Old Clothes, a Kikongo Tale

Illustration from ‘Mataya, Les Vieux Vetements’, ContAfrica.org

There once was a woman who loved to keep her old clothes while sometimes buying new ones which she never wore because she preferred the old ones.

One day, she received the news of her mother’s passing. To attend the funerals, she decided to change her look. She wore new clothes, and took great care of herself, and carefully folded the old ones away.

When she started to go to the funerals, the old clothes thought and said: “We have always been together. Now, for your mother’s funerals, you want to leave us behind? No. We will follow you.”

When she stepped out, the clothes followed her and started to sing: “You did not leave us before, but today, you leave your old clothes at home; we will follow you to your mother’s funerals (2 bis).”

Congo_bust of a Kongo girl ca 1910
Bust from a Kongo woman, ca 1910

The lady walked, walked, walked, and once at her mother’s funerals, she entered. The people did not like what they saw and said: “You are very elegant, but what is that bunch of clothes doing here?”

But those who knew her said: “No. She dressed this way and the old clothes followed her because she never used to wear new clothes. She always dressed in old clothes. She never changed because she did not like new clothes.”

Ashamed to hear this, the lady decided to change. She stopped wearing, exclusively old clothes, and started to vary, wearing sometimes old, sometimes new clothes.

Morale: Attachment to old habits leads to spiritual and material poverty.

This is a Kikongo tale from the Uíge province of Angola. The original in Kikongo, as well as the first image, can be found on CONTAFRICA. The English translation is by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.

The Eagle and the Tortoise


Eagle and Tortoise were the very best of friends – so much so that every single day, the eagle flew down from the high mountain where he had his eerie, across the steep cliffs, down past the stony slopes, over the trees, across the river, and past the meadows until he came the scrubby wilderness where tortoise made his home.

Tortoise was always there to meet him and make him welcome, and the two friends would have lunch together.

This went day after day, year after year, and the friendship between the two never wavered, until one day, Tortoise noticed that his friend was quieter than usual. He asked him why.

Have you ever noticed that it’s always me who comes to visit you?” Eagle said. “In all these years, I don’t think you’ve ever come to my house even once.”


But you live so far away!” replied Tortoise. “There are mountains to climb, ravines to get over, rivers to cross. The forest is full of tangled roots, the way is littered with boulders and stones. It would take me forever, if I got there at all.”

“Still,” said Eagle. “ I think you might have managed it just once, if you cared for me as much as I care for you.”

Tortoise was hurt and shocked that his friend felt this way, but the journey was far, too difficult and dangerous for a stumpy legged little thing like him to ever attempt.

Don’t be like that,” he begged.  “I’m sorry you feel let down. Give me time. Let me try find some other way of proving my loyalty to you.”

Months passed and Eagle sadly thought that Tortoise had forgotten his promise. But then came his birthday, and he forgot about his doubts, looking forward to the big day. Every year, Tortoise prepared a special lunch for his friend and always began the meal with a splendid present.


On the day, Eagle excitedly made the flight down from the mountain to the desert in double quick time, he was so excited. But when he got there – what’s this? No table spread with goodies, no group of friends – no Tortoise. All there was, was a package and a card.

Eagle opened the card and read. “My friend, I’ve tried for months to think of a way to repay you for all the visits you’ve made to me over the years, but I’ve failed. So today, on your birthday, I’ve decided to come to visit you at your house. It’s a long journey for me, so I’ve decided to take several days to get there, to make sure I’m on time. As you can see, I was unable to carry your present as well. I hope you won’t object to carrying it yourself to your house – where I shall be ready to greet you and help you celebrate this special day!”

Wow,” thought Eagle. “Finally – he’s actually doing it!” He took the present in his talons and set off – over the desert, across the meadow, over the river, which he noticed today was very full and strong … Above the forest that was as Tortoise had said, full of tangled roots breaking up the ground, as well as sharp thorns in the twigs and branches. Then up, up he soared, up the slopes of the mountain, beyond the stony slopes and towering cliffs back to his eerie home.

Tortoise wasn’t there.

Never mind,” said Eagle. “It IS a long way for someone who can’t fly.  He’s probably still walking. I can wait

Eagle waited … and waited … and waited.

