African Folktales aren’t just stories, they’re living pieces of history and culture to those who tell them. Many of the stories bear characteristics that belong to the region from which they came, and the authors often collected their stories by region. Africa brought forth many rich stories of folklore to the literature world. These stories continue to fascinate audiences and are often taught in schools.
The people from Africa included unique characteristics in their folklore, showing their way of life and the animals and plants that surround them. African stories sometimes include trickster animals and spirits.
Folk tales and stories of Anansi has become well-known all-over the world, and often used by schools and educators to teach moral concepts.
We have small collection of African Folktales for you. Enjoy and share with your friends.
Long, long ago, Olorun (OH-low-run), the sky god, lowered a great chain from the heavens to the ancient waters. Down this chain climbed Oduduwa, Olorun’s son. Oduduwa brought with him a handful of dirt, a special five-toed chicken, and a palm nut. He threw the dirt upon the ancient waters and set the chicken on the dirt. The chicken busily scratched and scattered the dirt until it formed the first dry earth. In the center of this new world, Oduduwa created the magnificent Ife (EE-fay) kingdom. He planted the palm nut, which grew into a proud tree with 16 branches, symbolizing the 16 sons and grandsons of Oduduwa.1
Oduduwa was the first ruler of the kingdom and the father of all Yoruba. Over time he crowned his 16 sons and grandsons and sent them off to establish their own great Yoruba kingdoms. As descendants of the sky god, these first Yoruba rulers and their direct descendants were divine kings. Only they could wear special veiled crowns that symbolized their sacred power.2
1 P. C. Lloyd, “Sacred Kingship and Government among the Yoruba,” Africa 30, no. 3: pp. 222-223
2 Variations on this creation story exist among the many Yoruba kingdoms. Each variation legitimizes the lineage and right to rule of the individual kingdom’s own ruler.
The Lion’s Whisker
Once upon a time, there lived a young husband and wife in a small village in Africa. For some time now, the husband had not been happy with his marriage. He began to come home late from working in the fields. His wife thought he was the most wonderful man. But she was unhappy, too. His behavior was making her miserable.
Finally, she went to the oldest man in her village, the village elder. The elder was sad to hear her marriage was not a happy one. He had married them only two years before. At the time, he was sure that the marriage would be a good one.
“Of course I will end your marriage if that is what you want,” he told the young wife, after listening patiently for a while. “You will be free to marry again. But is that really what you want?”
“I want my husband to be loving,” she said. “I want to be loving. We are both miserable.”
“I think I can help you,” the elder said slowly. “I can prepare a secret potion that will change your husband into a loving man.”
“Prepare this magic potion at once!” the young wife cried out excitedly.
“I could make it,” he said sadly. “But I am missing an important ingredient. I am too old to get this ingredient for you. You must bring it to me.”
“What do you need?” the young wife asked eagerly. “I’ll bring it today.”
“I need a single whisker taken from a living lion to make the potion work.”
Her eyes widened in alarm. She bit her bottom lip. She straightened her shoulders. “I’ll get it for you,” she nodded.
The next morning, the young wife carried a huge piece of raw meat down to the river where lions sometimes came to drink. She hid behind a tree and waited. After waiting many hours, a lion ambled down to the river to have a drink. He sniffed at the raw meat. In three bites, the meat was gone. He raised his mighty head. He knew she there. The young wife held her breath. The mighty lion moved slowly back into the forest and disappeared.
The next day, the young wife came again. This time, the lion appeared quite quickly. This continued for many days. Days became weeks. Each day, the woman crept from her hiding place behind the tree, moving closer and closer to the lion.
At the end of four weeks, she moved quietly next to the lion and sat silently while he ate. Her hand shaking, she reached slowly out and pulled a whisker from his chin. Holding per prize firmly in one hand, she sat frozen until the lion had disappeared back into the forest.
She ran to the elder, waving her whisker. “I have it,” she shouted. “I have it!”
The elder was in awe when he heard her story. “You do not need magic to change your husband back into the loving man he once was. You are brave enough to pull a whisker from the chin of a living lion. It took cleverness and bravery to do what you have done. Can you not use that same patience and courage and wit with your husband?
“But the potion,” the young wife said eagerly. “Would not that work as well?”
“Perhaps,” the elder told her. “But it would not last. Trust me, my child. Show your husband each day that you love him. Share his problems. Make him feel welcome. Make him feel wanted and needed. Give him time to change and see what happens.”
The young wife went home and followed the elder’s advice. Slowly, her husband began to return from the fields with the other men of the village. He began to look glad to see her. Within a year, their life was a happy one.
Why Anansi Has Eight Thin Legs
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a spider named Anansi. Anansi’s wife was a very good cook. But always, Anansi loved to taste the food that others in the village made for themselves and for their families.
One day, he stopped by Rabbit’s house. Rabbit was his good friend.
“There are greens in your pot,” cried Anansi excitedly. Anansi loved greens.
“They are not quite done,” said Rabbit. “But they will be soon. Stay and eat with me.”
