African legends are both entertaining and educational. As expected, they contain lots of animal characters and exciting adventures. Here is the beginning of our African folklore collection. We hope you enjoy this hand picked cream of the crop! We'll constantly be adding new legends to this page so make sure you subscribe to our RSS so that you're immediately alerted whenever we add a page or new content to our website. Enjoy!
African Legends - The Origins of Procreation
Long ago when only animals lived on the earth, a man and woman came down from the heavens. At the same time, another man and woman came up out of the ground.
At that time man and woman had no desire for each other. They ate of the earths food and watched the animals playing with their children, but they did not know about procreation and the process of birth.
The Lord of the Heavens then sent down a large Python to live in the river
The Python asked the humans, "Where are your children, all of the other animals have them?"
The humans said they had none. "If you would like to have children, I can show you how" said the Python, and led them to the river.
When they arrived at the river the Python told the men and women to stand facing each other. He went into the river, and upon his return, sprayed a mouthful of water on their bellies, saying "Kuss, Kuss". These words are still used in the rituals of tribes today.
The Python then told the men and women to go home and lie down together, and the women concieved and bore children. The children who were born took the spirit of the river where the Python lived as their tribal spirit, and the Python is held sacred by these tribes today. Noone must ever kill a Python, it will bring a curse, and if a Python is found already dead, they must cover it in white clay to sanctify it and give it a proper burial.
African legends often contain animal characters. The Zebra features in many African legends, my favorite is the one below.
African Legends - How the Zebra Got his Stripes
This is one of the African legends that originates with the Bushmen.
There once was an arrogant Babboon, a self-appointed "Lord of the Water". He guarded one of the only sources of water that remained during times of drought, a small pool, and forbid any of the other animals from drinking there.
Legend has it that one day a Zebra and his son arrived at the pool. The weather had been very dry and hot, and there was little water to be found anywhere. They went to have a drink when suddenly a voice boomed "Go Away!, I am the Lord of the Water, and this is my pool"!The Zebras looked up, startled, and saw the angry Babboon sitting by his fire.
"Water belongs to everyone, not just to you monkeyface", shouted the young Zebra."Then you must fight me for it if you want to drink" challenged the babboon, and attacked the young Zebra. The two fought savagely for what seemed an eternity until with a furious kick, the Zebra sent the Babboon flying through the air until he landed amongst the rocks. Till this day, the Babboon has a patch on his bottom where he landed.
African legends tell us that the tired Zebra staggered, and fell through the Babboons fire, scorching his white coat and leaving him with black stripes across it. The terrified Zebras dashed away back to the plains where they forever remained.
The arrogant Babboon and his family still live among the rocks and spend their days challenging intruders, holding their tails aloft to ease the pain of the pare patch of skin where they landed. So goes the legend of how the Zebra lost his stripes.
Courtesy Amedja Tripod African Legends
African Legends - The Two Friends - Bura Folktales Legend (Nigeria)
Who would have that that mice would feature in African legends, but they do! This is another of the African legends from the Bushmen.
There once were two mice Yizum, a bush mouse, and Nkinki, a house mouse. Yizum and Nkinki were the best of friends. One day Yizum invited Nkinki to his house in the bush to spend the day. Nkinki had never been to Yizum's house before and was very happy to go.
Yizum's house was located under a rock. He took Nkinki inside and showed him around, then they decided to have something to eat. Yizum brought in all of his finest foods, beans in the hull, seeds from a tree, peanuts, roots and other bush mouse delicacies.
"Let's eat" said Yizum, and Nkinki reluctantly agreed. He wasn't very impressed by what his friend had provided. Nevertheless, not wanting to offend his good friend, he ate the food, although with difficulty.
When they had finished the meal Nkinki felt he must get something off of his chest.
"Yizum" he said, "You seem to live a very hard life here in the bush. I can't believe you must live off of eating seeds and this other very common food! If I had to live like you I would be very unhappy, and would rather not have even been born!" He continued for awhile to berate the way that Yizum lived.
The time came for Nkinki to return home. Yizum decided that he would go with Nkinki to see how his life was so much better. "I would like to go with you to see your house" Yizum said.
