Baka folklore tells spine-tingling tales of life in the rainforest. From crafty snakes to scheming chim panzees, animal life plays a central role. Others illustrate the Baka’s strong belief that the rainforest is not just a dense forest, but a place where powerful spirits roam. The rainforest itself also holds supernatural powers. The stories are all oral, handed down from generation to generation. Women play a key role in crafting these tales as a form of entertainment for their children. In this tale, the story is told of a clash with a forest spirit.
One day, a boy decided to go kill an elephant because people were dying from lack of meat in his village. He went into the forest and saw fresh elephant tracks from after the rain. He listened and heard an elephant knocking down a tree. The boy crept up on the elephant, softly, and – BANG! – the elephant fell to the ground. The boy returned to his village and said “I’ve killed an elephant in the forest. Let’s go cut it up.” The next day, the villagers set off into the forest, they walked and walked and walked and finally came to the place where the elephant lay. The elephant had dried out, so the villagers set about carrying his carcass back to the village. When they arrived, the boy said to himself, “Oh, what a mess! I can no longer eat the elephant. I’m going to keep an eye on my traps. And then, if I catch an animal, it will be mine and I will eat it.” So the boy set off to mind his traps. Meanwhile, a female spirit, a devil, was walking through the forest with her child, along the very path on which the boy had set his traps. The spirit let her child run ahead on the path, but when she caught up with him, there was only silence. The child had fallen into the trap. At the same time, the boy felt an incredible hunger for meat. He got to thinking that instead of returning with his game to the village, where he wold have to share it, he would eat it all himself in the forest. So, he ate the spirit’s liver. He ate its chest and its skin. He ate all of the spirit by himself. When he had finished, he sat and listened to the forest sounds. He thought that the spirit’s mother would soon reclaim her child. In fact, the spirit’s child was talking to his mother from the boy’s stomach. “I came into the forest with you along this path but a boy ate me.” The mother spirit hurried along the path, and came to the spot where the trap had been, but saw only blood. Meanwhile, the boy returned to the village and told his uncles about his adventure. “I only ate a small piece of game but I sense that its mother wants it back. It is speaking to me in my stomach.” His uncles told him, “Be quiet. The mother will die.” Right then, the sound of the spirit mourning her loss was heard from the forest. The villagers set off into the forest, with the boy in front. He repeated to his uncles, “I only ate a small animal. I thought it was an animal, but it was really a small child. That’s why its mother is following me.” His uncles told him, “Be quiet. In a moment, you will see the mother’s carcass.” Meanwhile, the screams grew louder. The men scattered throughout the forest. The screams sounded like those of a woman. The villagers waited, waited. They loaded their guns. The screams moved behind a hut. Finally, someone fired at the woman-spirit. She fell to earth. The villagers cut her up and scattered her remains in the forest. And that is the end.
Ethiopian Highlands Folklore
"Kebra Negast" ("The Glory of Kings") tells the story of how the Ark of the Covenant -- the resting place for the Ten Commandments -- came to Ethiopia. A myth of epic proportions, it is also the tale of the Queen of Sheba, believed to have lived in southern Arabia or Ethiopia, and the biblical King Solomon of Israel. The child that resulted from this love match, known to Ethiopians as Menelik, is revered as the founder of the Solomonic dynasty that ruled Ethiopia until 1976.
The Ark of the Covenant
Makeda, queen of Sheba, was a beautiful woman who valued wisdom above gold or silver. From traveling merchants she heard of the extraordinary brilliance of King Solomon of Judah and decided to visit him in his capital, Jerusalem. There, King Solomon told her that his wisdom came not from man, but from the God of Israel. Impressed, she swore allegiance to this god and tried to learn every detail about how Solomon ruled his land. Judah had fallen afoul of God and during this time, King Solomon dreamed that the sun of Zion moved to shine over Ethiopia. When the queen finally returned home, she bore King Solomon a son. As a young man, this son, Menelik, traveled to Jerusalem to visit his father. There, all the treasures of Judah were shown to him and he was named King of Ethiopia. When King Menelik left for Ethiopia, he took the Ark of the Covenant with him. The armies of King Solomon gave chase, but God lifted Menelik up over the Red Sea and set him down in Ethiopia with the Ark. Thus, as it is written in the Book of Psalms, "Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God and He shall receive her with honor . . ."
Great Lakes Folklore
The Baganda love to make up rhymes and tell stories. There are stories that explain how things were created, describe how people should live, and even stories that explain proverbs. Many involve the king of the Baganda, and the founder of the royal dynasty, Kintu, the first Baganda man. Kintu was made by Katonda the supreme creator god who is generally believed to be a benevolent protector of humans.
How Death Came to Earth
Katonda the Creator made the first man and called him Kintu. Knowing that Kintu would be lonely on earth all by himself, God created a wife for Kintu, called Nambi. Nambi's family in the heaven gave the couple cattle, sheep and hens to start a farm on earth after they got married. As soon as the ceremony was finished, Nambi's family urged them to leave because they had not invited Death to the wedding and were afraid that he would arrive and cause trouble. After being told never to return to heaven, the happy couple set off for their new home on earth. Unfortunately, Nambi forgot the chicken feed, and was afraid she would have none to give her hens when she got to earth. She went back to her family in heaven, where Death, angry at not being invited to the wedding, was waiting. When Nambi saw Death, she turned and ran away, but Death was a very fast runner, and he pounced on her as soon as she got to her home. To this day, Death has stayed on earth and is known to move swiftly and unexpectedly.
