How Crab Lost his Head

Told by Nick Greaves (Struik Nature)

African tales and mythology are shared in this rich collection gathered by geologist Nick Greaves on his travels around Africa. He reveres the ancient role of the storyteller, who preserves the rich legacy of African tales and gives us a glimpse into the way man and nature are bound in African lore.  While the stories are generally very patriarchal – my daughter pointed out how many times they refer to a woman’s role being to cook for her husband! – they offer an insight into the morals, fears and wisdom of the different African tribes. The moral take out is usually universal: don’t be greedy, don’t insult the elders, listen to good advice, honor animals and nature etc. From a design and illustration point I’m not mad about the computer generated illustrations which so many local publishers use.  Their flat tone lets the overall feel and look of the book down.

A favourite tale is the Xhosa story of The Magic Fishbones, which is like an African version of Cinderella and the Ugly Stepsisters.  Nondwe gets no love or food from her stepmother and stepsister but she meets a big magic fish that finds food for her everyday.  When the stepmother finds out about this she tells her husband to catch the fish so she can eat it.  The fish tells Nondwe not to worry – when they have eaten him she must take his bones and they will look after her for the rest of her life.  Once the fish is eaten the stepsister throws the bones out and the Chief’s son finds them and tries to pick them up.  They keep slipping out his hands, as they do from every man’s hands and when news of this magic reaches the Chief he calls for every woman in his tribe to try pick them up, offering his son in marriage to the woman who succeeds. Eventually someone remembers Nondwe, tending her father’s cattle.  and she is called for.  As she reaches the bones they jump up and form a perfect fish in her hands.  She marries the chief and true to the fish’s promise she never wants for food again. I prefer this version to the glass slipper!

Note that this is a rebound and updated version of the 2006 book.


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