"You are more than welcome to come", replied Nkinki.
Off they went to the village where Nkinki lived. They walked for awhile, talking as they went along, and arrived at Nkinki's village quite tired and hungry.
Immediately Yizum noticed lots of good food just emptied out on the ground. It smelt good, and looked even better. He began to think that Nkinki was rifgt! There was mush and meat, beautiful corn and yams which people seemed to just throw away.
So hungry, they began to eat right away. The food was splendid, and Yizum thought, "If I could find a place like this to live, life would indeed be sweet!" They ate for what seemed like hours, and soon they became very full. Yizum was just getting ready to lay down and relax, when he heard a sudden and strange noise behind him.
"A cat" cried Nkinki, and before Yizum could look around, the cat was upon them.
"Run" Nkinki cried, and Yizum did just that!
Yizum had never been so scared in his life, and ran with all the strength he could muster. The cat was getting closer, but just as they were beginning to tire, the mice spotted a hole in the wall of a house, and dashed inside.
When he finally caught his breath, Yizum said; "Nkinki my friend, the food here is indeed better than what I am used to eating. However, if this is what your life is like, if this is what you must go through to eat well, and if your insides are like this everyday, I would rather eat my seeds and roots, and live in peace!"
So African legends say that Yizum went back into the bush, and Nkinki never again critisized him about the life he lived!
From Folktales, African Legends and Folklore
African Legends - The Leopard, The Ram, and The Jackal (South Africa)
One of my favorite African legends; How Ram escaped Leopard and Jackal.
There once was a Leopard who was friends with a Jackal. One day the Leopard was returning home from the hunt when he came upon a strange looking animal with huge grotesque horns on its head. The Leopard had never seen such an animal before and was a bit intimidated by it. Cautiously he snarled, "Hello, what is your name stranger?"
The animal was a Ram, and in his gruff way replied "I am Ram. Who might you be spotted one?", as he pounded his chest with his forefoot to show his strength and courage.
"I am Leopard", replied the Leopard meekly, and dashed away as quickly as he could.
Jackal was neighbors with Leopard, and upon his arrival home, quite out of breath from his running he said to Jackal, "I have seen an ominous and frightening creature Jackal, such as I didn't know could even exist! When I asked who he was he replied "I am Ram", and pounded his chest with pride!"
The Jackal laughed, "You are indeed a silly fellow Leopard, to leave behind such a sweet piece of meat. However, tomorrow, we shall search for the Ram and feast upon him together!"
The following day, African legends tell us that the two went in search of the Ram. As they appeared over a rise, the Ram spotted them approaching, and ran into his wife to warn her. "We shall perish this day my love, Jackal and Leopard are coming for us and we cannot match the strength of the two!"
"Yes, but they cannot match our wit", said his wife. "Take our son out with you, and when Leopard and Jackal approach, pinch the child so that he cries as if hungry."
As Leopard and Jackal came near, Ram pinched the child as his wife had instructed. Leopard's eyes opened wide in fear, he knew the meaning of that sound from his own cubs. Leopard went to run, but Jackal held him tightly with a leather cord he had tied around Leopard's leg.
"Come Leopard, we shall feast" said Jackal.
On hearing these words Ram pinched his child again, at the same time his wife cried, "You've done well to bring us Leopard to eat Jackal my friend! As you see, my child is very hungry."
This time Jackal could not hold Leopard, he bolted into the jungle, dragging Jackal behind him over rocks and thorns and anything else that stood in their way until they arrived wearily at home. Leopard and Jackal never hunted again together, and Ram and his family lived in peace.
From African Legends and Folktales by G. Lee
African Legends -Anansi and the Chameleon
In African legends Anansi was very conceited and arrogant.
God became so annoyed by Anansi's boast that he had "tricked" God previously, that God was seriously considering removing his blessing from Anansi.
In the same village that Anansi lived was a Chameleon. Anansi was a very rich man, and owned the finest fields in the area, while the Chameleon was poor and had to work hard in his meager fields to make ends meet.
