ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 03

African Stories to Tell and Retell

Author | Autor: Rogério Andrade Barbosa

Translated by Fernanda Monteiro Catai | Illustrated by Graça Lima

Welcome to the wonderful world of oral literature. Feel as if you
are sat by a bonfire, getting warm with the heat of the flames,
together with other boys and girls under the starry sky of mother
Africa, waiting to hear stories.
Imagine the dark and mysterious woods crowded with legendary beings and
animals. Pay attention to the gestures, the expressions of the face, the look, and
the enchanting voice of the story-teller. Listen to the singing of the birds scattered
in the branches of secular trees, surrounded by the screeching of monkeys and
roaring of savage beasts hidden in the dense foliage.
You are not allowed only to read or listen to it. You need to feel the intense
excitement caused by the stories as if you are part of the attentive audience.
Enjoy the tales that explain the origin of the behavior of certain inhabitants
of the forest. Then, read the stories aloud and try to reproduce the walk and the
dialogues of the incredible characters. After all, the stories, particularly in Africa,
were made to be told and retold.

Why does the bat fly only at night?

Once upon a time, there was a tremendous war between the birds and the
remaining animals of the African forests, savannas, and mountains.
At that time, the bat, this strange creature resembling the rat, but provided
with powerful wings, lived a peaceful life flying during the day amongst the
enormous and leafy trees looking for insects and fruits.
One afternoon, suspended upside down in a branch, he was taking his usual
nap when he was abruptly awakened by the afflict chirping of a bird:
”Attention, all birds! War has been declared against the quadrupeds. Everyone who
has wings and knows how to fly must join the fight against the animals that walk.”0
The bat was still recovering from the shock when a hyena passed running and
howling to the four winds:
”Attention, attention! War has been declared against the birds! All four-legged
beasts must join the army of the terrestrial animals.”
”What now?” asked the bat thinking to himself. “I am neither a bird nor a
terrestrial animal.”
Hesitant and without knowing which side to support, he decided to wait for
the result of the battle:
”I am no fool. I will join the winning side,” he decided.
Some days later, hidden amongst the foliage, he saw a pack of animals running
away, sought after by a flock of birds distributing pecks left and right. The birds
were winning the battle and then he flew to join the winged troops.
A huge eagle, seeing that rat with wings, asked:
”What are you doing here?”
”Don’t you realize that I am one of you? See!” said the bat opening his wings.
”I came as fast as I could to enlist,” he lied.
”Oh, I am terribly sorry,” said the distrustful eagle. ”Welcome to our victorious squadron.”
In the next morning, the terrestrial animals, strengthened by a herd of
elephants, resumed their fight and defeated the birds, ruffling feathers everywhere.
The bat immediately folded his wings and hurried to join the victorious army.
”Who are you?” roared a lion.
”I am a four-legged animal, just like Your Majesty,” answered the hoaxer
showing his sharp little teeth.
”What about those wings?” asked one of the elephants. ”You must be a spy. Get out
of here!” screamed the pachyderm lifting his powerful snout in a threatening gesture.
The bat, rejected by both sides, found no other solution: he went to live away
from everyone else, hiding during the day in caves and dark places.
That is why until this day he flies only at night.

Why does the pig live in the pigsty?

This story comes from the time when the pig lived with his big-toothed uncle,
the boar, in the African woods.
Both used to spend the mornings, cheerful and carefree, looking for fruits and
roots in the ground. In the afternoon, after hours taking a bath and wallowing in the
waters of the countless rivers that cut the deepness of the jungle, they would go
back to their home placed in the hollow trunk of a very old tree to take a long nap.
The boar loved the outdoor life. Thanks to his pointed and sharp teeth, he was
not bothered, not even by the king of the jungle, the lion, who treated him with all
due respect.16
But the pig, very lazy, complained all the time about everything. One day, he
approached his uncle and made an announcement:
”I want to live in the village of the men.”
”What?” answered the boar, quite surprised. ”The people who live in those
strange cabins covered with straw do not like animals. They are going to capture
you,” he warned.
”I am tired of eating just fruits and roots all day long,” the pig protested.
”Don’t do that, dear nephew,” begged the boar. ”Here we live free in the
nature,” advised the aged boar.
The pig, who dreamed of savoring the fine foods of the steamy caldrons of
the women, did not listen to the warnings of his uncle and left on the following day.
The trip until the village of the men was long, arduous, and full of dangers. But
the gluttonous pig, smelling food in the air, finally reached a big settlement.
As soon as the children of the area saw the animal, they went running to call the
adults. The men, carrying sticks and clubs, took the poor pig and put him inside a corral.
Since that day, he lives restrained in the pigsty eating leftovers and complaining
about his fortune, whining day and night:
”My uncle told me not to come to the village of the men.”

