How Stories Came to Earth An Ashanti Legend


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How Stories Came to Earth

An Ashanti Legend

It was long ago in Africa, child, when there was First Spider, Kwaku Anansi. He went everywhere, throughout the world, travelling on his strong web strings - sometimes looking more like a wise old man than a spider.
In that long-ago time, child, there were no stories on Earth for anyone to tell. The sky-god kept all stories to himself, up high in the sky, and locked away in a wooden box.
These the spider wanted, as many creatures had before him, so that he could know the beginnings and endings of things. Yet all who had tried for the stories had returned empty-handed.
Now Anansi climbed up his web to the sky-god, Nyame, to ask for the sky-god's stories.
Child, when the powerful sky-god saw the thin, spidery, old man crawling up to his throne, he laughed at him, "What makes you think that you, of all creatures, can pay the price I ask for my stories?"
Spider only wanted to know, "What is the price of the stories?"
"My stories have a great price, four fearsome, elusive creatures: Onini, the python that swallows men whole; Osebo, the leopard with teeth like spears; Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting; and Mmoatia, the fairy who is never seen. Bring these to me."
Bowing, the spider quietly turned and crept back down through the clouds. He meant to capture the four creatures he needed as price for the stories. He first asked his wife, Aso, how he might capture Onini, the python that swallows men whole.
She told him a plan, saying, "Go and cut off a branch of the palm tree and cut some string-creeper as well. Take these to the stream where python lives."
As Anansi went to the swampy stream, carrying these things, he began arguing aloud, "This is longer than he; You lie, no; it Is true; this branch is longer and he is shorter, much shorter."
The python was listening, and asked what spider was talking about, "What are you muttering, Anansi?"
"I tell you that my wife, Aso, is a liar, for she says that you are longer than this palm branch and I say that you are not."
Onini, the python, said, "Come and place the branch next to me and we will see if she is a liar."
And so, Anansi put the palm branch next to the python's body, and saw the large snake stretch himself alongside it. Ananasi then bound the python to the branch with the string-creeper and wound it over and over - nwenene! nwenene! nwenene! - until he came to the head. Then the spiderman said to Onini, "Fool, I will now take you to the sky-god."
This Anansi did as he spun a web around the snake to carry him back through the clouds to the sky kingdom.
On seeing the gigantic snake, Nyame merely said, "There remains what still remains."
Spider came back to Earth to find the next creature, Osebo the leopard, with teeth like spears.
His wife, Aso, told him, "Go dig a large hole."
Anansi said, "I understand, say no more."
After following the tracks of the leopard, spider dug a very deep pit. He covered it over with the branches of the trees and came home. Returning in the very early morning, he found a large leopard lying in the pit.
"Leopard, is this how you act? You should not be prowling around at night; look at where you are! Now put your paw here, and here, and I will help you out."
The leopard put his paws up on the sticks that Anansi placed over the pit and began to climb up. Quickly, Anansi hit him over the head with a wooden knife - gao! Leopard fell back into the pit - fom! Anansi quickly spun the leopard to the sticks with his web string.
"Fool, I am taking you to pay for the sky-god's stories."
But the sky-god recieved the leopard saying, "What remains, still remains."
Next the spiderman went looking for Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting.
Spider told his wife, Aso, what he was looking for and she said, "Look for an empty gourd and fill it with water."
This spider did and he went walking through the bush until he saw a swarm of hornets hanging there in a tree. He poured out some of the water and sprinkled it all over their nest. Cutting a leaf from a nearby banana tree, he held it up and covered his head. He then poured the rest of the water from the gourd all over himself. Then while he was dripping he called out to the hornets,
"The rain has come, do you see me standing here with a leaf to cover my head? Fly inside my empty gourd so that the rain will not beat at your wings."
The hornets flew into the gourd, saying, "Thank you - hhhuuummm - Aku; thank you - hhhuuummm - Anansi."
Anansi stopped up the mouth of the gourd, and spinning a thick web around it, said, "Fools, I'm taking you to the sky-god as price for his stories."
The sky-god, Nyame, accepted Mmoboro, the hornets that swarm and sting, and said, "What remains, still remains."
Anansi knew very well what remained - it was the fairy, Mmoatia, who is never seen. When the spider came back to Earth, he asked Aso what to do. And so, he carved an Akua's child, a wooden doll with a black, flat face, and covered it with sticky fluid from a tree.
Walking through the bush, he found the odum tree, where the fairies like to play. He then made eto, pounded yams, and put some in the doll's hand and even more of the yams into a brass basin at her feet - there by the odum tree. Anansi next hid in the bushes, with a vine creeper in his hands that was also tied to the doll's neck.
It wasn't long before the fairies came, two sisters, to play. They saw the doll with the eto and asked if they could have some. Anansi made the doll's head nod, "Yes", by pulling on the string-creeper. Soon the faries had eaten all the eto and so, thanked the doll, but the doll did not reply. The fairies became angry.
One sister said, "When I thank her, she says nothing."
The other sister replied, "Then slap her in her crying place."
This the fairy did, she slapped it's cheek - "pa!" - but her hand stuck there. She slapped it with her other hand - "pa!" - and that hand stuck, too. She kicked it with both one foot, then the other, and both feet stuck to the sticky wooden doll. Finally, she pushed her stomache to it and that stuck.
Then Anansi came from his hiding place, and said, "Fool, I have got you, and now I will take you to the sky-god to buy his stories once and for all."
Anansi spun a web around the last of the four creatures and brought Mmoatia up to Nyame in the sky kingdom. The sky-god, seeing this last catch, called together all his nobles. He put it before them and told them that the spider-man had done what no-one else had been able to do. He said in a loud voice that rang in the sky,
"From now and forever, my sky-god stories belong to you - kose! kose! kose! - my blessing, my blessing, my blessing. We will now call these "Spider Stories"."
And so, child, stories came to Earth because of the great cunning of Kwaku Anansi, and his wife, Aso. When Anansi brought the wooden box of stories to his home, he and his wife eagerly learned each one of them. And you can still see today that Aku and Aso tell their stories. Everywhere you look, they spin their webs for all to see.

