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Don't Go Near the Swamp!: African American Folk Tale
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Don't Go Near the Swamp!: African American Folk Tale



This is a folk tale believed to have come from Africa.
Used to teach children respect for their elders.


A man lay dying in an African village. He was a very poor man with a wife and two sons. He had nothing to leave them except the hut he lay in, a small garden plot some distance away and a few words of whisdom. To his wife, he left the hut and garden plot. He called his sons to him for the words of wisdom.


"My sons, heed my words well and you will grow into fine men. Always mind and respect your mother. Be kind to others. Respect all elders. Do not be selfish. And above all DO NOT GO NEAR THE SWAMP!"
After saying this, he breathed his last.


Life was hard for the widow and her sons. Soon, she had to take a job in the city several hours walk away. She called her sons to her. "My sons, I must take this job in the city for us to survive. I will no longer have the time to work in our garden, but we also need the food from the garden to survive. It will be up to you to take care of it. You must not stop to play with your friends each day until the garden chores; hoeing, weeding, watering, spring planting and fall harvesting; are completed for the day. Now, you go to our garden and I will go to the city."


The boys worked hard for several weeks and followed all their mother's instruction. The garden was growing well. Some vegetables were ready for harvest and others soon would be. They had cucumbers, melons, peas, yams, peanuts and millet.


One day as they worked in thei garden, the boys saw an old man walking down the road toward them. He stopped at the garden gate and admired the garden. Then he said, "I am so hungry. I have had nothing to eat since yesterday. With such a beautiful garden and so much growing in it, I wonder if you would spare one of those beautiful melons or maybe just a cucumber with a starving old man?"


The boys whispered to each other, "We have worked so hard on this garden. Why should we share with an old man we don't even know and who has not worked to help us?"


They turned back to the old man. "We have a large family and need every bite of food from this garden. You will just have to go somewhere else."


Their mother usually brought two loaves of bread when she came from the city, but that night she had only one. When the boys asked why, she replied, "On the way home, I met a poor starving old man who was weeping from the hunger pangs he felt. He said he had asked some children for a morsel of food from their garden and they had refused. I felt sorry for him and gave him one of our loaves. Those were really bad children and deserve to be punished."


The boys said nothing.


The next day as they worked in their garden, an old woman came hobbling down the road toward them. She was so old and her joints pained her so much that she had to walk with a stick. She also stopped to admire the beautiful garden. "Boys, you have so much and I have so little. Could you not spare just one yam for a poor old starving crippled woman?"


This time, the boys did not have to whisper between themselves. They answered right away and very impolitely, "Go elsewhere, old woman. We have worked for this garden and we intend to keep it for ourselves."


That night, their mother came home with no bread. When they asked why, she said, "I met a poor, old, starving crippled woman on the road. She said she had asked some children for a yam and they had said mo very impudently. She was so weak from hunger that I gave her both our loaves of bread. I wish I knew who those children were. I would tell their mother and she would surely beat them for their behaviour."


That set the brothers whispering again. "Do you think our mother will find out that we were those children?


"No, but she might."


"What should we do?"


"We will have to run away and hide."


"Where would we run to? She knows all the hiding places around here."


"We will have to run to the swamp."


"Our father told us not to go near the swamp'"


"We will just go far enough to hide. It will be safe." So off they went.


As the sun set, they could here their mother and the other villagers calling to them. All of them thought the boys were hurt or had been kidnapped. The boys would not answer.


Darkness fell. Then they heard a crashing and splashing coming through the swamp toward them. They heard a mighty voice like that of a lion after a kill caling out. It said, "You were told to be kind to the poor, respect your mother and all other elders and to NOT GO NEAR THE SWAMP!!!!!!!!!!!!
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