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Authors: Hugh Vernon-Jackson,Yuko Green

African Folk Tales

BOOK: African Folk Tales
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Bibliographical Note

African Folk Tales,
first published by Dover Publications, Inc., in 1999, is a new selection of 18 stories from
West African Folk Tales
More West African Folk Tales,
originally published by The University of London Press, Ltd., London, in 1958 and 1963, respectively. The illustrations have been specially prepared for this edition.

Copyright © 1999 by Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

African folk tales / [edited by] Hugh Vernon-Jackson ; illustrated by Yuko Green.

p. cm.—(Dover children's thrift classics)

“New selection of 18 stories from West African folk tales and More West African folk tales, originally published by the University of London Press, Ltd., London, in 1958 and 1963, respectively”—T.p. verso.

Summary: Presents eighteen traditional tales from West Africa, including “The Tortoise and the Leopard,” “The Story of Muhammadu,” and “The Magic Crocodile.”


1. Tales—Africa, West. [1. Folklore—Africa, West.] I. Vernon-Jackson, Hugh. II. Green, Yuko, ill. III. West African folk tales. IV. More West African folk tales. V. Title: African folktales. VI. Series. PZ8.1.A255 1999 [398.2'0966]—dc21 98-51017





Manufactured in the United States by Courier Corporation

At the edge of the forest, the tortoise found some big eggs beside the river.

The Tortoise and the Leopard

NCE UPON A TIME there was a tortoise who lived in a forest. She was a large, fat tortoise with a green and brown shell on her back, and over her stomach she wore a yellow shell.

One day she was going for a walk in the dark, shady forest where she lived. She came to the edge of the forest beside a river, and in the sand beside the river she found some big eggs. She recognized them as being the eggs of a crocodile.

Now the tortoise was very fond of eating good food, and she knew that crocodile eggs have a delicious flavour. She picked up the eggs and hurried with them to the compound of a family which lived near the river.

After the tortoise had greeted the family and the family had greeted the tortoise, she said, “Please, may I enter your compound, for I have something to tell you?”

“Certainly,” replied the chief man of the compound, and he and his family allowed the tortoise to enter.

“If you let me use a cooking pot,” said the tortoise, “and some firewood, some oil, and some pepper, and if you let me use three big stones to support the cooking pot over the fire, I will make a magic cake for you with the eggs which I am carrying. After you have eaten the magic cake you will always have good luck.”

The chief of the compound and his family agreed to what the tortoise suggested. They brought a cooking pot, firewood, oil, pepper, and three big stones to support the cooking pot over the fire. The tortoise asked them to put everything in the room where the family stored its corn. When everything was made ready, the tortoise thanked the family, entered the room, and shut and bolted the door.

All day the tortoise cooked the crocodile eggs. She mixed them with the oil and the pepper and the corn which was stored in the room, and she made a very large cake.

When night came and the family were sleeping, the tortoise put the cake in a bag, left the compound very quietly and then ran quickly into the forest.

The next morning the people in the compound woke up. They looked for the tortoise but they could not find her. They knew they had been tricked.

Meanwhile, the tortoise was going deep into the forest carrying the bag with the cake inside it. The day became very dark, for there were many clouds in the sky. The tortoise heard thunder; then she felt rain. The day became darker and darker, the rain became heavier and heavier. The tortoise was beaten by the rain, but she did not dare return to the compound where she had cooked her cake, so she went on and on, hoping to find shelter. At last she came to the top of a little hill where, through the clearing in the trees, she could see smoke. The tortoise knew that the smoke came from a house and that where there was a house there was shelter. She walked and walked while the rain became stronger and stronger. At last she reached the house.

“Greetings, friend,” the tortoise called at the doorway, “please will you let me in, for I am tired and wet from the rain?”

It was a leopard that came to the door.

“Greetings,” said the leopard. “Come in.”

Inside the house the tortoise found a warm place near the fire. She took her bag with the cake in it, and hung it up on a bamboo pole inside the house. As night had come by that time, the tortoise said good night to the leopard and went to sleep beside the fire.

The next morning when the tortoise woke up she saw that her bag was empty and that the cake had disappeared. It had been eaten by the leopard. The tortoise feared the leopard, so she did not say anything about the cake. Instead, she said, “I thank you, leopard, for giving me shelter. Now, if you will do what I say, I will make a magic powder for you. The magic powder will make you successful whenever you go out hunting.”

The foolish leopard was very pleased and he agreed to do what the tortoise said.

The tortoise said that he should go out into the forest and bring forked sticks, four of them, each about six feet high. This the leopard did. The tortoise then said that the leopard should bring two strong poles to be tied to the tops of the forked sticks. The leopard went into the forest again and brought back the poles, tied them to the forked sticks, and drove one end of each forked stick firmly into the ground.

Then he allowed the tortoise to tie him to the poles and sticks.

“Greetings, friend, ” the tortoise called, “please will you let me in from the rain?”

“When will you untie me?” asked the leopard.

“Never,” replied the tortoise. “You ate my cake without asking my permission to eat it. Therefore I shall not untie you. I shall leave you to your fate.”

The tortoise then ran off and disappeared in the thick forest.

After several hours some monkeys passed the leopard.

