The Origin of the Milky Way

Milky WayA strong-willed girl became so angry when her mother would not give her any of a delicious roasted root, that, she grabbed the roasting roots from the fire and threw the roots and ashes into the sky, where the red and white roots now glow as red and white stars, and the ashes are the Milky Way.  And there the road is to this day.  Some people call it the Milky Way; some call it the Stars’ Road, but no matter what you call it, it is the path made by a young girl many, many years ago, who threw the bright sparks of her fire high up into the sky to make a road in the darkness.

This is a South African tale about the origin of the Milky Way, from the Road Travel Africa.

Jackal and Monkey


EVERY evening Jackal went to the Man’s* kraal.  He crept through the sliding door and stole a fat young lamb.  This, clever Jackal did several times in succession.  Man set a wip for him at the door.  Jackal went again and zip-there he was caught around the body by the noose.  He swung and swayed high in the air and couldn’t touch ground.  The day began to dawn and Jackal became uneasy.

On a stone kopje, Monkey sat.  When it became light he could see the whole affair, and descended hastily for the purpose of mocking Jackal.  He went and sat on the wall. “Ha, ha, good morning. So there you are hanging now, eventually caught.
What? I, caught? I am simply swinging for my pleasure; it is enjoyable.
You fibber. You are caught in the wip.
If you but realized how nice it was to swing and sway like this, you wouldn’t hesitate.  Come, try it a little.  You feel so healthy and strong for the day, and you never tire afterwards.
No, I won’t.  You are caught.


After a while Jackal convinced Monkey.  He sprang from the kraal wall, and freeing Jackal, adjusted the noose around his own body.
Jackal quickly let go and began to laugh, as Monkey was now swinging high in the air.
Ha, ha, ha,” he laughed.  “Now Monkey is in the wip.
Jackal, free me,” he screamed.
There, Man is coming,” shouted Jackal.
Jackal, free me of this, or I’ll break your playthings.
No, there Man is coming with his gun; you rest a while in the noose.
Jackal, quickly make me free.
No, here’s Man already, and he’s got his gun.  Good morning.” And with these parting words he ran away as fast as he could.  Man came and saw Monkey in the wip.
So, so, Monkey, now you are caught.  You are the fellow who has been stealing my lambs, hey?
No, Man, no,” screamed Monkey, ” not I, but Jackal.
No, I know you; you aren’t too good for that.
No, Boer, no, not I, but Jackal,” Monkey stammered.
Oh, I know you.  Just wait a little,” and Man, raising his gun, aimed and shot poor Monkey dead.

South African Folk Tales, by James A. Honey, 1910, Baker & Taylor Company. (* I replaced ‘Boer’ by ‘Man’, for generality).

Why has Jackal a long, black stripe on his back?


The Sun, it is said, was one day on earth, and the men who were travelling saw him sitting by the wayside, but passed him without notice.

Jackal, however, who came after them, and also sitting, went to him and said, “Such a fine little child is left behind by the men.”  He then took Sun up, and put it into this awa-skin (on his back).  When it burnt him, he said, “Get down,” and shook himself; but Sun stuck fast to his back, and burnt Jackal’s back black from that day.

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


The king's crown
The king’s crown

THE birds wanted a king. Men have a king, so have animals, and why shouldn’t they? All had assembled.

The Ostrich, because he is the largest,” one called out.

No, he can’t fly.”

Eagle, on account of his strength.”

Not he, he is too ugly.”

Vulture, because he can fly the highest.”

No, Vulture is too dirty, his odor is terrible.”

Peacock, he is so beautiful.”

His feet are too ugly, and also his voice.”

Owl, because he can see well.”

Not Owl, he is ashamed of the light.”


And so they got no further. Then one shouted aloud, “He who can fly the highest will be king.” “Yes, yes,” they all screamed, and at a given Signal they all ascended straight up into the sky.

Vulture flew for three whole days without stopping, straight toward the sun. Then he cried aloud, “I am the highest, I am king.”

T-sie, t-sie, t-sie,” he heard above him. There Tink-tinkje was flying. He had held fast to one of the great wing feathers of Vulture, and had never been felt, he was so light. “T-sie, t-sie, t-sie, I am the highest, I am king,” piped Tink-tinkje.

Vulture flew for another day still ascending. “I am highest, I am king.”

T-sie, t-sie, t-sie, I am the highest, I am king,” Tink-tinkje mocked. There he was again, having crept out from under the wing of Vulture.

Vulture flew on the fifth day straight up in the air. “I am the highest, I am king,” he called.

T-sie, t-sie, t-sie,” piped the little fellow above him. “I am the highest, I am king.”

Vulture was tired and now flew direct to earth. The other birds were mad through and through. Tink-tinkje must die because he had taken advantage of Vulture’s feathers and there hidden himself. All flew after him and he had to take refuge in a mouse hole. But how were they to get him out? Some one must stand guard to seize him the moment he put out his head.


Owl must keep guard; he has the largest eyes; he can see well,” they exclaimed.

Owl went and took up his position before the hole. The sun was warm and soon Owl became sleepy and presently he was fast asleep.

Tink-tinkje peeped, saw that Owl was asleep, and z-zip away he went. Shortly afterwards the other birds came to see if Tink-tinkje were still in the hole. “T-sie, t-sie,” they heard in a tree; and there the little vagabond was sitting.

White-crow, perfectly disgusted, turned around and exclaimed, “Now I won’t say a single word more.”

And from that day to this Whitecrow has never spoken. Even though you strike him, he makes no sound, he utters no cry.

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

When Lion could Fly


LION, it is said, used once to fly, and at that time nothing could live before him.  As he was unwilling that the bones of what he caught should be broken into pieces, he made a pair of White Crows watch the bones, leaving them behind at the kraal whilst he went a-hunting.

But one day Great Frog came there, broke the bones in pieces, and said, “Why can men and animals live no longer?”  And he added these words, “When he comes, tell him that I live at yonder pool; if he wishes to see me, he must come there.”

Lion, lying in wait (for game), wanted to fly up, but found he could not fly.  Then he got angry, thinking that at the kraal something was wrong, and returned home.  When he arrived, he asked, “What have you done that I cannot fly?”  Then they answered and said, “Someone came here, broke the bones into pieces, and said, ‘If he want me, he may look for me at yonder pool!”‘  Lion went, and arrived while Frog was sitting at the water’s edge, and he tried to creep stealthily upon him. When he was about to get hold of him, Frog said, “Ho!” and, diving, went to the other side of the pool, and sat there. Lion pursued him; but as he could not catch him he returned home.

From that day, it is said, Lion walked on his feet, and also began to creep upon (big game); and the White Crows became entirely dumb since the day that they said, “Nothing can be said of that matter.”

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