What is African folklore? For as long as it can be remembered, African folktales have been in use by the communities to serve purposes like entertainment and education. These tales draw from everyday life things like animals and plants, although they extended to the supernatural at times and involve beings like giants, spirits, and gods.
What was the purpose of African American Folktales? Unsurprisingly, African folklore stories are not the only ones as other cultures had them too. An example of such are the African American folktales that consist of cultural stories for the benefit of the community. Here is a look at African stories, some of which were Nelson Mandela’s favorite African folktales as well as West African folk tales.
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African folktales with morals
What are some famous folktales? To be fair, most African fables have morals. This is regardless of the region they originate from; for example, West African folktales and other places. What are some African folktales?
1. Why The Cheetah's Cheeks Are Stained
This is one of the many African folktales about laziness. This traditional Zulu story is about a lazy hunter who stole a cheetah’s cubs with the intention of training them to hunt for him instead of working himself. When the cheetah found her cubs gone, she was so heart-broken and cried so hard until her tears caused dark stains down her cheeks. With the help of a wise old man, the hunter was discovered and he returned the cubs. The moral of this story is that people should not be lazy and should work hard to earn.
2. Where Stories Come From
How did stories originate? This African story about the origins of stories and the importance they play in making people happy explains it all. The traditional Zulu tale follows the lives of one of the first people (Zenzele and his wife Manzandaba) and their many children. This family worked hard on the farm, weaved baskets, carved things, tanned hides, and hunted day in day out.
They also had time to play together during the day, but they would be bored when they sat by the fire at night because it was too dark for them to engage in daytime activities and too early to go to bed. The kids wanted to be told stories, so Manzandaba was forced to go and hunt for stories. She set out and in the process met different animals including the hare, owl, eagle, elephant, and tortoise. When she came back home, she narrated the events of her day and this resulted in the very first story.
3. Clever Jackal Gets Away
This is another African lore from the Zulu community that follows the jackal who tricks a mighty lion to relieve him of a burden of rocks. The jackal had gone to hunt for the next meal when he heard a lion approaching and because it was too late for him to escape, he had to quickly come up with a plan.
The jackal started calling for help and told the lion that the rocks above them were about to crush and kill them, unless the lion used his strength to prevent the worst. Meanwhile, the jackal would be looking for a tree to prop the rock. However, the jackal never comes back, and it was long after that the lion realizes he was holding an unmoving rock. The moral of this story is that people should always be clever.
4. Jabu and the Lion
This is the tale of a boy, Jabu, who frees a lion from a deadly trap. The lion was freed by Jabu on the promise that it would not eat the boy. However, the lion changed its mind and wanted to eat the boy anyway, which was when a jackal tricked it again back to its trap. The moral of this Zulu story is that promises should not be broken.
5. The Curse of the Chameleon
This a story about how the chameleon allowed himself to be tricked by the snake. God the Creator had given the chameleon a package to deliver to mankind, but the chameleon allowed himself to be tricked. After that, he became the slow animal we know today. It teaches the importance of being loyal avoiding destruction that may cause us not to fulfil our mission.
6. Honeyguide's Revenge
This is the story of a honeyguide who directed a man, Gingile, to a hive so that they could share. However, the man was greedy and had it all for himself. The guide was furious and decided to trick the man to get some more honey from a leopard’s nest. The man ended up hurting his bones because of his greed so the moral lesson here is that we should be satisfied with what we have.
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7. King of the Birds
When the Creator made the animals, the birds did not have a leader so the mighty Fish Eagle suggested that he become the king of the birds. The birds decided to have a competition of the strongest bird to determine the king. However, a small bird tricked them and emerged the winner, showing that leadership is not all about size but skill and wisdom.
8. Why the Warthog Goes About on His Knees
Remember the story of the jackal, lion, and unmoving rock? So, the warthog tried to trick the lion the same way the jackal did with the rocks, but this time he claimed the roof was caving in and the lion should run away. Wise to this old trick, the lion roared fiercely and in fear, the warthog trembled and dropped to his knees. The lion was not hungry, so instead of eating the poor warthog, he ordered him to stay on his knees. The moral is that we should not blindly copy others but come up with own original ideas.
9. The Tortoise with a Pretty Daughter
All the above are Zulu stories, but that does not mean that other communities do not have sweet stories with moral lessons. In this West African tale, a prince did not fall in love with any of the girls that the king introduced him to, and this made the king angry. As a result, he announced that if any man had a daughter who would steal the heart of the prince, the girl and his parents should be killed. A wise tortoise hid his beautiful daughter, but the prince came across the girl and instantly fell in love with her. Despite the rule set by the king, love won. The moral of this West African tale is that people should seek to have beautiful daughters regardless of wealth status as the royal house may notice.
10. Why the Moon Waxes and Wanes
Nigerian entertaining and informative story of a very poor woman and the moon, in the form of a fat lady with hiding skin that gave out bright light. Out of pity for the old starving woman, the moon allowed her to cut some of her flesh and eat it, and this went on until the moon became smaller and her brightness dimmed.
The villagers discovered what was going on, and ambushed the old lady one night. This frightened the moon, who went up to the sky and never came back to earth. As a result, the moon undergoes various phases and once in a month, becomes very thin and very dim. The moral behind this story is that we should try to be generous to those who need us. This is the same generosity the moon showed an old starving woman.
11. Why the Bat flies by Night
This story from Accra explains the trickery of the bat that led him to being exiled after tricking a rat to its death. After that, the bat only flies at night. The moral of this story is to give careful thought to matters, and that lies are bad.
12. Why the bat is ashamed to be seen in the daytime
This is also a story that encourages honesty and making sure that we keep control of our tempers. Outsmarted and exposed by the tortoise, the bat was forever disgraced and forced to come out at night only.
13. Why a hawk kills chickens
This is a story about justice and how important it is. The hen had accepted a marriage proposal from the hawk but overturned the decision at the last minute. In retribution, the hawk was given permission by the king to kill chickens.
14. Why the worms live underneath the ground
This story encourages the idea of strength in numbers the same way the ants overwhelmed the worms with their number. After the defeat, the worms were relegated to living underground.
15. Why dead people are buried
The moral of this story is that people should not be distracted easily like the dog was when the Creator entrusted him with the secret to eternal life. When the dog got hungry, he forgot to deliver the message on time and human beings ended up being buried because the foolish sheep told the wrong message.
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Now you know some popular African folktales with moral lessons and plenty of entertainment. Even though most of these African folktales with animals may sound unreal, the next time you wish to sound wise, why not to use these handy stories?
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