“Monkeys,” said the leopard, “please untie me.”

“Not us,” replied the monkeys, “we are too frightened of you.”

The monkeys went on their way. The leopard became very hungry. After several more hours an old mother monkey passed the leopard.

“Oh, Monkey,” cried the leopard, “please untie me. I have been here for a long time.”

The old mother monkey came back.

“Very well,” she said to the leopard, “although I fear you, I will untie you.”

The monkey freed the leopard, but she was not free from him. The leopard jumped on her and ate her up. After that, with a roar of rage, he ran into the forest to look for the tortoise.

The leopard went through the forest, but he could not find the tortoise. The leopard went beside the forest near the river, but still he could not find the tortoise. For ever afterwards the leopard searched beside the forest, and whenever one sees a leopard beside a forest, one knows he is looking for a tortoise.

The Story of a Farmer and Four Hyenas

NCE UPON A TIME there was a farmer named Musa, who lived in a village five miles away from the nearest town. He was very pleased when his wife gave birth to a baby boy.

“It is the custom that you should have very good meals of meat for the next seven days,” Musa said to his wife.

“With pepper,” his wife replied.

“Pepper and meat I shall buy for you,” said Musa, “when I go to the town.”

On the following day Musa walked through the forest and the high grass of the bush to the town which was well known for its market. As Musa approached the market he could hear the drums beating which told him that the butchers had fresh meat for sale.

First of all, Musa bought a pocketful of red peppers. Next, he went to the butchers.

“Let me have four legs of a cow,” Musa asked the butchers. “My wife has given birth to a baby boy and I must give her much meat that is sweet for her to eat.”

“The legs make excellent soup,” said the butchers as they gave the meat to Musa, “together with peppers.”

Musa paid for the meat, and then spent the rest of the day visiting friends and relatives in the town. In each compound which he entered and to each friend whom he met in the street he said, “My wife has given birth to a boy.”

Each friend and each relative replied, “I see that you have much meat to take back to her.”

In the evening, after the priest outside the mosque had called for prayers, Musa left the town for his home. On his shoulders he carried the four legs of the cow.

Before he had travelled two miles it became dark. Now the part of the country through which Musa was walking was infested with very fierce hyenas. Soon Musa heard their laughing, and he began to walk quickly. Suddenly, in an open space beside the path, there was a rush of feet and movement on the sandy soil, and Musa was looking into the yellow eyes of a hyena. Musa at first stood still with fright, and then suddenly started to run as fast as he could go. The hyena came quickly after him, preparing to attack. In despair Musa threw down one of the cow-legs which he was carrying. While the hyena stopped to eat the meat, Musa ran on.

Before long, however, Musa heard another hyena laughing. He found another hyena in front of him, on the path. Again, Musa threw a cow-leg to the hyena, and while the hyena stopped to eat the meat, Musa ran on quickly, as quickly as he could go, and faster than he had run before.

But again another hyena appeared and threatened to attack. This hyena was larger and fiercer than the two others had been. Again, Musa threw a cow-leg to the hyena, and while the hyena stopped to eat the meat, Musa ran on as quickly as he could go.

Now Musa remembered that there was a small village not far from where he was and nearer than his own village. He turned and followed a narrow path which led to the nearer village, all the time running very fast.

But for the fourth time a hyena suddenly appeared. This hyena was even larger than the one before had been.

“I will eat you,” growled the hyena and jumped towards Musa. Without hesitation Musa threw the last cow-leg to the hyena, knowing that there was nothing left to throw for hyenas to eat except himself.

He ran on and on until to his relief he saw in the distance the glimmering of a light which told him that he had nearly reached the village.

After looking into the yellow eyes of a hyena, Musa ran as fast as he could go.

As he was running towards the light, he found that all four hyenas were now chasing him. He tried to call for help, but he was so breathless that he had lost his voice. Just before the hyenas were near enough to catch him, he managed to reach the village and entered the first house he came to, where there were many people inside the entrance hall, sitting round a brightly burning fire. Musa fell on the floor, unable at first to talk, and breathing hard because he had been running so fast for so long.

The laughing of the hyenas outside the house told the villagers that Musa had been chased. The villagers seized their knives and axes and ran out to frighten the animals away. When they returned, they gave Musa some food and a place to sleep.

The next morning Musa thanked his protectors and returned to his own village. He told his wife what had happened and how he had lost the cow-legs.

“Only the pocket of peppers have I brought you,” he said.

“Better that you lose everything,” his good wife replied, “as long as you return safely yourself to your wife and child.”

The next day Musa went back to the market in the town. He had only enough money left to buy one cow-leg. He told everyone his misfortune and his adventure, and there was no one who did not help him. The money he was given was enough to buy three more cow-legs.

The drums were beating and the butchers were again selling meat. Musa bought four cow-legs once more, thanking his good fortune. Not waiting for the night, but in the sunshine of the afternoon he hurried back to his village. On the way he thought he heard hyenas in the grass, but he was not sure; he thought he saw yellow eyes, but he was not sure. But he reached home safely. Thick soup was made for his wife. She grew strong. The baby boy grew well, and Musa and his family lived happily ever after.

BOOK: African Folk Tales
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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