Why does the chameleon change colors?

A very long time ago, the hare and the chameleon were inseparable friends.
In those days, the countryside of Africa was travelled on foot by long caravans.
All carried packages and baskets in their heads, filled with wax and rubber, which
were exchanged by colorful fabrics in the stores of white tradesmen established in
the villages by the sea.
As soon as the hare and the chameleon heard the chanting and the uproar of
the carriers, they would quickly prepare to follow the men.
They liked to do business and, with their small bundles, they marched in the
rear of the cheerful groups. The carriers had jingle bells and bells tied in their
ankles, which made a terrible noise, scaring the savage beasts off.
The hare, always in a hurry, would do everything quite quickly. As soon as he
approached the white man, he would exchange his wax for multicolor fabrics and
say to the chameleon:
”I am taking off,” and he would disappear in the woods.
The chameleon, very calm, answered:
”I am in no hurry,” and he would slowly return to the immense forest.
The hare, bewildered, would lose everything he acquired in the shortcuts
because of his senseless running.
That is why the hasty hare walks around until this day dressed with a gray
cloth, all dirty and faded.
The slow and responsible chameleon gathered several fabrics of varied hues
and that is why he can change colors all the time.

Why did the dog go to live with the man?

The dog, who is considered to be the best friend of the man, used to live in the
woods with its cousins, the jackal and the wolf.
The three of them use to run through the endless prairies, slake their thirst in
the brooks and hunt always together.
But every year, before the rainy season, the cousins had difficulty to find food.
The vegetation and the rivers would dry up and the animals of the forest were
forced to run away searching for other stays.
One day, hungry and short-breathed, with their tongues hanging outside
their mouths because of the strong heat, they sat under the shadow of a tree to
make a decision.
”We need to send someone to the village of the men to fetch some fire,” said
the wolf.
”Fire?” asked the dog. 26
”Fire to burn the grass so we can eat roasted grasshoppers,” answered the
jackal with a watery mouth.
”And who is going to fetch the fire?” the dog asked again.
”You!” answered the wolf and the jackal at the same time, pointing to the dog.
According to the African tradition, the dog, who was the youngest, had no
other way, because he could not disobey an order from the older cousins. He
would have to make the tiresome trip up to the village, while the wolf and the
jackal could stay sleeping carefree.
The dog ran and ran until he reached the fence full of thorns and pointy
sticks that protected the village against attacks of lions. It was getting dark and
a good smell emanated from the cabins. The dog entered one of them and saw a
woman feeding a child. Tired, he decided to sit and wait for the woman to become
distracted to take an ember.
A pot with corn meal steamed over a bonfire. Indifferent to the dog, the
woman took small portions of meal from the pot and handed it over to a clay bowl.
When she finished feeding her son, she scraped the bowl and tossed the
rest for the dog. Hungry, the dog devoured everything and loved it. While he was
eating, the child approached and caressed his fur. Then, the dog said to himself:
‘I will not go back to the forest. The wolf and the jackal boss me around all the
time. Here I have food and people like me. From now on, I will live with the men and
help them to take care of their houses.’
And that was how the dog went to live with the men. And that is why the wolf
and the jackal howl in the forest, calling their runaway cousin.

Why does the zebra have stripes?

