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African Folktales

African Folktales

Selected and Edited by Paul Radin
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  • Book Info
    African Folktales
    Book Description:

    A representative collection of eighty-one myths and folktales chosen from the oral tradition of the peoples of Africa south of the Sahara.

    Originally published in 1970.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7294-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Note to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. v-vi)

    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-20)
      PAUL RADlN

      About few peoples are there more misconceptions in the minds of Western Europeans than there are about the aboriginal inhabitants of Africa. The reasons are, perhaps, easy to explain. African cultures belong to those which laymen, particularly in the United States and England, have been accustomed for generations to regard as primitive in every sense of that much-abused term. They are supposed to possess all those characteristics which laymen, and not a few scientists brought up under the influence of the evolutionary theory as formulated by Herbert Spencer in the last three decennia of the nineteenth century, predicated for societies...

    • Prologue
      (pp. 21-22)

      Mouse goes everywhere. Through rich men’s houses she creeps, and she visits even the poorest. At night, with her bright little eyes, she watches the doing of secret things, and no treasure chamber is so safe but she can tunnel through and see what is hidden there.

      In olden days she wove a story child from all that she saw, and to each of these she gave a gown of a different colour—white, red, blue, or black. The stories became her children and lived in her house and served her because she had no children of her own.


  3. I. The Universe and Its Beginnings

    • 1 How Spider Obtained the Sky-God’s Stories
      (pp. 25-27)

      Kwaku ananse, the spider, once went to Nyankonpon, the sky-god, in order to buy the sky-god’s stories. The sky-god said, “What makes you thinkyoucan buy them?” The spider answered and said, “I know I shall be able.” Thereupon the sky-god said, “Great and powerful towns like Kokofu, Bekwai, Asumengya, have come, but they were unable to purchase them, and yet you who are but a mere masterless man, you say you will be able?”

      The spider said, “What is the price of the stories?” The sky-god said, “They cannot be bought for anything except Onini, the python; Osebo,...

    • 2 The Separation of God from Man
      (pp. 28-32)

      In the beginning of days Wulbari and man lived close together and Wulbari lay on top of Mother Earth, Asase Ya. Thus it happened that, as there was so little space to move about in, man annoyed the divinity, who in disgust went away and rose up to the present place where one can admire him but not reach him.

      He was annoyed for a number of reasons. An old woman, while making herfufuoutside her hut, kept on knocking Wulbari with her pestle. This hurt him and, as she persisted, he was forced to go higher out of...

    • 3 The Creator Nyame and His Four Wives
      (pp. 33-35)

      Nyame was married to Akoko, the barn-door fowl, but after a while he took to himself four other wives. Akoko, of course, retained her rights as the head wife, and the other four wives obeyed her.

      One day Nyame called the four newcomers together and asked each one what present she would give him in return for his having raised her above other women in the tribe. The first one promised that she would always sweep his compound for him and keep the place neat and tidy; the second said she would always cook for him and never complain when...

    • 4 How Abosom, the Lesser Gods, Came into the World
      (pp. 36-40)

      There once was a certain woman who bore eleven children. Every day when she got up and cooked food the children ate it all and the mother did not get any of it. She pondered long about the matter, and went off to the plantation and spoke to the silk-cotton tree, saying, “I shall send my eleven children to come beneath you here to pluck pumpkins; and when they come, pluck off eleven of your branches and kill those children of mine.”

      The silk-cotton tree said, “I have heard, and I shall do it for you.”

      The mother then went...

    • 5 Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky
      (pp. 41-41)

      Many years ago the sun and the 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.

      The water then said, “If you wish me to visit you, you must build a very large compound; but I warn...

    • 6 The Sun and the Children
      (pp. 42-44)

      Once some children, at their mother’s behest, very gently approached the sun’s armpit, as the sun lay sleeping. They were to lift up the sun’s armpit.

      At the same time, another woman ordered her children to do the same thing. She told them that if they approached ever so gently and drew up the sun’s armpit, then the rice of the Bushmen would become dry, and the sun, as it proceeded from place to place across the sky, would cause everything to become bright. For this reason it was that the old woman, their mother, coaxed her children to do...

    • 7 The Brothers, Sun and Moon, and the Pretty Girl
      (pp. 45-48)

      How did it happen? A wife was pregnant, she bore a child, Moon, to begin with. She returned, became pregnant again, and this time bore Sun. Far in the wilderness was a man, and he had a pretty daughter.

      Sun and Moon grew up and one day went for a stroll. In the wilderness they came upon the pretty daughter, and they asked her, “Where have you got your house? We live in that wilderness,” they said to the girl. “Show us exactly where you live.”

      She replied to them, “We live in that wilderness. And there a great many...

    • 8 The Son of the Wind
      (pp. 49-50)

      The son of the wind was once a man. When he was a man he used to go shooting and to roll a ball but later he became a bird and flew, no longer walking as he used to do when he was a man. When he had changed into a bird, he flew up and dwelt in a mountain hole. The mountain hole was his dwelling, and out of it he would fly every day and, later on, return. In this hole he slept and, awakening in the morning, he would leave in order to seek food. He sought...

    • 9 How the Stars Came
      (pp. 51-55)

      Ebopp, the lemur, and Mbaw, the dormouse, were making a tour in the bush. They looked for a good place to make a farm. When they found one, they cut down the trees and took two days to clear enough ground. After this, they went back to the town where the other animals lived.

      The next morning Ebopp said, “Let us go back to our new farms and build a small house.”