“I would love to, Rabbit, but I have some things to do,” Anansi said hurriedly. If he waited at Rabbit’s house, Rabbit would certainly give him jobs to do. “I know,” said Anansi. “I’ll spin a web. I’ll tie one end around my leg and one end to your pot. When the greens are done, tug on the web, and I’ll come running!”
Rabbit thought that was a great idea. And so it was done.
“I smell beans,” Anansi sniffed excitedly as he ambled along. “Delicious beans, cooking in a pot.”
“Come eat our beans with us,” cried the monkeys. “They are almost done.”
“I would love to Father Monkey,” said Anansi. And again, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the big bean pot.
Father Monkey thought that was a great idea. All his children thought so, too. And so it was done.
“I smell sweet potatoes,” Anansi sniffed happily as he ambled along. “Sweet potatoes and honey, I do believe!”
“Anansi,” called his friend Hog. “My pot is full of sweet potatoes and honey! Come share my food with me.”
“I would love to,” said Anansi. And again, Anansi suggested he spin a web, with one end tied around his leg, and one end tied to the sweet potato pot.
His friend Hog thought that was a great idea. And so it was done.
By the time Anansi arrived at the river, he had one web tied to each of his eight legs.
“This was a wonderful idea,” Anansi told himself proudly. “I wonder whose pot will be ready first?”
Just then, Anansi felt a tug at his leg. “Ah,” said Anansi. “That is the web string tied to Rabbit’s greens.” He felt another. And another. Anansi was pulled three ways at once.
“Oh dear,” said Anansi as he felt the fourth web string pull.
Just then, he felt the fifth web string tug. And the sixth. And the seventh. And the eighth. Anansi was pulled this way and that way, as everyone pulled on the web strings at once. His legs were pulled thinner and thinner. Anansi rolled and tugged himself into the river. When all the webs had washed away, Anansi pulled himself painfully up on shore.
“Oh my, oh my,” sighed Anansi. “Perhaps that was not such a good idea after all.”
To this day, Anansi the Spider has eight very thin legs. And he never got any food that day at all
One Good Meal Deserves Another
A Tale from West Africa
Anansi the Spider hated to share! When Turtle came to his house at mealtime, he said, “I can’t give you food until you’ve washed your dusty feet!”
Turtle licked his lips when he saw the big plate of steaming food, but politely walked to the stream to wash. When he returned, the plate was empty. “Good meal,” Anansi said, patting his full stomach.
“One good meal deserves another!” said Turtle. “Come to my house for dinner tomorrow.” Turtle fixed a fine dinner at the bottom of the river. “Come on down and eat!” he said.
Anansi filled his jacket pockets with stones so that he would be weighted down enough to stay at the river’s bottom and eat. “It’s impolite to wear a jacket to dinner!” Turtle said, “Take it off!”
But when greedy Anansi took off his jacket, he floated back up to the surface of the water and hungrily watched Turtle eat his fill!
Why Turtles Live In Water
A Tale from West Africa
Turtles used to live on the land, they say, until the time a clever turtle was caught by some hunters. They brought him to their village and placed the turtle before the Chief, who said, “How shall we cook him?”
“You’ll have to kill me first,” said the turtle, “and take me out of this shell.”
“We’ll break your shell with sticks,” they said.
“That’ll never work,” said the turtle, “Why don’t you throw me in the water and drown me?!”
“Excellent idea,” said the Chief. They took the turtle to the river and threw him into the water to drown him.
They were congratulating themselves on their success in drowning the turtle, when two little green eyes poked up in the water and the laughing turtle said, “Don’t get those cooking pots out too fast, foolish people! As he swam away he said, “I think I’ll spend most of my time from now on, safely in the water.”
It has been that way ever since!
The Gift of a Cow Tail Switch
A West African Tale
A great warrior did not return from the hunt. His family gave him up for dead, all except his youngest child who each day would ask, “Where is my father? Where is my father?”
The child’s older brothers, who were magicians, finally went forth to find him. They came upon his broken spear and a pile of bones. The first son assembled the bones into a skeleton; the second son put flesh upon the bones; the third son breathed life into the flesh.
The warrior arose and walked into the village where there was great celebration. He said, “I will give a fine gift to the one who has brought me back to life.”
Each one of his sons cried out, “Give it to me, for I have done the most.”
“I will give the gift to my youngest child,” said the warrior. “For it is this child who saved my life. A man is never truly dead until he is forgotten!”
The Dance for Water or Rabbit’s Triumph
There was a frightful drought. The rivers after a while dried up and even the springs gave no water.
The animals wandered around seeking drink, but to no avail. Nowhere was water to be found.
A great gathering of animals was held: Lion, Tiger, Wolf, Jackal, Elephant, all of them came together. What was to be done? That was the question. One had this plan, and another had that; but no plan seemed of value.
Finally one of them suggested: “Come, let all of us go to the dry river bed and dance; in that way we can tread out the water.”
Good! Everyone was satisfied and ready to begin instantly, excepting Rabbit, who said, “I will not go and dance. All of you are mad to attempt to get water from the ground by dancing.”
The other animals danced and danced, and ultimately danced the water to the surface. How glad they were. Everyone drank as much as he could, but Rabbit did not dance with them. So it was decided that Rabbit should have no water.
