The Boys and the Lizards

The skink-lizard honors boys, so it says: "May the boys be many, and may the girls be few!"
The sand-lizard honors girls and says the opposite: "May the girls be many, and may the boys be few!"
The curse of the sand-lizard makes the boys angry, so they throw stones at the sand-lizards, trying to kill them. 
When one boy kills a sand-lizard, he says to another boy, "I've killed your slave!" This provokes the other boy, who kills another sand-lizard to avenge the death of his slave.
On and on it goes, and thus the boys kill many sand-lizards.



Inspired by: "Of the Lizards" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. The author is not sure about the identification of the lizards, but he attributes the Seps chalcidica (three-toed skink) to the boys, and the Lacerta agilis (sand lizard) to the girls.









The Bird Called Masmeraye-Mi-Tedarrara

There was once a mother, and she had a son. The son's name was Masmar.
Masmar went on a journey. At nightfall, he came to a village.
"May I spend the night here?" he asked.
"Yes!" said the people. But instead of offering their guest a meal, they killed him.
When Masmar did not return home, his mother died of grief, and her soul became a bird. All night long, she flies here and there, crying, "Masmeraye-Mi-Tedarrara! Masmeraye-Mi-Tedarrara!" which means: "What meal did they give to Masmar? What meal did they give to Masmar?"
So Masmeraye-Mi-Tedarrara became the bird's name.



Inspired by: "Of the Bird Called Mameraye-mi-tedarrara" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. The author does not provide any information about the bird. Because it is a nocturnal bird, and because there are many nightjars in Ethiopia, I chose a picture of a nightjar:

The Turaco and the Other Birds

When it rains, Turaco always gets wet. He doesn't build a nest like the other birds.
"Let me stay in your nest!" he says whenever it rains.
"No!" the other birds tell him. "Build your own nest."
Then, when the rain stops, Turaco sits warming himself in the sun. "I don't need to build a nest," he thinks. "Not now."
The other birds remind him, "Build your nest!"
"I don't need a nest," Turaco replies.
Then, when it rains again, Turaco begs the other birds, "Let me stay in your nest!" and they say, "No!"
The foolish bird never learns.


Inspired by: "Why the Plaintain-Eater Did not Build a Nest" in Among Congo Cannibals by John Weeks, 1913.
Notes: You can read the original story online. Since the plaintain-eater is a species of turaco, I have called it turaco here. The author notes: "The Plantain-eater is a gaudy-plumaged bird, not quite so large as a Cockatoo. It is called by the natives Lukulu koko. Its notes are, Kulu! kulu! kulukoko! hence the natives say, "It is always talking about itself." 





The Lion's Message to Fox

Tired of Fox's tricks, Lion decided to lure Fox into his den by pretending to be sick. He sent Fox this message: "Come quickly! I am dying."
Fox went to see Lion, armed with a long wooden staff.
"Dear Fox," said Lion, "I'm burning with fever."
"I'm sorry to hear that," replied Fox.
"Come in," Lion urged him. "Touch my forehead; feel my fever."
Fox reached out his staff and touched Lion without coming in. "Truly!" Fox exclaimed. "The fever burns me through the staff."
Then Fox laughed and ran.
Lion sprang, but he was too late; Fox had escaped.



Inspired by: "The Tale of the Lion and the Fox" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. I am not sure if the animal referred to here is the "Ethiopian wolf" also known as the "Simien fox" and "horse jackal" or if it is one of the foxes of Ethiopia which include the Ruppell's sand fox and the bat-eared fox.












The Council of the Mice

The mice called a council. "We must do something about the cat!" they squeaked.
"Let's tie a bell on her neck," one mouse proposed. "That will warn us she's coming!"
All the mice applauded and then went to see Grandfather-Mouse.
"What have you decided?" Grandfather-Mouse asked them.
"We will tie a bell on the cat!" they replied.
"Good!" said Grandfather-Mouse. "And who will catch the cat and tie the bell on?"
The mice looked at one another in confusion. 
"We didn't think about that," they said sadly.
Hence the saying: It came to nothing, like the council of the mice.



Inspired by: "The Tale of the Council of the Mice" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. This is known as an Aesop's fable, but it is not attested in the classical Aesopic corpus; instead, it is part of the later medieval Aesopic tradition. I used an Aesop's illustration for this one.


