of stories.
The woman decided to ask every creature she passed if they had stories to share. The first animal she met was Nogwaja (noh-gwah'jah) the hare. He was such a trickster! But she thought she'd better ask him all the same. "Nogwaja, do you have any stories? My people are hungry for tales!" "Stories?" shrieked Nogwaja. "Why, I have hundreds, thousands, no--millions of them!"
"Oh, please, Nogwaja," begged Manzandaba, "give some to me that we might be happy!"
"Ummm...." Nogwaja said. "Uhhhh...well, I have no time for stories now. Can't you see that I am terribly busy? Stories in the daytime, indeed!" And Nogwaja hopped quickly away. Silly Nogwaja! He was lying! He didn't have any stories!
With a sigh Manzandaba continued on her way. The next one she came upon was mother baboon with her babies. "Oh, Fene! (fay'-nay) " she called. "I see you are a mother also! My children are crying for stories. Do you have any stories that I could bring back to them?"
"Stories?" laughed the baboon. "Do I look like I have time to tell stories? Hawu! With so much work to do to keep my children fed and safe and warm, do you think I have time for stories? I am glad that I do not have human children who cry for such silly things!"
Manzandaba continued on her way. She then saw an owl in a wild fig tree. "Oh, Khova (koh'-vah)," she called, "please will you help me? I am looking for stories. Do you have any stories you could give me to take back to my home?"
Well, the owl was most perturbed at having been woken from her sleep. "Who is making noise in my ears?" she hooted. "What is this disruption? What do you want? Stories! You dare wake me for stories? How rude!" And with that the owl flew off to another tree and perched much higher, where she believed she would be left in peace. Soon she was sound asleep again. And Manzandaba went sadly on her way.
Next she came upon an elephant. "Oh, kind Ndlovu (ndloh'-voo)," she asked, "do you know where I might find some stories? My people are hungry for some tales, and we do not have any!"
Now the elephant was a kind animal. He saw the look in the woman's eye and felt immediately sorry for her. "Dear woman," he said, "I do not know of any stories. But I do know the eagle. He is the king of the birds and flies much higher than all the rest. Don't you think that he might know where you could find stories?"
"Ngiyabonga, Ndlovu!" she said. "Thank you very much!"
So Manzandaba began to search for Nkwazi (nkwah'-zee) the great fish eagle. She found him near the mouth of the Tugela River. Excitedly she ran toward him. She called out to him as he was swooping down from the sky, talons outstretched to grab a fish from the river. "Nkwazi! Nkwazi!" she called. She so startled the eagle that he dropped the fish that had been his. He circled around and landed on the shore near the woman.
"Hawu!" he barked at her. "What is so important that you cause me to lose my supper?"
"Oh, great and wise Nkwazi," began Manzandaba. (Now fish eagle is very vain. He liked hearing this woman refer to him and great and wise. He puffed out his feathers as she spoke.) "Nkwazi, my people are hungry for stories. I have been searching a long time now for tales to bring back to them. Do you know where I might find such tales?" She gave him a great look of desperation.
"Well," he said, "even though I am quite wise, I do not know everything. I only know of the things that are here on the face of the earth. But there is one who knows even the secrets of the deep, dark ocean. Perhaps he could help you. I will try and call him for you. Stay here and wait for me!" So Manzandaba waited several days for her friend the fish eagle to return. Finally he came back to her. "Sawubona, nkosikazi!" he called. "I have returned, and I am successful! My friend, ufudu lwasolwandle, the big sea turtle, has agreed to take you to a place where you can find stories!" And with that the great sea turtle lifted himself out of the ocean.
"Woza, nkosikazi," said the sea turtle in his deep voice. "Climb onto my back and hold onto my shell. I will carry you to the Land of the Spirit People." So the woman took hold of his shell and down they went into the depths of the sea. The woman was quite amazed. She had never seen such beautiful things before in her life. Finally they came to the bottom of the ocean where the Spirit People dwell. The sea turtle took her straight to the thrones of the King and Queen. They were so regal! Manzandaba was a bit afraid at first to look at them. She bowed down before them.
"What do you wish of us, woman from the dry lands?" they asked.
So Manzandaba told them of her desire to bring stories to her people.
"Do you have stories that I could take to them?" she asked rather shyly.
"Yes," they said, "we have many stories. But what will you give us in exchange for those stories, Manzandaba?"
"What do you desire?" Manzandaba asked.
"What we would really like," they said, "is a picture of your home and your people. We can never go to the dry lands, but it would be so nice to see that place. can you bring us a picture, Manzandaba?"
"Oh, yes!" she answered. "I can do that! Thank you, thank you!"
So Manzandaba climbed back onto the turtle's shell, and he took her back to the shore. She thanked him profusely and asked him to return with the next round moon to collect her and the picture.
The woman told her family all of the things she had seen and experienced on her journey. When she finally got to the end of the tale her husband cried out with delight. "I can do that! I can carve a beautiful picture in wood for the Spirit People in exchange for their stories!" And he set to work straight away.