He laughed at them: “I will nevertheless drink some of your water.”
That evening he proceeded leisurely to the river bed where the dance had been, and drank as much as he wanted. The following morning the animals saw the footprints of Rabbit in the ground, and Rabbit shouted to them: “Aha! I did have some of the water, and it was most refreshing and tasted fine.”
Quickly all the animals were called together. What were they to do? How were they to get Rabbit in their hands? All had some means to propose; the one suggested this, and the other that.
Finally old Tortoise moved slowly forward, foot by foot: “I will catch Rabbit.”
“You? How? What do you think of yourself?” shouted the others in unison.
“Rub my shell with pitch, and I will go to the edge of the water and lie down. I will then resemble a stone, so that when Rabbit steps on me his feet will stick fast.”
“Yes! Yes! That’s good.”
And in a one, two, three, Tortoise’s shell was covered with pitch, and foot by foot he moved away to the river. At the edge, close to the water, he lay down and drew his head into his shell.
Rabbit during the evening came to get a drink. “Ha!” he chuckled sarcastically, “they are, after all, quite decent. Here they have placed a stone, so now I need not unnecessarily wet my feet.”
Rabbit trod with his left foot on the stone, and there it stuck. Tortoise then put his head out. “Ha! old Tortoise! And it’s you, is it, that’s holding me. But here I still have another foot. I’ll give you a good clout.” Rabbit gave Tortoise what he said he would with his right fore foot, hard and straight; and there his foot remained.
“I have yet a hind foot, and with it I’ll kick you.” Rabbit drove his hind foot down. This also rested on Tortoise where it struck.
“But still another foot remains, and now I’ll tread you.” He stamped his foot down, but it stuck like the others.
He used his head to hammer Tortoise, and his tail as a whip, but both met the same fate as his feet, so there he was tight and fast down to the pitch.
Tortoise now slowly turned himself round and foot by foot started for the other animals, with Rabbit on his back.
“Ha! ha! ha! Rabbit! How does it look now? Insolence does not pay after all,” shouted the animals.
Now advice was sought. What should they do with Rabbit? He certainly must die. But how? One said, “Behead him”; another, “Some severe penalty.”
“Rabbit, how are we to kill you?”
“It does not affect me,” Rabbit said. “Only a shameful death please do not pronounce.”
“And what is that?” they all shouted.
“To take me by my tail and dash my head against a stone; that I pray and beseech you don’t do.”
“No, but just so you’ll die. That is decided.”
It was decided Rabbit should die by taking him by his tail and dashing his head to pieces against some stone. But who is to do it?
Lion, because he is the most powerful one.
Good! Lion should do it. He stood up, walked to the front, and poor Rabbit was brought to him. Rabbit pleaded and beseeched that he couldn’t die such a miserable death.
Lion took Rabbit firmly by the tail and swung him around. The white skin slipped off from Rabbit, and there Lion stood with the white bit of skin and hair in his paw. Rabbit was free.
Anansi Goes Fishing
A Tale from West Africa
Foolish Anansi thought he could trick a fisherman into doing his work for him. “Let’s go fishing,” he suggested.
“Very well,” said the fisherman, who was clever and quite wise to Anansi’s tricks. “I’ll make the nets and you can get tired for me.”
“Wait,” said Anansi, “I’ll make the nets and you can get tired for me!” Anansi made nets as his friend pretended to be tired. They caught four fish.
The fisherman said, “Anansi, you take these. I’ll take tomorrow’s catch. It might be bigger.”
Greedily imagining the next day’s catch, Anansi said, “No, you take these and I’ll take tomorrow’s fish.”
But the next day, the nets were rotting away and no fish were caught. The fisherman said, “Anansi, take these rotten nets to market. You can sell them for much money.”
When Anansi shouted, “Rotten nets for sale!” in the marketplace, people beat him with sticks.
“Some partner you are,” Anansi said to the fisherman as he rubbed his bruises. “I took the beatings. At least you could have taken the pain.”
Anansi never tried to trick the fisherman again!
Origin of Death
The Moon, on one occasion, sent the Hare to the earth to inform Men that as she (the Moon) died away and rose again, so mankind should die and rise again. Instead, however, of delivering this message as given, the Hare, either out of forgetfulness or malice, told mankind that as the Moon rose and died away, so Man should die and rise no more. The Hare, having returned to the Moon, was questioned as to the message delivered, and the Moon, having heard the true state of the case, became so enraged with him that she took up a hatchet to split his head; falling short, however, of that, the hatchet fell upon the upper lip of the Hare, and cut it severely. Hence it is that we see the “Hare-lip.” The Hare, being duly incensed at having received such treatment, raised his claws, and scratched the Moon’s face; and the dark spots which we now see on the surface of the Moon are the scars which she received on that occasion.
Spider and the Honey Tree
There was once a young girl from a village far way who had a special talent for finding the very best foods in the bush. Her oranges were just a little sweeter, her plums just a little larger, and her bananas had just a little more flavor. Everyone wondered where she located such delicious fruits. But, nobody ever asked the girl about her secrets of the bush. That is, nobody asked her after they heard the story about Spider and this young girl.
