A Collection of Wisdom: Folktales

African Folktales

African Proverbs


The Traveler

An elaborately dressed man was traveling to a party. On his way, a farmer handed him some peanuts and said, “Here’s some food for your journey.”

The man replied, “I’m about to eat rare gourmet food—I have no use for peanuts!” And with that, threw the peanuts in the mud and left.

Half a mile later, however, he encountered a river that was more torrid than usual, and concluded that he could not make it across. He had to turn back and head for home.

On his way back, it grew late in the evening, and the man’s belly yearned for food. Remembering the peanuts he had causally tossed away earlier, he had no choice but to laboriously pick them out of the mud one by one for his dinner.


The Red and Blue Coat

Yerodin and Lumumba were very close friends and neighbors whose homes were separated by a narrow path between their yards.

One day, a local trickster decided that he would test their longtime friendship. The trickster put on an elaborate two-color coat that was split down the middle: red on the right, and blue on the left. He walked on the path between the two houses while Yerodin and Lumumba were farming. The trickster made a loud whistle while he was in the middle of the path, and both friends momentarily looked up and noticed him.

Then a few minutes after he had passed by, Yerodin said to Lumumba, “Did you like the red coat that man was wearing?”

“Red coat?” Lumumba replied. “No, you’re mistaken. I saw him too when he walked between us, and his coat was blue.”

“Listen,” retorted Yerodin, “I saw the coat clearly and I am sure that it was red.”

“No, no, no; you’re wrong,” replied Lumumba. “I’m absolutely sure that it was blue.”

Yerodin began getting annoyed, and saidd, “Hey, I know what I saw, and that coat was not blue. It was definitely red. I’m sure about this!”

“You’re not very observant,” Lumumba quickly replied, “and stubborn as well. Only a fool would not recognize that the coat was blue.”

“Oh, so you think that I’m stupid, huh?” shouted Yerodin. “Well, you’re the stupid one, because the coat was red!”

They began to shout and argue more intensely, and their shouts turned into fighting. As they battled, they suddenly heard a man laughing. They looked up, and saw the trickster wearing the two-color coat with both colors facing them.

They stopped fighting and yelled out the trickster, “You despicable man! We’ve been the best of friends for years, and now look what you’ve started between us!”

“Don’t blame me,” the trickster replied, “I’m not the one who made you two fight each other.”

“What are you taking about?” Yerodin and Lumumba skeptically asked.

The trickster continued, “Both of you were speaking the apparent truth in your argument. But the reason you ended up fighting is because you only considered my coat from your own point of view!”


One Jug Won’t Make a Difference

The city’s king invited the villagers to the palace for a New Year’s Day feast. He said, “I’ll provide the food, and I want each guest to bring a jug of wine.”

One of the guests thought to himself, “I’ll just bring a jug of water instead of wine. After all, one jug of water can’t make that much of a difference in a bug tub of wine.”

When the day of the feast came, the man poured his jug of water into the big clay pot where the wine was being collected. Then the party began, and all of the villagers ate and danced.

Towards the end of the party, the wine was served. But when the guests began drinking, each was surprised to taste nothing but plain water. It turned out that each guest had assumed that everyone else would bring wine, and they all had reasoned that one jug of water would not make a difference!


Fortune Teller

One day, a young man named Essien went to the forest and decided to cut some wood. He had never cut wood before, and throughout his life he had neglected learn the skill and observe other people cutting wood.

Essien climbed up a tree, sat on a branch, and began the very branch he was seated on! A local man observed him and remarked, “Why are you cutting there? Aren’t you going to fall down with the branch?”

Essien snapped back, “Listen, I’ve cut off branches this way many times, and I’ve never fallen down!”

He continued cutting, and moments later, the branch gave way and Essien fell to the ground, resulting in a number of painful injuries tht took weeks to heal.

When he finally recovered, Essien sought out the wise man and remarked, “Wow! I have seen first hand that you have great powers, and can predict the future. Please, Mr. Wise Man and Fortune Teller—tell me when I will die.”

“What?” the wise man replied, “I can’t do that! I#8217;m not a fortuneteller. And I#8217;m not even an experienced woodcutter, either. The only reason I knew you were going to fall off of the tree branch is because I used common sense!”


Frogs Fall in Milk

Two frogs fell into a bowl of milk and couldn’t get out. As they both treaded milk, one said to the other, “I am tired, and I will not tread anymore. I will accept death.”

Upon speaking those words, he allowed himself to sink, and soon drowned to death.

The other frog was also tired, but he continued to tread. After more time had passed, his treading caused the milk fat to turn into butter—and he used it to jump out of the bowl and to safety.


The Best Way to Build

Two builders were traveling separate paths to the marketplace. One was a hasty builder, and the other was slow and careful.

As they traveled, a brutal storm began. The hasty builder quickly built shelter and went under it. The slow and careful builder also began making a hut, but didn’t finish it in time, and was almost killed in the storm.

Thus, on one hand it is important to be slow and careful, but there are also plenty of situations that warrant using haste.


Feather on His Head

A crime was committed, and nobody confessed. A wise judge brought all the suspects together in one room, and declared, “I know which of you guilty. The guilty person has a feather on his head.”

Upon his saying this, one of the suspects put his hand on his head.

After eeing this, the judge said to him, “You are the criminal!” and the man thereafter confessed his crime.


Up to the Giraffe’s Knees

One day, a giraffe was standing in a pond while a monkey was sitting in a nearby tree. The monkey, who was not a good swimmer, saw the giraffe and asked him, “How deep is that pond?”

The giraffe replied, “The water’s only up to my knees.”

The monkey heard this and went in the water. Shortly later, however, he was on the verge of drowning, and shouting for help. The giraffe quickly rescued him and took him out of the pond.

The monkey angrily looked at giraffe and yelled, “Why did you trick me!”

“I didn’t tell you that the pond was shallow,” the giraffe replied. “I said that the water was up to my knees—that doesn’t mean the water isn’t deep. After all, I’m much taller than you, and just because the water isn’t deep for me, it doesn’t mean that it will be the same for you!”


Clear the Water

An elephant dropped some food in a pond. He immediately tried to retrieve it, but in his relentless search he stirred up the water with mud and could not see in it.

Finally a frog interrupted him and said, “Just wait for a second and the pond will clear.”

So the elephant did and not long afterwards the mud settled and he was easily able to retrieve the food.


Rival Storytellers

Two rival storytellers attended a dinner party. When dinner was finished, one of them began telling a story. “I once visited another land,” he said, “where everything was humongous. In fact, I saw a bird that was so big, it took an hour just for it to fly by me!”

The other storyteller heard this and remarked, “Yes, I have been there too and can confirm that. And when I was there, I saw a tree so big that it took me two hours just to walk by it.”

The first storyteller shouted out, “No, you are mistaken—that is impossible. There is not a tree that big in this entire world!”

The second storyteller responded, “The tree I described must have existed—after all, if it didn’t, then where would the bird you described have been able to sit down!”