The End

Mink and the Sun

A Telling by Eldrbarry

Mink's mother, Sea Lion, as a young maiden, liked to sit in a rock in the sea, basking in the warm sun. When she found out she was going to have a baby, her parents questioned her about it. They asked her who the father was. "I don't know any young men," she replied, "and I stay home all the time. The only thing I can think about is that I was warming myself in the sun." So when the time came for the baby to be born, they named it Make-Like-The-Sun, The Mink.

When the child was growing up, the other children used to make fun of him. "You haven't got a dad," they would say. "You're not like us." Made-like-the-Sun would come in crying to his mother. "Don't listen to them," she assured him. "You have a father." "Where is my father?" asked Made-Like-The-Sun. "See that warm sun up there?" said his mother. "That is your father. Without him nothing down here could live."

When Mink told the other children that Sun was his father, they ridiculed him. Perhaps it was because everyone made fun of him that Mink became a nasty trickster. He set out to try and outsmart everyone, and one by one Mink played tricks them. He embarrassed these people, make them look foolish, played dirty jokes, cheated them, and stole from them. When he grew older, he began to wander from tribe to tribe, playing dirty tricks everywhere he went.

One day he looked to the Sky world and decided that Sun and Moon were not smarter than he. "It's a pretty easy job lighting the world," he said. "I must go up and visit them for I want an easy job like lighting the world." Now you might think it was hard to get to the Sky world, but actually it was very easy. Mink waited for one of those days, that those who live in the Pacific Northwest know so well, when the clouds were brushing the treetops and the rain drips down. He climbed a tall Cedar tree, all the way to the top, and found himself in the Sky world.

He walked and walked towards the east for the Sun always rises there. It was dark when he saw a great wooden lodge with Sun symbols carved upon it. He went to the small door carved out of a tall pole and knocked upon it. "Who are you?" He was asked by the woman inside. "I am Mink, son of the sunshine," he replied. "Come on in," he was told. " Your father, the Sun will be home soon. Soon he must walk again all day back to the west."

When Sun came home, he told his squaw - "I know that Mink, he is very tricky. I have seen his tricks. He is not to be trusted. I will play along with him and see what he is up to." The boy was taken into the presence of the brilliant sunshine. "So you are my father," Said the Mink, Made-Like-The-Sun. "Yes, I am" replied the Sun. "I have come to help you carry the Sun across the sky." Said Mink. "You have come at the right time," the Sun said. "I am not young anymore, I am getting old and tired. Tomorrow, I will show you how to take over."

Early in the morning, Mink was shaken awake. Sun was standing there wearing a beautiful shiny golden fur robe, and a great golden sun mask, and carrying a torch filled with pitch, which he lit. "I will walk from east to west, but I must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to me, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but I must not listen. I just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean." Motioning to Mink to come with him they set off across the sky.