One day Spider asked this young girl to help him look for food. He was too lazy to work for himself and was sure he could trick this girl into sharing her secrets. He didn’t know how clever this girl could be.
“Little girl, nobody finds fruits as sweet as yours,” cooed the spider. “Will you please take me with you when you go looking in the bush?”
“I’ve never done that before,” replied the girl.
“It would mean so much if you could do it one time,” pleaded Spider.
“Well, I suppose I can do it just once,” agreed the girl. “Do you promise to keep my secrets?”
“You can trust me,” promised the lazy spider.
“What do you like to eat?”
“Well, I like plums and bananas, of course, but I especially love honey.”
“I think I can help you,” grinned the girl.
Spider couldn’t believe his luck.
The girl lead Spider along the path into the bush. She took him down trails into areas where people rarely ever go. Spider grinned because he knew he was about to learn her secret places for finding the very best food. After learning this, he would never again have to work hard for good food.
“This plum tree,” explained the girl, “does not have much fruit so most people ignore it, but its plums are the sweetest ones in all of the bush.”
Now Spider was just as greedy as he was lazy. As soon as the young girl showed him the secret plums, his eyes became wide and his mouth began to water. Then, Spider shoved the little girl into the bushes. He rushed past her and climbed up into the tree. Then, he ate every single one of the plums. He didn’t even leave one plum for the little girl. And, he didn’t even say thank you!
After his feast, Spider rubbed his very full belly and thought, “This is the best day of my life! What a great idea! I can’t believe she showed me where her plums are found. I wonder if she will take me to any bananas? She must be very foolish.”
Spider looked down at the girl with his biggest smile and she asked politely, “Do you want any of my special bananas?”
He raced down out of the tree before the girl could change her mind.
The girl continued down the path showing Spider her secrets of the bush. They walked further down the trail into areas where people rarely ever go. “Over here is a small patch of the very best bananas,” declared the young girl. Again, as soon as Spider learned the secret, his eyes became wide and his mouth began to water. Again, he shoved the little girl into the bushes. He rushed past her and climbed the banana plants. He ate every single one of the ripe bananas. Again, he left the young girl with nothing — not even one banana. And once again, he didn’t even say thank you!
His belly was so full, but Spider was not satisfied. He wanted to learn more of the secret places of the bush. He thought to himself, “This girl is really foolish. But, as long as she guides me, I will continue to eat all of her food.”
Again, Spider looked down at the little girl and smiled. Once again, the young girl looked up at Spider and politely asked, “Are you too full or would you like to find some honey?”
One more time, Spider rushed out of the tree and followed the girl down the trail before she had a chance to change her mind.
The young girl guided Spider deeper and deeper into the bush where people rarely ever go. “Over here,” she instructed, “is a very special tree. Deep inside a small hole is the most delicious honey in all of the bush.”
Now this girl was not nearly as foolish as Spider thought. She had a plan to teach this greedy spider a lesson. She remembered that Spider loved honey and was not surprised at all when his eyes became wide and his mouth started to water. She also wasn’t surprised when he shoved her into the bushes, ran past her, climbed up the tree, and squeezed into the hole. Again, he ate all of the sweet golden honey, sharing nothing with the young girl. He didn’t even share one drop. And once again, he didn’t even say thank you.
When Spider had eaten his fill, he tried to climb out of the tree but he couldn’t get out the hole. His stomach had grown too large. He was stuck!
“Help me, young girl,” cried the spider. “I cannot get out of the tree!”
“You wouldn’t be stuck if you hadn’t been so selfish,” scolded the girl.
“I’m sorry for what I did! Please call for help,” cried Spider.
“I am not as foolish as you think. You aren’t sorry for what you did. You are only sorry you are caught in the tree.”
“No, you’re wrong,” lied the spider but in his heart he knew she was right. He had enjoyed every minute, every bite of food, as long as he thought he was tricking the young girl. He never expected his idea to turn into such a problem for him. “Please call for help! I am trapped!”
Finally, a smile crossed over the little girl’s face and she said she would do as the spider asked. She cried for help — as softly as she could, “Help! Help! The foolish spider is caught inside the honey tree. Help! Somebody come and help this greedy spider!” Of course, nobody could hear her whispers for help. And, nobody could hear Spider’s cries from deep inside the tree. They were too far into the bush where people rarely ever go.
Finally, the little girl looked up at Spider with a clever grin. “Good bye, Spider, I am going to get some huge oranges for my family. If you want to eat some, just follow me there.” She waved to him as she left to go down the trail.
Black Snake and the Eggs
“My eggs!” cried Chicken. “One of my eggs is missing! Yesterday I had twelve eggs and today there are only eleven.”
As Chicken fled her nest to find Rooster, she had no idea that she was about to lose more eggs. Just out of view of the nest, the thief patiently waited for Chicken to leave her eggs again. Black Snake crept slowly and quietly up to the nest. He eyed the eggs and quickly swallowed one.
Black Snake smiled to himself. His plan had been so simple and had worked so well. He swallowed another egg. It slid far down his long throat before his muscles crushed the fragile shell. “I’ll be back later for another delicious egg, Chicken,” hissed Black Snake as he slithered away. “Thank you for another fine meal.”
