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Story 1: The Lion on the Path

Compiled from a variety of West African and South African folk tales.

Once upon a time two cousins lived side by side in a village. They worked together in the fields each day and returned home each night to share a meal and some fun in the evening. The young woman cousin's name was Nosa. She loved to play the mbira and to sing. The young man cousin's name was Tobi. He loved to dance and tell great stories. One day Tobi said to Nosa, "I have to go on a journey to the village of my future wife. I must go and meet her parents."

"Oh, I will worry about you," said Nosa. "You know that you must take the long path that leads over the hills and through the swamp lands. It is not as easy as the meadow path which is shorter, but that is the way people go, because a lion has often been seen on the meadow path."

"Of course my cousin, I will take the long path." He said. "I do not wish to meet any lions. I will be back before you know it."

Nosa said "goodbye" to her cousin, and as she was waving she called out, "Remember, when you get to the fork in the road, go left to the long path." He waved back and headed down the path.

All morning the Nosa worried. She loved her cousin, but he could be a bit dreamy. Sometimes he would be thinking of a story or making up a new dance step, and would forget where he was going or what time it was. The more she thought about him alone on the path, the more she worried. Finally she started to get a baaaaaad feeling. She felt right down to her bones that something was not right. She could almost picture her cousin taking the wrong path. So, she grabbed her mbira, and ran off down the trail as fast as she could. Soon she came to the fork in the trail. Sure enough, when she got down close to the ground she could see Tobi's footprints heading down the wrong trail, right straight into the meadow.

She ran as quickly as she could and it wasn't long before she came to a bend in the path. She hid behind a tree and peered out. There she saw her cousin standing right in the middle of the path. There, facing him was a full grown lion swishing its tail and getting ready to pounce.

"What can I do?" she cried to herself. "I don't have any weapons. I would throw a rock, but there are no big rocks to be seen. I could throw my mbira, but it is hollow and would not hurt the lion at all."

Then she thought. "Maybe I can play my mbira and distract the lion so that Tobi can get away." Just then, Lion growled. She was so afraid that he was going to pounce on Tobi that she jumped out in front of the tree and began to sing and play a song. (Sung to the tune of "My Bonny Lies over the Ocean." Leader — You may wish to stop here and teach the children to sing this song with you, repeating it together until they know it.)

My mbira plays music so pretty
My mbira plays music so sweet
My mbira plays music so pretty
Oh dance to my music with me.

Lion was distracted. He turned to see who was singing and when he did, Tobi ran off through the woods and all the way back home. Nosa played and sang and danced again. (Leader — Sing the refrain, or lead the children in singing it with you.)

My mbira plays music so pretty
My mbira plays music so sweet
My mbira plays music so pretty
Oh dance to my music with me.

To Nosa's surprise and delight, Lion began to dance just as she was dancing. He seemed to have forgotten completely about his prey and was dancing and singing as if under a magic spell. (Leader — You can invite the children to sing again, and dance as if they were the lion under a spell.)

Nosa wanted to get away too, so she tried to back up as she swayed and danced, but when she backed up the lion couldn't hear the music anymore and he stopped dancing and looked around and said. "Where is that man I was going
to eat? That was my dinner." So poor Nosa stepped bravely forward again, and
began to play and sing. (Leader — Sing the refrain again, or lead the children in
singing it with you.)

My mbira plays music so pretty
My mbira plays music so sweet
My mbira plays music so pretty
Oh dance to my music with me.

That lion began to dance again, and to sing as if under an enchantment. (Leader — Invite the children to sing and dance again.) Again Nosa tried to move away toward home, but each time she did, Lion would stop and look around for Tobi.
This went on for a very long time until finally she was getting so tired, she could barely play any longer. Her fingers ached and her arms and hands were so tired, her throat was so sore. (Leader — Let the listeners see and hear how tired she was.) But she knew that if she stopped, Lion would eat her! So she kept on playing, playing until she thought she was going to die. (Leader: Sing again, as if very tired. Invite the children to dance and sing along with you.)

My mbira plays music so pretty
My mbira plays music so sweet
My mbira plays music so pretty
Oh dance to my music with me.

Finally, just as Nosa was about to collapse a little rabbit popped its head out from behind a rock. "Hey, you look like you need help!"

"Boy, do I ever," said she. "If I stop playing Lion will eat me, but I am so tired I think I am about to drop dead anyway."

"Let me play," said Rabbit. "He hopped over to Nosa and began tapping his foot, just so that he wouldn't miss a beat. And just like that she tossed him the mbira and he started playing, and singing and dancing in his little rabbit voice. (Leader — Sing in a high, squeaky voice and invite the children to join you.)

My mbira plays music so pretty
My mbira plays music so sweet
My mbira plays music so pretty
Oh dance to my music with me.

Rabbit kept on playing and Lion kept on dancing and singing while Nosa ran safely home. Meanwhile Rabbit began to get tired. But he had a secret. Just behind the tree a few feet down the path was his home. So carefully, inch by inch by inch, he danced closer to the hole. Lion followed him, still dancing as if under a spell. Finally Rabbit dropped the mbira and dove into his hole safe and sound.

There was Lion left on the path with no people to eat and a confused expression on his face. "Gee," he said. "I could have sworn there was a young man on the path, then a young woman playing the mbira, but now there's just a mbira on the path and I think I just saw a rabbit jump down that hole. What a strange day."

So the two cousins got home safely. They celebrated together and Tobi thanked his cousin for saving his life. He even made her a new mbira from a gourd he had grown. A few days later when Tobi ventured out again to that other village he took the left fork, as Nosa had told him to do, and carried Nosa’s new mbira with him, just in case!

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Last updated on Sunday, November 9, 2014.

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