After a bit he began to worry. The mountain certainly was very steep. Tortoise had such tiny legs – there were a million places where he could slip and fall to his death.


I’ll find him and give him a lift,” Eagle thought. He flew off over the mountain, up and down, up and down. But there was no sign of Tortoise. He asked his friends the other eagles to help, and they all flew to and fro, but none of them saw anything.

Maybe he fell into a ravine,” one of the other eagles said.

Unless he’s crept past us and is waiting for you at your place, ” said someone else. Eagle dashed home, full of hope, but the tortoise still wasn’t there.

Maybe he’s still at the river. But that’s ludicrous – he can’t swim with that shell. He’ll drown! How stupid I’ve been! I must stop him,” thought Eagle.

He flew off down the mountain side to to river and searched and searched – he even got one of the crocs that lived there to help him … But no one found anything

Maybe one of my cousins found him first,” suggested Crocodile.

Off Eagle flew, in a panic now .. back home , then to the forest, then to the desert, then to mountain again, then back home, then off again … back and forth and to and fro, until his wings ached. But of the tortoise, there was no trace …

It was getting late now. Eagle realized that what for him was a simple journey on the wings of the wind, was a terrible ordeal for his little friend – an ordeal that had surely killed him. He flew wearily back home, full of guilt. He had lost the best friend in the world, and it was no one’s fault but his own.

He got back and – who should be there to greet him, but Tortoise himself,  looking comfortable and rested as he raised a glass to his friend.
Eagle took one look and said…


Can’t you guess?” said the Tortoise. “You gave me a lift! I was hiding … inside the parcel you so kindly carried here for me. I AM your birthday present!

When he realized he had been tricked, Eagle was at first angry … then relieved … then angry again … and then at last he began to see the funny side and started to laugh … and laugh … and laugh.

Finally, they had their party.  At the end of the day, Eagle carried Tortoise safely back home and dropped him gently  at his front door.

Just promise me one thing,” he said.

What’s that?

Don’t EVER come to visit me again! I don’t think I could stand the stress!

This is a Congolese tale from Melvin Burgess blog

How Crocodile got Its Ugly Skin


This story is from a book called “The Secret of the Crocodile“, a Namibia Oral Tradition Project, published by New Namibia Books. (Paraphrased)

The crocodile originally had a beautiful smooth golden skin, and it stayed that way because the crocodile would spend all day in the muddy waters and only come out at night.

During the day all the other animals would come and admire it’s beautiful golden skin.

The crocodile became very proud of its skin and started coming out of the water to bask in the other animals’ admiration, even while the sun was shining. He began thinking he was better than the other animals and started bossing them around.

The other African animals became bored with his change in attitude and fewer and fewer started showing up to look at his skin.

But each day that the crocodile exposed his skin to the hot African sun, it would get uglier and bumpier and thicker, and was soon transformed into what looked like bulging armor.

Crocodile never recovered from the humiliating shame and even today will disappear from view when others approach, with only his eyes and nostrils above the surface of the water.

The Dance for Water or Rabbit’s Triumph

Chutes de la Lobe (Cameroun) / Lobe Falls (Cameroon) - afrolegends.com
Chutes de la Lobe (Cameroun) / Lobe Falls (Cameroon) – afrolegends.com

THERE was a frightful drought. The rivers after a while dried tip and even the springs gave no water. The animals wandered around seeking drink, but to no avail. Nowhere was water to be found. A great gathering of animals was held: Lion, Tiger, Wolf, Jackal, Elephant, all of them came together. What was to be done? That was the question. One had this plan, and another had that; but no plan seemed of value.

Finally one of them suggested: “Come, let all of us go to the dry river bed and dance; in that way we can tread out the water.”

Good! Everyone was satisfied and ready to begin instantly, excepting Rabbit, who said, “I will not go and dance. All of you are mad to attempt to get water from the ground by dancing.”


The other animals danced and danced, and ultimately danced the water to the surface. How glad they were. Everyone drank as much as he could, but Rabbit did not dance with them. So it was decided that Rabbit should have no water.

He laughed at them: “I will nevertheless drink some of your water.”