Manzandaba was so proud of her husband and the deftness of his fingers. She watched him as the picture he carved came to life. There were the members of their family, their home and their village. Soon others in the community heard about Manzandaba's journey and the promised stories and came also to watch Zenzele's creation take shape. When the next round moon showed her face Zenzele was ready. He carefully tied the picture to Manzandaba's back. She climbed on the turtle's back and away they went to the Spirit Kingdom. When they saw the picture the King and Queen of the Spirit people were so happy! They praised Zenzele's talent and gave Manzandaba a special necklace made of the finest shells for her husband in thanks. And then they turned to Manzandaba herself. "For you and your people," they said, "we give the gift of stories." And they handed her the largest and most beautiful shell she had ever seen. "Whenever you want a story," they said, "just hold this shell to your ear and you will have your tale!" Manzandaba thanked them for their extreme kindness and headed back to her own world.
When she arrived at the shore, there to meet her was her own family and all the people of her village. They sat around a huge fire and called out, "Tell us a story, Manzandaba! Tell us a story!"
So she sat down, put the shell to her ear, and began, "Kwesuka sukela...."
And that is how stories came to be!
Jabu and the Lion (A Traditional Zulu Story)
There was a young herdboy named Jabu (jah'-boo). He took great pride in the way in which he cared for his father's cattle. And his father had many cows - over 25! It was quite a task to keep these silly creatures out of trouble, away from the farmers mealies (corn) and out of the dangerous roads. Jabu had some friends who also kept their fathers' cattle, but none of them had even half the herd Jabu did! And none of them were as careful as Jabu. It was a sign of Jabu's father's pride in his boy that he entrusted such a large herd to such a young boy.
One day as he sat atop a small koppie (hill) watching the animals feed and braiding long thin strips of grass into bangles for his sisters, Jabu's friend Sipho (see'-poh) came running to him. "Have you heard the news, my friend?" panted Sipho. Before Jabu could even answer, Sipho rushed on to tell him. "Bhubesi, the lion, has been seen in these parts. Last night Bhubesi attacked and killed one of Thabo's (tah'-boh) father's cows. The men of the village are already setting traps for the beast!"
Jabu wasn't surprised by this news. His keen eyes had seen the spoor of the lion -- his left-over kill, his prints here-and-there in the soft earth, his dung. Jabu had respect for the king of the beasts. And since Bhubesi's pattern was to hunt at night when the cattle was safely within the kraal (/krawl/ "corral"), Jabu had seen no reason to alert the village of Bhubesi's presence. But the killing of a cow! "I wonder," thought Jabu to himself, "if the cow was not left out of the kraal?" Thabo was known to be a sloppy herdboy, a fellow who ran with his head in the clouds. He had been known to forget a cow or two before.
"Woza, Ngane!" (woh'-zah ngah'-nay "Come, friend!") Sipho urged, "come and put your cows away for the day and watch with me as the men set the traps!" Jabu slowly shook his head as he looked at Sipho and smiled. "You know me, friend," he returned Sipho's address. "I cannot put the cattle back into the kraal so early in the day! They need to be driven to the river before they go home."
Sipho smiled. "Yes, I thought you would say this. But I wanted to tell you anyway. I will see you later, friend, perhaps by the fire tonight!" And Sipho ran toward the village with a final wave to Jabu.
Jabu began to gather the cows together. He waved his intonga (ee-ntah'-gah "staff") and gave a loud whistle. Each cow looked up, then after a moment's pause, slowly started to trudge toward Jabu. With a grin Jabu began to take them to water.
Jabu bathed his feet in the cool refreshing river as the cows drank their fill. It was a fine sunny Autumn day, and if his mind had not been so busy thinking about the lion and the traps the men were setting, Jabu would probably be shaping the soft river clay into small cow figurines for his young brother. Then Jabu heard a sound that stole his breath from him. "Rrrrroar!" came the bellow. The cows all froze, a wild look coming into their eyes. "Rrrroarrrrrrr...." It was Bhubesi, and he was near! There was no time to drive the animals home; the lion was much too close. Jabu slowly rose, looking carefully around, his hand clenched on his staff. He walked purposefully, trying not to show the fear that made his knees tremble, pulling the cattle together into a tight circle. The cows trusted him and they obeyed. "Rrrrroarr...oarr..oarr...aaa!" Jabu listened. Bhubesi was not declaring his majesty or might....it sounded more like a cry for help. Several more bellows and Jabu knew, Bhubesi was in trouble. Somehow this took most of the boy's fear from him. Gripping his staff, Jabu quietly began to walk toward the lion's cry.
Yes, indeed, the lion was in trouble. Jabu found him in a small clearing several metres across the river. He was caught in on of the traps laid by the men of the village. His head was firmly wedged in the barred structure, and the more he struggled, the tighter the snare became. Jabu stood and stared. Never before had he seen the king of the animals so near. He truly was a majestic animal. And a large part of his heart was sore for the creature. Then the lion saw the boy. "Hawu! Mfana! (hah'woo mfah'nah "Oh! Boy!") It is good that you are here. Please, help me. I am caught in this stupid trap and I cannot free myself. Please, please, will you come and pull up on the bar that is holding my head here. Please!"
Jabu looked into Bhubesi's eyes. He could not read them, but he could hear the desperation in the animal's voice. "Please, Mfana! Please! Before those hunters come and kill me. Please release me!"
Jabu had a tender heart, but he was no fool. "I would very much like to free you, Bhubesi! But I am afraid that as soon as I did so you would make me your dinner."
"Oh, no, Ngane wami! (ngah'nee wah'me "My friend") I could never eat someone who set me free! I promise, I really promise with full sincerity, that I will not touch a hair on your head!"
