Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Gift of Story
An African Folk Tale
retold by Rocci Hildum
But if you can believe it there was a time when there were no stories at all. In all of the places and times and people there were no stories to be told and no stories to be heard. This is an African story about that time.
Now, at that time there were no stories to be told and no stories to be heard. In all the places and times and people there were no stories to be told and no stories to be heard. The people could not remember important things and important people. The old ones had no stories to teach the young ones how to behave or explain why some things are the way they are. There were no stories to tell just for fun.
There were no stories to be told and no stories to be heard because Nyame, the Great Sky God, owned all the stories. Nyame kept his stories in a golden box that he kept locked, and he kept the box right beside his throne. Nyame would not share his stories with anyone, he kept them to himself and so that in all the places and in all the times and in all the people there were no stories to be told and no stories to be heard.
Now, Ananzi, the old man who is known as the Spider man because he is magic and can change into a spider, decided that he should like to purchase Nyame’s stories. Ananzi spun a great web up to the sky, from the middle of his village to Nyame’s throne. Ananzi climbed all the way up the web until he was standing before Nyame’s throne and bowing down before the Great Sky God, Ananzi said to Nyame, “O Great Sky God Nyame, I have come before you to tell you that I should like to purchase your stories.”
Nyame, that Great Sky God, looked down at the old and little Ananzi for a second and then threw back his head and laughed and laughed. “Ananzi, you are so small, so small, so small. How is it that you shall be able to purchase my precious stories.”
Ananzi looked up at Nyame and asked, “What is the price that you ask for your stories?”
Nyame thought to himself for a moment and then said, “You will need to bring me Osebo, the Leopard of terrible tooth.”
Ananzi nodded his head and Nyame thought to himself, “He agrees too easily, this is too small a price for my precious stories.”
Nyame thought for a moment and said, “And you shall need to bring to me, Mmboro, the hornet whose sting is like fire.”
Ananzi nodded his head and Nyame thought to himself, “He agrees too easily. This Ananzi is clever; even this is too small a price for my precious stories.”
Nyame thought for a moment and said, “And you shall need to bring to me Mmoatia, the fairy that men never see.”
Ananzi nodded his head and said, “The price that you ask is fair. I shall bring you the price you ask for your stories.”
Nyame threw back his head with a great booming laugh. “Ananzi, you are so small, so small, so small. How is it that you shall pay this price that I ask?” But Ananzi didn’t say anything. Ananzi just climbed back down his web to the middle of his village.
The first thing that Ananzi did was to go in search of Osebo, the leopard of terrible tooth. Ananzi ran along the jungle paths until he found Osebo, lying in the sun in the middle of the path. Osebo saw Ananzi and said, “Ananzi, my friend Ananzi. You are just in time for lunch. You are just in time to be my lunch.”
Ananzi smiled at Osebo and said, “We shall see what we shall see, but first let us play a game.” For Ananzi knew that Osebo loved to play games.
Osebo said, “What game shall we play.”
Ananzi thought for a moment and said, “We shall play the binding binding game.”
Osebo said, “And how do you play this game.”
Ananzi explained, “I shall take the creeping vine and I shall bind you by your foot and by your foot and by your foot, and when you are all bound I will untie you and it will be your turn to bind me.”
Osebo smiled a great smile and said, “Yes, let us play the binding binding game.” For Osebo was thinking to himself that when it was his turn he would eat Ananzi.
Ananzi took the creeping vine and he bound Osebo by his foot and by his foot and by his foot and by his foot. And when Osebo was all bound tightly so that he could not move, Ananzi stepped back and looked at him and said, “Now, Osebo, you are ready to go and meet the Great Sky God Nyame.” And Ananzi hung Osebo, the leopard of terrible tooth, from a banana tree.
Next Ananzi went in search of Mmboro, the hornet whose sting is like fire. First Ananzi got a calabash gourd, which is a hollow gourd used to carry water. Ananzi filled the calabash gourd with water and Ananzi took a great, large leaf from the banana tree. Ananzi took the calabash gourd and the banana leaf and went to find the nest of Mmboro, the hornet whose sting is like fire. Ananzi stood by the nest of Mmboro and held the banana leaf over his head and poured water from the calabash gourd onto the leaf. Then Ananzi poured out the rest of the water over the nest of Mmboro. Ananzi cried out, “Mmboro, Mmboro, it is raining, it is raining. Shouldn’t you fly into my calabash gourd so that your delicate wings will not be tattered?”