Looking down Mink saw the great open plains covered with grass rippling in the sunlight, and the Columbia River. Soon they came to the tree covered mountains, and then climbed up over their white shining peaks, reflecting the light from Sun's torch.

On the West side of the mountains, clouds and fog hid the forests and rivers, and shoreline below. Mink could hear voices. "I wish Sun would burn these clouds away." "I am so tired of this rain, why doesn't Sun stop and warm us up. The Shaman promised us a nice day, but again it is raining." Finally late in the afternoon, the clouds parted and there below was the beautiful shiny sea, reflecting the ruddy light as the torch now burned low. On the way home, to Sun's lodge, they passed the Moon, pale compared to the Sun.

The next day, Mink begged and begged to be allowed to carry the torch, but Sun said he was not ready for that. But Sun let him wear the shining robe and the shining golden mask as they set off on their journey. This time, great white clouds were drifting across the plains, as thunderbird flapped his wings with loud thunder and lightning flashed from his eyes when he blinked. Sun just plodded on. Over the great mountains, shining white with snow, over the cloudy coasts where the rain continued to fall. Again they heard the voices pleading for sunshine and warmth and an end to the rain. All the way again to the sea.

The third day, Mink again begged to carry the torch, and this time Sun let him. However, Sun insisted he must go along. "We will walk from east to west, but we must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to us, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but we must not listen. We just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean. You must never stop in your journey."

Early in the morning, Made-Like-The-Sun rose in the east with his sunshine mask on. He was the great Sun! His father accompanied him as he walked across the sky toward the west. He did very well. When the people on earth called up to him, "Give us more sun," he did not listen, he just kept walking. Across the plains, over the mountains that clapped their peaks together, causing the snow to rush down their slopes, past the fog bound and cloudy coastline, where again he heard the peoples complaining, to the vast sea and the end of the day.

The next day Mink insisted he could do it all by himself. Sun gave in. He repeated strongly his instructions. "You will walk from east to west, but you must not listen to the people down on earth. The people will say to you, "Give us more sunshine so we can warm up. Clear the rain and clouds away," but you must not listen. Just keep walking from east to west, across the plains, over the shining mountains all the way to the ocean. You must never stop in your journey." Then Mink set out alone, wearing the shining golden fur robe, and the great shiny golden mask, bearing the torch filled with pitch and blazing hot and bright. Sun, not sure he could trust the Mink, followed at a distance. Across the plains, up over the mountains they journeyed.

At first Mink did well, though Thunderbird flapped his wings, though the peaks clapped, he just plodded on. But when he got to the rainy coasts, he was not so strong. At first he tried to be. He heard the people down below saying, "Let the sun shine a little more to clear these clouds away and warm us up." "No" he said and kept plodding from east to west. But he kept hearing the people calling him from below. "We just want a little more sunshine - just a little more to warm up. It's Sun's fault the fogs linger. The shaman promised us a nice day." Finally Mink said, "I'm tired of their complaining. I'll show them. I'll just give them more sunshine." and he stopped and stooped down holding the torch towards the earth below. Quickly the clouds burned away. The sun heated the ground. Then the people began complaining about the blistering heat. The forests began drying out and the rocks on the shoreline cracked. Fires started in the forests.

Sun heard the people screaming down on the earth. "Oh, it's too hot! We're going to burn up!" and he hurried to see what his son was doing. There Made-Like-The-Sun was, stopped and stooping down. The Sun yelled at Mink. "I knew you were not to be trusted. I told you not to stoop down. I told you to keep walking," he thundered. "I will take my job back now," and seizing the shining mask, he booted his son out of the sky world with a kick to the posterior.

Mink tumbled down from the sky, and the torch went out. The pitch poured onto his robe staining it and making it smell with a strong musky aroma. But "Made-Like-The-Sun" landed in the water in a magnificent dive. Mink is a skilled diver like his mother, the sea lion. Sun quickly lit another torch, but until he did, it was dark - the first eclipse. Sometimes now the Sun makes other eclipses - to remind creatures of the earth, they can not take the place of any of the heavenly bodies.

As for Mink, he was very ashamed since that day. Though he kept the beautiful fur robe, now stained by the pitch, and with a strong smell, this son of the seaworld and the skyworld, keeps to secretive places and avoids others, though sometimes you may see him basking in the sun on a rock in the river wearing that beautiful but stained fur robe - Mink, Made-Like-The-Sun.

