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Archive for November, 2011

African Folktales 2: The Lion’s Whisker

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a young husband and wife in a small village in Africa. For some time now, the husband had not been happy with his marriage. He began to come home late from working in the fields. His wife thought he was the most wonderful man. But she was unhappy, too. His behavior was making her miserable.

Finally, she went to the oldest man in her village, the village elder. The elder was sad to hear her marriage was not a happy one. He had married them only two years before. At the time, he was sure that the marriage would be a good one.

“Of course I will end your marriage if that is what you want,” he told the young wife, after listening patiently for a while. “You will be free to marry again. But is that really what you want?”

“I want my husband to be loving,” she said. “I want to be loving. We are both miserable.”

“I think I can help you,” the elder said slowly. “I can prepare a secret potion that will change your husband into a loving man.”

“Prepare this magic potion at once!” the young wife cried out excitedly.

“I could make it,” he said sadly. “But I am missing an important ingredient. I am too old to get this ingredient for you. You must bring it to me.”

“What do you need?” the young wife asked eagerly. “I’ll bring it today.”

“I need a single whisker taken from a living lion to make the potion work.”

Her eyes widened in alarm. She bit her bottom lip. She straightened her shoulders. “I’ll get it for you,” she nodded.

The next morning, the young wife carried a huge piece of raw meat down to the river where lions sometimes came to drink. She hid behind a tree and waited. After waiting many hours, a lion ambled down to the river to have a drink. He sniffed at the raw meat. In three bites, the meat was gone. He raised his mighty head. He knew she there. The young wife held her breath. The mighty lion moved slowly back into the forest and disappeared.

The next day, the young wife came again. This time, the lion appeared quite quickly. This continued for many days. Days became weeks. Each day, the woman crept from her hiding place behind the tree, moving closer and closer to the lion.

At the end of four weeks, she moved quietly next to the lion and sat silently while he ate. Her hand shaking, she reached slowly out and pulled a whisker from his chin. Holding her prize firmly in one hand, she sat frozen until the lion had disappeared back into the forest.

She ran to the elder, waving her whisker. “I have it,” she shouted. “I have it!”

The elder was in awe when he heard her story. “You do not need magic to change your husband back into the loving man he once was. You are brave enough to pull a whisker from the chin of a living lion. It took cleverness and bravery to do what you have done. Can you not use that same patience and courage and wit with your husband?

“But the potion,” the young wife said eagerly. “Would not that work as well?”

“Perhaps,” the elder told her. “But it would not last. Trust me, my child. Show your husband each day that you love him. Share his problems. Make him feel welcome. Make him feel wanted and needed. Give him time to change and see what happens.”

The young wife went home and followed the elder’s advice. Slowly, her husband began to return from the fields with the other men of the village. He began to look glad to see her. Within a year, their life was a happy one.


African Folktale 1: The Chief Who Was No Fool

“Help me,” the old man begged. “My neighbor has stolen from me.”

The paramount chief gladly listened. It pleased him that others recognized his wisdom. “What exactly is the problem?” questioned the chief.

“My neighbor stole my goats. I’m a poor man, too poor to replace them.”

“And what do you have to say?” the chief asked the man’s neighbor.

“I don’t know what he is talking about,” answered the neighbor. “I have many goats but none of them belong to this man.”

This would not be an easy problem to settle. The paramount chief would have to rely on his wisdom. It was the kind of problem he enjoyed the most.

“I have a test for you,” announced the chief. “Whoever passes the test will own the goats. Go home until you can answer this for me. I want to know what is the fastest thing in the world. Do not return until you have my answer.”

The two men left shaking their heads. Who could answer that question?

The old man repeated the question to his daughter, Ziah. She was as beautiful as she was wise. Right away, she whispered the answer that would please the chief. The old man returned to the chief the following morning.

The chief was surprised. “You already have an answer for my question?”

“Yes,” replied the old man, “it was not difficult.”

“And what is the fastest thing in the world?”

“Time,” answered the old man. “We never have enough of it. It always goes too fast. There is never enough time to do all that we want to do.”

The answer amazed the paramount chief. He wasn’t sure if he himself could have answered the question as well. “Who helped you? Who gave you these words?” demanded the chief.

“They are my own words, my own thoughts,” lied the old man. “There is no one else who helped me.”

“If you are not telling the truth, I will punish you,” warned the chief.

The old man was too afraid to continue the lie. “It was my daughter, Ziah, who gave me the words,” he confessed. “She is a very wise woman.”

“She must be!” thought the chief. “I would like to meet this woman.”

Not long after that the old man presented his daughter Ziah to the paramount chief. If the chief was amazed with her wisdom, he was captivated by her beauty. “You are indeed a wise and lovely woman. I would be honored to have you as my wife. Will you marry me?”

“The honor is mine,” smiled Ziah.

Although the chief was pleased, he was also concerned about having such a wise wife. He did not want her to interfere with the problems brought before him. He didn’t want to share this honor with anyone, not even his wife.

“Everything in my house is yours,” declared the chief. “I only have one rule for you. You must never involve yourself with the problems brought before me. This is your only warning. If you break this rule, I will send you from my house.”

