African Folktales


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However, their functionality has not changed. They still offer instruction about life and they still are widely enjoyed by intellectuals and non-intellectuals because of their ability to address humanistic appeals. Additionally, these tales, originating in Africa transcend race and age, as they explore concerns and angst experienced by all nationalities.

What makes these works memorable and respected is that even the most basic or unpredictable being can be used to convey or relay a message about life without condemning or sounding overly pious. Furthermore, this type of lesson without condemning is effective and popular because it verbalizes experiences many people feel are qualified in isolated scenarios, referring to death, sickness, loneliness, and rejection.

Dividing the Cheese. Two cats stole a cheese. Neither thought the other would divide it equally so they agreed to ask the monkey to do it. He sent the cats to fetch a scale. Then he got out his knife.

Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky - African Folktale

But instead of cutting the cheese in half, he made one portion larger than the other. He put both pieces on the scale.

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Category:African folklore

The monkey began to eat the cheese from the heavier side. As he ate, the heavier side became lighter than the other piece. Then he changed over and began to eat from the other side. Please, let us have the rest of the cheese, and we will divide it ourselves. And he continued to eat, first on one side, and then on the other, until all the cheese was gone. In this tale the antagonist capitalizes on the protagonists greed and desire to conceal their ill-gotten cheese. The antagonist exploits their weaknesses, solicits their services, and depletes their food supply.

This concise tale is a commentary about how dishonesty begets dishonesty and how there is no such thing as a balanced scale when wrong is being weighed. Why the Hippopotamus Lives in the Water.

African Folk Tales

Many years ago, the hippopotamus, whose name was Isantim, was one of the biggest kings on the land—only the elephant was bigger. This hippo had seven fat wives, of whom he was very fond, and they went everywhere together. Now and then he used to give a big feast for the people, but though everyone knew the hippo, no one, except his seven wives, knew his real name. If no one can guess my name, you shall all go away without your dinner. After some time, as no one could guess his name, they reluctantly prepared to leave. But before doing so, the tortoise stood up and asked the hippopotamus what would happen if he told him his name at the next feast?

The hippo replied that if the tortoise discovered his name, he and his whole family would leave the land, and for the future would dwell in the water. Now, the tortoise knew that it was the custom for the hippo and his wives to go every morning and evening to the river to wash and have a drink. The hippo used to walk at the head of the line, and his seven wives followed behind. One day, when they had gone down to the river to bathe, the tortoise dug a small hole in the middle of the path, and then hid himself behind a nearby bush and waited.

When the hippo and his wives returned, two of the wives were some distance behind the others, so the tortoise came out from where he had been hiding, and crawled into the hole he had dug, leaving the greater part of his shell exposed. Isantim, my husband, I have hurt my foot. As soon as all of the hippos were out of sight, the happy tortoise went home. At the next feast the hippo reminded his guests that they could not eat unless someone knew his name. When the feast was over, the hippo and his seven wives, in accordance with his promise, went down to the river, and they have lived in the water from that day till now.

And although they come ashore to feed at night, you never can find a hippo on the land in the daytime. This tale of trickery demonstrates determination in the turtle and arrogance in the hippo.


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The hippo, thinking more highly of himself than his guests made himself susceptible to the ploys of his challenger. A wonderful porquoi tale. Sun replies that his house is not large enough and sets out building a new one to accommodate his friend. But when water comes to visit, he fills the entire house and there is no longer room enough for Sun and his spouse, Moon.

Can you guess where they found a new home? I particularly like the illustrations, with their emphasis on the mask. A Story, a Story. Beautiful, vibrant woodcut illustrations accompany the legend of how Ananse, or the Spider-Man, is determined to get stories from the Sky-God. The Sky-God sends Ananse off on several quests, never believing that a weak and old man will fulfill the tasks.

Only, he realizes too late that Ananse is rather clever. Long ago, anyone who was hungry could pluck what they needed from the sky but the sky gets tired and angry at the people who are wasting his bounty. The story has a positive message about the importance of not taking things for granted and good stewardship of the planet.

For quite some time, my younger son was absolutely obsessed with this book. This tale of how the human body came to be in its form today is also a story of the importance of cooperation and determination.


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  • I especially like Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile. This is a fun retelling of the same story that inspired the much loved classic, Caps for Sale. The theme of a monkey or monkeys tricking a hatseller appears in many cultures. This story is set in Mali. I really like how joyful the hatseller is in this book and the little lesson about how important breakfast is! It also has some great background information about the style of hats in the book. Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain. Cattle herdsman Ki-pat recognizes the dire need for rain and pierces a cloud with his arrow to unleash the storms.

    Told as a repetitive, rhythmic, cumulative tale think: This is the House that Jack Built , it emphasizes the dependence of humans on the natural world. Surprisingly, I had the most difficulty finding picture books based on folktales from Egypt. This picture book is best for older kids and I chose it because I thought the introduction to hieroglyphs was cool as well as the idea of fierce Amazon women. Part folklore, part historical fiction, this is a great choice for kids who love all things Ancient Egypt.

    Every culture has its trickster tales. In this West African tale, Zomo has to accomplish three seemingly impossible tasks in order to please the Sun God. His trickster ways help him out, but in the end he finds the joke is on him. Honey… Honey… Lion! A Story from Africa. I know Jan Brett has legions of fans, and although I do like her sidebar story-within-a story illustrations, I much prefer the more interesting and striking illustrative styles of the other books on this list.

    The honeyguide is an African bird that leads other animals to its namesake. Ordinarily it partners with the Badger for the benefit of all the animals. However, when the Badger goes rogue, things start to get sticky. The moral? Sharing is good. American folk singer and storyteller Pete Seeger adapted the African folktale of Abiyoyo. When a giant comes to town it is only the sound of the ukelele that can calm him. In my opinion it is essential that you also listen to Seeger sing the tale.


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    Be prepared for some serious wardrobe choices. There has been a drought and the animals are hungry. Without enough grass, they turn to a tree filled with fruit too high to reach. In order to obtain the fruit they must learn the name of the tree, which only the lion knows. I love how devoted the cow and fowl are to each other. Their strong friendship means they would do anything, however foolish to help each other. Tales about Anansi the Spider. I have not read these books. I am truly embarrassed to admit this, but I simply cannot read a book about a spider.

    See a Problem?

    I know. However, Anansi is such an important figure in African folklore, I obviously cannot leave him out. There are many books about Anansi, these are two of the more popular ones. If you know of some titles, I would love some suggestions. If I find some in the future I will be sure to add them. It was told and illustrated by school students in a remote community.

    African Folk Tales

    There are a few titles including:. It includes a number of stories from a community in NW Australia. I like it because it includes a parallel text in the language of the community as well as a mini dictionary and pronunciation guide at the back so you can get an idea of how the stories sound when told in their original tongue.

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