Well, the lion begged and pleaded so pitifully that Jabu finally decided to trust him and set him free. Gingerly he stepped over to the trap and raised the bar that held the lion's head. With a mighty bound the lion leapt free of the trap and shook his mane. "Oh, thank you, Mfana! I really owe you something. My neck was getting so stiff in there, and I fear it would have been parted from by body by the hunters if you hadn't come along. Now, please, if you don't mind, Mfana, one last thing.... I have become so thirsty from being in that thing, I would really like a drink of water. Can you show me where the river is? I seem to have become confused with my directions."
Jabu agreed, keeping a wary eye on the lion, and led the lion upstream from where he had come, away from his father's cows, since Bhubesi had made no promise about not eating them! As lion drank he watched Jabu with one eye. He was thinking to himself, "Hmmm....nice looking legs on that boy! Hmmm....and those arms are good looking too! Pity to waste such an excellent meal!" When the lion raised his head from the river, both eyes were on Jabu, and this time the boy could see what was reflected there. Jabu began to back up.
"You promised, Bhubesi," Jabu began. "I saved you from the hunters, and you promised not to eat me!"
"Yes," said Bhubesi, slowly walking toward the retreating boy. "You are right, I did make that promise. But somehow now that I am free it does not seem so important to keep that promise. And I am awfully hungry!"
"You are making a big mistake," said Jabu. "Don't you know that if you break your promises that the pieces of the broken promises will come back to pierce you?"
The lion stopped and laughed. "Hah! What nonsense! How can such a flimsy thing pierce me? I am more determined than ever to eat you now, boy," and he started stalking Jabu once more, "and all this talk is just serving to make me hungrier!"
Just then an old donkey happened across their path. "Ask the donkey," said Jabu to the lion. "Ask him and he will tell you how bad it is to break a promise."
"He, wena! (hay, way'nah "alright, you!") You are certainly dragging this thing out! So I will ask the donkey." The lion turned to the old creature. "I want to eat this boy," he addressed the donkey. "Isn't that okay?"
Jabu broke in, "But he promised to let me go after I freed him from the snare," Jabu added.
The donkey slowly looked at the lion and then at Jabu. "I say," the donkey started, "that all my life these stupid humans have beat me and forced me to carry things. Now that I am old they turn me out and leave me to waste away all alone. I do not like humans." He turned back to the lion. "Eat the boy!" and the donkey moved on.
"Well, that settles that," said the lion as he began to approach the boy once more. Just then Mpungushe the jackal stepped between the two.
"Oh, terribly sorry," he said, "to have disturbed you. I'll be on my way..."
"No!" shouted Jabu. "Wait and tell the lion how bad it is to break a promise."
"A promise?" asked the jackal. "Well, I suppose it depends upon the promise, doesn't it? Why? Did one of you make a promise?"
Lion sat down and rolled his eyes up toward the heavens.
"Yes," Jabu said. And he told Jackal how he had freed the lion from the trap, and how Lion had promised not to eat him, and how now Lion was intent upon doing that very thing!
"Oh, what a silly story!" said Jackal. "My nkosi, the great king of all the animals, stuck in a little trap made by humans? Impossible! I don't believe it."
"It is true," said Bhubesi. "It is a strong and terrible trap!"
"Oh, I can't believe anything is stronger than my king. I must see this thing! Please, will you take the courtesy before your dinner to show me this trap that you are speaking about. Please! Then you can eat your meal in peace!"
So the lion, keeping Jabu in front of himself, led Jackal to the trap. "But you can't tell me that this little thing could actually hold your head! Never! I just can't imagine it. Nkosi, would you mind just sticking your head there so I can see how you looked when the boy found you?"
"Hawu. You are taxing me with your questions. This last thing I will do for you and then you must be on your way and leave me to my dinner in peace." So Lion stuck his head back between the bars just the way he had been when Jabu had found him. Then, quicker that lightning, Jackal threw the top bar in place. Lion was caught fast once again!
"Yes," said Jackal, " now I see how you were trapped. What a pity that you are so trapped once more. But the boy is right, Nkosi. Broken promises always catch up with you!"
Lion roared in anger, but the sound trap held him well. Jabu thanked the jackal and ran back to his cows, who were all patiently waiting for their shepherd's return.
Jabu drove them home and into the kraal. What a day he had had! "Jabu, Jabu," Sipho came running from behind Jabu. "The lion has been caught in the trap near the river! You and your cows missed all the adventure!"
Jabu turned and smiled at his friend. "We have had all the adventure we need for one day," he said. And as Sipho headed back to the hunters to hear the story once again of the mighty lion caught in the trap, Jabu greeted his mother in the cooking house and sat down with a sigh.
Clever Jackal Gets Away (A Traditional Zulu Story)
"Hawu, hawu, hawu, my children," Gogo began one evening. "You know, cleverness is a very important thing to own! Why, cleverness has helped Nogwaja out of the cooking pot more than once!"
"The Jackal is also a clever animal, isn't he, Gogo?" asked little Sipho (see' poh), who was quite proud that his nickname was Mpungushe (mpoo-ngoo'-shay = "jackal"). Gogo, in fact, had given him that name because of the loud howl he had made as a baby. Sipho liked to think it was because he was quick and agile as the Jackal.
Gogo laughed and looked at the child at her feet. "Yes, my boy! You are right! Jackal is a very clever animal. Sometimes too clever for his own good!"