The elderly use to say that everything started when the zebra and the donkey
were fellows and had the same color of pelage.
In those days, all animals were friends and lived in peace. There was no king,
queen, or any other sort of leader to give orders.
One day, the animals gathered and decided that it was about time for them to choose
a leader. But this caused a big confusion, because each one had a different opinion to
give. There were so many proposals that the discussions lasted days and nights:
”It has to be the heaviest one,” bellowed the elephant, showing his large body.
”It has to be the best hunter,” demanded the lion, shaking his mane.
”It has to be the fastest one,” argued the leopard, who seemed to have wings
in his paws.
Then, the hare had a great idea:
”I propose that all the animals who have horns choose their leader. And all the
ones who have body covered with fur, scales, or feathers should do the same. At
the end, we throw a party to choose the king of the forest.”
The zebra and the donkey thought they could win the contest. They agreed
that they would help each other to look as good as possible. The problem was that
the zebra wanted to get prettier first, and so did the donkey. So, they decided to
ask the hare for an advice, because she was known for her smartness to solve any
sort of dispute.
”Considering the zebra is older, she must be garnished first,” said the longeared
The donkey immediately started to work. He painted the zebra with white
and black stripes, quite slowly and with care, until the end of the hoofs. He was
so careful that he only finished the task little before the beginning of the contest.
As soon as she saw her body painted, the zebra ran to join the other animals,
forgetting to help her brother. The donkey tried to paint his body all by himself, but
he ended up all smudgy.33
That is why today he has this yellowish, graceless color.
The zebra did not win the contest, because the winner was the lion, but she
came to be admired for the beauty of her colors. The donkey, hurt, left the forest
and went to work in a village.

Why does the giraffe have no voice?

Once upon a time, all animals of the forest spoke the same language. The giraffe
liked to brag, saying that she was the queen of the animals because she had
the longest neck. And because she was taller than the others, she used to look up
to the sky and talk to herself.
The other animals soon became annoyed with this habit of the giraffe,
particularly when they tried to take a nap after lunch.
Angry, they came up with a plan to silence the boring giraffe. The leopard
approached and said, provoking her:
”You brad all day long, but there are lots of things you don’t know how to do.”
The giraffe, who was quite insolent, screamed:
”What, for example?”
”You cannot run faster than me,” challenged the fast leopard.
”I accept the challenge,” answered the giraffe, without blinking. ”Tell me the
time and the place.”
The day of the race was soon scheduled. The leopard, sure that he was going
to win, convened all animals of the forest to see the big giraffe defeated by him.
The animals ran to have fun and cheer the defeat of the giraffe.
As soon as the race began, the two started to run side by side, but the leopard
soon outpaced the giraffe. He was running so fast that he ended up banging into
a tree and he had to abandon the race.
The animals were very disappointed when they saw the giraffe becoming the
champion. After the victory, she became even more gabbler.
No-one had any patience left to handle that endless bla-bla-bla. Then, the
monkey, quite smart, decided to solve the problem.
He took a bit of resin from a tree and mixed it in the boughs the giraffe used
to chew. After that, he hid and waited for the talker mammal to eat them.
The leaves stuck in her long neck and, despite her coughing and spitting, they
clung in her throat, silencing her forever. From that day on, her descendants were
born voiceless.

Why does the monkey hide in the trees?

The animal that knows this story is the smartest creature of the forest. Listen
to his version: the wild cat, after spending the entire day hunting without any
results, laid down to rest under a gigantic tree. But the mosquitoes did not let him
sleep in peace.
”Hey, monkey,” screamed the wild cat, seeing one of them jumping amongst
the thick roots. ”Please, come and help me to chase the flies away,” asked him as
friends use to do.
The monkey did not lose any time: he took a branch and started to scare the
sleep-disturbers off. The wild cat, soothed by the nice wind, fell into a deep sleep.
The monkey, who loved to play, tied the tale of the wild cat in the trunk of a
mango tree and jumped away.
When the wild cat woke up, he tried but he could not move. Frightened, he
started to scream for help.
A slug, quite slow, approached and asked what was going on:
”What happened?” she said, stretching her head outside the shell.
”Please, untie me!” begged the wild cat.
”You are going to catch me after I untie you,” ensured the cautious slug.
”No, I swear I will not.”
As soon as the wild cat was released, he thanked the slug and asked for
another favor:
”Tell the animals of the forest that I died and that they all must go to my
funeral tomorrow.”
Next day, all animals, including the monkey, attended the funeral. According to
old habits, they danced and chanted around the body of the friend laid in the ground.
Suddenly, the wild cat jumped and tried to catch the monkey. But the monkey
was quicker and he escaped hopping from one branch to the other.
And that is how the monkeys started to live in the trees. They only come down
when the wild cat is not around.

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