17 African folktale stories with moral lessons for children and parents

17 African folktale stories with moral lessons for children and parents

For as long as can be remembered, African folktale stories with moral lessons have been used by communities for entertainment and education. These tales draw from everyday things like animals and plants, although they sometimes extend to the supernatural and involve beings like giants, spirits, and gods.

folktale stories with moral lesson
African folktale stories with moral lessons. Photo: canva.com (modified by author)
Source: UGC

African folktale stories reveal life lessons, spiritual teachings, and cultural knowledge and wisdom for the African community and cultural heritage. Here is a look at very short folktales with morals.

African folktale stories with moral lesson

Africa is a continent rich in history and stories. Below are short folktale stories with moral lesson, perfect for sharing with children or friends.

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, intending to train them to hunt for him instead of working himself.

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When the cheetah found her cubs gone, she was so heartbroken and cried so hard that 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. It is one of the popular Zulu folktale stories that follows the lives of one of the first people, Zenzele, his wife, Manzandaba and their many children.

This family worked hard on the farm, weaved baskets, carved things, tanned hides, and hunted day in and 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.

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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. She narrated her day's events when she returned home, resulting in the first story.

3. Clever jackal gets away

This is another told famous folktale stories in Afrikaans and the Zulu community that follows the jackal who tricks a mighty lion into relieving him of the burden of rocks.

The jackal had gone hunting for the next meal when he heard a lion approaching, and because it was too late for him to escape, he had to devise a plan quickly.

The jackal started calling for help and told the lion that the rocks above them would crush and kill them unless the lion used his strength to prevent the worst. Meanwhile, the jackal would look for a tree to prop the rock.

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However, the jackal never returns; long after, the lion realizes he is holding an unmoving rock. The moral of this story is that people should always be clever.

4. Jabu and the Lion

very short folktales with morals
A photo of a Lion inside a cage. Photo: pexels.com, @brettsayles
Source: UGC

This is the tale of a boy, Jabu, who frees a lion from a deadly trap on the promise that it will 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 into its trap. The moral of this Zulu story is that promises should not be broken.

5. The curse of the chameleon

This story is 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 and avoiding destruction that may cause us not to fulfil our mission.

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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 into getting some more honey from a leopard's nest. The man ended up hurting his bones because of his greed. The moral lesson here is that we should be satisfied with what we have.

7. King of the birds

King of the birds is one of the best folktale stories with moral lessons. 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 compete for 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.

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8. Why the warthog goes about on his knees

African folktale
A young warthog on a field. Photo: pexels.com, @stewphotography
Source: UGC

The warthog tried to trick the lion as 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 he ordered him to stay on his knees instead of eating him. The moral is that we should not blindly copy others but come up with our own original ideas.

9. The tortoise with a pretty daughter

In this Nigerian tale, a prince did not fall in love with any of the girls the king introduced him to, which made the king angry. As a result, he announced that if any man had a daughter who would steal the prince's heart, the girl and his parents should be killed.

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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 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

This is a 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 starving older woman, the moon allowed her to cut some of her flesh and eat it, and this went on until the moon became more petite and her brightness dimmed.

The villagers discovered what was happening and ambushed the old lady one night. This frightened the moon, which went up to the sky and never returned to Earth. As a result, the moon undergoes various phases and becomes very thin and dim once a month.

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The moral behind this story is that we should be generous to those who need us. This is the same generosity the moon showed a starving older woman.

11. Why the bat flies by night

This story from Accra and Nigeria explains the trickery of the bat that led him to be 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

folk tales with morals
A hawk flying. Photo: pexels.com, @pixabay
Source: UGC

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 permitted by the king to kill chickens.

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14. Why the worms live underneath the ground

This story encourages the idea of strength in numbers, like the ants overwhelming 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.

16. The proud elephant

The proud elephant is one of the famous folktale stories with moral lessons. The elephant boasted and bullied other animals because he was huge and strong. He declared categorically that no one could beat him in a tug-of-war. With his cunning rather than his power, the sage turtle accepted the challenge with the goal of defeating the elephant.

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When the tortoise received the rope on the day of the event, he tied his end to a tree so that no one could see him. The elephant continued to pull until he eventually became exhausted. The air was filled with triumphant melodies as everyone rejoiced for the tortoise, but the elephant felt completely degraded.

17. The ant and the bird

What are the top five South African folktales
Orange ants on a tree. Photo: pexels.com, @Poranimm Athithawatthee
Source: UGC

The ant was obviously dying, dehydrated, and extremely exhausted. When a nearby perched bird noticed it, it decided to carry it to the river for a drink rather than eat it. A few days later, the ant noticed a hunter pointing his gun at the bird.

The hunter was stung multiple times by the ant as it swiftly crawled up his leg. The hunter lost focus as he yelled in pain, and the bird took off. The ant and the bird story teaches everyone to be helpful with each other.

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What are African folktale stories?

The folk stories in English for kids and parents are well-known stories that are often been told to kids through generations. These are stories that people tell each other verbally rather than in writing. Folk tales for kids tell about different parts of life. The folktale's stories may have sorrows, joys, heroes, magic, and villains.

What are the top five South African folktales?

Some of the most popular South African folktale stories include Where Stories Come From, Jabu and the Lion, and Why the Warthog Goes About on His Knees.

What are the moral lessons learned from folktales?

Folktales are stories passed down from generation to generation, often conveying moral lessons that are timeless and universal. They have been used to teach children and adults alike about the consequences of their actions, the importance of kindness and empathy, and the dangers of greed and selfishness.

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What are the 5 types of folktales?

The five most commonly recognized types of folktales are:

  • Mythical tales: Stories that deal with gods and goddesses or supernatural beings and their relations with humans.
  • Legends: Stories that are based on real events or people but, over time have been embellished with fictional elements.
  • Fables: Stories that have a moral lesson or message, often featuring animals as the main characters.
  • Fairy tales: Stories that often involve magic, enchantments, and imaginary creatures.
  • Tall tales: Exaggerated stories that often involve larger-than-life characters and improbable events.

What is the advantage of African folktale stories?

African folktales often contain valuable life lessons that can be applied to real-life situations. These stories are passed down from generation to generation and are used to teach children about important life values.

How do you start a folktale story?

Start a folktale story by introducing the characters and describing the time and place of the story. Another option is to start with a mysterious or intriguing event that will capture the reader's attention and make them want to know more.

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What are the common themes in folktales?

Most folktales have common themes where the good are rewarded and the evil ones punished, or true love will conquer any obstacle.

These are some of the popular African folktale stories with moral lessons you can learn from. Even though most African folktales with animals may sound unreal, the next time you wish to sound wise, why not use these handy stories?

Briefly.co.za recently published an article on the various types of African tribal masks and their meanings and images. African tribal masks have long played an important role in celebrations, rituals, and tribal initiations.

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