"I remember how he helped Jabu the herdboy by tricking Bhubesi back into the snare. Tell us another tale about Jackal, Gogo!" begged Sipho.
"Yes, Gogo," her other grandchildren chorused. "Please tell us...."
"Alright, my children. But listen and learn!" Gogo settled her round self down more comfortably upon the tree stump. "Kwasuka sukela . . ."
One day long ago, Jackal was trotting through a narrow, rocky pass. As he often did, he kept his nose to the ground as he ambled along, to catch the odd scent. "Never know when I'll happen upon my next meal, " he thought to himself, although it was highly unlikely that he would find a rat out in the midday heat. But perhaps he could catch a lizard or two.
Suddenly he was aware of a movement ahead of him in the pass. "Oh, no!" Jackal moaned and stopped dead-still in his tracks. Lion was coming toward him. Realising that he was too near to escape, Jackal was filled with fear. He had played so many tricks on the great Bhubesi in the past, he was sure that lion would take this opportunity to get his revenge. In a flash Jackal thought of a plan.
"Help! Help!" cried Jackal. He cowered down on the cliff path, looking above at the rocks.
Lion stopped short in surprise.
"Help!" Jackal howled, using the fear he felt in the middle of his chest to accentuate his cry. Jackal glanced up at Bhubesi. "Oh, great Nkosi! Help! There is no time to lose! See those great rocks above us? They are about to fall! We shall both be crushed to death!!!! Oh, mighty Lion, do something! Save us!" And Jackal cowered even lower, his paws covering his head.
Lion looked up, most alarmed. Before he even had a chance to think, Jackal was begging him to use his strength to hold up the overhanging rock. So Lion put his brawny shoulder to the rock and heaved.
"Oh, thank you, great King!" yelped Jackal. "I will quickly fetch that log over there to prop under the rock, and we will both be saved!" With that Jackal bounded out of sight.
Lion was left all alone to struggle under the weight of the unmoving rock. How long he remained there before he realised that it was another trick, we will never know. But this much we do know: Jackal continued to live by his wits!
The Curse of the Chameleon (A Traditional Zulu Story)
Gogo breathed deeply of the cool evening air. She paused beneath the darkening sky, hands pressed into her back.
"Woza, Gogo!" called little Methembe, who, although he seemed to have unlimited energy, always waited for his granny. "Come on!" he encouraged as he turned and dashed up the final rise toward the homestead. Gogo chuckled, shook her head slowly and forced her feet to continue up the path. "Hawu!" she thought to herself. Soon she would no longer be able to make it down to the river and back. By the time Gogo came within sight of the evening fire, the children had put away the washed clothing and deposited the firewood where it was stored. They were now squatting in a tight circle, the older ones rocking on their heels, waiting for their elders to finish eating that they might then have their dinner.
After everyone had eaten and the pots were filled with water to soak, Gogo and the children settled down before the fire. "Gogo," asked Methembe rather tentatively, choosing to look into the fire rather than at his beloved granny, "why do people grow old and die?" The old woman looked lovingly at her grandson and smiled. She knew his unspoken fears.
"Ahh, my little Hope," she answered, looking into the fire herself. "That is a very interesting tale! Shall I tell you, my children, the story of why people must grow old and die?"
"Yebo, Gogo! Yes!" they all answered as if one.
"Alright then..." And Gogo began. "Kwasuka sukela...."
After God the great Creator finished making all things, he sat back and took a long look at the world he'd made. He smiled and decided that it was very good. He was especially pleased with the people, the first man and woman. They, after all, were the most like himself. "Yes," he thought, "this is good! Very good!"
But as time went on the Creator noticed that man and woman kept injuring their bodies. Oh, the skin would heal with time, but it always left scars. And after many years the first man and woman's bodies were looking old and tatty indeed! "Hmmm," thought Creator, "these bodies are wearing out! Time, I think, for new ones!"
So Creator called Chameleon to himself. "Listen, Chameleon," said Creator, "I have a package that I want you to deliver to man and woman. It is most urgent, so do not delay. Go straight to the people, tell them I sent you, and give them this parcel from me!" With that he pushed a small package into Chameleon's hands. "I trust you, Chameleon, for you are loyal and swift. Go now!"
So Chameleon set off to do as his Lord bid. In those days Chameleon was fast as lightning. He sped toward Earth, the parcel neatly tucked beneath his arm. When he reached the great river he paused to take a drink. And this proved to be his undoing!
Snake just happened to be drinking at the same time. "Hello, Cousin Chameleon," he hissed. "My, you are in a great hurry today! What are you about?"
Chameleon looked up. "Ah, yebo! Sawubona, Nyoka!" he politely replied. (sah-woo-boh'-nah nyoh'kah = "Yes, I see you, Snake!" or "Hello, Snake!") "I have a package to deliver for Creator. Something for the people."
Now Snake hated the people. They walked so far above the ground, often treading on Snake and his family members without even noticing. And Creator seemed to pay so much more attention to them than he did to the other animals. Snake was bitterly jealous of people, and when he heard that Chameleon was taking a gift to them from Creator, Snake began to scheme. How could he make sure that people did not receive this gift?
"Oh, dear Cousin Chameleon," Snake hissed, edging closer to Chameleon and the parcel. "It is so good to see you again! My family has missed you a great deal! All of our other relatives come often to share a meal. But you never seem to have time for us! One would tend to think that perhaps you thought yourself too good to associate with your close kin!"
