The Tortoise and the Leopard
Under the moonlight, the children sat in the village square. Leaning forward, they listened to their storyteller’s every word.
“Clap,” he pressed his hands together. “Deep in the dark forest of Nigeria lived Mbuku. From the top of her green shell to the bottom of her yellow belly, she was one enormous tortoise. Mbuku was always hunting for goodies to eat. One day she waddled over to the river strand. There, in the sand, she dug out a dozen jumbo-sized eggs.”
Crocodile eggs!’ she licked her lips. ‘Her favorite!” the children clap-clapped back.
“Carefully, Mbuku scooped up her eggs and hurried over to a hut nearby.
After greeting the Chief, Cat opened the door with his paw.
‘What can I do for you?’ asked the friendly Chief. ‘If you let me use your firewood, some oil and some pepper, I’ll bake you a magic cake.’
‘Why not? Here, take these stones to put under my pot.’
‘Trust me, with my crocodile eggs and your oil and pepper, my magic cake will bring you good luck—forever!'”
“Mbuku took the supplies into the room where the Chief stored his corn. Then she shut the door tight. All day long she whipped up eggs and mixed in more and more of the Chief’s corn. When the tortoise’s cake was finally baked it was hurnongous!”
“Later that night, while Cat slept on the floor and the Chief snored, Mbuku packed her cake in a sack. Then hush! Without rnaking a peep, she snuck away.”
“The next morning, Cat scratched on the door with his paw. Suddenly his fur stood on end. ‘SSSSSS,’ he hissed loudly. But Mbuku was long gone!”
“The furious Chief made a ruckus. ‘Tortoise, you fooled us. You took my corn and left no trace of the cake you promised to bake! Just you wait!'”
“Clap!” the storyteller pressed his hands together.
“Mbuku, you sly-eyed trickster. Who do you think you are?”
“You stole the cake that wasn’t yours to take!” The children clap-clapped back.
“The tortoise felt safe hiding in the forest, where she could blend in with the rocks. Until suddenly, lightning zigzagged across the sky. Then hard rain fell, pell-rnell, on the tortoise’s shell.”
“But she couldn’t go back to the Chief and Cat!” the children clap-clapped back.
“On and on she trudged until finally she saw smoke through a clearing in the trees. At last she reached shelter.”
‘Greetings friend, can I come in? See, I’m all wet.’
“Agu, the Nigerian leopard, opened the door with his claw, which gave tortoise a reason to pause.”
‘Sit here by the fire,’ he said, sniffing Mbuku, who curiously smelled like crocodile.
“After a while the tortoise tied her sack where her cake was packed to a bamboo pole. Then she fell asleep.”
The next morning, Mbuku startled awake. Agu had unpacked her sack! But what could she say to a scary leopard?”
She was only a tortoise, of course,” the children clap-clapped back. “Never mind. Mbuku carne up with a trick to fix Agu, but good.”
‘Leopard, my magic powder will give you the power to win, whenever you go hunting. But you have to do exactly what I say.’
“Agu foolishly agreed.” ‘First, bring me four sticks frorn the forest. I want them forked and about six feet each.’ “The leopard was eager to please and followed her orders to a T.”
‘Now bring me two strong poles.’ “Agu did as he was told.” ‘Don’t stop! Tie those poles to the tips of the sticks. Then pound them hard, deep into the ground.’
“Mbuku looked up at Agu with a fake crocodile smile. Then she bound him with cane strong ties from his spotted jaw to his furry paws.” ‘When can we stop playing? When will you untie me?’ he growled.
‘Never! You ate my cake without ever asking.’ Mkubu snapped, and then she vanished back into the forest.
“Now Agu’s stomach rurnbled with hunger. When some monkeys scampered by he pleaded, ‘Untie me, please.’ ‘No way!’ The frightened monkeys ran away. “With each passing hour the leopard grew wilder. He had skipped at least three meals.”
Finally, an old Mother rnonkey took pity and untied him. The moment he was set free, he leaped twenty feet. Then he let out a loud roar, ‘Mbuku, just you wait!’
‘From that tirne on, whenever you see a Nigerian leopard running through the forest, you know he’s looking for that sneaky, sly eyed, no good trickster.”
“Mbuku the Nigerian tortoise, of course,” the children clap-clapped back.
