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African Folktales

African Folktales

by Paul Radin (Editor), James J. Sweeney (Editor)

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A selection of eighty-one folktales from the many cultures that exist south of the Sahara, African Folktales includes tales of the Hausa and the Ashanti, the Bantu, the Bushmen, and the Zulu. The narratives, which range from the mythical tale to the humorous anecdote, are divided into four categories:

I. The Universe and Its Beginnings

II. The Animal and His


A selection of eighty-one folktales from the many cultures that exist south of the Sahara, African Folktales includes tales of the Hausa and the Ashanti, the Bantu, the Bushmen, and the Zulu. The narratives, which range from the mythical tale to the humorous anecdote, are divided into four categories:

I. The Universe and Its Beginnings

II. The Animal and His World

III. The Realm of Man

IV. Man and His Fate

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Princeton University Press
Publication date:
Princeton Legacy Library Series

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African Folktales

By Paul Radin


Copyright © 1952 Bollingen Foundation Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-01762-4


How Spider Obtained the Sky-God's Stories

KWAKU ANANSE, the spider, once went to Nyankonpon, the sky-god, in order to buy the sky-god's stories. The sky-god said, "What makes you think you can buy them?" The spider answered and said, "I know I shall be able." Thereupon the sky-god said, "Great and powerful towns like Kokofu, Bekwai, Asumengya, have come, but they were unable to purchase them, and yet you who are but a mere masterless man, you say you will be able?"

The spider said, "What is the price of the stories?" The sky-god said, "They cannot be bought for anything except Onini, the python; Osebo, the leopard; Mmoatia, the fairy; and Mmoboro, the hornets." The spider said, "I will bring some of all these things, and, what is more, I'll add my old mother, Nsia, the sixth child, to the lot."

The sky-god said, "Go and bring them then." The spider came back, and told his mother all about it, saying, "I wish to buy the stories of the sky-god, and the sky-god says I must bring Onini, the python; Osebo, the leopard; Mmoatia, the fairy; and Mmoboro, the hornets; and I said I would add you to the lot and give you to the sky-god." Now the spider consulted his wife, Aso, saying, "What is to be done that we may get Onini, the python?" Aso said to him, "You go off and cut a branch of a palm tree, and cut some stringcreeper as well, and bring them." And the spider came back with them. And Aso said, "Take them to the stream." So Ananse took them; and, as he was going along, he said, "It's longer than he is, it's not so long as he; you lie, it's longer than he."

The spider said, "There he is, lying yonder." The python, who had overheard this imaginary conversation, then asked, "What's this all about?" To which the spider replied, "Is it not my wife, Aso, who is arguing with me that this palm branch is longer than you, and I say she is a liar." And Onini, the python, said, "Bring it, and come and measure me." Ananse took the palm branch and laid it along the python's body. Then he said, Stretch yourself out." And the python stretched himself out, and Ananse took the ropecreeper and wound it and the sound of the tying was nwenene! nivenene! nwenene! until he came to the head.

Ananse, the spider, said, "Fool, I shall take you to the sky-god and receive the sky-god's tales in exchange." So Ananse took him off to Nyame, the skygod. The sky-god then said, "My hand has touched it, there remains what still remains." The spider returned and came and told his wife what had happened, saying, "There remain the hornets." His wife said, "Look for a gourd, and fill it with water and go off with it." The spider went along through the bush, when he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there, and he poured out some of the water and sprinkled it on them. He then poured the remainder upon himself and cut a leaf of plantain and covered his head with it. And now he addressed the hornets, saying, "As the rain has come, had you not better come and enter this, my gourd, so that the rain will not beat you; don't you see that I have taken a plantain leaf to cover myslf?" Then the hornets said, "We thank you, Aku, we thank you, Aku." All the hornets flew, disappearing into the gourd, font! Father Spider covered the mouth, and exclaimed, "Fools, I have got you, and I am taking you to receive the tales of the sky-god in exchange."

And he took the hornets to the sky-god. The sky-god said, "My hand has touched it; what remains still remains."

The spider came back once more, and told his wife, and said, "There remains Osebo, the leopard." Aso said, "Go and dig a hole." Ananse said, "That's enough, I understand." Then the spider went off to look for the leopard's tracks, and, having found them, he dug a very deep pit, covered it over, and came back home. Very early next day, when objects began to be visible, the spider said he would go off, and when he went, lo, a leopard was lying in the pit. Ananse said, "Little father's child, little mother's child, I have told you not to get drunk, and now, just as one would expect of you, you have become intoxicated, and that's why you have fallen into the pit. If I were to say I would get you out, next day, if you saw me, or likewise any of my children, you would go and catch me and them." The leopard said, "O! I could not do such a thing."

Ananse then went and cut two sticks, put one here, and one there, and said, "Put one of your paws here, and one also of your paws here." And the leopard placed them where he was told. As he was about to climb up, Ananse lifted up his knife, and in a flash it descended on his head, gao! was the sound it made. The pit received the leopard and join! was the sound of the falling. Ananse got a ladder to descend into the pit to go and get the leopard out. He got the leopard out and came back with it, exclaiming, "Fool, I am taking you to exchange for the stories of the sky-god." He lifted up the leopard to go and give to Nyame, the sky-god. The sky-god said, "My hands have touched it; what remains still remains."