Now Chameleon was a sensitive fellow. It worried him to think that Snake might have something against him. "Oh, no, dear cousin Nyoka," pleaded Chameleon. "I assure you that I hold you in high regard! I would be honoured to come for a meal sometime!"
"Well," Snake answered quickly, "why not now? My wife is at this very moment waiting lunch for me. She would be pleased beyond words to see you dine with us!"
"Oh, dear!" answered Chameleon, looking at the parcel still tucked beneath his arm. "I really have an urgent errand for Creator at the moment. Ummmm....perhaps some other time?"
"Yes, yes," hissed Snake turning away with a hint of disgust in his voice. "Just as I thought. Too good for the likes of us! Well, run along then with your all-important business."
Chameleon looked at the sun. It was still high in the sky. He could have the mid-day meal with Snake's family and have plenty of time left to deliver the package. Perhaps he was being too hasty. "Wait, Snake," Chameleon spoke quickly. "I was being too abrupt. I beg your pardon. I really would love to have a meal with you. To prove it I will dine with you now and do my business after the meal!"
Snake smiled to himself before he turned back toward Chameleon. "Oh, Chameleon," Snake replied, sounding quite humble indeed, "Thank you! It is we who will be honoured by your presence, I assure you!" And with that he led Chameleon off to his burrow.
Snake's wife had really outdone herself, as usual. She'd prepared a huge and sumptuous meal and truly was delighted to see that Chameleon had come to share it with them. She encouraged him to have more and more, and as it was so delicious, Chameleon helped himself until he was almost too full to move. He was having such a good time, and was especially enjoying Snake's outstanding utshwala (oo-chwah'-lah = a traditional Zulu beer brewed from sorghum), that he forgot all about his special mission. Snake smiled slyly as he watched Chameleon's head nod and his eyelids droop. Snake laughed aloud as Chameleon fell asleep with a satisfied little grunt.
"What is so funny, my husband?" asked Snake's wife, accustomed to the ways of nature to rest after the mid-day meal in the hottest hours of the day. She saw nothing strange or funny about Chameleon's behaviour. It was actually a compliment to her as a hostess, that she had made her guest so comfortable and welcome.
"Look here," Snake hissed, as he gently lifted the package from under Chameleon's arm.
"What is that?" she asked.
"A gift for us from Creator," Snake laughed. And with that Snake tore open the parcel. "Look, my good wife," he exclaimed, lifting something from the box. "Creator has sent us new skins! New skins, so that whenever our old ones wear out we can change into new ones!" Snake laughed again, louder this time, waking his guest. Chameleon took one look at the parcel and immediately knew what had happened.
"No, Snake!" Chameleon pleaded, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Those are not for you! They are for people. You know that! Give them back!" Chameleon stretched out his hands toward the skins. "Please, Nyoka! Give them back!"
But Snake just laughed, holding the skins beyond Chameleon's reach. "No, my cousin. These are my skins now!" And with that Snake slithered away.
As the sun went down Chameleon was sick with sadness for the way in which he'd been betrayed and for the way in which he had disobeyed. He hid away from Creator in the braces of the trees, clinging to the limbs, moving slowly so as not to be detected. He was too afraid to face Creator.
"And so, you see, my children," finished Gogo, "how it was that people were cheated out of new skins by Snake. To this day snake will shed his old skin and don a new one whenever he is feeling his age."
"But that's not fair, Gogo!" cried Methembe. "Creator should make Snake return the skins!"
"Ah, well, my boy," Gogo looked at him and placed a hand on his head, "Life is not always fair. But while Snake got the skins, Creator did not stop the people from standing on Snake from time-to-time. In fact, when most people encounter Snake these days they give him what they think he deserves: a sound thrashing! And, of course, Chameleon is still hiding away in the trees, moving so slowly that he usually goes undetected. And as for people, well, Creator gave them another gift that was better than new skins!"
"What was that, Gogo?" the children asked
"Oh, my children," Gogo replied with a smile, "That is a story for another time! Now my weary old bones tell me that it is time for a good night's rest!"
And with a great heave Gogo lifted herself from her stump by the fire and walked slowly toward her hut.
"Lalani kahle, bantwana!" (lah-lah'-nee kah'-hlay bah-ntwah'-nah = "Sleep well, children!")
Honeyguide's Revenge (A Traditional Zulu Story)
The children sat before the fire slowly licking their fingers for the last of the sticky sweetness. "Ah, Sibonelo!" Gogo smiled. "You are a good one for finding a ripe hive! We shall have honey at least until the new moon!"
Sibonelo grinned back at his granny. "It was easy, Gogo! I just followed the Honeyguide."
Gogo looked at him thoughtfully. "I hoped you remembered to leave the little bird his portion!"
"Oh, yes, Gogo! I would never think of cheating Ngede out of his share!" Sibonelo knew that the Honeyguide would search for a human helper whenever he found a hive that was ready for harvest. While Honeyguide did not care for the honey, he loved to eat the bee grubs and wax from the nest. But poor Honeyguide was ill-equipped to get the food for himself. He therefore relied upon a two-footed friend to pull down the nest. "I remember what happened to Gingile, the greedy one, when he took all the honey for himself!"
"What happened to Gingile, Gogo?" asked some of the younger children who had not heard or had forgotten the story. Now that their tummies were full, it was time to satisfy the soul.
