Civic Imagination

How the tortoise got cracks in his shell

Once upon a time, way before any man walked upon this earth, there was a great famine all throughout Africa. Many animals died, many animals who survived where starving badly. This included the the tortoise, who grew skinnier and skinner with each passing day. One day he was sitting outside his home when he looked up and saw the birds flying over head. Unlike all the other animals in the land, they looked fat and well fed. Wondering why the birds were so fat and he was so thin, he called down a bird and asked him why he was so fat. The bird replied that he, along with all his brothers and sister, had a kind benefactor that lived in the clouds and gave them food to eat. Upon finding this out, tortoise begged the bird to take him with him the next time he went. Laughing, the bird asked how the he, a small fat bird, would carry the big tortoise to the clouds. The tortoise, who was so smart, saw two sticks on the ground and explained to the tortoise that he would hold the stick in his mouth and the bird should hold the other end with his feet. By using his powerful wings, tortoise explained, the bird would be able to carry him.

Whenever I was sad as a child, my mother would tell me this story. It would inspire me because it would remind me to always be truthful and to see the funny side of life. Even though the story has a rather just ending, I would always feel sorry for the poor tortoise and would laugh at his foolishness. But on a deeper level, this story connected me to my culture in Nigeria and the mystic factionalism of my mothers child hood.

I think this story can inspire, and it has inspired me in particular. It has remained one of my all time pick me up stories, especially the way my mother told it. It reminded me of my culture and the history of story telling in Africa, something that growing up as a kid in a predominantly white primary school, i didn't really get.

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