Meanwhile, the frantic chicken lead Rooster back to her nest. “Why would someone take one of my eggs?” she clucked.
“Are you sure you counted correctly? Maybe you just thought you saw eleven eggs?” suggested Rooster.
From the expression on Chicken’s face, Rooster knew he shouldn’t have asked that question. She glared at him and said, “You know I can count. See for yourself. How many eggs are in my nest?”
“One, two, three,” began Rooster. He frowned and stopped counting out loud.
“What’s the matter now?” questioned Chicken. “Are you afraid to admit you’re wrong?”
“No, it’s nothing like that at all,” responded Rooster. “Something is very wrong here. There are only nine eggs.”
“What? Nine Eggs!” cried Chicken. “What is happening? Who would do this to me?”
The next few days were just terrible for Chicken. She worried constantly about her remaining eggs. She tried to stay with her eggs at all times but it wasn’t possible to always be with them. Sometimes she had to leave to get food or take care of her other chicks. No matter why she left, the same thing always happened. One or two eggs disappeared each time.
“Someone is watching me very closely,” cried the chicken. “He knows exactly where I am at each moment of the day. I only have three remaining eggs.”
“Although I cannot prove anything,” comforted Rooster, “I think it must be Black Snake who is stealing your eggs. He’s patient enough to watch you a long time, and we all know how he loves to eat eggs.”
Just the thought of Black Snake eating her eggs made Chicken shudder. She had heard stories of how he swallowed eggs and then crushed them further down his long slender neck. She knew Rooster was probably correct.
“I must hurry back to my nest,” declared Chicken, realizing how long she had talked to Rooster. She rushed to her eggs, but it was too late. Two more eggs had vanished. “Rooster!” she cried. “Come help me. I only have one egg left.”
Rooster came quickly. “You know, it is very likely that Black Snake will steal your last egg tomorrow,” he warned. “Unless we are able to trap him, this will only continue every time you have eggs.”
“Yes, it’s true,” cried Chicken, “but what can we do? How can we possibly stop Black Snake?”
“I have a plan,” whispered Rooster. “I think we will not be bothered by him much longer.”
The next morning, Chicken continued guarding her last egg as if everything were normal. From a distance, Black Snake didn’t realize that a deadly trap had been set for him.
Chicken left her nest for only the shortest moment when Black Snake slithered out of hiding. In no time at all, he swallowed the final egg. It slid down his throat easily. But, when his muscles squeezed the egg, it did not break. It only became firmly lodged in his throat cutting off his air supply.
Black Snake twisted and turned trying to crush the egg or loosen it so he could breathe. By the time Chicken returned with Rooster, the struggle was over. Black Snake would steal no more eggs. He was dead.
“I’m sure he died never knowing why that egg didn’t crush,” crowed Rooster.
“How could he have known,” clucked Chicken, “that the egg was hard boiled?”
The Chief Who Was No Fool
“Help me,” the old man begged. “My neighbor has stolen from me.”
The paramount chief gladly listened. It pleased him that others recognized his wisdom. “What exactly is the problem?” questioned the chief.
“My neighbor stole my goats. I’m a poor man, too poor to replace them.”
“And what do you have to say?” the chief asked the man’s neighbor.
“I don’t know what he is talking about,” answered the neighbor. “I have many goats but none of them belong to this man.”
This would not be an easy problem to settle. The paramount chief would have to rely on his wisdom. It was the kind of problem he enjoyed the most.
“I have a test for you,” announced the chief. “Whoever passes the test will own the goats. Go home until you can answer this for me. I want to know what is the fastest thing in the world. Do not return until you have my answer.”
The two men left shaking their heads. Who could answer that question?
The old man repeated the question to his daughter, Ziah. She was as beautiful as she was wise. Right away, she whispered the answer that would please the chief. The old man returned to the chief the following morning.
The chief was surprised. “You already have an answer for my question?”
“Yes,” replied the old man, “it was not difficult.”
“And what is the fastest thing in the world?”
“Time,” answered the old man. “We never have enough of it. It always goes too fast. There is never enough time to do all that we want to do.”
The answer amazed the paramount chief. He wasn’t sure if he himself could have answered the question as well. “Who helped you? Who gave you these words?” demanded the chief.
“They are my own words, my own thoughts,” lied the old man. “There is no one else who helped me.”
“If you are not telling the truth, I will punish you,” warned the chief.
The old man was too afraid to continue the lie. “It was my daughter, Ziah, who gave me the words,” he confessed. “She is a very wise woman.”
“She must be!” thought the chief. “I would like to meet this woman.”
Not long after that the old man presented his daughter Ziah to the paramount chief. If the chief was amazed with her wisdom, he was captivated by her beauty. “You are indeed a wise and lovely woman. I would be honored to have you as my wife. Will you marry me?”
“The honor is mine,” smiled Ziah.
Although the chief was pleased, he was also concerned about having such a wise wife. He did not want her to interfere with the problems brought before him. He didn’t want to share this honor with anyone, not even his wife.
“Everything in my house is yours,” declared the chief. “I only have one rule for you. You must never involve yourself with the problems brought before me. This is your only warning. If you break this rule, I will send you from my house.”