"Alright, my children," laughed Gogo. "I think a story about little Ngede is appropriate after feasting upon the honey he helped bring to our table!" She took a deep breath and began, "Kwasuka sukela....."
There once was a greedy young man named Gingile. He rarely shared with anyone, preferring to keep the meat from any of his kills to himself, hoarding every mealie pip (kernel of corn) that grew in his small garden.
One day while Gingile was out hunting he heard the honey call of Ngede. Gingile's mouth began to water at the thought of the sweet treat. He stopped and listened carefully, searching until he found the little fellow among the branches above his head. "Chitik-chitik-chitik," the little bird rattled, like the sound of a matchbox shaken lengthwise. When Ngede saw that he had an interested partner he quickly began moving through the branches toward the nest. "Chitik, chitik, chitik," he continued, stopping several times to be sure that Gingile followed.
After thirty minutes or so they reached a huge wild fig tree. Ngede hopped about madly among the branches. He then settled on one branch and cocked his head, looking at Gingile as if to say, "Here it is! Come now! What is taking you so long?" Gingile couldn't see anything from his place on the forest floor, but he knew Honeyguide's reputation for finding big, ripe nests flowing with sweet honey. Gingile deposited his hunting tools at the foot of the tree. He then gathered some dry twigs and made a small fire. As soon as the flames were well established, Gingile put a long dry stick into the heart of the fire. This wood was especially known to make lots of smoke while it burned. As soon as he was sure it was properly burning, he began climbing, the cool end of the branch clamped in his mouth.
Soon he could hear the loud buzzing of the busy bees. "Ah," he thought to himself, "I can almost smell the sweetness in the air. How I love the taste of honey!" When he reached the place of the hive he quickly thrust the burning, smoking end of the branch into the hollow. The bees came rushing out, angry and mean. When most of them were out, Gingile pushed his hands into the nest. He took out handfuls of the heavy comb, dripping with rich honey and full of fat, white grubs. He ignored the few stings he received, placing the comb carefully in the pouch he wore around his neck and chest. When the nest was empty, Gingile slowly made his way back down the tree.
Ngede watched all of this activity with a great deal of anticipation. He fidgeted nervously, waiting for the moment when Gingile would walk once again on the forest floor and leave, as was the custom, a fat piece of honeycomb as a thank-offering to the Honeyguide. Ngede loved the juicy larval bees and the waxy comb. He flittered from branch to branch, closer and closer to the ground. Finally Gingile reached the forest floor. Ngede flew to a rocky perch near the man and patiently waited for his share. But, Gingile put out the fire, picked up his tools and started walking home, obviously ignoring the little bird. Ngede chirped indignantly. He flew before Gingile and landed on a rock in front of the hunter. There he faced the man and crossly called in a high-pitched voice, "VIC-torr! VIC-torrr!" Gingile stopped, stared at the little bird and laughed aloud. "You want some of the spoils, do you, my friend? Ha! Who did all the work and received all of the stings? Why should I share any of this lovely honey with you, you little nothing? Be off and find yourself another supper!" And with a wave of his arm in dismissal, Gingile set off for his homestead.
Ngede was furious! How dare this man break the long-time custom and refuse to show his gratitude! But little Ngede was not powerless. He would get his satisfaction! Ngede waited and watched the man for several moons before he sought his revenge.
One day several weeks later Gingile again heard the honey call of the Ngede. Remembering how sweet and wonderful the last harvest had been, Gingile eagerly followed the little bird once again. After making his way around the edge of the forest, Ngede suddenly stopped his characteristic "Chitik-chitik-chitik," and came to rest in a great umbrella thorn. "Ahh," thought Gingile. "The hive must be in this tree." He quickly made his small fire and began his ascent, the smouldering branch in his teeth. Ngede sat and watched.
Gingile climbed, wondering why he didn't hear the usual buzzing. "Perhaps the nest is deep in the tree," he thought to himself. He was concentrating so much on his climbing, and was daydreaming about the sweet taste of honey, when he found himself face-to-face with a leopard. Poor leopard was taking her usual mid-day nap in her favourite tree, exhausted after a long night of hunting, when she was suddenly awakened by a scream. Leopard was first startled and then angry at having her sleep so rudely interrupted. She narrowed her eyes, opened her mouth to reveal her very large and very sharp teeth and took a quick swipe at the man, raking her claws across his forehead. Gingile rushed down the tree, half-falling. He landed with a heavy thud on the ground, breaking several of his bones. Lucky for him that Leopard was still so tired, or she might have decided to pursue the man. Never-the-less Gingile departed as fast as his broken bones would allow him. And he wore the scars of Leopard on his forehead the rest of his life.
Ngede had his revenge, and Gingile never followed a Honeyguide again. But the children of Gingile, and the children of the children of Gingile, heard the story of Ngede and had respect for the little bird. Whenever they harvest honey, they are sure to leave the biggest part of the comb with the juiciest grubs for Ngede!
Author's note: There are six different species of honeyguides in southern Africa. The Greater Honeyguide actually does lead man to bees' nests, hence the family name. They are equipped with a special bacteria in their gut that aid in digestion of bees' wax. Honeyguides do not build their own nests, but rather are brood-parasitic, laying their eggs in hole-nesting birds' nests, usually Barbet's nests. When the Honeyguide hatches it usually kills the host's offspring, and the host bird raises the Honeyguide, unaware that it is not its own.
