Read African Folk Tales Online

Authors: Hugh Vernon-Jackson,Yuko Green

African Folk Tales (6 page)

BOOK: African Folk Tales
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The Fisherman and the Ring

LONG TIME ago there lived a young man whose father was a teacher.

“I wish to be a fisherman,” said the young man to his father. The father protested, for he thought that his son would not make much money nor become well known. But when he saw that his son was determined, he reluctantly gave him his blessing.

Thereupon the young man bought nets and all the equipment that fishermen need. Then he built himself a hut by the river. At first he caught few fish, but with practice he became more successful and caught many more. The young man sold his fish in the market and gave the money to his father.

Then war came to that district.

“Help to defend our people,” said the teacher to his son. So the young man left his fishing, took up his bow, his arrows and his spear and successfully fought the marauding enemies. By the time the fighting was over, there had been many losses in the village. But the young man survived and he returned to the river and became a fisherman again.

One day the son was in his canoe on the river when he saw a movement on the surface of the water. Quickly he threw his net and caught a fish that was bright red. To his surprise, the fish spoke to him, for no fish had ever spoken to him before.

“Do not kill me,” begged the fish.

“All right,” said the fisherman. “Just this once I will let you go.”

“Thank you,” said the fish. “For your kindness you deserve a reward.”

“I should like money,” said the fisherman, putting the fish back into the river.

The fish swam away, returning after a short time with a ring in his mouth.

“Take this ring,” said the fish. “You can buy anything you want with what the ring gives you.”

With trembling hands the fisherman took the red fish's ring. Excitedly he returned to the shore and rushed into his hut by the river bank. After closing the door, he turned the ring in his hand and said, “Please may I have money to buy a new boat?” Money appeared before him.

“May I have some to give to my father?” More money appeared before him. The fisherman ran back to his village and to his father. He became the richest man in that village and the last days of the old teacher's life were happy because his son had become so successful.

Then war came again to that district. The village was attacked. During the fighting the fisherman called to his ring, “Oh, ring, turn our village which they are attacking into the place of destruction for our enemies. Turn our attackers into stone.”

Immediately the enemy were turned into a mountain which one can see behind the village. To this day the villagers speak of the fisherman, the talking fish and his magic ring.

The Magic Crocodile

HERE WAS once a very big cave. It was divided into two parts, the top part being dry and the bottom part filled with water. In the bottom part there lived a crocodile.

The crocodile did not live alone in the cave, for various other wild animals stayed there too. They lived in the dry part and various water creatures swam in the part which was filled with water. The crocodile spent most of his time in the water, but sometimes he would emerge from the cave for a short distance.

One day a hunter went near the cave in search of animals. He saw the crocodile resting in the sunshine outside the mouth of the cave. The hunter aimed his bow and arrow at the crocodile but immediately his eyes became blind.

When the hunter let the arrow fall from the bow his eyes opened again. He could see the crocodile smiling with pleasure at the cleverness of his trick.

The hunter did not stay, but ran back to his village and told the people what had happened.

“As I pointed my arrow at the crocodile,” the hunter declared, “I became blind. The arrow fell out of my bow and then I could see again.”

The people in the village grew very excited. Nearly half of them took up their bows and arrows and went off towards the cave.

“We shall catch that crocodile,” they all shouted.

When the villagers came near the cave they saw the crocodile where the hunter had seen it, resting in the sunshine outside the cave. The very moment that each villager put an arrow in his bow and aimed at the crocodile, he became blind.

The villagers saw the crocodile resting in the sun outside the cave.

“Take your arrows from your bows,” cried the hunter, and when they did so, the eyes of the villagers could see again.

“No man can harm me,” said the crocodile, looking at the villagers. He got up from his resting-place and went back into the cave where all the animals praised him for guarding them so well.

“We will live our own lives in our village,” declared the disappointed villagers as they returned to their homes. “That crocodile will remain in his cave. There is nothing we can do to change this.”

However, some of the young men were not satisfied with this. From time to time, an exceptionally brave youth would return to the cave determined to kill the crocodile. But he never succeeded.

“Be blind with your bows and arrows,” said the crocodile with a smile. Neither he nor the villagers had ever seen or heard of guns in those days long ago.

