Once Upon West Africa
This collection of 50 Liberian Folk Tales is a long overdue treasure missing in Liberian schools. Most Liberian schools do not have a library. Those that do often have discarded books from schools in Europe and North America. Those books do not contain stories that are culturally relevant to Liberian students. However, these Liberian Folk Tales will help to preserve the culture. They capture the attention of young readers. They are stories that the children will want to read. And the more they read, the better their chances are for a brighter future.
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There was once a young girl from a village far way who had a special talent for finding the very best foods in the bush. Her oranges were just a little sweeter, her plums just a little larger, and her bananas had just a little more flavor. Everyone wondered where she located such delicious fruits. But, nobody ever asked the girl about her secrets of the bush. That is, nobody asked her after they heard the story about Spider and this young girl.
One day Spider asked this young girl to help him look for food. He was too lazy to work for himself and was sure he could trick this girl into sharing her secrets. He didn't know how clever this girl could be.
"Little girl, nobody finds fruits as sweet as yours," cooed the spider. "Will you please take me with you when you go looking in the bush?"
"I've never done that before," replied the girl.
"It would mean so much if you could do it one time," pleaded Spider.
"Well, I suppose I can do it just once," agreed the girl. "Do you promise to keep my secrets?"
"You can trust me," promised the lazy spider.
"What do you like to eat?"
"Well, I like plums and bananas, of course, but I especially love honey."
"I think I can help you," grinned the girl.
Spider couldn't believe his luck.
The girl lead Spider along the path into the bush. She took him down trails into areas where people rarely ever go. Spider grinned because he knew he was about to learn her secret places for finding the very best food. After learning this, he would never again have to work hard for good food.
"This plum tree," explained the girl, "does not have much fruit so most people ignore it, but its plums are the sweetest ones in all of the bush."
Now Spider was just as greedy as he was lazy. As soon as the young girl showed him the secret plums, his eyes became wide and his mouth began to water.Then, Spider shoved the little girl into the bushes. He rushed past her and climbed up into the tree. Then, he ate every single one of the plums. He didn't even leave one plum for the little girl. And, he didn't even say thank you!
After his feast, Spider rubbed his very full belly and thought, "This is the best day of my life! What a great idea! I can't believe she showed me where her plums are found. I wonder if she will take me to any bananas? She must be very foolish."
Spider looked down at the girl with his biggest smile and she asked politely, "Do you want any of my special bananas?"
He raced down out of the tree before the girl could change her mind.
The girl continued down the path showing Spider her secrets of the bush. They walked further down the trail into areas where people rarely ever go. "Over here is a small patch of the very best bananas," declared the young girl. Again, as soon as Spider learned the secret, his eyes became wide and his mouth began to water. Again, he shoved the little girl into the bushes. He rushed past her and climbed the banana plants. He ate every single one of the ripe bananas. Again, he left the young girl with nothing -- not even one banana. And once again, he didn't even say thank you!
His belly was so full, but Spider was not satisfied. He wanted to learn more of the secret places of the bush. He thought to himself, "This girl is really foolish. But, as long as she guides me, I will continue to eat all of her food."
Again, Spider looked down at the little girl and smiled. Once again, the young girl looked up at Spider and politely asked, "Are you too full or would you like to find some honey?"
One more time, Spider rushed out of the tree and followed the girl down the trail before she had a chance to change her mind.
The young girl guided Spider deeper and deeper into the bush where people rarely ever go. "Over here," she instructed, "is a very special tree. Deep inside a small hole is the most delicious honey in all of the bush."
Now this girl was not nearly as foolish as Spider thought. She had a plan to teach this greedy spider a lesson. She remembered that Spider loved honey and was not surprised at all when his eyes became wide and his mouth started to water. She also wasn't surprised when he shoved her into the bushes, ran past her, climbed up the tree, and squeezed into the hole. Again, he ate all of the sweet golden honey, sharing nothing with the young girl. He didn't even share one drop. And once again, he didn't even say thank you.
When Spider had eaten his fill, he tried to climb out of the tree but he couldn't get out the hole. His stomach had grown too large. He was stuck!
"Help me, young girl," cried the spider. "I cannot get out of the tree!"
"You wouldn't be stuck if you hadn't been so selfish," scolded the girl.
"I'm sorry for what I did! Please call for help," cried Spider.
"I am not as foolish as you think. You aren't sorry for what you did. You are only sorry you are caught in the tree."