“Clap,” the storyteller pressed his hands together. “Promise me you’ll never steal. Not a cake, beefsteak, pancake, milkshake!”
“Not even a teensy cornflake!” the children clap-clapped back.
HOW THE FROG CAME TO BE THE KING OF THE RIVERS
“Come to Johari House, the griot storyteller from Ghana motioned the children inside. “Knock, knock, agoo,” he called everyone to attention.
“Who wants to hear a good tale?” “Amee, we do,” the children knock-knocked back.
“With dreamy eyes imagine a time when all animals—paws and claws, wings and fins—felt at home with folks in the village. They made room for each other. They had enough. Living under one sky, even the air seemed to breathe with graceful ease.
One day his majesty Elephant, mighty King of all creatures, wanted to do something extra special for mankind. Raising his trunk sky high, he trumpeted, ‘I need someone who can stir up their senses and smell the first rains coming.’
King of the River, must mightily crow, screech, or tweet loudly enough for folks to hear, ‘Hurry, grab your tools and bags of seed. Time to plant and plow, now!’
‘Rooster, will you help me?’ ‘Koekelekoe,’ the rooster agreed. Then rooster dipped his tail feathers into crushed berries and streaked this message across the sky. ‘Open call for King of the River. Players, line up in the courtyard. Tomorrow.’
Game on! The Elephant’s court was thrumming with hopefuls. Flap, flurry, the flamingo landed
The cat curled up at King Elephant’s feet. The crab scuttled across the floor. The monkey swung down from a tree and giggled, ‘tee-hee.’ Hop, the Frog bopped on webbed feet. Huff, the toad puffed himself up to look larger.
‘Knock, knock. Who calls themselves King of the River? You, cat? You’re afraid to get wet?
“Silly kitty,” the children knock-knock back.
‘Knock, knock. Who calls themselves King of the River? You, crab? You don’t even have a head! Where would we put down your crown?’
“Too bad, poor crab,” the children knock-knocked back.
‘Knock, knock. Who calls themselves King of the River? You, monkey? You’re too busy playing all day to remember the rain.
“Forgetful monkey,” the children knock-knocked back.
‘Knock, knock. Who calls themselves King of the River? You, flamingo? You love lagoons, but your soft pink whisper won’t go very far.’
“No flamingo, your voice is too low,” the children knock-knocked back.
‘Knock, knock. Toad and Frog, you’re both fit to be King of the River. Your strong voices would travel from Nabila to Beyin.’
“But tell us Elephant, who do you chose?” the children knock-knocked back. The Elephant tapped his head with his trunk. ‘I’m stumped?’
‘Koekelekoe,’ the rooster crowed. ‘Toad and Frog should compete. First one to make the riverbank will take the crown.’
Down to the waterfront, Elephant led his followers to the finish line. Meanwhile back in the courtyard, Toad and Frog hit their marks.
“EEEEEE,” the rooster screeched the starting signal. Then flash, Toad and Frog dashed off.
Puffed up Toad was pumped. He jumped and jumped and jumped. Long-legged Frog hopped nonstop.
Surprisingly Toad was in the lead when suddenly he stopped. There, in front of his bulging eyes was a wide, deep ditch! ‘Can I cross over?’ he worried, gulping the air.
Frog caught up and croaked with glee. ‘Little ditch, your nothing for me!’ Licketty split, with a hind-leg kick, he easily hopped over.
‘You Frog, not so fast. Pm not giving up my chance to be King. No way!’ “Huff -puff, he made himself look larger. Then he tried again and again to cross over. Until, uh oh! Poor Toad hit the side. Then down, further down, all the way down he tumbled to the bottom of the ditch.”
‘Knock, knock.’ Frog aced the race, reaching the riverbank in no time. ‘Well done!’ The Elephant gave him a royal pat with his trunk.
‘Remember,’ he explained, ‘when you smell the first rains, sing your Croo Croo song. So farmers will know the dry season is over.’
“Sing it, King of the River,” the children knock-knocked back.
“To this day, whenever villagers hear the Frog’s song they’re grateful. They grab their tools and bags of seed. Rain is on the way!”
“Hooray!” the children knock-knocked back.
“Let’s give thanks to our animals in the village!”