The Contest between Fire and Rain

NCE UPON A TIME there was a king who had a beautiful daughter. Her beauty increased as she grew to the age of marriage and she was considered to be the most beautiful girl in the world.

Many men wanted to marry the king's daughter, but the first two to ask for her in marriage were Fire and Rain.

Rain went first to the king's daughter to ask if she would marry him, and she agreed; but Fire had gone first to the king to ask to be allowed to marry his daughter, and the king had agreed.

The king sent word that his daughter was to come to see him.

“I have promised to give you in marriage to Fire,” the king told her when she came into his room.

“Your Majesty,” the king's daughter replied, “but I have already promised to marry Rain.”

“What shall we do?” cried the king and his daughter. “We are caught between two promises.”

It was then that Rain arrived in order to visit the king's daughter; soon after that Fire arrived with the same intention. Rain and Fire were each determined to outwit the other.

Then the king said, “I have decided on the day of marriage for my daughter.”

“To me?” asked Fire.

“To me?” asked Rain.

“To the winner of a race on the day of the marriage,” said the king. “To him I will give my daughter.”

There was great excitement amongst the people. Some said Fire would win; others said Rain would win. The king's daughter said to herself that whoever won the race, she would keep her promise to marry Rain.

When the day came for the race and for the marriage, it was very windy. The king made a sign and a drum was beaten. The race began. At first Fire was winning, for he was carried rapidly along by the wind. As for Rain, there was no sign of him in the sky. Fire continued to race faster and faster until it seemed to everyone that he would certainly win. When Fire had almost reached the place where the king sat with his daughter, Rain was at last seen preparing himself in the sky. It seemed to everyone, however, that he was too late. But when Fire was just about to win the race, Rain started to fall very heavily. Fire was quenched before he could reach the end of the race and Rain was declared the winner.

The king therefore gave his daughter to Rain to be his wife and there was much rejoicing.

Ever since that time when water quenched flames, there has been enmity between Rain and Fire.

The Hare and the Crownbird

NE DAY the hare and his friend the crownbird went together on a journey. They were going to visit the house of the hare's uncle.

They travelled over hills and through valleys, until they came to a river. Beside the river there was an old woman washing herself.

“Please,” the old woman asked the hare, “help me to wash my back.”

“I will not,” the hare replied.

Then the old woman saw the crownbird who was following the hare. “Please,” the old woman asked the crownbird, “help me to wash my back.”

“Yes, I will,” the crownbird replied and began to help the old woman.

“Why do you bother yourself on such a task?” the hare said to the crownbird. “I will leave you to do this unrewarding job.”

So saying, the hare continued on his journey.

After the crownbird had finished helping the old woman, she said to him, “Dip your wings and your legs into the water of this river.”

The crownbird did so. Then the old woman told him to remove his wings and legs from the water. He did so. On his legs he discovered bracelets of great value and on the tips of his wings there were precious rings.

“Dip your beak into the water of this river,” said the old woman.

The crownbird did so, and when the old woman told him to bring out his beak, he brought out beautiful clothing made of finely woven wool.

“The bracelets, the rings, the clothing, the horse—all are for you,” said the old woman to the crownbird.

“Now once again,” the old woman said. “Dip your wings into the water of this river.”

Again the crownbird did as he was told, and bringing out his wings at the old woman's command, he found a very beautiful horse standing beside him.

“The bracelets, the rings, the clothing, the horse—all are for you,” said the old woman to the crownbird. “I am grateful for the way you behaved when I asked you for help.”

The happy crownbird mounted his new horse. It was a fast one and they soon caught up with the hare.

“How amazing,” cried the hare. “You have bracelets, rings and fine clothes and you are riding a beautiful horse.”

“Yes,” replied the crownbird, “all this because of the old woman by the river.”

Then he told the hare what had happened.

“Continue on your journey,” the hare cried. “I'm going back to that old woman.”

So he turned and ran off in the direction of the river.

When the hare reached the river, the old woman was still there. “Please let me help you,” he said, smiling at her.

“Shall I take another bath?” the old woman asked angrily. “Shall I ask you again if you will help wash my back?”

