Man and Pirogue, Sunset, Niger River, Mali, West Africa

West African Folk-Tales  by  William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair

Garden Spider in Web, Argiope Aurantia

West African Folk-Tales
by William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair

How We Got the Name "Spider Tales"

How Wisdom Became the Property of the Human Race

Anansi and Nothing

Thunder and Anansi

Why the Lizard Moves His Head Up and Down

Tit For Tat

Why White Ants Always Harm Man's Property

The Squirrel and the Spider

Why We See Ants Carrying Bundles As Big As Themselves

Why Spiders Are Always Found in Corners of Ceilings

Anansi and the Blind Fisherman

Adzanumee and Her Mother

The Grinding-Stone That Ground Flour By Itself

Morning Sunrise

Why the Sea-turtle When Caught Beats Its Breast With Its Forelegs

How Beasts and Serpents Came into the World

Honourable Minu

Why the Moon and the Stars Receive Their Light From the Sun

Ohia and the Thieving Deer

How the Tortoise Got Its Shell

The Hunter and the Tortoise

Kwofi and the Gods

The Lion and the Wolf

Maku Mawu and Maku Fia

The Robber and the Old Man

The Leopard and the Ram

Why the Leopard Can Only Catch Prey On Its Left Side

Quarcoo Bah-Boni

King Chameleon and the Animals

To Lose an Elephant For the Sake of a Wren Is a Very Foolish Thing To Do

The Ungrateful Man

Why Tigers Never Attack Men Unless They Are Provoked

The Omanhene Who Liked Riddles

How Mushrooms First Grew

Farmer Mybrow and the Fairies

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King Chameleon and the Animals

IN the olden days all the animals of the world lived together in friendship. They had no one to rule over them and judge them. In consequence, many very wicked deeds were constantly being done, as no one needed to fear any punishment.

At last they all met together to discuss this bad state of affairs, and, as a result, they decided to choose a king. The great difficulty was how to choose him.

Lion was the first animal suggested. But all opposed him because, they said, he was too fierce. Wolf was next named—but the sheep and goats refused to have him because he was their foe. They knew they would have bad treatment if he were chosen.

As it was impossible to please every one by choice, they decided in another way. Two miles away was a great stool, placed under a very ancient tree which they believed to be the abode of some of their gods. They would have a great race. The animal which reached and sat down first on the stool should be chosen king.

The day of the race arrived. All animals, great and small, prepared to take part in it. The signal being given, they started off. The hare—being a very fine runner—speedily outdistanced the others. He reached the stool quite five hundred yards ahead of the next animal. You may judge of his annoyance when, just as he was going to sit down, a voice came from the stool saying, "Take care, Mr. Hare, take care. I was here first." This was the chameleon. He, being able to change his colour to suit his surroundings, had seized Mr. Hare's tail just as the race began. Having made his colour match the hare's, no one had noticed him. He had held on very tightly, and when the hare turned round to take his seat Chameleon dropped off and landed on the stool.

The hare saw how he had been tricked and was very angry. The other animals, however, arrived before he could harm the chameleon. According to the agreement they had made, they had no choice but to make Chameleon king.

But none of the animals were satisfied with the choice. So as soon as the meeting was over, all scattered in every direction and left Chameleon quite alone.

He was so ashamed that he went and made his home at the top of a very high tree on a mountain. In the dead of night you may hear him calling his attendants to come and stay with him. But he is left quite alone. "A king without subjects is no king."

The text came from:

Barker, William H. and Cecilia Sinclair. West African Folk-tales. Lagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917. Buy the book in paperback.

Available from

West African Folk-Tales  by  William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair

The Orphan Girl and Other Stories: West African Folk Tales by Buchi Offodile

West African Folk Tales  by Hugh Vernon-Jackson

African Folktales (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore) by Roger Abrahams

The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales by Joyce Cooper Arkhurst

Favorite African Folktales by Nelson Mandela

The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales From Africa by Alex McCall Smith

African Genesis: Folk Tales and Myths of Africa


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
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