The chief’s new wife only smiled at his command.

Things went well for quite some time. The paramount chief continued to hear people’s problems while Ziah kept herself busy without becoming involved. Usually she agreed with his decisions.

One day, however, the chief gave one of his puzzles to two boys who argued over a sheep. Ziah knew she shouldn’t help the boy who really owned the sheep, but he was so upset. She finally asked him to explain his problem.

“The chief asked for the impossible,” he sighed. “He gave us an egg and said that whoever could hatch the egg by tomorrow would own the sheep.”

Ziah knew she shouldn’t help but the solution was so obvious. “Take some rice to the chief,” she instructed. “Tell him to plant it today so that in the morning you will have rice to feed your chicken. He will know that it is just as impossible to grow rice in one day as it is to hatch an egg that quickly.”

The boy ran to the chief with the rice. He said exactly the words he was told. The chief was not impressed; he was angry! “Who told you this? Who gave you the rice?” he ordered. “These words are too wise for one so young.”

“They are my own words, my own thoughts,” said the boy too afraid to speak the truth. “There is no one else who helped me.”

“If you are not speaking the truth, I will punish you,” warned the chief.

“It was Ziah!” cried the boy. “She knew you’d understand the wisdom.”

The chief, furious his wife had broken his only rule for her, called her before him and scolded, “Didn’t you know all that I have is yours? You have broken the only rule I had for you. Now, go back to your father’s home.”

“Before I go, may I fix you one final meal?” asked the woman. “Then, I will take what is mine and go.”

“Yes,” answered the chief. “Make whatever you want. Take whatever you want. Just be sure that you do not remain here tonight!”

Ziah prepared the chief’s favorite meal. She served it with a generous amount of palm wine. Before the meal was finished, the chief became very drunk and quietly fell asleep. Ziah’s plans worked exactly as she had hoped.

With her family’s help, she carried the paramount chief to her father’s home. They placed him on a bed and he slept soundly through the night. In the morning the chief’s voice boomed throughout the house. “Where am I? What am I doing here?” he demanded.

Ziah entered the room and grinned. “You said I could take whatever I wanted from your house. I wanted you and so I took you.”

“You are certainly a wise woman,” smiled the chief. “Come return with me to our home. Only a fool would send away such a woman.”

“And you, my chief, are no fool,” whispered the clever wife.

African Folktales

Myths, legends, and folktales are all literary forms that reveal the “soul” of any society; they express its wishes, desires, hopes, and beliefs about the world. In any country these forms of literature show what the society thinks is important about life. These literature forms are often ancient and come directly from the groups that now make up modern society.

Folktales differ from myths and legends because they do not always have a religious aspect and do not always find a basis in historical truth. Folktales, which are literally “stories of the people,” involve fictitious characters and situations. Most were oral traditions before they were written down.

In the African-American tradition, we find that all Africans brought a rich and diverse folklore tradition with them when they came during the long period of slavery. Their folktales reflect not only the huge number of different backgrounds they came from but also the new and various relationships they formed in the United States. It is this tradition combined with that of the American Indians that make the folklore of the United States one of the richest in the world. In many ways the diversity of our folklore helps us understand the complex idea of America’s “melting pot” and shows us what it means to be American.

One type of folktale explains why animals look or behave the way they do. These kinds of tales are popular in every culture and often give amusing or outrageous reasons to explain common animal behaviors human beings cannot understand. The Owl Never Sleeps At Night and Why the Lizard Often Nods are two examples of such folktales which also happen to contain some lessons about good behavior for both animals and humans.

Another type of folktale is called a “how-and-why” story. These stories have hidden messages, or morals, throughout. In Tappin, the Land Turtle we will see references to the brutality of slavery and how humor and hope can make the situation more bearable. In The Invisible Tortoise we will learn a lesson about honesty through the personification of a society of animals.

All folktales are meant to be read aloud so that the storyteller can highlight the lesson through vocal expression.

African Harvest Festivals

In Africa the festival is of a religious nature and has lots of dancing and music. Dancers wear masks and each dance tells a story. The stories range from a good ghost who looks after their crops and scares away the bad ghosts who try to spoil the food. African people have always had festivals at the time of harvest. In some parts of Africa good grain harvests are a cause for celebration. In other parts of Africa there is the Festival of Yams.Tribes of West Africa, for example, celebrate the yam harvest with days of ceremonies and offerings of yams to their ancestors and to the gods.

The Yam Festival is usually held in the beginning of August at the end of the rainy season. A popular holiday in Ghana and Nigeria, the Yam Festival is named after the most common food. Yams are the first crops to be harvested. People offer yams to the gods and ancestors first before they distribute them to the rest of the village. This is their way of giving thanks to the spirits.

The Homowo Festival of Africa, is a celebration of a traditional harvest festival from the Ga people of Ghana, West Africa, it is the largest cultural festival of its kind. For the Ga people, the word Homowo means “hooting at hunger.” The origin of Homowo is tied to the origin of the Ga people and their migration to Ghana. The Ga traveled for many years before reaching the west coast of Africa where they now live. Along the way they experienced famine, but because they helped each other, they survived. Later when their harvests were bountiful, they held a feast at which they jeered at the hunger and hard times that had plagued them. This was the first Homowo.