One year however, abundant rain fell on Chameleon's fields, and beautiful crops grew forth. No rain fell on Anansi's land and his crops dried up and became fields of dust. Anansi tplotted to take Chameleon's fields for himself. He first tried to buy the fields, but Chameleon refused to sell. Anansi offered more and more in exchange, but Chameleon still held on to the land.
Early one morning African legends say, Anansi walked boldly down the road to Chameleon's fields and began harvesting the crops. When Chameleon saw this, he became very angry and chased Anansi away. When a chameleon walks, it leaves no tracks; it is virtually impossible to tell where a chameleon has been. Knowing this, Anansi took Chameleon to court to sue for possession of the fields. The chief asked Chameleon to prove that the fields were his; Chameleon had no proof to offer. Anansi, on the other hand, took the chief to Chameleon's fields, showing the many footprints on the road. These were Anansi's footprints, and the chief awarded the fields to Anansi right then and there.
Although the court decision gave the land to Anansi, God has a higher justice than that which the courts mete out. Chameleon dug a deep, deep hole and put a roof on it. From the outside, the hole looked tiny. But, in fact, Chameleon had dug a vast cavern under-ground. Then the Chameleon took some vines and some flies and made a cloak. When the sun hits flies, they shine a variety of colors, but they are still flies. Chameleon went down the road wearing this cloak of flies when he encountered Anansi. Anansi's first words to Chameleon were,
"Hello, my friend. I hope that there are no hard feelings between us."
Anansi saw what appeared to be a beautiful cloak and offered to buy it. Chameleon pretended to be magnanimous and told Anansi that the cloak would be his if only Anansi filled Chameleon's "little hole" with food. Anansi readily agreed, bragging that he would fill it twice over. Anansi then took the cloak to the chief who had acted as judge in the lawsuit and gave it to the chief as a gift.
The chief admired the cloak and thanked him profusely. Anansi worked day and night to fill Chameleon's hole with food and still the hole was not full. He worked weeks and still the hole was not full. Anansi knew that Chameleon had tricked him. In the meantime, the chief was walking down the road wearing the cloak of flies.
One day the vines broke and the flies buzzed off in every direction, leaving the chief naked and livid with anger at Anansi. The chief grew angrier with each step he took. When the chief found Anansi, he ordered him not only to return Chameleon's property but to give Chameleon the best of his own fields as well. As soon as Chameleon took possession of Anansi's best field, it rained on that field for the first time in months, and now Chameleon was the richest in village.
African Legends -The Game Board (Ethiopia)
Once a man in the town of Nebri carved a beautiful gebeta board for his son. He made it from the wood of an olive tree. When he was finished he showed his son how to play games upon it. The boy was very glad to have such a beautiful thing, and in the morning when he went out with the cattle to the valley where they grazed he took his gebeta board along. Everywhere he went he carried his board under his arm.
While he followed the cattle, he came upon a group of wandering Somalis with their camels, gathered around a small fire in a dry riverbed.
"Where in this country of yours can a man get wood?" the Somalis asked.
"Why, here is wood," the boy said. And he gave them the fine gebeta board, which they put into the fire. As it went up in flames, the boy began to cry:
"Oh, now where is my fine gebeta board that my father has carved for me?"
"Do not make such turmoil," the Somalis said, and they gave him a fine new knife in place of the game board.
The boy took the knife and went away with his cattle. As he wandered he came to a place where a man was digging a well in the sand of the riverbed, so that his goats could drink.
"The ground is hard," the man said. "Lend me your knife to dig with."
The boy gave the man the knife, but the man dug so vigorously with it that it broke.
"Ah, what has become of my knife?" the boy wailed.
"Quiet yourself," the man said. "Take this spear in its place." And he gave the boy a beautiful spear trimmed with silver and copper.
The boy went away with his cattle and his spear. He met a party of hunters. When they saw him one ofthem said: "Lend me your spear, so that we may kill the lion we are trailing."
The boy gave him the spear, and the hunters went out and killed the lion. But in the hunt the shaft of the spear was splintered.
"See what you've done with my spear!" the boy cried.
"Don't carry on so," the hunter said. "Here is a horse for you in place of your spear."