Brer Rabbit Falls Down the Well
retold by S. E. Schlosser

One day, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and Brer Coon and Brer Bear and a lot of other animals decided to work together to plant a garden full of corn for roasting. They started early in the morning and raked and dug and raked some more, breaking up the hard ground so it would be ready for planting. It was a hot day, and Brer Rabbit got tired mighty quick. But he kept toting off the brush and clearing away the debris 'cause he didn't want no one to call him lazy.

Then Brer Rabbit got an idea. "Ow!" he shouted as loudly as he could. "I got me a briar in my hand!" He waved a paw and stuck it into his mouth. The other critters told him he'd better pull out the briar and wash his hand afore it got infected. That was just what Brer Rabbit wanted to hear. He hurried off, looking for a shady spot to take a quick nap. A little ways down the road, he found an old well with a couple of buckets hanging inside it, one at the top, and one down at the bottom.
"That looks like a mighty cool place to take a nap," Brer Rabbit said, and hopped right into the bucket.
Well, Brer Rabbit was mighty heavy - much heavier than the bucket full of water laying at the bottom. When he jumped into the empty bucket, it plummeted right down to the bottom of the well. Brer Rabbit hung onto the sides for dear life as the second bucket whipped passed him, splashing water all over him on its way to the top. He had never been so scared in his life.
Brer Rabbit's bucket landed with a smack in the water and bobbed up and down. Brer Rabbit was afraid to move, in case the bucket tipped over and landed him in the water. He lay in the bottom of the bucket and shook and shivered with fright, wondering what would happen next.

Now Brer Fox had been watching Brer Rabbit all morning. He knew right away that Brer Rabbit didn't have a briar in his paw and wondered what that rascal was up to. When Brer Rabbit snuck off, Brer Fox followed him and saw him jump into the bucket and disappear down the well.

Brer Fox was puzzled. Why would Brer Rabbit go into the well? Then he thought: "I bet he has some money hidden away down there and has gone to check up on it." Brer Fox crept up to the well, listening closely to see if he could hear anything. He didn't hear nothing. He peered down into the well, but all was dark and quiet, on account of Brer Rabbit holding so still so the bucket wouldn't tip him into the water.
Finally, Brer Rabbit shouted down into the well: "Brer Rabbit, what you doing down there?"
Brer Rabbit perked up at once, realizing that this might be his chance to get out of the well.
"I'm a fishing down here, Brer Fox," says he. "I thought I'd surprise everyone with a mess of fresh fish for lunch. There's some real nice fish down here."
"How many fish are there?" asked Brer Fox skeptically, sure that the rascally rabbit was really counting his gold.
"Scores and scores!" cried Brer Rabbit. "Why don't you come on down and help me carry them out?"
Well, that was the invitation Brer Fox was waiting for. He was going to go down into that well and get him some of Brer Rabbit's gold.
"How do I get down there?" asked Brer Fox.
Brer Rabbit grinned. Brer Fox was much heavier than he was. If Brer Fox jumped into the empty bucket at the top, then Brer Rabbit's bucket would go up, and Brer Fox's bucket would go down! So he said: "Jest jump into the bucket, Brer Fox."

Well, Brer Fox jumped into the empty bucket, and down it plummeted into the dark well. He passed Brer Rabbit about halfway down. Brer Rabbit was clinging to the sides of the bucket with all his might 'cause it was moving so fast. "Goodbye Brer Fox," he shouted as he rose. "Like the saying goes, some folks go up, and some go down! You should make it to the bottom all safe and sound."

Brer Rabbit jumped out of the well and ran back to the garden patch to tell the other critters that Brer Fox was down in the well muddying up the waters. Then he danced back to the well and shouted down to Brer Fox: "There's a hunting man coming along to get a drink o' water, Brer Fox. When he hauls you up, you'd best run away as fast as you can!"

Then Brer Rabbit went back to the garden patch. When the thirsty hunter hauled up the bucket full of water, a wet and shaky Brer Fox sprang out and ran and ran away before the hunter could grab for his gun.
An hour later, Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit were both back in the garden, digging and hauling away debris and acting like nothing had happened. Except every once in a while, Brer Fox would look sideways at Brer Rabbit and grin, and the rascally rabbit would start to laugh and laugh 'cause both of them had looked so silly plummeting up and down in that ol' dark well.