"No, you're wrong," lied the spider but in his heart he knew she was right. He had enjoyed every minute, every bite of food, as long as he thought he was tricking the young girl. He never expected his idea to turn into such a problem for him. "Please call for help! I am trapped!"
Finally, a smile crossed over the little girl's face and she said she would do as the spider asked. She cried for help -- as softly as she could, "Help! Help! The foolish spider is caught inside the honey tree. Help! Somebody come and help this greedy spider!" Of course, nobody couldhear her whispers for help. And, nobody could hear Spider's cries from deep inside the tree. They were too far into the bush where people rarely ever go.
Finally, the little girl looked up at Spider with a clever grin. "Good bye, Spider, I am going to get some huge oranges for my family. If you want to eat some, just follow me there." She waved to him as she left to go down the trail.
"My eggs!" cried Chicken. "One of my eggs is missing! Yesterday I had twelve eggs and today there are only eleven."
As Chicken fled her nest to find Rooster, she had no idea that she was about to lose more eggs. Just out of view of the nest, the thief patiently waited for Chicken to leave her eggs again. Black Snake crept slowly and quietly up to the nest. He eyed the eggs and quickly swallowed one.
Black Snake smiled to himself. His plan had been so simple and had worked so well. He swallowed another egg. It slid far down his long throat before his muscles crushed the fragile shell. "I'll be back later for another delicious egg, Chicken," hissed Black Snake as he slithered away. "Thank you for another fine meal."
Meanwhile, the frantic chicken lead Rooster back to her nest. "Why would someone take one of my eggs?" she clucked.
"Are you sure you counted correctly? Maybe you just thought you saw eleven eggs?" suggested Rooster.
From the expression on Chicken's face, Rooster knew he shouldn't have asked that question. She glared at him and said, "You know I can count. See for yourself. How many eggs are in my nest?"
"One, two, three," began Rooster. He frowned and stopped counting out loud.
"What's the matter now?" questioned Chicken. "Are you afraid to admit you're wrong?"
"No, it's nothing like that at all," responded Rooster. "Something is very wrong here. There are only nine eggs."
"What? Nine Eggs!" cried Chicken. "What is happening? Who would do this to me?"
The next few days were just terrible for Chicken. She worried constantly about her remaining eggs. She tried to stay with her eggs at all times but it wasn't possible to always be with them. Sometimes she had to leave to get food or take care of her other chicks. No matter why she left, the same thing always happened. One or two eggs disappeared each time.
"Someone is watching me very closely," cried the chicken. "He knows exactly where I am at each moment of the day. I only have three remaining eggs."
"Although I cannot prove anything," comforted Rooster, "I think it must be Black Snake who is stealing your eggs. He's patient enough to watch you a long time, and we all know how he loves to eat eggs."
Just the thought of Black Snake eating her eggs made Chicken shudder. She had heard stories of how he swallowed eggs and then crushed them further down his long slender neck. She knew Rooster was probably correct.
"I must hurry back to my nest," declared Chicken, realizing how long she had talked to Rooster. She rushed to her eggs, but it was too late. Two more eggs had vanished. "Rooster!" she cried. "Come help me. I only have one egg left."
Rooster came quickly. "You know, it is very likely that Black Snake will steal your last egg tomorrow," he warned. "Unless we are able to trap him, this will only continue every time you have eggs."
"Yes, it's true," cried Chicken, "but what can we do? How can we possibly stop Black Snake?"
"I have a plan," whispered Rooster. "I think we will not be bothered by him much longer."
The next morning, Chicken continued guarding her last egg as if everything were normal. From a distance, Black Snake didn't realize that a deadly trap had been set for him.
Chicken left her nest for only the shortest moment when Black Snake slithered out of hiding. In no time at all, he swallowed the final egg. It slid down his throat easily. But, when his muscles squeezed the egg, it did not break. It only became firmly lodged in his throat cutting off his air supply.
Black Snake twisted and turned trying to crush the egg or loosen it so he could breathe. By the time Chicken returned with Rooster, the struggle was over. Black Snake would steal no more eggs. He was dead.
"I'm sure he died never knowing why that egg didn't crush," crowed Rooster.
"How could he have known," clucked Chicken, "that the egg was hard boiled?"
"Help me," the old man begged. "My neighbor has stolen from me."
