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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book African Story Telling
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Ever since ancient times, storytelling in African culture has been a way of passing on the traditions and beliefs of a particular society from one generation to the next. It has also been used as a means of passing on traditions and codes of behavior, as well as maintaining social order. African tales are told and retold under the shade of a tree or around a village campfire, passing on the history, philosophy, and moral laws of the people. Although writing had not been developed in ancient Africa, there were still existing means for Africans to record their thoughts, beliefs and feelings. These means included various forms of African art such as artifacts, myths and ceremonies. The tradition of storytelling is one of the most ancient in African culture; this tradition is rich with many stories, songs, poems, and religious and tribal customs due to the diversity of people living in this vast continent. Entire complex cultures have been carried down through the centuries by the spoken word.

All of the various tribes in ancient Africa have enjoyed telling stories. The main functions of storytelling among any particular group of people regardless of their race or location are to entertain, record the history of the people or group the story belongs to, teach principles of life and morality, provide them with some explanation of their origin, provide patterns for problem solving, and give a sense of identity to the people. Despite the many diversities amongst the different ancient African tribes, their stories have demonstrated some of the things they have in common: their curiosity regarding nature, humankind, the world around them, and the world that exists beyond them. African myths and folktales have traditionally offered to the different African people explanations that satisfied their curiosities, demonstrating that oral literature has the capacity to satisfy the desire of human beings to transcend the world in which they exist. Although ancient myths may seem primitive and trivial to us today, in ages past every nation's myths were extremely important as intellectual efforts to understand the phenomena which influenced their daily lives.

One of the subjects which played a prominent role in African storytelling is animals. Animals also played a prominent role in ancient African people's daily thoughts, conversations, and oral literature, due to the fact that African people lived their lives in close proximity to the wild animals that shared their land. In many of these tales, Africans attributed human feelings and desires to particular animals, and even derived ethical ideals from their behavior. Animals are the source of many African tales, and they also figure prominently in religious rites and myths. There are also innumerable animal fables, some of which are pure fantasy, and others which are projections of human desires. There also many African stories explaining the appearance, behaviour, or origin of certain animals, such as "How did the leopard get its spots?", "How was the goat domesticated?", or "Why is the tortise taboo?" Some of the more popular animals in African mythology include the snake, the spider, the chameleon and the antelope.

The snake and the antelope are two animals in which African stories and mythology including them are very common. The snake was regarded by African people as immortal because it sheds its skin and still continues to live. A snake depicted with its tail in its mouth, like a circle with not beginning or end, is considered to be a symbol of eternity. This symbol is present in many African artworks, depicted in cloth patterns, painted onto walls, and included in metalworks. The python was often deified in African mythology: according to legend, the snake carried God in his mouth while the earth was being created. The excrement of the snake created mountains, and God feared that the earth would sink into the sea because of the weight of many mountains. Therefore the snake coiled itself around the earth to sustain it; the coil must never be loosened, otherwise all of creation will disintegrate. As creatures of grace and speed, Antelopes suggest in African mythology the power and elusiveness of the spirits. They are often seen in the chi wara, a headdress worn by the Bamana of Mali.

The spider and the chameleon are also commonly found in many African stories and myths. The spider was depicted as a great hero in many African folktales. He was extremely cunning and was capable of overcoming every plot. Many people of ancient Africa considered the spider to be a personification of the sun's power. In West Africa, where the spider is called Anansi, he was portrayed as the cleverest of animals and often appears in myths where he is the chief official of God among men. The spider was thought to be the one who was commanded to spin a delicate thread that reached up to God in the sky, so people would have a path to heaven. The chameleon was thought to be one of the primordial animals that created the universe. Because of its slow walk and slow character, it was too late in bringing the message of the Great One to all people. So instead, the lizard brings death to the world, dooming every living creature to die.

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