Tortoise, the Birds, and the Feasts

Tortoise, the Birds, and the Feasts

26 October 2015,   By ,   0 Comments

A Tale from West Africa

There was a famine one time that went on for months. Even Tortoise, who was slow but cunning and full of tricks, had not had a good meal for two months. He could walk a little faster because his body had shrunken so, but that was of no use if he was weak from hunger and there was little food to be found. As he crept about, Tortoise listened carefully for news of food. He heard of a feast that the sky-gods were preparing for their friends, the birds. The feast was to be in the sky where only the birds and the sky-gods could go.

Tortoise thought for a long time about how to get some of the feast. He then went to some birds and said, “I wish that I could see this wonderful place where you are going.”

“Ah, Tortoise,” laughed the birds. “We would gladly help you, but we know that you are full of tricks and that we shall be sorry if we do.”

Tortoise replied, “What use is trickery if one is starving and there is no food? I have learned my lesson– tricks go back on the trickster. I am a changed Tortoise.” He kept talking to the birds who were of good heart and wanted to believe him. Finally, they agreed to help.

Each bird gave a few feathers and they stuck them onto Tortoise till he was covered with many colorful feathers. He found that he could flap his arms like wings and that he could fly. The birds went with him into the air and showed him the way to the place of the Sky-gods Feast. As they went, Tortoise said, “I have heard that the Sky-gods have a custom now. When they have a feast, everyone who is invited must have a new name. My name shall be ‘All of You.”

The birds were confused, but they knew that Tortoise was wise and heard many new things as he travelled all over the land. They decided to believe him.

When they arrived at the place of the feast, the Sky-gods set out much to eat and drink. The Sky-gods needed to leave before the feasting started, but before they left, Tortoise asked them, “Who is all this for?”

“This is for all of you,” answered the Sky-gods.

Tortoise turned and said to the birds, “You have heard them. My new name is ‘All of You’. This is all for me. If there is any left after I am done, you may have it.”

The angry birds watched as Tortoise devoured everything. Not a scrap or drop was left. Soon they all flew down to the earth. The birds wanted to punish Tortoise, but they decided to wait.

Much later, nothing had been said about Tortoise’s trick. Tortoise thought that the birds had accepted that he was much smarter than they, and had chosen to do nothing. Later still, he heard of another feast for the birds. “Is this another feast of the Sky-gods?” he inquired of some birds.

“No,” they replied. “This one is on the ground, not far from here. You may come, if you promise no more trickery.” Of course Tortoise agreed. The birds told him how to get to the place of feasting.
They all gathered before the food and drink. A bird announced that no one could eat until his or her claws were clean. Everyone rushed to a nearby stream to wash. The birds flew back to the feast, but Tortoise had to crawl along the ground. When he got back to the food, his claws were dirty again. He kept going back to the stream, but he could not keep his claws from getting dirty.

Tortoise realized he had been tricked by the birds. He had to watch and listen while the birds feasted. When they were done, they had not left a scrap or drop for Tortoise. The birds flew away, making fun of Tortoise as they left with full stomachs.


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