Children's South African Traditional Stories


Storytelling is an important cultural tradition. It is the way that people pass down their history and beliefs from generation to generation. When learning about cultures far removed from their own, such as South Africa, children often enjoy hearing traditional stories told by people living in those areas. Many traditional South African stories impart important lessons or creatively explain the origin of things found in the natural world.

Crocodile's Treason

  • This story explains the origin of "crocodile tears," false humility or pity shown by someone planning to betray another person.

    One year, there was a drought in Crocodile's land, where he had domain over all the water animals. In the hopes of finding better water, Crocodile opens a negotiation with Lion, who has domain over the land animals and a full river. Though at first hesitant to trust Crocodile, Lion eventually agrees to peace between the water and land animals and to let Crocodile and the water animals come live in the river.

    As the animals set out, Crocodile plots with Yellow Snake to lead the land animals into the hands of the Boer, the human hunter. He plans to let out a cry once the water animals are safe in the river. Yellow Snake is to set the Boer's dogs to barking so the Boer will come hunting for the land animals.

    Once at the river, Crocodile thanks Lion for his generosity and tells him he will let out a great cry in celebration of the new peace and the water animals' safety. He does, and Yellow Snake arouses the Boer's dogs. Boer begins shooting at the land animals, while the water animals are safe in the river.

The Lost Message

  • This story explains how different types of ants came to live in different dwellings.

    Ants, being small insects, always have had many enemies, including the Anteater and the Centipede. In an effort to protect themselves, all the different types of ants came together at a council to discuss how best to do so. But, none of the ants could agree on how best to build their new dwellings. Some wanted to build into the ground, others wanted to dwell in trees, some wanted to build homes on land that only ants could enter and others wanted to develop wings and fly away.

    Unable to come to an agreement, all the ants split into groups and set to work on their new homes. They all worked together and built new homes, but none of the ants thought about how best to protect themselves from their enemies. Anteater came along and smashed down the dwellings and stuck his nose into the holes, and birds ate the tree dwellers and those that could fly.

    Hearing of the ants' problem, the Insect-king sent Beetle with the secret of unity and the message of Work-together. But, being a beetle, he still has not reached the ants with his message and to this day they live in disunity.

Lion Who Thought Himself Wiser Than His Mother

  • This story instructs the listener to heed the advice of elders.

    Lion and Man, along with some other animals, were playing in the water and began to argue. Lion, angered at Man, went home to tell his mother what was said. She warned him against playing with Man, saying Lion always should beware of anyone that carries a weapon that pinches and who keeps dogs.

    Lion, not wanting to listen to his mother because he trusted man, went to the water one morning to drink. There, Man's dogs attacked him and Man speared him. Man told his dogs to set Lion free so he could go learn his lesson from his mother.

    Returning home and crying out in pain, Lion received a lecture from his mother about heeding her advice.

Anansi Gives People Stories

  • This story tells of how people began to tell stories to one another.

    Long ago, the sky god kept all the stories locked up in a wooden box in the sky. Many animals and people had tried to get the stories and bring them to Earth with no success. Anansi, a spider, spun a long string from his web to the sky and asked the sky god if he could have the stories. The sky god told Anansi that the stories were very expensive, but he could have them if he brought a snake, a leopard, a hornet and an invisible fairy to the sky, thinking Anansi never would succeed.

    Anansi asked advice of his wife, Aso, who told him how to trap all four of the animals. Following all her directions, Anansi caught all the animals and took them to the sky god. In exchange, Anansi was given the box of stories to take back to Earth and the people were given stories.


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