The Skull of the Elephant

Some men killed an elephant. They put the elephant's skull on the wall and then feasted on the meat.
When they laughed, the skull laughed too. 
Then it asked, "Why are you laughing?"
The men shouted in fear, "The skull speaks!"
Then the skull began gnawing on meat hung up to dry.
"It's eating!" they shouted.
One man sang:
"You mock me, 
But I am alive, 
And I eat your flesh.
Who's dead? You are!"
The skull sang in reply:
"You eat my flesh, but I'll eat yours.
Who's dead? Not me.
I live in my bones.
I am alive!"


Inspired by: "The Hunter and the Elephant" in Ethiopian Folktales collected by Elizabeth Laird (website).
Notes: You can read the original story online. The storyteller is Belay Makura.

God's Two Sons and the Dog

"Build villages on earth!" God said to his sons, Kashindika the elder and Luchyele the younger.
It was dark on earth: no Sun, no Moon.
The brothers killed an ox and ate. A dog begged them for food; Kashindika gave the dog nothing, but Luchyele fed him.
Then they went to God's storehouse, looking for Sun and Moon.
Kashindika looked everywhere, but he found nothing; he was angry. 
When Luchyele went looking, the dog showed him where to find Sun and Moon. Then Luchyele put Sun in the east and Moon in the west.
So light came into the world.

Inspired by: "Kashindika Wants a Sun and a Moon" in A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller by Harold Scheub.
Notes: You can read the original story online. This is a Lala story from Zambia. In the story the dog is God's dog. There are also two meals, but I combined it to just one to make it shorter.

The Foot of the Ox

A poor farmer had just one ox. 
Ploughing one day, the ox struck something with his foot. It was a pot of gold! The man took the gold home and hid it. 
Then he cut off his ox's foot. "Let it be food for the poor!"
People were amazed. "That is your only ox," they said.
"God gave me this ox so I could feed the poor," he replied. Then he butchered the ox, giving away all the meat.
His wife was angry, until he showed her the hidden gold.
They became rich, and always gave alms to the poor.



Inspired by: "The Farmer" in Ethiopian Folktales collected by Elizabeth Laird (website).
Notes: You can read the original story online. The storyteller is Fatima Ali. The story starts with him begging other people for an ox to plough with alongside his own ox; I left that part out to shorten the story.

Muhammed and His Father

Muhammed followed his father, a woodcutter, into the forest. 
"Where are you?" he shouted. "Here!" answered his father. 
Then his father put down his axe and went to get water. 
"Where are you?" Muhammed shouted. 
"Here!" answered the wicked axe.
Muhammed found the axe, but not his father. He was alone! He searched frantically everywhere, but couldn't find his father.
Finally he picked up some clay and shaped three cows and a bull. 
"O God," he said, "make these real!"
They became real.
Muhammed became a farmer in the forest. He prospered and grew rich.
But he missed his father. 


Inspired by: "Huda the Dove" in Wisdom from the Nile by Ahmed Al-Shahi, Ahmed and F. C. T. Moore, 1978.
Notes: You can read the original story online. In the original story, this is a regular event that goes on every day, and it is just on one momentous day that the axe acts wickedly and pretends to be the father. This is the first part of the story; you can see what happens next: Muhammed and the Animals.

Muhammed and the Animals.

Muhammed herded his cattle in the forest, and he also grew millet. As he prospered, he acquired a cat, a chicken, and a dove, but he still missed his father.
One day, Muhammed asked his cat, "If you found my father, what would you say?"
"Meow! Meow!" said the cat.
He asked the chicken.
"Cluck! Cluck!" said the chicken.
He asked the dove.
"Coo, come with me, coo! Coo, I'll take you to Muhammed, coo!"
So Muhammed sent the dove to fly everywhere, seeking his father, and the dove brought Muhammed's father to him, so they lived happily ever after.


Inspired by: "Huda the Dove" in Wisdom from the Nile by Ahmed Al-Shahi, Ahmed and F. C. T. Moore, 1978.
Notes: You can read the original story online. This is the second part of the story; here is how it starts: Muhammed and His Father.