King of the Birds (A Traditional Zulu Story)
"Gogo?" Thobeka was the first to break the silence around the fire this night.
Gogo looked at the most inquisitive of her grandchildren with a broad smile.
"Yes, my dear one," she answered.
"Gogo, I know that the mighty Lion, Bhubesi, is king of all the animals. Is he King also of the birds?"
"Ah, that is an interesting question, Thobeka." The children sensed a story coming and drew even closer together. "You are right when you say that Lion is the king of all the animals. And as for the birds, well, I will have to tell you about the time they decided to have a leader of their own. . . Kwasuka sukela. . . ."
Some time after the Creator had finished making the beasts of the sea, land and sky, as He was busy putting the finishing touch to His work by creating People, Nkwazi (nkwah'-zee), the great Fish Eagle, called a meeting of all the birds. And they came, from the Flamingo to the Weaver, from the Warbler to the Owl, they came.
"Ah-hem," Nkwazi began by clearing his throat. The chatter died down as everyone turned their gaze on the magnificent eagle. "I have asked you all to be here for a very important reason. As you all know, Lion, the great Bhubesi, is the king of all the beast of the land. But he hardly dare speak for us, the great winged creatures of the air! It is my suggestion that we chose from among our number a bird to be our sovereign leader!" A ripple of chattering began again as the birds turned to one another to discuss the idea. "Ah-hem!" Nkwazi cleared his throat once more. He waited until he had the attention of all present. "As I am the most majestic and regal bird present, I suggest that I, Nkwazi, be the King of the birds!"
A great deal of mumbling began from all corners of the gathering. Then one voice rose above the others, demanding attention.
"Yes, Nkwazi, you are indeed majestic." It was the giant Eagle Owl, Khova (koh'-vah) speaking. "However I actually think that it is I who should be the King of the winged animals. You see, I have the largest eyes of any of the birds. I can see everything that happens, and therefore am very wise. It is wisdom we need in a leader more than stateliness."
Again a low murmur went through the crowd until a third voice demanded attention. "I acknowledge Khova's wisdom and Nkwazi's regal bearing, however I would propose that I be King of the birds." Kori Bustard, Ngqithi (ng*ee'-tee) walked to the centre of the circle as he spoke. "I am the largest of all the winged kingdom. Certainly strength is an important factor in leadership!"
All the birds began to speak at once. Some threw their support behind the Eagle, some believed the Owl should be the King, while others liked the Kori Bustard. Finally after a long period of arguing, a little voice was heard rising above the din.
"Excuse me. Excuse me, please!" It was Ncede (n~ay'-day), the tiny Neddicky (a small, quick-moving southern African warbler). He was so small and insignificant looking that he was easily overlooked. Finally the crowd became silent and allowed the little bird his say. "If we are going to elect a King of the birds, well, I think it should me !"
Everyone broke into laughter. Surely this miniature warbler was jesting! Ncede, King of the birds! Unthinkable! Silly creature for even thinking it! What, the audacity of this little thing! What arrogance! What impudence!
"And what reason would you give for having us elect you as our King?" asked Nkwazi staring into Ncede's eyes.
"Well," began Ncede, "no real reason, besides to say that I should be given every bit as much opportunity as anyone else!"
While they laughed at Ncede's suggestion, the assembly was impressed with the little fellow's courage!
"What we need is a competition!" decided Nkwazi. "We will have a contest to see who is fit to be our King!" Everyone seemed to like this idea. It was agreed that on the first day after the full moon the birds would again gather. They would meet on the open veld when the sun was high in the sky. And when the sun touched the tallest tip of the mountain, the birds would become airborne. The one who could then fly the highest and touch the hand of God would become the King.
On the appointed day the birds assembled. Patiently they watched the sun make her way down from the sky. At the exact moment she touched the tallest peak of the mountain, the birds all rose into the air. It was a magnificent sight to see.
Now, little Ncede was there. He was determined to prove that he had just as much right as anyone else to the kingship. But he knew that his little wings could not lift him very far. He had therefore made a special plan. Just before the birds took off, Ncede silently crept underneath the wing of the mighty Fish Eagle. He carefully pushed his way deep down into the raptor's largest feathers. Nkwazi was so busy concentrating on the descent of the sun, he didn't feel a thing.
Higher and higher the birds soared. The little ones fell out of the race after a short time. Slowly they drifted back down to earth to watch the others. Soon all but three of the birds had dropped out of the competition. Eagle, Owl and Bustard fought to see who would claim the prize. They were so tired, but they pushed on, higher and higher. The strain was too much for owl, and with a resigned "Hoo-hoo" he dove back toward firm ground. Now it was Nkwazi and Ngqithi. Up and up they went, closer and closer to the hand of God. But no matter how much he tried, the feat was too much for the heavy Bustard. After a final pull with his mighty wings, he called to Nkwazi. "Ah, my friend, it seems you are the winner. I can go no further."
That confession seemed to temporarily strengthen the almost spent Eagle; he gathered his last bit of strength and climbed beyond the Bustard.
"Wheeeee-whee-whee!" The victorious sound of Nkwazi's call filled the sky.
"Not so fast, Nkwazi!" chirped Ncede, and he shot out from under one of the mighty bird's feathers. "You have not won yet!" And with that Ncede rose above Nkwazi to touch the hand of God. No matter how hard he tried, Nkwezi just didn't have the strength left to climb any farther. With a groan he allowed himself to begin gliding down to earth.