Two Men, One Wise, One Foolish

Two men, one wise and one foolish, were traveling together.
When night came, they chose their sleeping places.
"I'll sleep up here on this tall rock," said the wise one.
"I'll sleep down here beside the road," said the foolish one.
The wise man smiled and thought to himself, "Good! If a lion comes, he will take my companion, not me."
In the night, a lion came, leaped onto the rock, killed the wise man and ate him. The lion ignored the man beside the road.
So God protects the foolish.
The rock is still there; it is called "Resting-Place-of-Wise-and-Foolish."



Inspired by: "The Tale of the Pure-Hearted One and the One with the Black Soul" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. The author notes: "the place is called: "the resting place of the wise and the stupid" (lābeb wa-gelūl), and the proverb: "God protects the stupid " ('egel lagelül räbbi'aqqebbo). The place is on the direct road from Gäläb to Asmara, between Comarāt and Qeruḥ, a large boulder of granite on the left of the road, as one travels southward."

When Things Were Bigger

"Things used to be much bigger," said one man. "When God created the world, everything was big. I once saw a bird so big it took seven days to fly overhead."
"And I once saw a tree so big all of God's angels couldn't cut it down," said another man. "God gave the angels axes and said: go cut down that tree. They tried for six months and couldn't cut it down."
"Impossible!" protested the first man. "How could a tree be that big?"
'That's the tree God made for your bird to nest in," said the second man, smiling.


Inspired by: "Rival Storytellers" in Negro Culture In West Africa by George Ellis, 1914.
Notes: You can read the original story online. These are Vai stories from Liberia.



The Scholar and the Monkey

A scholar sat at a table writing, scratching out mistakes with his knife.
As soon as the scholar left, the monkey jumped on the table and tried writing. 
Then the scholar returned and found his manuscript all smeared. He looked up and saw the monkey watching. So the scholar smiled, picked up his knife, and rubbed the blunt edge against his throat.
When the scholar left again, the monkey jumped back on the table and grabbed the knife. But because the monkey didn't know the difference between the sharp edge and the blunt, he cut his own throat and died.



Inspired by: "The Tale of the Scholar and the Guenon" in Tales, Customs, Names, and Dirges of the Tigre Tribes by Enno Littmann, 1915.
Notes: You can read the original story online. Littmann notes: "This is told by the people of Kabasa." You can find out more about the guenon monkey at Wikipedia. I've seen fables about monkeys imitating fishermen and woodcutters, but this is a first for me of a monkey imitating a scholar writing! For another story about a scholar and his knife, see The Scholar's Knife (it's a Nasruddin story).





Fly, Crab, and Minnow

When Fly, Crab, and Minnow went walking, they saw a palm-tree. 
"Who will climb up and cut the palm-nuts?" Minnow asked.
"I can!" said Crab.
"Here, take my knife," said Fly.
"No need," Crab replied. "I've got pincers." 
But as she climbed, one of the little Crabs she carried on her back fell, hit the ground, and died.
Fly began eating the dead Crab.
When Minnow laughed, his jaw broke.
Fly ran to get help. He got sweaty from running, and when he wiped the sweat from his brow, he sliced his head open.
Wrongdoers all suffer, sooner or later.



Inspired by: "The Fly, The Crab, and The Minnow"  in Negro Culture In West Africa by George W. Ellis, 1914.
Notes: You can read the original story online.





 

The Hunter and the Bush-Goat

A hunter caught a bush-goat in his snare, but when he went to slit the goat's throat, he accidentally cut the rope and the goat broke free.
The hunter chased the goat for hours. 
Finally the hunter shouted, "Wait! You know that twins cannot eat goat meat. I'm a twin, my wife is a twin, and my children are twins. You've got nothing to be afraid of. I was just joking with the knife."
"If you, your wife, and your children are twins who can't eat my meat," the goat replied, "then why have you been chasing me for hours?"

Inspired by: "The Man and the Goat" in Negro Culture In West Africa by George W. Ellis, 1914.
Notes: You can read the original story online. These are Vai stories from Liberia. The animal called "bush goat" in the story is a kind of duiker.