“Yes, yes,” cried the hare. “I will very willingly help you.”

At first the old woman refused to be helped, but then because the hare continued to beg her to let him help she agreed. When the hare had finished helping her, she told him to put his legs and paws in the water of the river. The hare did so. When he withdrew them, they were covered with old and dirty bracelets and broken rings.

“Try again,” said the old woman. But when the hare again withdrew his paws from the water of the river he held old and dirty clothing.

“Try again,” repeated the old woman. But when for the third time the hare withdrew his paws from the water, he brought out the worst of all, a horse which was very ugly, short and thin.

The hare, with his dirty old bracelets, rings and clothing, mounted on his worthless horse and continued on his journey. The horse moved very slowly. Goats move better than that horse. Night had fallen by the time the hare reached his friend the crownbird at the house of the hare's uncle.

“I have learnt my lesson,” the hare admitted. “It is better to give help than to refuse.”

The Medicine for Getting a Son

MAN NAMED Obi and his wife Ngozi regretted that they had no child, for they had been married for many years. Finally, Obi went to a wizard to ask for his advice.

“Go,” said the wizard, “and bring me the milk of a buffalo, the tears of an elephant, the tooth of a lion, the tail of a monkey and the brains of a lion.”

Obi left his wife at home and started out in search of all these things the wizard had named. On his way he met a rabbit. He told the rabbit that he needed the milk of a buffalo.

“I will help you,” said the rabbit, and went without delay to a buffalo he knew.

“Honoured buffalo,” said the rabbit, “see if you can run like me through the thick bushes which you see there.”

The rabbit ran up and down making a lot of dust, and jumped right over the thick bushes, but the buffalo did not realise this. He crashed into the thick bushes where his horns became stuck. Whatever he did he could not free himself. The rabbit waved to Obi, who came and milked the trapped buffalo.

Obi continued his journey. He had not been going long when he found an elephant weeping for the death of his son. Obi again asked the rabbit to help him. The rabbit readily agreed and ran up to the elephant saying, “Honoured elephant, the tears of a prince should not fall on the ground.”

So saying, the rabbit held a bowl to the elephant's eyes and collected the tears. He carried the bowl to Obi.

Obi told the rabbit that he still needed the tooth of a lion and the tail of a monkey. The rabbit ran back to the elephant saying, “The lions and the monkeys are laughing because you are weeping.”

The rabbit held a bowl to the elephant's eyes and collected the tears.

His words made the elephant very angry. He marched quickly up to a lion who lived nearby and attacked him, but he only succeeded in breaking one of the lion's teeth before the lion ran away. Then the elephant saw some monkeys and before they could run away too he had pulled off one of their tails with his powerful trunk. The rabbit, however, begged the elephant to give him the broken tooth and the tail. The elephant agreed and the rabbit returned to Obi.

“Here is a lion's tooth,” said the rabbit, “and here is a monkey's tail. Now I must go about my own business.”

Obi thanked the rabbit for his great help, and he and the rabbit parted. While Obi was wondering how he might obtain the brains of a lion, a donkey passed by. Obi decided to follow the donkey to ask his advice but before he could catch up with him a lion suddenly appeared. It was the same lion who had already lost part of his tooth. The lion was still angry and when he saw the donkey he fell on him. The lion was almost ready to kill the donkey when the frightened animal suddenly kicked with all his might and cracked open the lion's head. His brains were revealed and Obi quickly ran up and took them. “The rest of the lion is yours,” he told the donkey.

Obi returned to the wizard.

“Here is the milk of a buffalo,” he said to the wizard. “Here are the tears of an elephant. Here is the tooth of a lion and the tail of a monkey. Here finally are the brains of a lion.”

“You have done very well,” said the wizard. “Now your wife will have a child, and it will be a son.”

The wizard mixed together what Obi had brought him, and together these ingredients formed a medicine which Obi gave to his wife Ngozi. Before the end of the year the childless wife had given birth to a son.

When the son grew to manhood he caught the rabbit and bought the donkey.

“You helped my father,” said the son, “and now I shall help you.”

Obi's son fed and protected the rabbit and the donkey for the rest of their lives.

BOOK: African Folk Tales
5.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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