Now, all the birds below had watched this and were angered by Ncede's trickery. As Ncede returned to the soil he did not find the kingly welcome he expected. Instead every bird in the kingdom was ready to pluck the feathers from little Ncede's back. But the quick little bird saw their anger and quickly flew into a deserted snake hole.
"Come out, Ncede!" snapped the bustard. "Come out and get the prize that you deserve!"
"Yes!" echoed all the other birds. "Come on, Ncede! Where's your brave face now?"
But Ncede stayed hidden. The birds guarded the hole until long after sunset, waiting for Ncede to show his face. All through the night they waited, thinking that Ncede had to come out for food or water soon. In the morning Ncede had still not appeared. "Listen," said Nkwazi, "I am faint from hunger. We do not all need to guard the hole. I suggest we take turns until the little jokester decides to come out!" Everyone agreed, most of them being terribly tired.
"I am not yet weary or hungry," volunteered the owl. "I do not mind taking the first watch. Just mind that someone comes back in an hour or two to relieve me!"
A quick roster was drawn up and everyone but owl went off to sleep or hunt for food. Owl was used to being still and waiting for his prey. He waited and waited it seemed to him forever. Finally he decided to close just one of his eyes. "After all," he thought, "even one of my eyes is bigger and can see better than both eyes on any other bird!" He closed his right eye and peered into the dark hole with his left eye. Several minutes later Owl decided to switch and so he open the right eye and closed the left. This went on for quite a while, until one time Owl forgot to open the right eye when he closed the left. There he was, both eyes closed! And he fell fast asleep.
Now this was the moment for which Ncede had been waiting. Before the opportunity was lost, Ncede shot out of the hole and disappeared into the forest. Eagle, who was on his way to relieve Owl, saw the little creature leave and cried out. He went to owl and found the bird in a deep sleep.
"Wake up, you fool!" he shouted at owl. "You fell asleep and Ncede got away!"
Well, Owl was so embarrassed by his mistake, to this day he sleeps during the day and does his hunting at night so that none of the other birds will bother him about having been caught sleeping on the job. And Ncede, he hides out in the forest, flittering from here to there, never stopping anywhere long enough to be caught.
"So," Gogo," asked Thobeka when several moments of silence had elapsed, "who then became the king of the birds?"
"That, my child," Gogo looked at her granddaughter with a smile, "no one knows. I think they are arguing to this day about the position!"
Author's notes: * = "q" in Zulu is a "click" sound made by drawing the tongue down sharply from the palate. ~ = "c" in Zulu is also a click sound. It is the sound made when the tip of the tongue is drawn away from the back of the front teeth. Similar to the click of exasperation made in most Western countries.
Why the Warthog Goes About on His Knees (A Traditional Zulu Story)
"Oh, Gogo," little Sipho asked one evening, "could you tell us the story of clever Jackal again?" Sipho, whose nickname was Mpungushe "jackal," never tired of hearing tales of his beloved namesake.
"Hawu, Sipho," moaned several of his siblings, "Not again, little Jackal! You will wear out our ears with stories of Mpungushe!"
Gogo laughed her deep, round laugh. Soon each of her grandchildren were laughing along with her.
"I, too, love the stories of the Jackal!" Gogo looked at Sipho. "But we do not want to cause your brothers and sisters to become deaf. I think there is another tale that I can tell you of an animal who tried to be as clever as Jackal!"
Kwasuka sukela . . .
Wart hog had made himself a lovely, spacious home in an old termite mound that an aardvark* had cleared out. He had built it up and made a wide entrance. He thought it was the most magnificant home in Africa and would often stand at the entrance of his dwelling with his snout in the air as the giraffe, wildebeest** and zebra passed to the watering hole. "Hah," he thought to himself, "no one has such a fine home!"
One day as he looked out from the entrance of his cave he was horrified to see a huge lion stealthily stalking toward him. He started to back away, but because he had made the entrance to his place so grand, the lion would have no difficulty in following Wart Hog right in. "Ahhhh," panicked Wart Hog, "Bhubesi will eat me in my own lounge! What will I do?"
Wart Hog decided to use an old trick he'd heard Jackal bragging about. Wart Hog pretended to be supporting the roof of his hole with his strong back, pushing up with his tusks. "Help!" he cried to the lion, "I am going to be crushed! The roof is caving in! Flee, oh, mighty Bhubesi, before you are crushed along with me!"
Now Lion is no fool. He recognized Jackal's old ploy straight away ("Do you remember that story, children?"), and he wasn't going to be caught out again. He roared so fiercely that Wart hog dropped to his knees, trembling. Wart hog begged for mercy. Luckily for him Lion was not too hungry. So he pardoned the wart hog and left, saying, "Stay on your kness, you foolish beast!"
Lion laughed to himself and shook his shaggy head as he walked away. Imagine, slow-witted Wart hog trying to copy Jackal's trick! Wart hog took Lion's order to heart. That is why, to this day, you will see Wart hog feeding on his knees, in a very undignified position, with his bottom up in the air and his snout snuffling in the dust.
*"aardvark" comes from Afrikaans and literally means "earth pig." It is a South African eutherian mammal which is nocturnal and feeds mainly on termites.
** "wildebeest" is a South African antelope that has a large ox-like head. It is often also referred to as a "gnu" because its call sounds like "gnu...gnu...gnu."
Peace be upon you