That evening he proceeded leisurely to the river bed where the dance had been, and drank as much as he wanted. The following morning the animals saw the footprints of Rabbit in the ground, and Rabbit shouted to them: “Aha! I did have some of the water, and it was most refreshing and tasted fine.” Continue reading “The Dance for Water or Rabbit’s Triumph”

The World’s Reward


ONCE there was a man who had an old dog, so old that the man desired to put him aside. The dog had served him very faithfully when he was still young, but ingratitude is the world’s reward, and the man now wanted to dispose of him. The old dumb creature, however, ferreted out the plan of his master, and so at once resolved to go away of his own accord. After he had walked quite a way he met an old bull in the veldt.

Don’t you want to go with me?” asked the dog.

Where?” was the reply.

To the land of the aged,” said the dog, “where troubles don’t disturb you and thanklessness does not deface the deeds of man.”


Good,” said the bull, “I am your companion.”

The two now walked on and found a ram. The dog laid the plan before him, and all moved off together, until they afterwards came successively upon a donkey, a cat, a cock, and a goose. These joined their company, and the seven set out on their journey.


Late one night they came to a house and through the open door they saw a table spread with all kinds of nice food, of which some robbers were having their fill. It would help nothing to ask for admittance, and seeing that they were hungry, they must think of something else. Therefore the donkey climbed up on the bull, the ram. On the donkey, the dog on the ram, the cat on the dog, the goose on the cat, and the cock on the goose, and with one accord they all let out terrible (threatening) noises (crying). Continue reading “The World’s Reward”

The Lion, the Jackal, and the Man


It so happened one day that Lion and Jackal came together to converse on affairs of land and state.  Jackal, let me say, was the most important adviser to the king of the forest, and after they had spoken about these matters for quite a while, the conversation took a more personal turn.

Lion began to boast and talk big about his strength.  Jackal had, perhaps, given him cause for it, because by nature he was a flatterer.  But now that Lion began to assume so many airs, said he, “See here, Lion, I will show you an animal that is still more powerful than you are.”

They walked along, Jackal leading the way, and met first a little boy.

Is this the strong man?” asked Lion.

No,” answered Jackal, “he must still become a man, O king.”

After a while they found an old man walking with bowed head and supporting his bent figure with a stick.

Is this the wonderful strong man?” asked Lion.

Not yet, O king,” was Jackal’s answer, “he has been a man.”


Continuing their walk a short distance farther, they came across a young hunter, in the prime of youth, and accompanied by some of his dogs.

There you have him now, O king,” said Jackal.  “Pit your strength against his, and if you win, then truly you are the strength of the earth.”

Then Jackal made tracks to one side toward a little rocky kopje from which he would be able to see the meeting.  Growling, growling, Lion strode forward to meet the man, but when he came close the dogs beset him.  He, however, paid but little attention to the dogs, pushed and separated them on all sides with a few sweeps of his front paws.  They bowled aloud, beating a hasty retreat toward the man.  Thereupon the man fired a charge of shot, biting him behind the shoulder, but even to this Lion paid but little attention.  Thereupon the hunter pulled out his steel knife, and gave him a few good jabs.  Lion retreated, followed by the flying bullets of the hunter.

Well, are you strongest now?” was Jackal’s first question when Lion arrived at his side.

No, Jackal,” answered Lion, “let that fellow there keep the name and welcome.  Such as he I have never before seen.  In the first place he had about ten of his bodyguard storm me.  I really did not bother myself much about them, but when I attempted to turn him to chaff, he spat and blew fire at me, mostly into my face, that burned just a little but not very badly.  And when I again endeavored to pull him to the ground he jerked out from his body one of his ribs with which he gave me some very ugly wounds, so bad that I had to make chips fly, and as a parting he sent some warm bullets after me.  No, Jackal, give him the name.”

South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company.

Jackal, Dove, and Heron


Jackal, it is said, came once to Dove, who lived on the top of a rock, and said, “Give me one of your little ones.”

Dove answered, “I shall not do anything of the kind.”

Jackal said, “Give me it at once! Otherwise, I shall fly up to you.” Then she threw one down to him.