The hunter gave him a horse with fine leather trappings, and he started back toward the village. On the way he came to where a group of workmen were repairing the highway. As they worked they caused a landslide, and the earth and rocks came down the mountain with a great roar. The horse became frightened and ran away.
"Where is my horse?" the boy cried. "You have made him run away!"
"Don't grieve," the workman said. "Here is an ax." And he gave the boy a common iron ax. The boy took the ax and continued toward the village. He came to a woodcutter who said: "Lend me your large ax for this tree. My ax is too small."
He loaned the woodcutter the ax, and the woodcutter chopped with it and broke it.
The boy cried, and the woodcutter said: "Never mind, here is a limb of a tree."
The boy took the limb upon his back and when he came near the village a woman said: "Where did you find the wood? I need it for my fire."
The boy gave it to her, and she put it in the fire. As it went up in flames he said: "Now where is my wood?"
"Here," the woman said, "here is a fine gebeta board."
He took the gebeta board under his arm and went home with the cattle. As he entered his house his father smiled and said: "What is better than a gebeta game board to keep a small boy out of trouble?"
African Legends -Wisdom, Food and Wealth(Nigeria)
One day wisdom, food and wealth started on a journey. As they went along they came to a man sitting under a tree. The man said, "Where are you going?" They said, "We are hunting a place to live." The man said, "As for me, I want wealth to live with me." Wealth said, "You are a dumb man. If you had chosen wisdom, all three of us could have lived with you. But you have chosen me. This cannot be, because if I lived with you without wisdom, you could not have me long."
They started off again and African legends tell us they met another man. The man said, "Where are you going, young man?" They said, "We are hunting a place to live." The man said , "I believe that I would like to have food live with me." Food said, "You are not clever. If you had chosen a certain one of us, all of us would live with you. But look, you have chosen me. Do you think that you could keep me? No, you could not keep me. Let us go on."
Farther on they came to a man who was working. He said, "Where are you going today?" They said, "We want a place to live." The man said, "I would like for wisdom to live with me." Food said, "If you have chosen wisdom, then I will live with you, too. I know that you will be able to take good care of me." Wealth said, "If you have chosen wisdom, then I will live with you, too. I know that you will be able to take good care of me." All three lived with him because he made a good choice.
Courtesy African Legends and Folktales
African Legends - The Hunter and the Lion - Bura Folktales Legend (Nigeria)
This is how African legends depict the story about the Lion with a thorn in his paw.
African legends from the Bura people of Nigeria tells of a hunter who went everyday to hunt in the bush. He loved his job as a hunter, and wished to do nothing else. Everyday he searched for prey, and happily provided his village with a steady supply of fresh meat. He knew the bush well, and over time had learned where to find game, and where they would not be.
One day while searching for game he heard something moving towards him through the trees. Suddenly a huge Lion appeared coming towards him. The hunter had never been so scared in his life. He knew it was too late to run, the Lion was too close already, so he prepared for the worst. Even if he wanted to run he could not, his legs were shaking so much; he was frozen with fear.
The Lion however did not attack the hunter, African legends say, instead it walked slowly towards him with sad eyes. The poor Lion made a moaning noise as if he was in pain, and the hunter noticed he was rather thin and tired looking. The hunter laid down his bow and quiver of arrows, and knelt before the Lion to honour his majesty.
The Lion wagged his tail, as animals do when they want to be friends, and approached the hunter. Laying down in front of the hunter, the Lion looked up at him and opened his mouth wide. Peering inside, the hunter noticed a pice of bone that was stuck in the Lion's throat. Now the hunter understood.
Feeling sorry for the Lion now, the hunter washed his hands in a nearby stream and reached into the Lion's mouth, taking hold of the bone which had been the source of the his discomfort. He carefully removed the bone and the Lion gave an immediate sigh of relief.
This made the Lion extremely happy, he had suffered a long time, and immediately celebrated by jumping into the stream and frolicking in the water. He took a good long drink of the cool stream water, soothing the area that the bone had been stuck.
The Lion came out of the water and thanked the hunter profusely, licking his face with his large lion tongue, and wagging his tail back and forth. He showed the hunter that he must stay where he was until he returned, and the hunter sat down to wait for him.
