There was a time when growing up in African neighborhood was fun. A time when children and adults, men and women, young and old alike longed to sight the moon: A time when the departure of the sun and the introduction of the dusk followed by the moonlight brought excitement to the young hearts and gladdens the mind of the gray headed as they prepared their hearts in amusement for the moonlight tales.
Their potential audience hurries up with their house chores and gathers in the hut situated at the center of the compound – the meeting place.
Children tries to clear up their domestic chores to avoid being distracted by their parents when the drum of the moonlight tales begins to sound. At that time, you see mothers preparing their children in anticipation of the night’s gathering, each not wanting her child to miss the fun.
Meanwhile, those whose parents are particular about allowing them stay out for night tales pleads and does everything possible to appease their parents – just to gain permission to participate in the fun-filled exercise called tales by the moonlight. Wives on the other hand, derives joy sitting beside their husband as his motivator as they journey through stories in a never-never land.
Stories told in the moonlight-tale saga usually emanates from two sources: Divinity and Animal Kingdom.
Tales on divinity usually bothers on the mystery surrounding humans and their dealings with the gods. Africans believes that humans exists and leaves in a domain largely dominated by the gods, hence, humans should always consult the gods for direction, appease them, as well as let them fight for them.
In such tales, the gods spearheads the affairs of humans, guides and fights for the oppressed and orphans, reveals the tomorrow of certain human activities such as war, royal marriages, cause/remedy of certain misfortunes, directs the hierarchy of government in a clan – that is, which clan is due to assume the throne at what time?, etc.
Subsequently, the story continues as it crosses and lingers on the dominant characters in the Animal kingdom. Tortoise has always been the most mischievous of all animals in Africa according to African tales. Tortoise tricks other animals into helping him achieve his own selfish goals irrespective of possible implications.
Take for instance, the tale titled “All Of You” – A fairy tale where famine broke out in the land of the animals except the birds – that is, only the birds had food among other animals. So, all animals in the Animal Kingdom were wondering how the Birds were surviving in the face of the famine especially as they looked very healthy and fresh while other animals were dying one after another.Now, Tortoise for all he stood for would not go down without a fight. As the most cunning of all the animals, he was determined to find some food for himself and his family.
Then came the great plan: After he carefully observed the birds, he decided to utilize his cunning nature to his advantage. He drew close to the birds in a bid to discover their secrets.
He persuaded them to tell him their source of food, after much persuasion, the birds decided to reveal to him their source of food owing to the fact that Tortoise is known to be clever.
He promised to help them multiply the quantity of food they get from wherever they get it should they trust him enough to tell him the truth.
Finally, the birds opened up to him saying: “The people in the sky are responsible for the flesh on our bones.”
Then Tortoise promised to help them get even more food. He told them that if they help him get to the sky, he would be their spokesman. All the birds and indeed all the animals of the kingdom knew that Tortoise was an amazing orator; so they agreed.
At the end of that discussion, they had hatched a plan; each bird would contribute a few feathers to Tortoise until he gets enough feathers to make wings that would enable him to fly.
The appointed day for the journey came and Tortoise put on his plumage and finally made it among other birds to the sky.
There, the people of the sky welcomed them a;nd offered them kola which was handed to Tortoise since his colourful plumage made them think that he was their chief and he ate it all alone. The birds frowned at this development but had to stomach their feelings.
Next, Tortoise told them that in a grand occasion such as this, it is very important for them to choose an alternative name which will serve as an identity since each of them would be called upon to pick their food and other gift items. They agreed and picked an alternative name each for himself. Tortoise picked the title of this story “All of you” for himself as an alternative name.
The time came for them to receive their food and gift items, the people of the sky brought it and said: “This food is for all of you”- implying that the food is for Tortoise since he is the one bearing “All of you” as an alternative name. So Tortoise embezzled everything that was presented to them alone and this provoked the birds to the core.
Consequently, the birds in their blaze of anger decided to withdraw their feathers from Tortoise and he got stuck in the sky since there’s no way he would fly back home without feathers.
After pleading for them to leave their feathers with him to no avail, he then pleaded with them to at least help him pass a message to his wife, telling her to bring out everything soft from the house and place them at the center of the compound so that when he jumps from the sky down to the earth, he would not feel any pain.
The eagle happens to be the most aggrieved bird in this gathering, so he decided to execute judgment on the wicked Tortoise. He flew back to Tortoise’s house and told his wife that her husband (the Tortoise) wants her to bring out everything hard from their house and place them at the center of their compound, so she did just so.
Tortoise, known for his short sightedness was not able to clearly ascertain which objects have been put out of his compound by his wife, jumped down from the sky, landed on the hard objects and had his shells shattered. His wife picked up the shattered pieces of her husband’s shells and glued them together – but it never looked the same – her husband’s smooth shell is gone forever. That is why the Tortoise has rough-broken-patchy-shells till date. Lol.
You must have enjoyed the moonlight tale of why Tortoise has a rough-patchy shell. There are lots of adventurous stories we were told growing up.
Have you read any tale about Lion – the king of the jungle?
Where do you think the saying “Lion of Africa” emanated from? It is obviously based on the extraordinary charismatic behaviors of Lion, – the brave animal.
Pass on those wonderful African traditions that have been passed on to you.
Make it your duty to preserve our African heritage!
Written by Susan Dikeji.