The Adventures of Juan Bobo

(Story is taken from the book Leyendas latino americanas by Genevieve Barlow. (1991). Chicago: National Textbook Company. This translation is by Veronica Behn.)

Once upon a time many years ago, there was a boy who was so lazy that he seemed stupid. Although, he really tried to behave himself, he did nothing but say and do silly things. That is why the whole world, except his intelligent and hard-working mother, called him Juan Bobo.

One day his mother told him, "Go to the market in town and sell a fat chicken. With the money you receive, buy a bag of rice."

"Si, mama," said Juana.

"Be courteous and obedient with every person you encounter."

"Si, mama."

Saying this, Juan took the chicken and happily left to go to the market. Soon he encountered a lot of people. Half of them came in a carriage and the other half were riding horses. They had come from a wedding. Walking along the road were the groom, the bride, the family members and the friends who were riding horses.

"Have my deepest condolences," said Juan.

On one occasion he had been with his mother at a funeral and because he had greeted the family in that manner, Juan thought that you had to give this greeting any time you saw a procession of people. Naturally the newlyweds, as well as the friends, became very angry.

The husband said to Juan, "Next time when you encounter a group of people you have to greet them saying, "Viva, viva!

"Thank you very much. That's what I will do," responded Juan sadly because he had confused the greetings.

So the boy kept on walking, and soon he encountered a butcher and his three sons. They had come back from the market, bringing some pigs that they had bought. Remembering the words that the groom had told him, Juan greeted them, saying, "Viva, viva!", as he shook his hat the way that the groom had showed him.

The pigs were frightened by the had waving and by the yelling, causing them to run in all directions towards the fields.

The butcher got very angry and yelled, "You stupid boy!, Next time you see something similar, it is better to say, "I hope God gives you two for each one."

"Thank you very much, that's what I will do," responded Juan and he kept on walking.

Near the market he saw a farmer who was burning a pile of weeds that he had taken out of his field.

Remembering what the butcher had told him, Juan greeted him saying, "I hope God gives you two for each one."

"What is it son? You shouldn't say that."

"What should I say, senor?" asked Juan very confused.

"Next time, you see something like this, it is best that you help instead of saying silly things."

"Thank you very much. That's what I will do," responded Juan. He kept on walking worried, thinking that he was born to make mistakes.

Soon he saw two big and strong men that were fighting in the middle of the road. He remembered what the farmer had advised him. And he ran yelling, "Wait senores, let me help you."

When they saw the boy, the men stopped fighting and started to laugh.

"You shouldn't say that," said the first man.

"So what should I say?"

"You should say, please don't fight senores."

"Yes that's what you should say," repeated the second man.

"Thank you very much for your advice senores. I will remember that."

Saying this, Juan continued on his was, while he repeated, "Please don't fight...."

When he got to the market, he sold the chicken and bought the bag of rice, following the instructions his mother had given him. Then he walked happily around the market. He observed potters making and decorating beautiful pitchers, big and small. In awe, he watched the glass blowers, and he was sad that he didn't have the money to buy a flower vase for his mother. Finally, Juan left the market. He headed home.

But soon he felt tired, and climbed onto a big tree to take a siesta. He settled into a big branch and soon fell asleep. While he was sleeping, they sky turned dark and a storm came in. It started drizzling. The sound of the rain and a murmur of voices woke him up. He saw several thieves that were taking refuge below the tee, but they couldn't see him.

"Here we will be safe from the rain. Nobody will see us while we count the money we stole," said the chief of the band said, while he deposited big pile a gold coins on the ground..

"Don't be stupid, Raco!" yelled one of the thieves. "We shouldn't count the money until tonight."

"Silence!" answered the chief, hitting the man who had questioned him with his fist.

Excited, Juan yelled through the foliage, "Please don't fight, senores." While he was yelling, the sack of rice broke.

"Help! Help!," yelled the bandits. "It is hailing. The God of the storm has discovered us. Run! Run!"

And the bandits ran away hurriedly, abandoning the treasure.

Juan climbed down from the tree and quickly picked up the bounty which he put in his sarape. Then whistling a happy song he ran towards home.

"Here I am, mama, and I bring you a present....", opening up the sarape he showed her the gold coins.

"Ay, my dear Juanito, we are rich!, but explain to me what happened."

"There is nothing to explain, mama, it is easy to get rich if a person is courteous and obedient with everybody," said Juan Bobo the rich.


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