      This they did. Ebopp made his, and Mbaw his.

      Now, before a new town is begun, a little shed calledekpa ntanis always made where the Egbo...

    • 10 How the First Rain Came
      (pp. 56-59)

      Once, long ago, a daughter was born to Obassi Osaw, and a son to Obassi Nsi. When both of them had come to marriageable age, Nsi sent a message and said, “Let us exchange children. I will send my son that he may wed one of your girls, and you send your daughter down to my town, that she may become my wife.”

      To this Obassi Osaw agreed. So the son of Nsi went up to the heavens, carrying many fine gifts, and Ara, the sky maiden, came down to dwell on earth. With her came seven men slaves and...

    • 11 The Origin of Death
      (pp. 60-61)

      Long, long ago there was a great famine in the world, and a certain young man, while wandering in search of food, strayed into a part of the bush where he had never been before. Presently he perceived a strange mass lying on the ground. He approached and saw that it was the body of a giant whose hair resembled that of white men in that it was silky rather than woolly. It was of an incredible length and stretched as far as from Krachi to Salaga. The young man was properly awed at the spectacle, and wished to withdraw,...

    • 12 The Origin of Death
      (pp. 62-62)

      And how did it happen?

      It is God who created men. And since God had pity, He said, “I do not wish men to die altogether. I wish that men, having died, should rise again.” And so He created men and placed them in another region. But He stayed at home.

      And then God saw the chameleon and the weaver-bird. After He had spent three days with the chameleon and the weaver-bird, He recognized that the weaver-bird was a great maker of words compounded of lies and truth. Now of lies there were many, but of the words of truth...

    • 13 The Origin of Death
      (pp. 63-63)

      The moon, it is said, once sent an insect to men, saying, “Go to men and tell them, ‘As I die, and dying live; so you shall also die, and dying live.’”

      The insect started with the message, but, while on his way, was overtaken by the hare, who asked, “On what errand are you bound?”

      The insect answered, “I am sent by the Moon to men, to tell them that as she dies and dying lives, so shall they also die and dying live.”

      The hare said, “As you are an awkward runner, let me go.” With these words...

    • 14 How Diseases Came to the Ashanti
      (pp. 64-66)

      Now there lived Kwaku Ananse, the spider, and he went to Nyankonpon, the sky-god, and said, “Grandsire, take your sheep called Kra Kwame, the one which you keep to sacrifice to your soul on a Saturday, and let me kill and eat it, that I may go and bring you a beautiful girl in exchange.”

      The sky-god gave him the sheep, and Ananse set out and returned to his village and killed the sheep and ate it. The spider then went to a certain village. In that village there was not a single male—all were women. Ananse married them...

    • 15 How the Mason-Wasp Fetched Fire from God
      (pp. 67-68)

      Vulture, Fish-Eagle, and Crow were without fire, for there was no fire on earth. So, needing fire, all the birds assembled and asked, “Whence shall we find fire?”

      Some of the birds said, “Perhaps from God.”

      Thereupon Mason-Wasp volunteered, saying, “Who will go with me to God?”

      Vulture answered and said, “We will go with you, I and Fish-Eagle and Crow.”

      So on the morrow they took leave of all the other birds, saying, “We are going to see whether we can get fire from God.” Then they flew off. After they had spent ten days on the road, there...

    • 16 How Kintu Was Tested before He Could Marry the Daughter of the King of Heaven
      (pp. 69-72)

      When kintu came first to Uganda he found there was no food at all in the country. He brought with him one cow and had only the food with which the animal supplied him. In the course of time a woman named Nambi came with her brother to the earth and saw Kintu. The woman fell in love with him and, wishing to be married to him, pointedly told him so. She had to return, however, with her brother to her people and her father, Gulu, who was king of the sky.

      Nambi’s relations objected to the marriage because they...

    • 17 The Son of Kimanaueze and the Daughter of Sun and Moon
      (pp. 73-78)

      I often tell of Kimanaueze, who begat a male child. The child grew up, and he came to the age of marrying. His father said, “Marry.”

      He said, “I will not marry a woman of the earth.”

      His father asked, “Then whom will you marry?”

      He answered, “I!If it must be, I shall marry the daughter of Lord Sun and Lady Moon.”

      But the people asked, “Who can go to the sky where the daughter of Lord Sun and Lady Moon lives?”

      He simply said, “I, indeed; I want her. If it is anyone on earth, I will not...

    • 18 The Blue-Jay Who Married the Daughter of God
      (pp. 79-80)

      Long ago Blue-Jay had a wife but after a time he went to God; he went to seek the Daughter of God also as his wife. God replied, “Since you ask for her, you must not take her to the earth, you must stay just here in the sky. Because, if you take her to the earth, she may not eat meat of zebra or gnu or kudu; of any large animal she may not eat. If you desire to carry her to earth, let her eat only of smaller animals.” Blue-Jay answered, “It is well, Chief.”

      So Blue-Jay was...

    • 19 Mantis Creates an Eland
      (pp. 81-84)

      Mantis once did as follows: Kwammang-a had taken off a part of his shoe and thrown it away, and Mantis picked it up and went and soaked it in the water, at a place where some reeds grew. Mantis went away, then he came back again, went up to the water, and looked. He turned away again, for he saw that the Eland was still small.

      Again he came, and found the Eland’s spoor where it had come out of the water to graze. Then Mantis went up to the water, while Eland went seeking the grass which it eats....