Then the spider came back, carved an Akua's child, a black flat-faced wooden doll, tapped some sticky fluid from a tree and plastered the doll's body with it. Then he made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand. Again he pounded some more and placed it in a brass basin; he tied string round the doll's waist, and went with it and placed it at the foot of the odum tree, the place where the fairies come to play. And a fairy came along. She said, "Akua, may I eat a little of this mash?" Ananse tugged at the string, and the doll nodded her head. The fairy turned to one of the sisters, saying, "She says I may eat some." She said, "Eat some, then." And she finished eating, and thanked her. But when she thanked her, the doll did not answer. And the fairy said to her sister, "When I thank her, she does not reply. "The sister of the first fairy said," Slapher crying-place." And she slapped it, pa! And her hand stuck there. She said to her sister, "My hand has stuck there." She said, "Take the one that remains and slap her cryingplace again." And she took it and slapped her, pa! and this one, too, stuck fast. And the fairy told her sister, saying, "My two hands have stuck fast." She said, "Push it with your stomach." She pushed it and her stomach stuck to it. And Ananse came and tied her up, and he said, "Fool, I have got you, I shall take you to the sky-god in exchange for his stories." And he went off home with her.

Now Ananse spoke to his mother, Ya Nsia, the sixth child, saying, "Rise up, let us go, for I am taking you along with the fairy to go and give you to the sky-god in exchange for his stories." He lifted them up, and went off there to where the sky-god was. Arrived there he said, "Sky-god, here is a fairy and my old woman whom I spoke about, here she is, too." Now the skygod called his elders, the Kontire and Akwam chiefs, the Adonten, the Gyase, the Oyoko, Ankobea, and Kyidom. And he put the matter before them, saying, "Very great kings have come, and were not able to buy the sky-god's stories, but Kwaku Ananse, the spider, has been able to pay the price: I have received from him Osebo, the leopard; I have received from him Onini, the python; and of his own accord, Ananse has added his mother to the lot; all these things lie here." He said, "Sing his praise." "Eee!" they shouted. The sky-god said, "Kwaku Ananse, from today and going on for ever, I take my sky-god's stories and I present them to you, kose! kose! kose! my blessing, blessing, blessing! No more shall we call them the stories of the sky-god, but we shall call them spider-stories."

This, my story, which I have related, if it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me.



The Separation of God from Man

In the beginning of days Wulbari and man lived close together and Wulbari lay on top of Mother Earth, Asase Ya. Thus it happened that, as there was so little space to move about in, man annoyed the divinity, who in disgust went away and rose up to the present place where one can admire him but not reach him.

He was annoyed for a number of reasons. An old woman, while making her fufu outside her hut, kept on knocking Wulbari with her pestle. This hurt him and, as she persisted, he was forced to go higher out of her reach. Besides, the smoke of the cooking fires got into his eyes so that he had to go farther away. According to others, however, Wulbari, being so close to men, made a convenient sort of towel, and the people used to wipe their dirty fingers on him. This naturally annoyed him. Yet this was not so bad a grievance as that which caused We, the Wulbari of the Kassena people, to remove himself out of the reach of man. He did so because an old woman, anxious to make a good soup, used to cut off a bit of him at each mealtime, and We, being pained at this treatment, went higher.

Established in his new setting, Wulbari formed a court in which the animals were his chief attendants. Everything seemed to run smoothly for a time until one day Ananse, spider, who was Captain of the Guard, asked Wulbari if he would give him one corncob. "Certainly," Wulbari said, but he wanted to know what Ananse wished to do with only one corncob.

And Ananse said, "Master, I will bring you a hundred slaves in exchange for one corncob."

At this, Wulbari laughed.

But Ananse meant what he said, and he straightway took the road from the sky down to the earth, and there he asked the way from Krachi to Yendi. Some men showed him the road and Ananse set out. That evening he had gone as far as Tariasu. There he asked the chief for a lodging, and a house was shown him. And when it was time to go to bed, he took the corncob and asked the chief where he could put it for safe keeping. "It is the corn of Wulbari; he has sent me on a message to Yendi, and this corncob I must not lose."

So the people showed him a good place in the roof, and everyone went to sleep. But Ananse arose in the night and gave the corn to the fowls and, when day broke, he asked for the cob and Io! it was all eaten and destroyed. So Ananse made a great fuss and was not content till the people of Tariasu had given him a great basket of corn. Then he continued on his way and shortly sat down by the roadside, as he was weary from carrying so great a load.

Presently there came along a man with a live fowl in his hand which he was bringing back from his field. Ananse greeted him and they soon became friends. Ananse said that he liked the fowl — in fact, he liked it so much that he would give the whole of his load of corn in exchange if the man would agree. Such a proposal was not to be met with every day; the fellow agreed, and Ananse went on his way carrying the fowl with him.

That night he reached Kpandae, and he went and saluted the chief from whom he begged a night's lodging. This was readily granted and Ananse, being tired, soon went to bed. First, however, he showed his fowl to the people and explained that it was the fowl of Wulbari and that he had to deliver it to Yendi. They were properly impressed with this information and showed Ananse a nice, quiet fowl-house where it would be perfectly safe. Then all went to bed.


Excerpted from African Folktales by Paul Radin. Copyright © 1952 Bollingen Foundation Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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