He came back another day and demanded another little one, and she gave it to him. After Jackal had gone, Heron came, and asked, “Dove, why do you cry?


Dove answered him, “Jackal has taken away my little ones; it is for this that I cry.” He asked her, “In what manner did he take them?” She answered him, “When he asked me I refused him; but when he said, ‘I shall at once fly up, therefore give me it,’ I threw it down to him.

Heron said, “Are you such a fool as to give your young ones to Jackal, who cannot fly?” Then, with the admonition to give no more, he went away.

Jackal came again, and said, “Dove, give me a little one.” Dove refused, and told him that Heron had told her that he could not fly up.


Jackal said, “I shall catch him.”

So when Heron came to the banks of the water, Jackal asked him: “Brother Heron, when the wind comes from this side, how will you stand?” He turned his neck towards him and said, “I stand thus, bending my neck on one side.” Jackal asked him again, “When a storm comes and when it rains, how do you stand?” He said to him: “I stand thus, indeed, bending my neck down.”

Then Jackal beat him on his neck, and broke his neck in the middle.  Since that day Heron’s neck is bent.

South African Folktales, J.A. Honey, 1910, Baker and Taylor Company.

The Zebra Stallion


The Baboons, it is said, used to disturb the Zebra Mares in drinking.  But one of the Mares became the mother of a foal.  The others then helped her to suckle (the young stallion), that he might soon grow up.  When he was grown up and they were in want of water, he brought them to the water.  The Baboons, seeing this, came, as they formerly were used to do, into their way, and kept them from the water.

While the Mares stood thus, the Stallion stepped forward, and spoke to one of the Baboons, “Thou gum-eater’s child!”


The Baboon said to the Stallion, “Please open thy mouth, that I may see what thou livest on.” The Stallion opened his mouth, and it was milky.

Then the Stallion said to the Baboon, “Please open thy mouth also, that I may see,” The Baboon did so, and there was some gum in it. But the Baboon quickly licked some milk off the Stallion’s tongue.  The Stallion on this became angry, took the Baboon by his shoulders, and pressed him upon a hot, flat rock.  Since that day the Baboon has a bald place on his back.

The Baboon said, lamenting, “I, my mother’s child, I, the gum-eater, am outdone by this milkeater!”

South African Folktales, J.A. Honey, 1910, Baker and Taylor Company.

Compère Lièvre et les Ignames

Azui, compère Lièvre
Azui, compère Lièvre

Les hommes de la savane savent tout qu’Azui, le lièvre, est le plus astucieux des animaux. Mais ils sont si vaniteux qu’ils sont sûrs, eux, d’être plus intelligents que compère lièvre et disent tous : Moi, homme, je ne peux pas être dupé par un animal, même par le
plus rusé de tous !

Voici pourtant ce qui est arrivé un jour. Dans la forêt, et dans la savane voisine, il n’y avait presque plus rien à manger cette année-là .Les animaux, affamés, sortaient de la brousse et venaient rôder autour des villages, cherchant sur le sol le moindre grain de mil oublié. Azui s’était caché dans un fourré, non loin du chemin que suivaient les paysans pour aller cultiver leurs champs.  Il a observé un homme qui tous les soirs, s’en revenait chez lui, portant de grosses ignames sur la tête.  Que faire pour s’en
emparer?  Le lendemain, un peu avant le passage de l’homme sur le chemin, Compère lièvre s’y étend sans bouger, contrefaisant le mort.  L’homme arrive près de lui, voit : Voilà un lièvre qui n’est pas mort depuis bien longtemps, se dit-il.  Je vais aller déposer mes ignames près de la hutte, à la lisière de la forêt, et je vais revenir chercher cet animal.

Des ignames
Des ignames

Puis il se remet en marche.  Dès qu’il a disparu, Compère lièvre se relève et court par un raccourci, en direction de la hutte.  Quand il y arrive, il trouve les ignames que l’homme a déposées avant de revenir sur ses pas chercher le lièvre qu’il croit mort.