Mmboro cried out, “Thank you, thank you Ananzi, for saving my delicate wings,” and flew into the calabash gourd. When Mmboro had flown into the calabash gourd, FOOM! Ananzi put a stopper on the gourd. Ananzi held up the gourd and admired it and said, “Now, Mmboro, you are ready to go and meet the Great Sky God Nyame.” Ananzi hung the calabash gourd in the banana tree next to Osebo the leopard of terrible tooth.
Lastly, Ananzi went to find Mmoatia, the fairy that men never see. Now, Ananzi knew some things about Mmoatia. Ananzi knew that Mmoatia loves to dance before a particular tree in a particular spot in the jungle. Ananzi knew that more than anything else Mmoatia loves the sweet yams. And Ananzi knew that Mmoatia is very very proud.
Ananzi went to that particular tree in that particular spot. Ananzi carved a little wooden doll holding a bowl and filled the bowl with the sweet yams, the best sweet yams anyone had ever tasted. And Ananzi covered the entire doll with sticky gum from the Gum tree. Ananzi tied a creeping vine around the neck of the doll and hid in the bushes and waited.
By and by, Mmoatia came dancing down the path to the tree and saw the gum baby. Mmoatia loves the sweet yam and asked the gum baby, “May I taste some of your sweet yams?”
Ananzi, hiding in the bushes, pulled, just so lightly on the creeping vine, so that the Gum Baby nodded her head.
Mmoatia took the bowl from the gum baby and tasted the sweet yams. “Oh, these sweet yams are so good. May I eat the rest of the sweet yams?”
Ananzi pulled on the creeping vine, just so lightly, and the Gum Baby nodded her head.
Mmoatia ate the rest of the sweet yams and gently placed the bowl back in the hands of Gum Baby. “Oh, your sweet yams were very, very good. Thank you for sharing your sweet yams with me.”
And Gum Baby was silent.
Mmoatia is very proud and was offended that Gum Baby was silent. “Do you not answer me when I thank you?”
And Gum Baby was silent.
Mmoatia was getting angry and demanded, “If you do not respond to me when I thank you, I shall slap your crying place!”
And Gum Baby was silent.
And Mmoatia was angry and slapped Gum Baby’s cheek and Mmoatia’s hand stuck fast to Gum Baby’s cheek. Mmoatia was very angry, “Let me go or I shall slap you again!”
And Gum Baby was silent.
And Mmoatia was very angry now and slapped Gum Baby’s other cheek. And Mmoatia’s other hand stuck fast to Gum Baby’s cheek.
Now Mmoatia was furious. And Mmoatia pushed with her foot and with her other foot and in a short while Mmoatia was stuck by her hand and her hand and her foot and her foot and Mmoatia could not move.
Then, Ananzi came out of the bushes and said to Mmoatia, ““Now, Mmoatia, you are ready to go and meet the Great Sky God Nyame.” Ananzi went to the banana tree and took Osebo, the leopard of terrible tooth and the calabash gourd with Mmboro and the Gum Baby with Mmoatia and spun a great web from the center of his village up to the sky, to the throne of Nyame, the Great Sky God.
Ananzi he laid his treasures before Nyame and stepped back, “Oh Great Nyame, I have brought you the price you ask for your stories.”
Nyame stared at what was laid before him and was astonished. Nyame called everyone in his court, “Come and see the great thing that Ananzi has done. Ananzi has paid the price that I have asked for my stories; and they shall be his stories. From now on these stories shall be known as Ananzi stories.”
Nyame took the great golden box with all of the stories and handed it to Ananzi. Ananzi climbed back down his web to the center of his village. Ananzi set the golden box down in the center of the village. With his hands on either side of the box, Ananzi gently, just so gently, lifted the lid of the golden box. And stories flew out of the box; the most wonderful stories.
Stories to help people remember important things and important people. Stories for the old ones to teach the young how to behave and to explain why some things are the way they are. Stories to tell just for fun. Happy stories and sad stories and funny stories. All kinds of wonderful stories flew out of the golden box. They flew to all the places and all the times and all the people.
So that in all of the places and in all of the times and in all of the people there were stories to be told and stories to be heard. Even today in every place and time and person; even now in this place and time and in all these people there are stories to be told and stories to be heard.
And this is the story of the gift of story.
SOURCE: A Story A Story An African Tale retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley, Atheneum, 1970 ISBN 0—689-70423-2