    • 20 Why the Chief of the Smiths Was Unable to Create Human Beings
      (pp. 85-86)

      A very long time ago there was a king who called Walukaga, chief of the smiths, and gave him a great quantity of iron and said, “I want you to make a real man for me, one who can walk and talk, and who has blood in his body, and who has brains.”

      Walukaga took the iron and went home, but he was at a loss what to do, and no one could advise him how to set about making the real man. He went about among his friends telling them what the king had said, and asked what he...

    • 21 How Spider Read the Sky-God’s Thoughts
      (pp. 87-90)

      The sky-god begat three children, who were Esum (Darkness), Osrane (Moon), and Owia (Sun). When his three children grew up, the sky-god made them go to separate villages. The first one built his village, the second one also built his village, and the third one, he, too, built his village. And there they lived.

      Now their father loved Sun most. And while the sky-god was reigning there, he blackened a stool and said to his attendants, “Who knows what my thoughts are?” Ananse, the spider, said, “As for me, I know them.” At the time when he said, “As for...

  4. II. The Animal and His World

    • 22 Mantis and the All-Devourer
      (pp. 93-99)

      Mantis was speaking: “Now I want you, Ichneumon, to catch some fat sheep for my father to cut up for us and hang up to dry near the house. I do not feel like cutting any up, as I am still writhing with pain. The swelling must first disappear, then I, too, can cut them up, then I, too, shall hang meat to dry at my house, because I, too, want the sheep’s fat to be dry, that the women may render it, so that we may moisten the dry meat which we have been crunching. For the quagga’s meat...

    • 23 The Fox and the Wolf
      (pp. 100-103)

      Once upon a time there was a wolf and a fox. The wolf was the master and the fox the servant.

      One day both were grazing their flock in the pasture and, as they were thus grazing, the wolf and the fox wandered off into the plains to dig up some wild onions. The sheep scattered in pasturing and then lay down. Wolf and Fox were in the plains eating wild onions; in this way they lost sight of the sheep. After a while, the wolf said to the fox, “Companion, go and bring back the sheep!”

      The fox found...

    • 24 The Elephant and the Tortoise
      (pp. 104-105)

      Two beings, Elephant and Rain, had a dispute. Elephant said, “If you say that you nourish me, in what way is it that you do so?” Rain answered, “If you say that I do not nourish you, when I go away, will you not die?” And Rain then departed.

      Elephant said, “Vulture! Cast lots to make rain for me!” Vulture said, “I will not cast lots.”

      Then Elephant said to Crow, “Cast lots!” and Crow answered, “Give the things with which I may cast lots.” Crow cast lots and rain fell. It rained at the lagoons, but then they dried...

    • 25 The Frog and Umdhlubu
      (pp. 106-112)

      Once on a time, a king-married the daughter of another king; he loved her very much. His other wives were troubled on account of his love for her. She became pregnant, and gave birth to a girl: the father loved her exceedingly. The child grew, and when she was a fine handsome little child, the other wives formed a plot against her; they said, “Since her father is not at home, let us go and cut fibre.” They told the children not to agree to carry the child. The mother called the little girl who nursed her child. She refused...

    • 26 The Caterpillar and the Wild Animals
      (pp. 113-114)

      Once upon a time a caterpillar entered the house of a hare when the owner was absent. On his return the hare noticed the marks on the ground, and cried out, “Who is in my house?”

      The caterpillar replied in a loud voice, “I am the warrior son of the long one whose anklets have become unfastened in the fight in the Kurtiale country. I crush the rhinoceros to the earth and make cow's dung of the elephant! I am invincible!”

      The hare went away, saying, “What can a small animal like myself do with a person who tramples an...

    • 27 The Gazelle and the Leopard
      (pp. 115-116)

      The gazelle said to the leopard, “It is now the dry season, and we should be cutting down the bush, so our women may plant as soon as the first rains come.”

      “Well,” said the leopard, “I cannot go today, but you may as well go.”

      The gazelle went; and all that day he cut the bush, and cleared the ground for planting, and the next day he also went alone.

      On the third day the leopard called on the gazelle and asked him to go to the plantation with him. But the gazelle said he was sick and could...

    • 28 The Leopard, the Squirrel, and the Tortoise
      (pp. 117-119)

      Many years ago there was a great famine throughout the land and all the people were starving. The yam crop had failed entirely, the plantains did not bear any fruit, and the corn never came to a head; even the palm-oil nuts did not ripen, and the peppers and okras also failed.

      The leopard, who lived entirely on meat, did not care for any of these things, and although some of the animals who lived on corn and the growing crops began to get rather skinny, he did not really mind very much.

      However, in order to save himself trouble,...

    • 29 The Hare, the Hyena, and the Lioness’s Cave
      (pp. 120-122)

      The hare once met the hyena and proposed that they should go for a walk. They went for a walk together and then separated, after which the hare went to the lioness’s cave and found it closed. She cried out, “Stone, open,” and the stone rolled away from the mouth of the cave. She entered and said, “Stone, close,” and the stone returned to its place. She then proceeded to the room where the lioness stored her fat, after which she went to the room where the meat was kept, and having had enough to eat, she returned to the...

    • 30 Nwashisisana, the Hare
      (pp. 123-128)

      Hare, that wily trickster, went to live with Grey Antelope. One day he said to her, “Suppose we go and till our fields and plant some beans!” So off they went and set to work. Antelope stole Hare’s beans, and Hare stole Antelope’s beans, but Hare did most of the stealing.