The Lion soon came upon a large herd of antelope and quickly began chasing them towards the hunter. The hunter saw what was happening and as the herd approached he prepared his bow and arrows and laid in wait. As the herd came close the hunter drew his bowstring and fired into the herd, in the end having three large antelopes to take home to his village. The Lion also showed the hunter three antelopes that he had caught and gave them to the hunter also.
African legends tellus that the hunter returned to his village a hero for bringing so much meat, but he didn't forget the kindly Lion. He put some of the best meat aside, and after the great feast, took it to where the Lion was hiding.
The hunter and the Lion became great friends after this, and if the Lion does not see the hunter each morning, he goes to look for him so that they may salute each other. The hunter is never without meat because his friend the Lion always drives the game to him.
African Legends - The Eagle and The Buzzard (Nigeria)
A buzzard one day flew into a tree. Some time passed and an eagle flew by. The eagle said to the buzzard "What are you doing here, you worthless buzard?" The buzzard replied, "I am waiting for the shoulder of God."
The eagle noticed a quail perched on a tree stump nearby. He said to the buzzard "I eat by my strength. Watch how I will devour the quail before your eyes. You say you are waiting for the shoulder of God, but I eat by my strength!" The eagle swooped to devour the quail, but the quail avoided his attack. The eagle smashed against the tree stump and his breast was sliced open. He fell to the ground, wounded and unable to fly.
The buzzard flew over and landed near him. "What happened strong eagle?" the buzzard asked. "What do you want here?"replied the eagle."I am going to eat you, said the buzzard, "Did I not tell you that I was waiting on the shoulder of God?" The buzzard hopped over and devoured the eagle.
This legend shows not to show off. The boisterous eagle was humbled, and killed for his arrogance. Thus if a man shows off, someday he will be humbled by fate.
Courtesy African Legends and Folktales
African Legends – The Curious Monkey
Once upon a time, in the deep of the jungle, a dog was comfortably asleep next to a fire. He was the first dog to ever be born into the world, and he was a happy dog. It’s difficult to say whether he was good or bad, because all he ever did in the beginning was sleep. Until a monkey happened upon him.
The monkey was of course curious, as monkeys are, and scampered down from his tree to examine this strange creature he had never before seen. He looked at the dog from every possible angle, and when he was satisfied he had examined the dog in its entirety, ran off to tell all the other monkeys about his strange encounter.
Soon word spread to all the animals of the jungle, and soon they were all involved in a debate as to what kind of creature it was. “It’s not an elephant” said the elephant in all his wisdom. “Thank you for that profound observation” responded the monkey.
“It’s not a giraffe” stated the shy giraffe. “Not an antelope either” cried the Kudu. Soon all the animals were asked by Monkey if they knew what it was, until only the Tortoise hadn’t responded. The wise old tortoise knew what the creature was, as she had been around since the beginning of all creation. “That’s a dog” said the tortoise, and on hearing his name, the dog suddenly awoke.
He sprang to his feet, looking bewildered at all of the animals around him. The dog was furious that he’d been waken, and charged furiously at the other animals, barking and scowling and snapping his jaws! The only animal that didn’t run was the tortoise – she didn’t have to. “You won’t catch me dog” she said as she withdrew into her shell, “but from this day on you’re condemned to chase any creature you lay your eyes on.”
That’s how the saying came to be – “Better to let sleeping dogs lie.”
Courtesy of Amedja Tripod African Legends
African Legends – Eliza the Witch
The Hex Valley in South Africa is bounded by the rocky slopes of the Hex Mountains, the highest peak of which is called Matroosberg, with an altitude of 2249m. On the lower precipices of the mountain the spirit of a young woman appears on particular moonlit nights wailing and writhing in agony. That woman is Eliza Meiring, a farmer’s daughter who lived with her family in the foothills of the majestic Matroosberg Peak where the grapes of South Africa’s thriving wine industry are grown.