Nasruddin and his Donkeys

Nasruddin was taking his donkeys into the forest to fetch firewood. As he rode towards the forest, he counted the donkeys: One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine. 
"Oh no!" shouted Nasruddin. "A donkey is missing. Perhaps a wolf ate him, or a thief stole him!" Grieving for his donkey, he reached the forest, gathered firewood, and loaded the donkeys.
Then he counted again: One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.
"Ah," said Nasruddin. "He came back, thank goodness!"
As he rode home, Nasruddin counted the donkeys again: One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine. 
"That cursed donkey!" exclaimed Nasruddin. "I imagine he's run home ahead of us."
Nasruddin never thought to count the donkey he was riding.



Inspired by: "Sheikh Nasreddin Counts the Donkeys" in Ethiopian Folktales collected by Elizabeth Laird (website).
Notes: You can read the original story online. This is a classic Nasruddin story, famous throughout the Muslim world. The storyteller is Hajji Abdu Settar Mohammed Bashir.

The Hyena and the Lion

The hyena followed a hunter while he was hunting. Finally, he caught some game and, when he wasn't looking, the hyena crept up quietly, grabbed the meat, and ran.
On her way home, the hyena met the lion, and he snatched the meat right out of her mouth. 
"The robber has been robbed," the hyena moaned. "But that is the way of the world: the lion took the meat from me by force, and even if that hadn't happened, I am sure no good could have come from it."
What you gain from oppressing others will never give you pleasure.


Inspired by: "The Hyena and the Lion" in Hausa Tales and Traditions, volume 1, by Neil Skinner, 1969.
Notes: You can read the original story online. Compare this story: The Cat and Her Lizard, also in Skinner. 

The Bird Who Flew to Heaven

God lives in the sky. 
Long ago, people lived in the sky-heaven with God. 
Then, one day, a bird flew up from earth to heaven, carrying a rope in its beak. The people grabbed the rope and slid down to earth. They found grass and trees on the earth; they found cattle and sheep. They drank the milk of the cattle. 
Then a woman, heavily pregnant with twins, grabbed the rope. "I want to come too," she said, and her weight broke the rope. 
That left some people up in the sky, and the rest of the people on earth.

Inspired by: "Nawuge: The Rope to Earth" in A dictionary of African mythology : the mythmaker as storyteller by Harold Scheub.
Notes: You can read the original story online. This is a legend of the Toposa people of the Sudan. The god's name is Nawuge.

God's Medicine

God loved the People and didn't want them to die, so he made immortal medicine. "Snake," he said, "take this to the People; you may take some for the Snakes also."
Then Toad said, "I will take the medicine to the People. Snake will spill it."
"No I won't!" shouted Snake, but Toad insisted and grabbed the People's medicine. He put it on his head and as he hopped, he spilled the medicine.
Meanwhile, Snake took the medicine safely to the Snakes. That's why People die, but Snakes, if you kill them, bathe in the medicine and do not die.


Inspired by: "The Toad and the Snake" in Limba stories and story-telling by Ruth Finnegan, 1967.
Notes: You can read the original story online. In the original story, Toad goes back to Kanu, the god, and asks for more medicine, but Kanu says no because Toad was disobedient.

The Creator and the Frogmouth Bird

The Frogmouth bird has a huge mouth now, but in the beginning the Creator gave the bird a normal mouth.
"I don't like this!" the bird protested. "I want a bigger mouth."
The Creator picked up a knife and said, "Come here; I'll fix it for you."
The bird approached the Creator and opened his mouth. Then, as the Creator used his knife to widen the bird's mouth, the knife slipped, and the bird's mouth stretched from ear to ear.
That's how the Frogmouth bird got his big mouth, but he doesn't mind: he uses it now for catching insects.


Inspired by: "The Story of Mr. Night-jar and the Creator" in Lamba Folklore by Clement M. Doke, 1927.
Notes: You can read the original story online. The story is told about a nightjar bird, but I have used the specific name "frogmouth" here, which is a species of nightjar, to convey the idea of its huge mouth; apparently this huge gaping mouth evolved as a way for the birds to catch insects: Wikipedia. I even found an article about frogmouth birds at the New York Times!