      Hare set a trap in his field, and Antelope was caught by the leg. In the early morning the cunning rascal went out and found Antelope caught in the trap. “Don’t you think you deserve to be killed,” said he, “now that I have found you out?”

      “No! No!”...

    • 31 Master Rabbit and the Berries
      (pp. 129-132)

      This is what master rabbit did:

      The beasts were dying of thirst. They dug a well, but Master Rabbit refused to dig, saying, “I have enough juicy food.”

      He went and met the crane. They resolved to gather certain berries calledmfulimuningaornkoroondo, and soon they found them. Then they ate some and put the others aside. This done, they went and walked each his own way in the forest.

      While they were on their walk, Master Rabbit bethought himself of going back, and he went and ate all the berries.

      He then called to the crane and asked,...

    • 32 How It Came About That We Shall Always See Okra the Cat Lying on a Velvet Cushion, While Okraman the Dog Sleeps Among the Ashes of the Kitchen Fire
      (pp. 133-138)

      They say that there once was a certain woman who was so unfortunate that whenever she gave birth to a child it died. So she set out to consult one of the lesser-gods about it and to tell him that she desired a child. The lesser-god said, “I shall give you one, but as for the child, all the work he will ever do will be to get you into debt, but nevertheless, some day he will repay you.”

      It was not two days, it was not three days after consulting the lesser-god, when the woman conceived. She gave birth...

    • 33 How It Came About That the Hinder Part of Kwaku Ananse the Spider Became Big, at the Expense of His Head, Which Is Small
      (pp. 139-140)

      They say that once a great hunger came, and that Kwaku Ananse, the spider, said he would go and search for meat and vegetable food and bring it that he and his wife Aso might eat. He went into a certain stream and there he met certain people. Now these people whom he met, excuse my saying so, were spirits. When Ananse met the spirits, they were standing in the water and splashing the stream-bed dry to catch the fish. Kwaku Ananse said, “Brothers, may I come and splash a little too?”

      The spirits said, “Come.”

      Ananse went, and he...

    • 34 Why There Are Cracks in Tortoise’s Shell
      (pp. 141-142)

      Mr. tortoise, who was married to Mrs. Tortoise, had in Vulture a friend who was constant in visiting him. But, having no wings, Tortoise was unable to return the visits, and this upset him. One day he bethought himself of his cunning and said to his wife, “Wife!”

      Mrs. Tortoise answered, “Hello, husband! What is it?”

      Said he, “Don’t you see, wife, that we are becoming despicable in Vulture’s eyes?”

      “How despicable?”

      “Despicable, because it is despicable for me not to visit Vulture. He is always coming here and I have never yet been to his house—and he is...

    • 35 Why Some Animals Became Domesticated
      (pp. 143-143)

      In the olden days all cattle, sheep, and goats lived in the forests. Then, one day, Tororut called all the animals before him at a place in the jungle, and he lighted a large fire there. And when the animals saw the fire they were frightened and fled away back into the forests. There remained only the cattle, sheep, and goats who were not frightened. And Tororut was pleased with these animals and blessed them, and he decreed that henceforth they should always live with man who would eat their flesh and drink their milk....

    • 36 How Honey-Guide Came to Have Authority over Honey
      (pp. 144-145)

      Honey-guide and Capped Wheatear lived together in one place at first and ate out of one dish. Honey-Guide was the elder, Wheatear the younger. They set their minds on going to hunt for honey, and it happened when they arrived in the vicinity of the honey that Honey-Guide said, “Smile, Wheatear, when you see where the honey is.”Wheatear smiled, but he did not see the honey. When Honey-Guide smiled he had really seen it. That is what they did, and then they returned home leaving the honey behind, but Wheatear quietly disappeared and went off to steal the honey.


    • 37 The Bird That Made Milk
      (pp. 146-149)

      It is said that there was once a great town in a certain place which had many people living in it. They lived only upon grain. One year there was a great famine.

      Now in that town there was a poor man, by name Masilo, and his wife. One day they went to dig in their garden, and they continued digging the whole day long. In the evening, when the digging gangs returned home, they returned also. Then there came a bird which stood upon the house which was beside the garden, and it began to whistle and said:


    • 38 The Man and the Snake
      (pp. 150-152)

      A man once found some snakes fighting. As he came near and looked at them he saw that one snake had been killed. He reproved them. He said, “Go away.”

      One snake gave him a charm, saying, “By means of this charm you will hear all things. When the rat talks, you will hear it. When the cow talks, you will hear it. You will hear everything that is said.” The man passed on. He came to the village.

      At night the man’s wife locked the house so that there was no open place. All was quite dark. She and...

    • 39 How Elephant Married a Nama Woman and Was Deceived by Her
      (pp. 153-154)

      It is said that Elephant fell madly in love with a Nama woman and married her. Her two brothers came to visit her secretly but, for fear of him, she told Elephant she wanted to fetch some wood and then went and hid the two in the firewood.

      Then she said, “Since I have married into this kraal, I beg you to tell me, has the one-without-hair-at-the-knees been slaughtered for me?” (That would be a fully grown ram.) The blind mother-in-law answered her, “Things that were not spoken about of old, these she now speaks of and the smell of...

    • 40 How Kwaku Ananse Got Aso in Marriage
      (pp. 155-158)

      There once lived a certain man called Akwasi-the-Jealous-One, and his wife was Aso. He did not want anyone to see Aso or anyone to talk to her, so he went and built a small settlement for Aso to live in. No one ever went into that village.

