5 African Folk Tales to Tell to Your Children

By Natasha Lane

We’ve all heard the tale of Little Red Riding Hood as she traveled to her grandmother’s house in the woods. We know the morals, themes, and plot of this tale, as well as the morals, themes, and plot of other childhood fairytales. From Cinderella to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, we tell our children the same stories that were told us with the same characters we remember.

But, wouldn’t it be nice to toss a new bedtime story in the mix? Maybe a little color, too?

If you’re looking for a new fairytale for your little one, or a bedtime story closer to your roots, here are five African folk tales for you.

Ananse’s Funeral (Ghana)

Ananse’s Funeral is a Ghanaian story of a mischievous spider that comes up with a clever scheme to get out of his village chores. However, all good things must come to an end, and eventually, Ananse finds himself in a sticky situation and is forced to suffer the consequences of his actions.

In this folk tale, your child will learn about family honor, the consequences of lying, as well as how being lazy can get you in trouble.

Don’t Be Too Shy (Somalia)

Mohammad and Deka were outcasts in their community, but within one another, they found solace. In Don’t Be Too Shy, Mohammad is forced to live with his Uncle’s family after his parents pass away, leaving him with a large inheritance. Despite their familial connection, Mohammad is not welcome by all in his new family. The only person who accepts him is his young cousin, Deka, who suddenly confesses her love to him, a taboo action for a woman in Somalia.

Don’t Be Too Shy encourages emotional expression, breaking the status quo, and the value of being a girl (though it does this in an odd way).

Elephant and Hare (Kenya)

Elephant and Hare is a Kenyan fairytale about a sneaky hare and kind-hearted elephant. As the elephant travels to deliver honey to his in-laws, he spots a small hare struggling to get across a rushing river. The hare gladly accepts the elephant’s offer to carry him across the river, but eats all the elephant’s honey on the way. When the elephant realizes what the hare has done he sets out on a chase.

This childhood story warns children to be wary of whom they are kind towards, and that people are not always who they seem to be.

How the Tortoise Got Its Scars (Ghana)

If your child is the curious type, How the Tortoise Got Its Scars will be a great addition to your bedtime stories. This Ghanaian folktale tells the story of a clever turtle who tricks a group of “law-abiding” vultures into leaving a plentiful land. Though the turtle’s reason for tricking the vultures is honorable, karma comes back to bite him. While looking over his new land, the turtle falls and cracks his shell. From then on, every turtle is destined to live with a cracked shell.

Chief Five Heads (Zimbabwe)

Chief Five Heads is a story about two sisters: one is self-righteous and boastful; the other is kind and welcoming. When their father returns home with an opportunity to marry a chief, the elder sister presents herself first, but the chief refuses her without explanation. The next day, the younger sister presents herself to the chief and he welcomes her warmly, before revealing how he tested her on her journey to him.

Chief Five Heads teaches children to be kind because they never know who is watching.


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