African Legends say that Eliza lived during the nineteenth century, and was courted by many young men of the region due to her immaculate beauty. She was a bit vain and spoilt, but when she met a young man called Franz she fell completely in love. Her vanity was too strong for her to overcome however, and she demanded the young Franz to prove his love for her by picking a red disa – a beautiful African orchid – from the ravines of the Matroosberg Peak. This was a very dangerous undertaking, as the beautiful orchids only grew in highly inaccessible areas, which could not be reached except by experienced mountain climbers, of which Franz was not.
In spite of his lack of experience and because of his love for her, Franz promised to retrieve the red disa for Eliza and set off to climb Matroosberg. As he climbed up the deadly ravine, Franz found the beautiful flower, but as he reached for it he slipped and fell to his death, the red disa still clutched in his hand.
When Eliza heard the news she was overcome with grief to the extent that she became very mentally ill. Her parents locked her away in her room; where out of boredom and frustration she scratched her true loves name in the windowsill with her now extremely long finger nails.
One night however, Eliza escaped from her room and ran up into the foothills where Franz had fallen to his death. She finally tired, and sat down on an outcrop of rock and began to cry. Her sobbing was so heavy and her wailing so loud that it collapsed the outcrop of rock that she was sitting on, and she too fell to her death. Now her ghost wanders the foothills wearing the white dress she was meant to be married in.
This is one of the saddest of African Legends, but it teaches us to be happy with what we have, rather than demanding more out of life.
African Legends -The Dutchman and the Devil
After an illustrious career as a cut-throat pirate, a certain Dutchman retired from his seagoing life to live on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, a mountain in South Africa. The Dutchman would often wander off up into the slopes of the mountain to escape his nagging wife. There he would sit and smoke his pipe, recalling his adventurous past and enjoying the serenity of the mountains.
One afternoon as he was sitting beneath the shade of a Baobab tree, a stranger appeared and asked him if he could spare some tobacco. The Dutchman huffed and puffed but finally relented by giving the stranger a portion to smoke. The stranger in turn challenged the Dutchman to a smoking contest, to which he readily agreed. A wager was made with the winner to receive a ship with a load of goal as the prize.
The smoking contest raged for two whole days, the Dutchman finally winning, only to find out that his challenger was actually the Devil.
Without warning, thunder erupted and the sky became black. A flash of lightning descended abruptly from above striking the Dutchman and leaving behind only a scorched bit of grass and his pipe. African legends regard the cloud of smoke left behind by the smoking of the Dutchman and the Devil as the famous “Table Cloth” – a massive cloud which hovers over Devil’s Peak when the southern winds blow in for the summer. When this phenomenon occurs it is believed that the Dutchman and the Devil are again engaged in a smoking contest.
From African Legends of the Boers
African Legends - Gods and Other Creatures
African Legends – Abassi God of Creation
In African legends Abassi is the god of creation from one of the tribes of Nigeria. He was convinced by his wife Atai to create man, and so did so, but with much trepidation. Abassi feared the humans would become wiser than him and work out how to procreate without his help. In time the humans did so, and soon the world became over populated.
A certain condition that Abassi had placed on human existence was that they eat all of their meals with him. This was to prevent the humans from becoming self-sufficient and learning how to hunt and grow their own food. But soon the humans figured this out as well, and in time they no longer needed Abassi at all. When Abassi became distraught his wife offered a solution by introducing hatred and death into the world to keep the humans from becoming too strong.
Courtesy Encyclopaedia Mythica - African Legends and Deities
African Legends – Chiruwi
In central Africa lives Chiruwi, a half-man creature with only half a body – one arm, one, leg, and one side of a torso. This hideous creature appears invisible if seen from the side, and will suddenly appear and challenge anyone he encounters to a duel. If a person happens to defeat Chiruwi, the creature will share its wealth of medicinal knowledge with him or her, and beg to be left alive. This valuable knowledge would make the winner a successful witch doctor, famous throughout the land, and rich beyond their wildest dreams. If the person loses to the creature, he will be killed.
Chiruwi is especially famous in a place called Nyasaland, where he roams the jungles brandishing a razor sharp axe. This axe is not used for evil however; as Chiruwi watches over children that he may protect them from evil. He has the power to transform into a flying creature of sorts, and a famous story among African legends tells of him carrying some children to safety after rescuing them from an ogre who was about to devour them.
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