      Now he, Akwasi-the-Jealous-One, could not beget children. Because of that, if he and his wife lived in town, someone would take her away. Now the sky-god advised the young men, saying, “Akwasi-the-Jealous-One has been married to Aso for a very, very long time. She has not conceived by him and borne a child;...

  5. III. The Realm of Man

    • 41 The Young Man Who Was Carried Off by a Lion
      (pp. 161-164)

      A young man of the early race once ascended a hill in order to hunt. As he looked around for game, however, he became sleepy—so sleepy, in fact, that he decided to lie down. What had happened to him? he wondered, as he stretched himself out on the ground, near a waterhole. Never before had he been thus overcome by sleep.

      As he slept, a lion, exhausted by the noonday heat, came to the pool to quench its thirst. The lion espied the man lying there asleep and seized him. Startled, the man awoke and, realizing that he had...

    • 42 How a Hunter Obtained Money from His Friends the Leopard, the Goat, the Bush Cat, and the Cock, and How He Got Out of Repaying Them
      (pp. 165-167)

      Many years ago there was a Calabar hunter named Effiong who lived in the bush. He killed plenty of animals and made much money. Every one in the country knew him, and one of his best friends was a man called Okun, who lived near him.

      Effiong was very extravagant and spent much money in eating and drinking with everyone until at last he became quite poor, and he had to go out hunting again. But now his good luck seemed to have deserted him, for although he worked hard and hunted day and night, he could not succeed in...

    • 43 The Little Wise Woman
      (pp. 168-170)

      A girl, it is said, once went to seek for onions. As she arrived at the place where they grew, she met several men, one of whom was half-blind, having only one eye. As she dug, the men helped her, digging also. When her sack was full, the men said to her, “Go, tell the other girls, that many of you may come.” So she went home and told her companions, and early the next morning they started. But a little girl followed them. The other girls said, “Let the little girl go back.”

      Her elder sister protested, saying, “She...

    • 44 Zimwa-mbanje the Hemp Smoker
      (pp. 171-173)

      There once lived a man named Zimwa-mbanje, the hemp smoker. One year there was a severe drought, and the hemp did not grow. He said to his children, “What am I to do? I have no hemp.”

      They answered, “If you wish it, send us that we may search for some.”

      Thereupon he sent his eight sons and three daughters, and said, “If you secure hemp, leave the girls with the man from whom you get it.”

      They walked for a long time, nearly two months, but they did not find hemp. They said to each other, “As we have...

    • 45 Konyek and His Father
      (pp. 174-176)

      A big dance was once held at which many warriors and girls were present. Toward evening the dancers dispersed, and each warrior selected one or more of the girls to accompany him home.

      One of these men, a particularly handsome and well-built fellow, went away with three sisters. On leaving, he asked the girls where they would like to go, and they told him they wished to accompany him to his kraal. He said that it was a long way off, but they replied that that did not matter.

      They started off, and after walking some distance, they approached the...

    • 46 The Lost Sister
      (pp. 177-178)

      Once upon a time there were a brother and sister who lived together. The mother had died leaving many goats, and the brother looked after the goats in the daytime, but in the evening he went away from home, for he was very handsome, and had many friends. The name of the girl was Wachera, the name of the brother Wam’wea.

      Now one day when the brother returned Wachera said to him, “Two men were here yesterday, and if you go away and leave me they will carry me off.” But he replied, “You talk nonsense.” She insisted, “I am...

    • 47 The Woman and the Children of the Sycamore Tree
      (pp. 179-180)

      There was once a woman who had no husband, and she lived for many days in trouble. One day she said to herself, “Why do I always feel so troubled? It is because I have neither children nor husband. I shall go to the medicine-man and get some children.”

      She went to the medicine-man and told him she was unhappy owing to the fact that although she had now grown old, she had neither husband nor children. The medicine-man asked her which she wanted, husband or children, and she told him she wanted children.

      She was instructed to take some...

    • 48 The Girl Who Stayed in the Fork of a Tree
      (pp. 181-185)

      This is what a woman did.

      She was then living in the bush, never showing herself to anyone. She had living with her just one daughter, who used to pass the day in the fork of a tree making baskets.

      One day there appeared a man just when the mother had gone to kill game. He found the girl making baskets as usual. “Here now!” he said. “There are people here in the bush! And that girl, what a beauty! Yet they leave her alone. If the king were to marry her, would not all the other queens leave the...

    • 49 How an Unborn Child Avenged Its Mother’s Death
      (pp. 186-189)

      A man had taken a wife, and now she had the joy of being with child, but famine was acute in the land.

      One day, when hunger was particularly severe, the man, accompanied by his wife, was dragging himself along in the direction of her mother’s home in the hope of getting a little food there. He happened to find on the road a tree with abundant wild fruit on the top. “Wife,” he said, “get up there that we may eat fruit.”

      The woman refused, saying, “I, who am with child, to climb up a tree!”

      He said, “In...

    • 50 The Woman Who Killed Her Co-Wife
      (pp. 190-192)

      Once a max made a double marriage, one with a superior and one with an inferior wife. The inferior one then prepared a drug and caused the death of her mate, the owner of the place.

      When she was dead, the people said, “Let us bury her in the village.”

      But the guilty woman said, “No, not in the village. That would not do, rather at the back of it. I feel the loss of my mate too much.”

      The mourning was kept up for a long while.

      At last the chief said, “Let them eat, otherwise they will die.”...

    • 51 The Slave Girl Who Tried to Kill Her Mistress
      (pp. 193-196)

      A man called akpan, who was a native of Oku, a town in the Ibibio country, admired a girl called Emme very much. She lived in Ibibio and he wished to marry her, as she was the finest girl in her kraal.