Azui ramasse les ignames, les charge sur son dos et file à toute vitesse vers sa maison, tout content d’avoir à manger pour
plusieurs jours.  Quand à l’homme, bien entendu, il ne trouve pas le lièvre mort sur le chemin …pas plus que les ignames, quand il est de retour à la hutte.  Il comprend alors un peu tard qu’il a été dupé par le rusé animal.  Ah oui ! Vraiment, on peut dire que compère lièvre est le plus astucieux de tous les êtres vivants de la savane !

Conte tiré de “Contes des Lagunes et Savanes,” Collection ‘Fleuve et Flamme,’ édition Edicef, 1975.

Pourquoi les éléphants ont une trompe

Kakou Ananze

C’était il y a très, très longtemps à l’époque ou les animaux parlaient et ou les hommes pouvaient comprendre leur langage. Il y avait une grande famine. Kakou Ananzè, l’araignée-à-l’esprit-plein  d’astuce a résolu de partir à travers le pays, en quête de nourriture. Il marche longtemps, longtemps, pendant des jours et des nuits. Il aperçoit  enfin au loin une fumée qui monte dans le ciel. Il se dirige vers elle. En arrivant, il voit le génie Aziza  en train de manger, assis auprès du feu. Sa longue et épaisse chevelure se hérisse autour de sa tête et retombe sur son visage, cachant complètement ses yeux et l’empêchant de voir. Kakou Ananzè  s’approche tout doucement du génie Aziza et, sans faire le moindre bruit, commence à voler un peu de nourriture. Quand Aziza prend un morceau de viande, Araignée, vite en prend un autre, tout en faisant bien attention que sa main ne rencontre jamais celle du génie. Bientôt il ne reste plus qu’un seul morceau dans le plat. Instinctivement, Araignée tend la main. Au même  moment, le génie tend la sienne, ce qui  fait  qu’elles se rencontrent.

Qui est là? gronde le génie.

– C’est  moi Kakou Ananzè, dit l’Araignée d’une faible voix.

– Je vais te dévorer, rugit Aziza en se dressant.

– Je le veux bien! Répond Kakou Ananzè, mais auparavant, puissant génie, laissez-moi tresser votre chevelure afin que vous puissiez me voir.


Aziza accepte et se rassie, s’adossant à un arbre. Araignée se met à rire sous cape, et prend les longs cheveux du génie. Mais au lieu de les tresser, il s’en sert pour entourer le tronc de l’arbre et ainsi attache solidement Aziza  de façon à ce que celui-ci ne puisse plus faire un mouvement.

Te voila prisonnier, pauvre sot! C’est moi maintenant qui vais te dévorer!

Kakou Ananzè met le feu à l’arbre. Et le génie est grillé. Quand il est cuit à point, Araignée le mange. Bientôt il ne reste plus que les os d’Aziza. Déçu, car il avait encore faim, Kakou Ananzè se met à examiner le petit tas d’ossements à la recherche  d’un lambeau de viande oublié. Et un os bien long et bien pointu lui pique le nez, puis  s’y fixe. Le nez de l’araignée enfle, s’allonge et devient une sorte de longue trompe.

Que vais-je devenir avec cette horrible chose sur le visage? se lamente Kakou Ananzè, il faut que je redevienne normal car les gens vont rire de me voir ainsi.

La trompe de l'elephant
La trompe de l'elephant

Or en là, les animaux avaient coutume d’ôter leur nez et de le déposer sur la berge de la rivière ou du marigot, avant d’entrer dans l’eau pour se laver. Araignée profite de cette habitude. Il court jusqu’à la rivière la plus proche et se cache dans les arbustes. Eléphant arrive pesamment pour faire sa toilette. Il ôte son nez, le dépose soigneusement sur l’herbe et entre dans l’eau. Alors Kakou Ananzè s’empare du nez d’Eléphant, ôte sa vilaine trompe qu’il  dépose sur l’herbe. Il fixe sur son visage le nez volé et s’enfuit à toute allure.

Quand Eléphant a terminé son bain, il remonte sur la berge et veut récupérer son bien. Mais malgré ses recherches il ne trouve que la vilaine trompe, et il est contraint de la mettre sur sa figure.

Conte tiré de “Contes des Lagunes et Savanes,” Collection ‘Fleuve et Flamme,’ édition Edicef, 1975.