The paramount chief gladly listened. It pleased him that others recognized his wisdom. "What exactly is the problem?" questioned the chief.
"My neighbor stole my goats. I'm a poor man, too poor to replace them."
"And what do you have to say?" the chief asked the man's neighbor.
"I don't know what he is talking about," answered the neighbor. "I have many goats but none of them belong to this man."
This would not be an easy problem to settle. The paramount chief would have to rely on his wisdom. It was the kind of problem he enjoyed the most.
"I have a test for you," announced the chief. "Whoever passes the test will own the goats. Go home until you can answer this for me. I want to know what is the fastest thing in the world. Do not return until you have my answer."
The two men left shaking their heads. Who could answer that question?
The old man repeated the question to his daughter, Ziah. She was as beautiful as she was wise. Right away, she whispered the answer that would please the chief. The old man returned to the chief the following morning.
The chief was surprised. "You already have an answer for my question?"
"Yes," replied the old man, "it was not difficult."
"And what is the fastest thing in the world?"
"Time," answered the old man. "We never have enough of it. It always goes too fast. There is never enough time to do all that we want to do."
The answer amazed the paramount chief. He wasn't sure if he himself could have answered the question as well. "Who helped you? Who gave you these words?" demanded the chief.
"They are my own words, my own thoughts," lied the old man. "There is no one else who helped me."
"If you are not telling the truth, I will punish you," warned the chief.
The old man was too afraid to continue the lie. "It was my daughter, Ziah, who gave me the words," he confessed. "She is a very wise woman."
"She must be!" thought the chief. "I would like to meet this woman."
Not long after that the old man presented his daughter Ziah to the paramount chief. If the chief was amazed with her wisdom, he was captivated by her beauty. "You are indeed a wise and lovely woman. I would be honored to have you as my wife. Will you marry me?"
"The honor is mine," smiled Ziah.
Although the chief was pleased, he was also concerned about having such a wise wife. He did not want her to interfere with the problems brought before him. He didn't want to share this honor with anyone, not even his wife.
"Everything in my house is yours," declared the chief. "I only have one rule for you. You must never involve yourself with the problems brought before me. This is your only warning. If you break this rule, I will send you from my house."
The chief's new wife only smiled at his command.
Things went well for quite some time. The paramount chief continued to hear people's problems while Ziah kept herself busy without becoming involved. Usually she agreed with his decisions.
One day, however, the chief gave one of his puzzles to two boys who argued over a sheep. Ziah knew she shouldn't help the boy who really owned the sheep, but he was so upset. She finally asked him to explain his problem.
"The chief asked for the impossible," he sighed. "He gave us an egg and said that whoever could hatch the egg by tomorrow would own the sheep."
Ziah knew she shouldn't help but the solution was so obvious. "Take some rice to the chief," she instructed. "Tell him to plant it today so that in the morning you will have rice to feed your chicken. He will know that it is just as impossible to grow rice in one day as it is to hatch an egg that quickly."
The boy ran to the chief with the rice. He said exactly the words he was told. The chief was not impressed; he was angry! "Who told you this? Who gave you the rice?" he ordered. "These words are too wise for one so young."
"They are my own words, my own thoughts," said the boy too afraid to speak the truth. "There is no one else who helped me."
"If you are not speaking the truth, I will punish you," warned the chief.
"It was Ziah!" cried the boy. "She knew you'd understand the wisdom."
The chief, furious his wife had broken his only rule for her, called her before him and scolded, "Didn't you know all that I have is yours? You have broken the only rule I had for you. Now, go back to your father's home."
"Before I go, may I fix you one final meal?" asked the woman. "Then, I will take what is mine and go."
"Yes," answered the chief. "Make whatever you want. Take whatever you want. Just be sure that you do not remain here tonight!"
Ziah prepared the chief's favorite meal. She served it with a generous amount of palm wine. Before the meal was finished, the chief became very drunk and quietly fell asleep. Ziah's plans worked exactly as she had hoped.
With her family's help, she carried the paramount chief to her father's home. They placed him on a bed and he slept soundly through the night. In the morning the chief's voice boomed throughout the house. "Where am I? What am I doing here?" he demanded.
Ziah entered the room and grinned. "You said I could take whatever I wanted from your house. I wanted you and so I took you."
"You are certainly a wise woman," smiled the chief. "Come return with me to our home. Only a fool would send away such a woman."
"And you, my chief, are no fool," whispered the clever wife.