PERHAPS it may interest you to know how a story is told.
Imagine then, a village in a grove of graceful palm trees. The full moon is
shining brightly upon a small crowd of Negroes seated round a fire in an
open space in the centre of the village. One of them has just told a story,
and his delighted audience demands another. Thus he begins:
“Let us tell another story; let us be off!”
All then shout: “Pull away!”
“Let us be off!” he repeats.
And they answer again: “Pull away!”
Then the story teller commences:
“There were two brothers, the Smart Man and the Fool. And it was their
habit to go out shooting to keep their parents supplied with food. Thus one
day they went together into the mangrove swamp, just as the tide was
going down, to watch for the fish as they nibbled at the roots of the trees.
The Fool saw a fish, fired at it and killed it. The Smart Man fired also, but at
nothing, and then ran up to the Fool and said: ‘ Fool, have you killed
“‘Yes, Smart Man, I am a fool; but I killed a fish.’
“‘Indeed, you are a fool,’ answered the Smart Man, I for when I fired I hit the
fish that went your way; so that the fish you think you killed is mine. Here,
give it to me.’
“The Fool gave the Smart Man the fish. Then they went to their town, and
the Smart Man, addressing his father, said: ‘ Father, here is a fish that your
son shot, but the Fool got nothing.’ “
Here the crowd join in, and sing over the last sentence two or three times.
Then the narrator continues:
“The mother prepared and cooked the fish, and the father and the Smart
Man ate it, giving none to the Fool.
“Then they went again; and the Fool fired, and with his first shot killed a big
“‘Did you hear me fire?” says the Smart Man.
“‘No,’ answers the Fool.
“‘No?’ returned the Smart Man; ‘see then the fish I killed.’
“‘All right,’ says the Fool, ‘take the fish.’
When they got home they gave the fish to their mother; and when she had
cooked it, the Smart Man and his father ate it, but gave none to the Fool.
But as they were enjoying the fish, a bone stuck in the father’s throat. Then
the Smart Man called to the Fool and bade him go for a doctor.
No, says the Fool, ‘I cannot. I felt that something would happen.’ And he
‘Everyday you eat my fish, you call me Fool,
And would let me starve.”‘
The crowd here join in, and sing the Fool’s song over and over again.
“‘How can you sing,’ says the Smart Man, ‘when you see that our father is
“But the Fool goes on singing:
‘You eat and eat unto repletion
A bone sticks in your throat;
And now your life is near completion,
The bone is still within your throat.
‘So you, smart brother, killed the fish,
And gave the fool to eat?
Nay! but now he’s dead perhaps you wish
You’d given the fool to eat.'”
The crowd go go on singing this until they are tired; and the story-teller
“While yet the Fool was singing, the father died. Then the neighbours came
and joined the family circle, and asked the Fool how it was that he could go
on singing now that his father was dead.
“And the Fool answered them, saying: ‘Our Father made us both, one a
smart man, the other a fool. The Fool kills the food, and they eat it, giving
none to the Fool. They must not blame him, therefore, if he sings while they
suffer. He suffered hunger while they had plenty.
And when the people had considered the matter, they gave judgement in
favour of the Fool, and departed.
“The father had died, and so had been justly punished for not having given
the Fool food.
“He who eats fish with much oil must suffer from indigestion.
“And now I have finished my story.”
All answer, “Just so!”
“To-morrow may you chop palm-kernels,” says the -narrator, as he gets up
and walks away.
A lady telling a story begins by shouting out the words: “Viado! Nkia? (An
antelope! How big?)”
The crowd answer: “Nzoka (two fathoms).”
Then the narrator begins:
“Once there was a man who had a wife, but he fell in love with another
woman. His wife was heavy with child, but he neglected her. He used to go
out fishing; but instead of giving his wife the fish, he gave it to his lover.
When he shot an antelope he gave his wife none of it. If he trapped a bird it
went to the wicked woman.”
The narrator sings:
“The poor starved wife
Brought forth a son,
She gave it life,
Poor weakly one!”
Then all join in this song in tones of disgust.
“The son grew up and complained to his mother that while he had eaten of
the produce of her farm he had not yet eaten any food killed by his father,
nor even worn a cloth given by him.