Tale of Tafaka
One day, Binta and her two friends were returning to camp with their goats when they spotted a tafaka, an unusually beautiful lizard, sunning itself on a rock. The tafaka was heavily pregnant. Taking pity on the lizard, Binta offered to help with the birth. A few weeks later, a stranger appeared at Binta’s tent and told her that Tafaka was ready to give birth and had summoned her. Binta did not know anyone called Tafaka, but she followed the stranger. Instantly, the two arrived at a luxurious tent. Inside was a very beautiful, pregnant woman. Binta did not recognize her. It was, in fact, a djinn that had shown itself as the pregnant lizard sunning itself on a rock. Binta helped care for Tafaka and stayed with the djinns for 40 days, learning much about their powers. When she returned to her camp, word spread about her adventures. One day a handsome young man appeared at Binta’s tent looking for a wife. For a bride, Binta knew there could be no human more beautiful than a djinn. She summoned one to be the stranger’s wife, and peace was declared between man and djinn. That is why, to this day, the women of Aïr are as lovely as fairies, with hair as long and black as crow’s wings. They are all the children of djinns.
Fulani tales featuring trickster hares are popular throughout West Africa. To survive in the Sahel, the hare thinks like a human. He relies on his cunning and speed to outwit larger and more stupid animals. Sometimes his practical jokes lead to harsh punishment, sometimes not. Transported to the U.S. by slaves, these stories provided the foundation for the Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus yarns.
Hare The Thief
Once upon a time, animals tended farms like humans. They harvested grain and stored it in huts. One year, after safely storing their grain, the animals set out to graze their cattle during the dry season. Hare pretended to leave, too. But, instead, he returned to the grain huts and ate his fill. By the time the other animals returned, there was no grain left. Hyena suggested that they use the moon to show them the culprit. It is well known that the moon sees everything, so the animal on which the moon first shined would be guilty. That night, Hare said he was suffering from aching muscles and asked Squirrel to sleep next to him to turn him over. He was, of course, worried that the moon would shine on him first. So he lay awake, watching for its beams. The moon did, in fact, shine on Hare, but he got up and walked away, so that only Squirrel lay in its light. Then, stretching and yawning, he pointed to Squirrel. “There’s your culprit!,” he shouted. And the other animals pounced on Squirrel and tore him to shreds.
For the Maasai, each day has a similar rhythm, governed by sun, wind and the movement of their cattle. Not surprisingly, many Maasai tales are about animals. Some explain why animals look or act a certain way, while others are simply humorous tales.
The Caterpillar and the Hare
One day, the hare returned home to find his front door locked. The hare, who was well liked by all the animals, never locked his door, and had no key. He rattled the knob, and called "Who is in my house?" A booming voice replied: "It is I! The one with many jointed ankles, who crushes elephants and rhinos to the earth and tramples lions into dust!" The hare was immediately frightened. Who could be so large and powerful as to crush elephants? The small hare could not defend himself against such a fierce foe, so he asked the hyena, the leopard and the elephant for help. Each one came to the hare’s house, but was too frightened by the occupant’s booming voice. Despairing, the hare brought the boastful frog to his door to see if he could help. The frog asked who was there and got the same answer. So the frog declared loudly; "You'd better come out, because I am here. I, the one who leaps the longest and has a tongue that can seize the fastest bird in the sky. I, who rule the waters, and the lion and the giraffe." From inside, a timid squeak sounded. Hopeful, all the animals rushed the door. When they found no one inside they rushed out again, only to find a small caterpillar inching out the door. Looking at his many feet and strangely jointed legs they knew that the caterpillar must be the one who had frightened them all, and they all laughed and were embarrassed by how easily they had been duped.
Southern African Folklore
Zulu beliefs are passed down through story telling traditions, and can explain everything from the creation of all things, to the reason that owls only come out at night. Part of Zulu culture is its celebration of the aging process. Many age-related milestones are celebrated from childhood through adulthood, and growing old is considered a privilege. It is believed that elderly people have been blessed by god. Even death is nothing more than another milestone, because the Zulu believe that life goes on after the last breath leaves the body.
How Death Came to Earth
When God decided to let people live forever, he sent the chameleon to tell themthe good news. The chameleon is a pretty slow walker, and also a bit vain. As he ambled along on his mission, he stopped many times to admire the beautiful colors his skin turned. Before long, he came to a huge patch of berries that he knew God had forbidden him to eat. But the chameleon couldn't resist. When God saw the chameleon’s sin, he got so angry that he instead sent the lizard to tell people that they would not live forever after all. The lizard, who moves quickly, reached people ahead of the chameleon and told them God’s will. When the chameleon finally arrived, he was too late. The people could not change their fate. For this reason, to this day, the Zulu think of the chameleon as an unlucky and untrustworthy animal.
Swahili Coast Folklore
Like most African folklore, Swahili tales feature crafty animals pitted against each other in a struggle between good and evil. And, as in Aesop’s Fables, the moral of the story almost always is that the good will live happily ever after.
The Heart of the Monkey
Long ago, a young monkey lived alone in a huge baobab tree hanging over the sparkling Indian Ocean. One day, a shark swam up to the monkey’s tree and the unlikely duo became friends. After sharing fruit the monkey had gathered from nearby trees, the shark invited his friend to come visit his home in the sea. But as the two swam down into the ocean, the shark confessed that he was actually taking the monkey to the Sultan of the Sharks. The Sultan had fallen ill, the shark said, and the healer had prescribed a monkey heart as the only way to save his life. Terrified, the monkey told the shark that he had left his heart hanging back in the tree. The pair returned to the surface and the monkey scampered high up into the baobab. After awhile, when the monkey didn’t return, the shark got anxious and yelled up to the monkey, "Have you found your heart yet? Bring it down, so that we can return!” But the monkey replied, "My heart is where it always has been . . . In my CHEST!” “Go away, go find some other foolish monkey!" And to this day, the monkey may go near the water, but he is too smart to be persuaded any closer into the beautiful, but dangerous Indian Ocean.
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