      It was the custom in those days for the parents to demand such a large amount as dowry for their daughters that if, after they were married, they failed to get on with their husbands and could not redeem themselves, they were sold as slaves.

      Akpan paid a very large sum as a dowry for Emme and she...

    • 52 The Smart Man and the Fool
      (pp. 197-198)

      Let us tell another story; let us be off!”

      “Pull away!”

      “Let us be off!”

      “Pull away!”

      There were two brothers, the Smart Man and the Fool, and it was their habit to go out shooting to keep their parents supplied with food. Thus, one day, they went together into the mangrove swamp, just as the tide was going down, to watch for the fish as they nibbled at the roots of the trees. Fool saw a fish, fired at it, and killed it. Smart Man fired also, but at nothing, and then ran up to Fool and said, “Fool,...

    • 53 The Greed of the Old Man and His Wife
      (pp. 199-200)

      There was once upon a time an old man who lived in a kraal with his neighbours. And this old man had a wife and a small child, and he possessed a very fine ox.

      One day he said to himself, “How shall I slaughter my ox?” And he said aloud to his wife, “My child! I will call the men and tell them that I am going to move. We can then slaughter our ox all by ourselves.”

      His wife agreed and, in the evening, the old man blew his horn as a signal to his friends that he...

    • 54 How Contradiction Came to the Ashanti
      (pp. 201-203)

      There was once a certain man called Hate-to-Be-Contradicted, and because of that, he built a small settlement all by himself and went to live in it. And the creature called the duiker went to visit him, and he walked with him and sat down at the foot of a palm tree. Then some of the palm nuts fell down. The duiker said, “Father Hate-to-Be-Contradicted, your palm nuts are ripe.”

      Hate-to-Be-Contradicted said, “That is the nature of the palm nut. When they are ripe, three bunches ripen at once. When they are ripe, I cut them down; and when I boil...

    • 55 How It Came About That One Person Does Not Reveal the Origin from Which Another Person Comes
      (pp. 204-206)

      There was once a hunter. After he got up in the morning he used to go to the bush to seek for game to kill so that he might get some to eat and some to sell.

      Now one day he went to the bush and he heard Kokotee, the bush pig, call out to its kinsman, “Kokotee Asamoa!”

      He replied, “Yes, brother, yes.” Kokotee again called, “The time for work on our farms has arrived. Let us go to the blacksmith’s forge that he may fashion the iron and put an edge on our cutting tools, so that, if...

    • 56 Why a Girl Should Marry Him to Whom She is Given in Marriage
      (pp. 207-208)

      There was once a virgin named Kwaboaso. To whomsoever they gave her to marry she said, “I do not desire him.” They gave her to a hunter, and she said, "Ugh! This man has ticks on him; I do not want him."

      One day she went off to the plantation, saying she was going to cut plantains. She took a knife and struck at the plantain, when behold, the little folk were sitting on the plantains. They descended and came and caught Kwaboaso. They said, “You are the one who shakes your head,pusu! pusu!when they take you to...

    • 57 How It Came About That Children Were First Whipped
      (pp. 209-211)

      They say that once upon a time a great famine came, and that Father Ananse, the spider, and his wife Aso, and his children, Ntikuma, Nyiwankonfwea (Thin-Shanks), Afudotwedotwe (Belly-Like-to-Burst), and Tikonokono (Big-Big-Head), built a little settlement and lived in it. Every day the spider used to go and bring food—wild yams—and they boiled and ate them.

      Now one day, Father Ananse went to the bush and he saw that a beautiful dish was standing there. He said, “This dish is beautiful.”

      The dish said, “My name is not ‘Beautiful.’”

      “The spider then asked, “What are you called?”


    • 58 Why It Is That the Elders Say We Should Not Repeat Sleeping-Mat Confidences
      (pp. 212-214)

      They say that once upon a time Nyanlconpon Kwame, the sky-god, cleared a very large plantation and planted okras, onions, beans, garden-eggs, peppers, and pumpkins. The weeds in the garden became thick and nettles grew up. The sky-god then made a proclamation byodawuroto the effect that his plantation was overgrown with weeds and that anyone who could weed it without scratching himself might come forward and take his daughter, Abena Nkroma, in marriage. The first one who went to try scratched himself where the nettles tickled, and they hooted at him. The next one who tried was also...

    • 59 Why You Should Let Your Kinsman Accompany You When He Asks to Go Along
      (pp. 215-217)

      There was once a certain woman, and she bore three children. The youngest among them was suffering from yaws.

      The eldest of the brothers asked their mother to let them have gold dust that they might go trading. The youngest of them said he would like to go too, but they declared that he should not go with them. The mother, however, said that they and he must go together. Then their mother gave the elder sons gold dust to the value of five pounds and the youngest son gold dust to the value of two pounds. When things became...

    • 60 If Someone Does Good to You, You Should Do Good in Return
      (pp. 218-220)

      It is said that once there was a female eagle and that in her wanderings she came upon a certain old woman who had a sore on her leg. And the eagle said, “Gracious me! That is an unusual kind of sore. With a sore like that, however hard you try, are you able to walk?”

      The old woman said, “Oh, just a very little.”

      The eagle said, “You people! Nowadays, if I were to do something good for you today, tomorrow you would do something bad to thank me.”

      The old woman said, “Oh! I would not do that.”...

