Illustration by James Ransome in A Pride of African Tales by Donna L. Washington (2004)

“The Boy Who Wanted the Moon” retold by Donna L. Washington

This tale from the Congo starts with a very spoiled little boy. He is a prince, the son of a great king who gives him everything he wants. At 6, he has his own house, gorgeous clothes and is carried around on a chair instead of having to walk. The king made this boy the king of all the children, and the young prince made the other children sit in the marketplace watching him eat, nap, whatever.

One day, the prince states that he is the greatest child and has everything. A little girl in the crowd speaks up, telling him that he doesn’t have the moon. The boy, of course, gets his heart set on having the moon, and the father, indulgent beyond reason, sets about getting it for him. It takes 10 years, but finally a scaffold is built to the sky and the king, prince, and their subjects climb up to the moon. The father touches the moon first, exclaims how hot it is and tells the prince he cannot have the moon after all. The prince, stubborn and refusing to listen to common sense, grabs the moon and pulls. The moon breaks, showering the people with hot rock and catching the scaffolding on fire.

Everyone surely would have died if it had not been for the gods. The gods of Africa took pity on all those foolish people and caught them in their hands. They let them live, but to punish them for trying to undo what the gods themselves had done, they turned all the people into monkeys.

You can see their descendants all over the world swinging through the trees. They are there as a warning to other foolish people.

The author calls this a pourquoi tale, a term I had never heard but makes sense. It’s a tale that tells “why.” I truly enjoy origin stories like this, stories that give a fictional explanation of why the world is like it is. Here, the story serves a dual purpose, telling how monkeys came to be but also warning people that they are not the equal of the gods, they cannot undo what the gods have made. It kind of reminds me of the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and died. It’s also similar to the story in Genesis of the Tower of Babel where the people were building a tower to the heavens but God stopped them. When people get too full of themselves, something happens to ruin their plans.

I read this story in a book I borrowed from the library, A Pride of African Tales by Donna L. Washington. It’s a wonderful collection of African folktales beautifully illustrated by James Ransome. You can purchase it at Amazon or an Indie bookstore.

Friday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. I would love it if you joined me. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, share with us. If you have a link, please include it in your comment.