The chief’s new wife only smiled at his command.
Things went well for quite some time. The paramount chief continued to hear people’s problems while Ziah kept herself busy without becoming involved. Usually she agreed with his decisions.
One day, however, the chief gave one of his puzzles to two boys who argued over a sheep. Ziah knew she shouldn’t help the boy who really owned the sheep, but he was so upset. She finally asked him to explain his problem.
“The chief asked for the impossible,” he sighed. “He gave us an egg and said that whoever could hatch the egg by tomorrow would own the sheep.”
Ziah knew she shouldn’t help but the solution was so obvious. “Take some rice to the chief,” she instructed. “Tell him to plant it today so that in the morning you will have rice to feed your chicken. He will know that it is just as impossible to grow rice in one day as it is to hatch an egg that quickly.”
The boy ran to the chief with the rice. He said exactly the words he was told. The chief was not impressed; he was angry! “Who told you this? Who gave you the rice?” he ordered. “These words are too wise for one so young.”
“They are my own words, my own thoughts,” said the boy too afraid to speak the truth. “There is no one else who helped me.”
“If you are not speaking the truth, I will punish you,” warned the chief.
“It was Ziah!” cried the boy. “She knew you’d understand the wisdom.”
The chief, furious his wife had broken his only rule for her, called her before him and scolded, “Didn’t you know all that I have is yours? You have broken the only rule I had for you. Now, go back to your father’s home.”
“Before I go, may I fix you one final meal?” asked the woman. “Then, I will take what is mine and go.”
“Yes,” answered the chief. “Make whatever you want. Take whatever you want. Just be sure that you do not remain here tonight!”
Ziah prepared the chief’s favorite meal. She served it with a generous amount of palm wine. Before the meal was finished, the chief became very drunk and quietly fell asleep. Ziah’s plans worked exactly as she had hoped.
With her family’s help, she carried the paramount chief to her father’s home. They placed him on a bed and he slept soundly through the night. In the morning the chief’s voice boomed throughout the house. “Where am I? What am I doing here?” he demanded.
Ziah entered the room and grinned. “You said I could take whatever I wanted from your house. I wanted you and so I took you.”
“You are certainly a wise woman,” smiled the chief. “Come return with me to our home. Only a fool would send away such a woman.”
“And you, my chief, are no fool,” whispered the clever wife.
The Story of the Lightning and the Thunder
In the olden days the thunder and lightning lived on the earth amongst all the other people, but the king made them live at the far end of the town, as far as possible from other people’s houses.
The thunder was an old mother sheep, and the lightning was her son, a ram. Whenever the ram got angry he used to go about and burn houses and knock down trees; he even did damage on the farms, and sometimes killed people. Whenever the lightning did these things, his mother used to call out to him in a very loud voice to stop and not to do any more damage; but the lightning did not care in the least for what his mother said, and when he was in a bad temper used to do a very large amount of damage. At last the people could not stand it any longer, and complained to the king.
So the king made a special order that the sheep (Thunder) and her son, the ram (Lightning), should leave the town and live in the far bush. This did not do much good, as when the ram got angry he still burnt the forest, and the flames sometimes spread to the farms and consumed them.
So the people complained again, and the king banished both the lightning and the thunder from the earth and made them live in the sky, where they could not cause so much destruction. Ever since, when the lightning is angry, he commits damage as before, but you can hear his mother, the thunder, rebuking him and telling him to stop. Sometimes, however, when the mother has gone away some distance from her naughty son, you can still see that he is angry and is doing damage, but his mother’s voice cannot be heard.
Why the sun and the moon live in the sky
Many years ago the sun and water were great friends, and both lived on the earth together. The sun very often used to visit the water, but the water never returned his visits. At last the sun asked the water why it was that he never came to see him in his house, the water replied that the sun’s house was not big enough, and that if he came with his people he would drive the sun out.
He then said, “If you wish me to visit you, you must build a very large compound; but I warn you that it will have to be a tremendous place, as my people are very numerous, and take up a lot of room.”
The sun promised to build a very big compound, and soon afterwards he returned home to his wife, the moon, who greeted him with a broad smile when he opened the door. The sun told the moon what he had promised the water, and the next day commenced building a huge compound in which to entertain his friend.
When it was completed, he asked the water to come and visit him the next day.
When the water arrived, he called out to the sun, and asked him whether it would be safe for him to enter, and the sun answered, “Yes, come in, my friend.”
The water then began to flow in, accompanied by the fish and all the water animals.
Very soon the water was knee-deep, so he asked the sun if it was still safe, and the sun again said, “Yes,” so more water came in.
When the water was level with the top of a man’s head, the water said to the sun, “Do you want more of my people to come?” and the sun and moon both answered, “Yes,” not knowing any better, so the water flowed on, until the sun and moon had to perch themselves on the top of the roof.
Again the water addressed the sun, but receiving the same answer, and more of his people rushing in, the water very soon overflowed the top of the roof, and the sun and moon were forced to go up into the sky, where they have remained ever since.