    • 61 Untombinde, the Tall Maiden
      (pp. 221-226)

      The daughter of the king Usikulumi said, “Father, I am going to the Ilulange next year.” Her father said, “Nothing goes to that place and comes back again: it goes there for ever.” She came again the next year and said, “Father, I am going to the Ilulange. Mother, I am going to the Ilulange.” He said, “nothing goes to that place and comes back again: it goes there for ever.” Another year came round. She said, “Father, I am going to the Ilulange.” She said, “Mother, I am going to the Ilulange.” They said, “To the Ilulange nothing goes...

  6. IV. Man and His Fate

    • 62 The Wonder-Worker of the Plains
      (pp. 229-234)

      Once there was a man and a woman to whom were born first a boy and then a girl. When the bride-price had been paid for the girl and she was married, the parents said to the son, “We have a herd for you to dispose of. It is now time for you to take a wife. We will choose you a pretty wife, one whose parents are honest people.”

      The son, however, firmly refused. “No,” he said, “do not bother. I do not like any of the girls who are here. If I absolutely have to marry, I shall...

    • 63 The Enchanted Guinea-Fowl
      (pp. 235-236)

      A certain man once upon a time set his bird line and sent his daughter, saying, “Go and look at my line while I go to dig.” So his daughter went to see the line. She found a guinea-fowl caught in it, and the guineafowl sang:

      Little girl, little girl,kirijakija,

      What have you come to do?

      Then said the girl, “I have come to look at the snare.” And the guinea-fowl asked her, “Whose snare is it?” And the girl said, “I have come to look at my father’s snare.” Thereupon the guinea-fowl said to her, “Go and tell...

    • 64 The Adventures of Mrile
      (pp. 237-242)

      In the course of time, a man had three sons. Once, the oldest one went with his mother to dig up eddo tubers. As they were thus occupied, he saw a seed-bulb. And he said, “Why, there is a seed-bulb as handsome as my little brother.” But his mother said to him, “How can a seed-bulb be as handsome as a human child?” He, however, hid the seed-bulb, and the mother tied up the eddoes to carry them home. The boy hid the seed-bulb in the hollow of a tree and, using a magic formula, said, “Msura Kwivire-vire tsa kambingu...

    • 65 The Handsome Ogre-Girl of the Pool
      (pp. 243-246)

      Some men once went out hunting. When they had walked some distance, they met a girl who was decked with chains that dangled to and fro. One of the men saluted her, and she returned the salutation. He said to her, “Give me food!”

      “Take it, here is some!”

      “I do not want any!”

      “What do you want, then?”

      “I want to take you home as my wife to our village.”

      “Wait, then, and I’ll fetch my mother!” She called, “Mother!”


      “Here is a man who wants to take me to wife!”

      The man saw how the water of...

    • 66 The Town Where None Might Go to Sleep
      (pp. 247-249)

      A certain woman had two daughters. One was married to a man who lived in a town where no one was allowed to go to sleep, the other to one in a town where no one might spit.

      One day the woman cooked a dish of sweetmeats to take to the daughter who lived in the town where no one was allowed to go to sleep. As soon as the dish was ready she started off and, when she arrived, all the household said to her, “Welcome, welcome!” Food was prepared for her, for the son-in-law said, “See, my mother-in-law...

    • 67 The City Where Men Are Mended
      (pp. 250-253)

      All the girls of the town had assembled and had gone to the forest to pick herbs. While they were doing this, it began to rain; from the east it came, and they ran and got inside the hollow of a baobab tree, and the devil closed it up. When the rain had ceased, the devil said that each must give him her necklace and cloth before he would release her, and all gave them to him except one girl who refused to do so. So she had to remain, but the others went off home.

      Now the tree had...

    • 68 M’wambia and the N’jenge
      (pp. 254-257)

      Once upon a time there was a man who married a woman, and she bore him a male child. Then he married a second wife, and she also bore him a male child. After a while the first wife died.

      Now the name of the eldest son was M’wambia, and the name of the second was also M’wambia, and he was known as M’wambia the Younger, to distinguish him from his brother.

      When the two boys were about twelve and ten years old, it happened that the animal known as the N’jenge came from the wilds and ate the food...

    • 69 The Child and the Eagle
      (pp. 258-259)

      A woman had a child. One day she went to work in the fields. While she was going to her work the child cried. When it stopped crying she suckled it, and after she had finished suckling it she laid it down in the shade. Then she went on hoeing.

      Once again the child cried, and a bird came—an eagle—and sat upon it. It soothed the child with its wings. Then the child which was crying became silent. When she saw this the woman was greatly alarmed and said, “Dear me! How terrible! The eagle is eating my...

    • 70 The Fat Woman Who Melted Away
      (pp. 260-261)

      There was once a very fat woman who was made of oil. She was very beautiful and many young men applied to her parents for permission to marry her and offered a dowry; but the mother always refused. She said it was impossible for her daughter to work on a farm as she would melt in the sun. At last a stranger from a far-distant country fell in love with the fat woman, and he promised, if her mother would give her to him, that he would keep her in the shade. At last the mother agreed, and he took...

    • 71 The Cherry-Pickers
      (pp. 262-265)

      Once upon a time some girls went to pick cherries, and one of them said to one of her comrades, “Let us pick cherries with our eyes shut.” Now the rest of her comrades picked without shutting their eyes, and they picked red cherries, but she picked hers unripe. And she said, “Girls, let us open our eyes,” and she saw that the cherries of her comrades were red. So she said, “My comrades, wait: let me go and pick some good cherries.” And her comrades said, “Go.” However they deceived her and went their ways and defecated. Then she...