“One day a friend gave him a knife, and he immediately, unknown to his
mother, went to the woods and hills to cut some muchinga, or native string.
He tried to kill some game by throwing his knife at it, but to no purpose. So
before he left for home he set a trap to catch some bird or other. He grieved
at his bad luck.
“Next morning he went out again, and to his intense relief found a guineafowl in his trap. He ran away home with his prize, and, while yet afar off,
shouted to his mother:
“‘Mother, get the fundi (tapioca) ready!’
“Fundi! my son., How is this? You return too early for meal-time and call for
fundi. Your father has taken no notice of me and has brought me no food:
whence then, my son, hast thou got food for me to cook?’
‘Never you mind, mother, get the fundi ready.’
“The mother prepared the fundi, and the son laid the bird at her feet. When
she saw that her son could bring her food, she no longer thought of her
troubles or her husband. When the food was ready, the mother called her
son and named him Zinga (to continue to live), for now they could eat and
live without the help of a father.
“About this time the husband had grown tired of his concubine and sent her
away, so that having no one to cook for him, he remained in his shimbec
“When he heard that his son now went out hunting, and had plenty of food,
he sneaked out of his shimbec and clapped his ban s and beirzed his son to
give him food.
“My son, can it be true
That you me food deny?
Upon my knees I sue,
My son, let me not die.'”
All present repeat this song plaintively.
“Then the mother replied:
‘You first denied us food;
We starved and nearly died
We will not give him food
Who kept that girl supplied.’
“Another day, when the son had been lucky and caught a bird, after killing
and cleaning it, he said: ‘Mother, time was when we nearly died of hunger,
but now we have plenty; and now that I am a man you shall need neither
cloth nor food.’
“And as they were feeding, the father, very thin and weak, crawled out of
his shimbec, and cried:
‘Oh, Zinga, my son, Zinga,
Will you let your father die?
Oh, Kengi, my wife, Kengi,
Here starving do I lie.’
All around sing this song in a supplicating tone.
“When the son heard his father crying so bitterly, he was greatly moved, and
prayed his mother to put some food upon a plate and send it to him; but the
mother refused, saying that he deserved none.
“Then the son wept and sang:
‘Mother, father wronged us
When he starved us;
Let us feed him now he asks us,
Or God may kill us.’
“And then he put some food upon a plate and was about to give it to his
father, when his father dropped down dead from starvation.
“An enquiry was held to find out how the father had come to die; and when
the people had heard all they gave judgement.
“He did not give his wife and child food when they needed it. They were in
their right when they gave him none when he asked for it. He died by the
avenging band of the Great Spirit.”
I will conclude this chapter with a native tale of a practical joker, a character
who is as much en evidence in Africa, I regret to say, as he is in other parts of
There were two men who from their childhood had been fast friends, and
never were known to have quarrelled with one another. So great was their
friendship that they had made their farms close to one another. They were
divided one from the other only by a native path.
Now there was a wicked wit in their town, who had determined, if possible,
to make these chums quarrel. This man made a coat, one side or half of
which was red in colour, while the other was blue. An,1 he walked past these
two chums as they were busy on their farms, making enough noise to
attract their attention. Each of the chums looked up to see who it was that
was passing, and then went on with his work.
“Ugh, say! did you see that man?” said one.
“Yes,” answered the other.
“Did you notice the bright coat he wore?”
“What colour should you say it was?”
“Why, blue, of course.”
“Blue, man! why, it was a kind of red! Nay, friend, I am sure it was blue.”
“Nonsense! I know it was red, but-”
“Well! you are a fool! “
“A fool, how now! we have been friends all our lives, and now you call me a
fool! let us fight; our friendship is at an end.” And the quondam chums
Then their women screamed and interfered, and managed to separate
Then the wit walked quietly back, and saw the two chums seated each in his
own farm, with his elbows resting on his knees and his head between his
Then they saw through the joke and they were sorry; and they ordered the
wit never to come that way again.
But the women cursed the wit and hoped that he would soon die.
Copied from NOTES ON THE FOLKLOREOF THE FJORT (FRENCH CONGO)
BY RICHARD EDWARD DENNETT