The Tiger, The Ram and The Jackal
Tiger was returning home from hunting on one occasion, when he lighted on the kraal of Ram. Now, Tiger had never seen Ram before, and accordingly, approaching submissively, he said, “Good day, friend! What may your name be?”
The other in his gruff voice, and striking his breast with his forefoot, said, “I am Ram. Who are you?”
“Tiger,” answered the other, more dead than alive, and then, taking leave of Ram, he ran home as fast as he could.
Jackal lived at the same place as Tiger did, and the latter going to him, said, “Friend Jackal, I am quite out of breath, and am half dead with fright, for I have just seen a terrible looking fellow, with a large and thick head, and on my asking him what his name was, he answered, ‘I am Ram.’”
“What a foolish fellow you are,” cried Jackal, “to let such a nice piece of flesh stand! Why did you do so? But we shall go to-morrow and eat it together.”
Next day the two set off for the kraal of Ram, and as they appeared over a hill, Ram, who had turned out to look about him, and was calculating where he should that day crop a tender salad, saw them, and he immediately went to his wife and said, “I fear this is our last day, for Jackal and Tiger are both coming against us. What shall we do?”
“Don’t be afraid,” said the wife, “but take up the child in your arms, go out with it, and pinch it to make it cry as if it were hungry.” Ram did so as the confederates came on.
No sooner did Tiger cast his eyes on Ram than fear again took possession of him, and he wished to turn back. Jackal had provided against this, and made Tiger fast to himself with a leather thong, and said, “Come on,” when Ram cried in a loud voice, and pinching his child at the same time, “You have done well, Friend Jackal, to have brought us Tiger to eat, for you hear how my child is crying for food.”
On these dreadful words Tiger, notwithstanding the entreaties of Jackal to let him go, to let him loose, set off in the greatest alarm, dragged Jackal after him over hill and valley, through bushes and over rocks, and never stopped to look behind him till he brought back himself and half-dead Jackal to his place again. And so Ram escaped.
The man who never lied
Once upon a time there lived a wise man by the name of Mamad. He never lied. All the people in the land, even the ones who lived twenty days away, knew about him.
The king heard about Mamad and ordered his subjects to bring him to the palace. He looked at the wise man and asked:
” Mamad, is it true, that you have never lied?”
” It’s true.”
“And you will never lie in your life?”
” I’m sure in that.”
“Okay, tell the truth, but be careful! The lie is cunning and it gets on your tongue easily.”
Several days passed and the king called Mamad once again. There was a big crowd: the king was about to go hunting. The king held his horse by the mane, his left foot was already on the stirrup. He ordered Mamad:
“Go to my summer palace and tell the queen I will be with her for lunch. Tell her to prepare a big feast. You will have lunch with me then.”
Mamad bowed down and went to the queen. Then the king laughed and said:
“We won’t go hunting and now Mamad will lie to the queen. Tomorrow we will laugh on his behalf.”
But the wise Mamad went to the palace and said:
“Maybe you should prepare a big feast for lunch tomorrow, and maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe the king will come by noon, and maybe he won’t.”
“Tell me will he come, or won’t he?” – asked the queen.
“I don’t know weather he put his right foot on the stirrup, or he put his left foot on the ground after I left.”
Everybody waited for the king. He came the next day and said to the queen:
“The wise Mamad, who never lies, lied to you yesterday.”
But the queen told him about the words of Mamad. And the king realized, that the wise man never lies, and says only that, which he saw with his own eyes.
An elaborately dressed man was traveling to a party. On his way, a farmer handed him some peanuts and said, “Here’s some food for your journey.”
The man replied, “I’m about to eat rare gourmet food—I have no use for peanuts!” And with that, threw the peanuts in the mud and left.
Half a mile later, however, he encountered a river that was more torrid than usual, and concluded that he could not make it across. He had to turn back and head for home.
On his way back, it grew late in the evening, and the man’s belly yearned for food. Remembering the peanuts he had causally tossed away earlier, he had no choice but to laboriously pick them out of the mud one by one for his dinner.
The Red and Blue Coat
Yerodin and Lumumba were very close friends and neighbors whose homes were separated by a narrow path between their yards.
One day, a local trickster decided that he would test their longtime friendship. The trickster put on an elaborate two-color coat that was split down the middle: red on the right, and blue on the left. He walked on the path between the two houses while Yerodin and Lumumba were farming. The trickster made a loud whistle while he was in the middle of the path, and both friends momentarily looked up and noticed him.
Then a few minutes after he had passed by, Yerodin said to Lumumba, “Did you like the red coat that man was wearing?”
“Red coat?” Lumumba replied. “No, you’re mistaken. I saw him too when he walked between us, and his coat was blue.”
“Listen,” retorted Yerodin, “I saw the coat clearly and I am sure that it was red.”
“No, no, no; you’re wrong,” replied Lumumba. “I’m absolutely sure that it was blue.”
Yerodin began getting annoyed, and saidd, “Hey, I know what I saw, and that coat was not blue. It was definitely red. I’m sure about this!”
“You’re not very observant,” Lumumba quickly replied, “and stubborn as well. Only a fool would not recognize that the coat was blue.”