    • 72 Ngomba’s Basket
      (pp. 266-268)

      Four little girls one day started to go out fishing. One of them was suffering sadly from sores which covered her from head to foot. Her name was Ngomba. The other three, after a little consultation, agreed that Ngomba should not accompany them, and they told her to go back.

      “Nay,” said Ngomba, “I will do no such thing. I mean to catch fish for mother as well as you.”

      Then the three girls beat Ngomba until she ran away. But she determined to catch fish also, so she walked and walked, she hardly knew whither, until at last she...

    • 73 The Beautiful Girl Who Had No Teeth
      (pp. 269-271)

      There was once a man who had three sons, none of whom had a wife. One day the father went out to see if he could find a suitable girl for his eldest son, and he found a beautiful girl at a village nearby. That night, when he returned home, he called his eldest son and said, “I have found a beautiful girl for you, and tomorrow I want you to take the cattle to her father.”

      Early next morning the son went out with five of the best cattle and presented them to the girl’s father. On his arrival...

    • 74 The Girl Who Was Sacrificed by Her Kin and Whom Her Lover Brought Back from Below
      (pp. 272-273)

      The sun was very hot and there was no rain, so the crops died and hunger was great. This happened one year; and it happened again a second, and even a third year, that the rain failed. The people all gathered together on the great open space on the hilltop, where they were wont to dance, and they said to each other, “Why does the rain delay in coming?” And they went to the Medicine-Alan and they said to him, “Tell us why there is no rain, for our crops have died, and we shall die of hunger.”

      And he...

    • 75 The Wicked Girl and Her Punishment
      (pp. 274-278)

      There was once a certain girl who loved a youth, but her parents said that they would not give her to him in marriage. He was always coming and begging them to let him marry her, but they would say, “We shall not give her to you.”

      Now one day the girl came to him and said, “I have come to you to ask you to give me your knife so that I may go and kill my mother. Then we can run away to some other town and be married.”

      But he said, “No, no, we must not do...

    • 76 The Old Woman Who Stole Milk
      (pp. 279-284)

      There was in times of long ago a certain old woman; she was living with her daughter; she was the mother-in law. Her son-in-law offered heramasi,telling her to eat; for there was not much food, it was a famine. She refused theamasi.He offered her a cow, telling her to eat the milk: she refused, saying she could not eat the milk of her son-in-law.

      In the digging season she was very hungry; she was in the habit of returning home at noon, and she would open her son-in-law’s house, and pour out theamasiand eat...

    • 77 The Wife Who Ate the Wrong Porridge
      (pp. 285-288)

      What do you think? This is what they did. They went looking for wives, saying, “Let us go and try to marry.”

      One of them went looking for a wife everywhere. Every one rejected him. At last he, too, like the others, succeeded in making a marriage such as it was.

      Well! He brought his wife into the house.

      Now, when he married her, he said, “Look here, woman, you will eat porridge of small millet, and no other.”

      “All right,” answered the woman.

      “And I,” added the man, “I shall eat only kafir-corn porridge.”

      “All right,” said the woman...

    • 78 The Twin Brothers
      (pp. 289-291)

      Once a woman, after prolonged labour, gave birth to twins, both sons. And each one, as he was brought forth, came into this world with a valuable fetish. One the mother called Luemba, the other Mavungu, And they were almost full-grown at their birth, so that Mavungu, the first-born, wished to start upon his travels.

      Now about this time the daughter of Nzambi was ready for marriage. The tiger came and offered himself in marriage; but Nzambi told him that he must speak to her daughter himself, as she should only marry the man of her choice. Then the tiger...

    • 79 Kenkebe
      (pp. 292-295)

      There was once a great famine in a certain country, and the people were obliged to eat wild plants to keep themselves alive. Their principal food during this time wasnongweswhich they dug out of the ground.

      There was living at that place a man called Kenkebe, and one day his wife said to him, “My husband, go to my father and ask him to give us some corn.”

      The man said, “Yes, I will go.”

      So he rose up early in the morning and went on until he arrived at his father-in-law’s village, where he was received with...

    • 80 The Giant of the Great Water
      (pp. 296-297)

      There was once a small boy who was herding the goats, and his father came and pointed out to him some long and luxurious grass and told him to take the goats there to feed. So he pastured them there that day and took them there again the day following. Now the next day while the goats were feeding, the owner of the pasture appeared, and he said to the boy, “Why are you feeding your goats on my grass?” And the boy said, “It is not my doing, for my father told me to come here.” And he said,...

    • 81 A Woman for a Hundred Cattle
      (pp. 298-304)

      Once upon a time there were a man and a woman. They lived for many days in the land of Pata, and a son was born to them. Their fortune consisted of a hundred cattle. Beyond these they did not have a single calf; they had nothing but the cattle.

      As time went by the son grew and became a big child, and when the boy was fifteen years of age, his father died. Several years later, his mother also died. So the young man had a heritage from both his parents—he inherited the hundred cattle which were left...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 305-306)

    She was an old woman of a family with a long genealogy. Leza Shikakunamo—“The Besetting One”—had stretched out his hand against her family. He slew her mother and her father while she was yet a child; and in the course of the years all connected with her perished. She said to herself, “Surely, I shall keep those who sit on my thighs”—but no, even they, the children of her children, were taken from her. She became withered with age, and it seemed to her that she herself was at last to be taken. But no, a change...

  8. Sources of the Folktales
    (pp. 309-312)