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One Story With Two Titles from West Africa and America

  • I would like to share with you all a folktale that I read about today. The story has two titles as the meaning evolved from being passed down from each generation and into a new culture. The first title is known by the people of Benin in West Africa as "Why the Sky Is Far Away" and the second title is told in America by descendants of people who were taken there to be slaves as "Why Men Work."  This story is interesting to me because the meaning can vary according to circumstances and depending what culture of people you are talking about. Here is the story as told by Amy Spaulding in the book, "The Wisdom of Storytelling in an Information Age" :

         Long ago, the Sky was close. So close that people could reach up and break off a piece. There was a good reason to do so, for it could be eaten. People could just reach up, break off a piece, and eat it. Not only could it be eaten, but it had many flavors. One time it would be sweet, another salty, the next time fruity. Unfortunately, people were sometimes careless and would take too much.

         The Sky God became angry and spoke to the Oba as he sat on his ceremonial stool. Sky God warned the Oba that unless he and his people were more respectful to the sky he would pull away from the earth and leave. All the people were careful after that, for a long time.

         But then, there was a celebration, and, as people walked back to their home villages from the Oba's compound, one person wanted a final taste to make to make the celebration go on just a little longer, and broke off one last piece. It was too big for that one person to eat, so the whole family was called to share it. The were all too full for more than a bite, so all the neighbors were called in also. They were too tired and sleepy from dancing and the long walk home, so they could only manage a taste.

         Finally, they gave up and threw the last bit away. "Sky won't mind one small piece being wasted, after all it was a celebration and feast - and, anyway, he won't see it." But Sky did and went up to where the sky is now. That was when mankind had to learn how to hunt animals and search for plants to eat.