African Folklore: The King's Drum

The king of the forest once called a meeting of all his subjects. His messengers went out to distant villages, and when the animals heard the king's command, they put on their best clothes and began their trip. But many weeks passed before they arrived.

When they had all gathered before his house, the king said to them:

“When a meeting is called, many days pass before we are gathered. This is not good. What if we are in danger? What if the enemy is coming? We must find a way to gather quickly.”

Anansi the spider was the king’s councillor. He said, “What is needed is a drum. When the royal drum is beaten, it will be heard everywhere. Everyone will come quickly.”

The animals applauded Anansi’s suggestion. It was agreed that there should be a drum. The king ordered that the drum be made. The animals were organized into groups. Each group was to take its turn at the making of the drum. First, one group went out and cut a tree. Another group went out to trim the tree. Another group took adzes and cut the tree into the shape of a drum. The drum was hollowed. After that, carvers were set to work to decorate the drum. Only the monkey did not do any work. While the others labored, the monkey found a shady place and slept, or he went off looking for berries. When they came back to the village, the animals sang:

“Life is labor,

We are tired,

We are hot,

It is for the king we labor.”

The monkey also sang:

“Life is labor,

I am tired,

I am hot,

It is for the king I labor.”

But Anansi saw that the monkey shirked and rested while the others worked. He said nothing.

A time came when the drum was finished. The king announced: “Let the drum be brought in. There will be a ceremony. The drum will be initiated. After that, the assembly will be ended. When the people are wanted again, the royal drum will be sounded.”

Anansi said: “Yes, the drum shall be brought in. There is only one problem remaining. Who shall carry the drum?”

The drum was very large. It was heavy. The distance was great. No one wanted to carry it.”

The antelope declared, “No, it is more fitting for the elephant to carry it.”

Each animal suggested that another should have the honor.

Anansi said: “It appears that each person wants someone else to do the carrying. Therefore, I suggest that the person to carry the drum is he who is the most lazy.”

The king said, “Yes, that is the way to do it.”

The animals considered the question. They looked at each other. They tried to think who was the laziest. First, one looked at the monkey, then another looked at the monkey. The monkey looked here, looked there. Everywhere he looked, he saw people looking at him.

He went to the middle of the crowd and said: “I wish to make a statement. I refuse to carry the drum. Never, never will I carry the drum. That is all I have to say.”

All the animals laughed. The antelope said: “Why are you here? No one mentioned your name.”

The porcupine said: “Why do you speak? No one asked you to carry the drum.”

The crowd called out, “Yes, no one said even a word to him.”

Once more the monkey said, “I want it to be clear. I will not carry the drum. These are my words.”

Again the animals laughed.

Anansi said to the king: “No one mentioned the monkey’s name. People were thinking to themselves, ‘Who is the laziest?’ They could not make up their minds. But the monkey was sure. He came forward. He said, ‘I want it made clear that I will never carry the drum.’ Thus he confessed that he is the laziest. With his own mouth he has said it.’

The animals answered, “It is true, the monkey is the laziest of all!”

And so when at last the great drum was brought from the forest to the king’s house, it was the monkey who carried it.

Folklore from Akan people of Ghana

Ananse, also known as Anansi, Aunt Nancy, Anancy, Hapanzi, Nanzi, name given to an Akan character who has become famous throughout Africa, the countries in the Caribbean region, and beyond because of his insight, intelligence, and wisdom. He is one of the most-important figures in the pantheon of cultural icons among West Africans.

Source: Brittanica

This story was transcribed by anthropologist Harold Courlander and appears in his book Treasury of African Folklore: The Oral Traditions, Myths, Legends, Epics, Tales, Recollections, Wisdom, Sayings and Humor of Africa (1962)