“Oh, so you think that I’m stupid, huh?” shouted Yerodin. “Well, you’re the stupid one, because the coat was red!”
They began to shout and argue more intensely, and their shouts turned into fighting. As they battled, they suddenly heard a man laughing. They looked up, and saw the trickster wearing the two-color coat with both colors facing them.
They stopped fighting and yelled out the trickster, “You despicable man! We’ve been the best of friends for years, and now look what you’ve started between us!”
“Don’t blame me,” the trickster replied, “I’m not the one who made you two fight each other.”
“What are you taking about?” Yerodin and Lumumba skeptically asked.
The trickster continued, “Both of you were speaking the apparent truth in your argument. But the reason you ended up fighting is because you only considered my coat from your own point of view!”
One Jug Won’t Make a Difference
The city’s king invited the villagers to the palace for a New Year’s Day feast. He said, “I’ll provide the food, and I want each guest to bring a jug of wine.”
One of the guests thought to himself, “I’ll just bring a jug of water instead of wine. After all, one jug of water can’t make that much of a difference in a bug tub of wine.”
When the day of the feast came, the man poured his jug of water into the big clay pot where the wine was being collected. Then the party began, and all of the villagers ate and danced.
Towards the end of the party, the wine was served. But when the guests began drinking, each was surprised to taste nothing but plain water. It turned out that each guest had assumed that everyone else would bring wine, and they all had reasoned that one jug of water would not make a difference!
One day, a young man named Essien went to the forest and decided to cut some wood. He had never cut wood before, and throughout his life he had neglected learn the skill and observe other people cutting wood.
Essien climbed up a tree, sat on a branch, and began the very branch he was seated on! A local man observed him and remarked, “Why are you cutting there? Aren’t you going to fall down with the branch?”
Essien snapped back, “Listen, I’ve cut off branches this way many times, and I’ve never fallen down!”
He continued cutting, and moments later, the branch gave way and Essien fell to the ground, resulting in a number of painful injuries tht took weeks to heal.
When he finally recovered, Essien sought out the wise man and remarked, “Wow! I have seen first hand that you have great powers, and can predict the future. Please, Mr. Wise Man and Fortune Teller—tell me when I will die.”
“What?” the wise man replied, “I can’t do that! I#8217;m not a fortuneteller. And I#8217;m not even an experienced woodcutter, either. The only reason I knew you were going to fall off of the tree branch is because I used common sense!”
Frogs Fall in Milk
Two frogs fell into a bowl of milk and couldn’t get out. As they both treaded milk, one said to the other, “I am tired, and I will not tread anymore. I will accept death.”
Upon speaking those words, he allowed himself to sink, and soon drowned to death.
The other frog was also tired, but he continued to tread. After more time had passed, his treading caused the milk fat to turn into butter—and he used it to jump out of the bowl and to safety.
The Best Way to Build
Two builders were traveling separate paths to the marketplace. One was a hasty builder, and the other was slow and careful.
As they traveled, a brutal storm began. The hasty builder quickly built shelter and went under it. The slow and careful builder also began making a hut, but didn’t finish it in time, and was almost killed in the storm.
Thus, on one hand it is important to be slow and careful, but there are also plenty of situations that warrant using haste.
Feather on His Head
A crime was committed, and nobody confessed. A wise judge brought all the suspects together in one room, and declared, “I know which of you guilty. The guilty person has a feather on his head.”
Upon his saying this, one of the suspects put his hand on his head.
After eeing this, the judge said to him, “You are the criminal!” and the man thereafter confessed his crime.
Up to the Giraffe’s Knees
One day, a giraffe was standing in a pond while a monkey was sitting in a nearby tree. The monkey, who was not a good swimmer, saw the giraffe and asked him, “How deep is that pond?”
The giraffe replied, “The water’s only up to my knees.”
The monkey heard this and went in the water. Shortly later, however, he was on the verge of drowning, and shouting for help. The giraffe quickly rescued him and took him out of the pond.
The monkey angrily looked at giraffe and yelled, “Why did you trick me!”
“I didn’t tell you that the pond was shallow,” the giraffe replied. “I said that the water was up to my knees—that doesn’t mean the water isn’t deep. After all, I’m much taller than you, and just because the water isn’t deep for me, it doesn’t mean that it will be the same for you!”
Clear the Water
An elephant dropped some food in a pond. He immediately tried to retrieve it, but in his relentless search he stirred up the water with mud and could not see in it.
Finally a frog interrupted him and said, “Just wait for a second and the pond will clear.”
So the elephant did and not long afterwards the mud settled and he was easily able to retrieve the food.
Two rival storytellers attended a dinner party. When dinner was finished, one of them began telling a story. “I once visited another land,” he said, “where everything was humongous. In fact, I saw a bird that was so big, it took an hour just for it to fly by me!”
The other storyteller heard this and remarked, “Yes, I have been there too and can confirm that. And when I was there, I saw a tree so big that it took me two hours just to walk by it.”
The first storyteller shouted out, “No, you are mistaken—that is impossible. There is not a tree that big in this entire world!”
The second storyteller responded, “The tree I described must have existed—after all, if it didn’t, then where would the bird you described have been able to sit down!”