The Homowo Festival commences with a traditional Ghanaian procession in which people from local African and African-American assume the roles of kings, queens and followers of the royal family of each of Ghana’s ethnic groups. In some African cultures they hold a ceremony called “first fruits” that takes several days of planning in order to bless the newly harvested crops and purify the people before they eat the foods.

Religion in Africa

There are similarities between African religions, there are also differences. Just as there are differences in religious practice in the United States-not just between Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, and others, but even within Christianity (Roman Catholics and many Protestant groups), Islam (Sunni, Sh’ite, Nation of Islam) and Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform)-so too there are differences in religious belief and practice among African religions. 

Although the supernatural God and spirit world are important in African religions, religious belief and practice are central to all aspects of life in Africa. That is, religious beliefs impact the way people live their everyday lives, from what they eat (or cannot eat), the way they farm, do everyday chores, hunt, make tools and clothes, arrange themselves in families, marry, divide work among family members, educate their children, treat illness, and bury the dead. Among indigenous African religions, religious belief and practice are not restricted to one holy day each week, be it Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but are present in the most common daily activities as well as in special ritual ceremonies.

African religions provide people with what some scholars call a world-view. A world-view can be thought of as a system of values, attitudes, and beliefs, which provide people with a mechanism to understand the world in which they live and everyday events and occurrences. Maybe we can think of a world-view as being like a language. Can you imagine how hard it would be explain or understand everyday events and occurrences if we did not have language-words? Words are essential tools that help us explain and understand events and occurrences. But words come with their own meanings, we cannot simply change the meanings of words when we use them to explain or to understand events or why we live the way we do. Words and their meanings help shape the way we see, and therefore how we explain, events.

African indigenous religions provide a system of morality that establishes right from wrong, good and appropriate from bad or inappropriate behavior. Just as with Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, children growing up in African religions learn right from wrong, and what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in every situation that they face.

Like all world religions, rituals are important to African indigenous religions. Rituals are cultural or religious ceremonies that celebrate or commemorate specific events that have deep religious significance. Rituals serve to reinforce important religious beliefs through meaningful activities that bring comfort or joy and thus strengthen the unity of the followers of the religious tradition. Rituals are often associated with important human events: birth, marriage, death, planting, and harvest.

Music of Africa

According to history, a lot of things have influenced the tribal music in Africa. African music has been influenced by language, environment, politics and a variety of cultures. African music expresses the feelings and life of the entire community.

“African music is an integral part of daily life. Unlike music in the West, African music is a functional part of a child’s natural development. In the West, a child might express an interest in music from an early age and promptly be enrolled in private music lessons or in one or more musical activities such as choir, band, or orchestra if the child has reached a mature enough age to take part. An African child experiences music as an integral part of life from the very moment of birth. Since there is little distinction between art and life in Black African culture, children’s play often consists of activities involving music such as taking an empty tin, an old window frame and a piece of animal hide and constructing a ‘frame-drum’ as a musical toy.”

There are different musical instruments in Africa made out of nature. There are instruments like the talking drum, gourd tambourine and others. All these instruments are played to produce a sweet sounding melody that will appeal to the people. We also have the traditional horn in Nigeria called the Kakaki.

African’s do not just listen to music for the fun of listening to music or make music for the fun of it. Most African music speak to the people in a way and they are able to relate to the music. There are different kinds of African music like traditional folk music, song for kids and also, gospel music. Watch an African traditional gospel music from Nigeria below.

African Arts and Crafts

Africa has different types of arts and crafts that promote the culture of the people. We design pots, shoes, clothes, baskets, bags and shoes in the African style. Africans are good in weaving hair into braids and they also make tie and dye which are later made into designed fabrics for sale. There are also African paintings. Most of these arts and crafts are hand made and much time is invested into making them.

Africa is known for her great pottery. Pots in Africa are made with clay and are designed into many shapes and sizes. Some of these pots have nice art works painted on them and sometimes, they are colorful. Some people in the villages in Africa who don’t have fridges in their houses actually put water in a big clay pot and cover it by the corner of their houses. Doing this makes the water cold for drinking. Africans also make shoes like sandals and slippers. A person can actually go to the shoemaker and tell him the design he or she wants. The cobbler gets the idea and makes the shoe and after the customer is satisfied with the final product he or she then pays the shoemaker. These sandals and slippers are always made with real shiny leather.

Africans make their traditional dresses with African prints like Ankara, tie and die and lace fabrics. These fabrics are made and sewn in Africa. They are worn to occasions like birthday parties, weddings and most celebrations.  They are sewn into different styles like skirt and blouse, dresses, and pants. Some handbags are made with African print but most of them are made with leather. Baskets and other things are made too in Africa. The kind of basket made in Africa apart from the normal plastic basket we all see are made out of palm fronds gotten from palm trees. There are so many beautiful products made out of natural things in Africa. You have to visit Africa to appreciate the beauty of their arts and crafts.

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