Anansesem: Why Chickens Have Beaks
A long time ago, chickens had beautiful mouths that were wide, soft and full. Now, they have pointy mouths that are not so pretty because of the actions of one rooster.
The story starts with Kweku Ananse, the trickster. He did not do anything tricky in this story though. Everything that happened to the rooster was really his own fault.
This is what happened …
One day, Ananse got a strong craving for figs. He called three of his children: Afudohwedehwe (Ay-foo-do-whee-de-whee), who had a massive belly; Tikenekene (Tea-kay-nay-kay-nay), who had a huge head; and Nankonhwea (Nan-corn-wee-ah), who had very skinny legs. He sent them off to find some figs for him to eat.
The children set off in search of a fig tree. Fig trees were not so common in Asanteman at the time, so the children had to walk quite far. When they finally found a tree that had ripe fruit, none of them wanted to climb it.
After arguing for a while, Afudohwedehwe, the oldest of the three, ordered Nankonhwea, the youngest, to do it:
“Nankonhwea, you climb up, pick the fruit and throw it down. Tikenekene and I will pack it away in the bag.”
“I can’t,” Nankonhwea said, “look at how thin my legs are. If I climb the tree they will break. Why don’t you do it yourself?”
“I can’t climb either,” Afudohwedehwe said. “Look at my belly. It is so swollen that if I try to do any climbing, it would burst for sure.”
They both looked at Tikenekene.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” he said.
He climbed up and started picking ripe figs. He threw each fruit down for the others to pack up. After a while, he called down:
“Hey Big-Belly and Skinny-Legs, do we have enough fruit?”
The others did not respond. They were not packing away the fruit. In fact, they were not paying attention at all. They had found some smooth stones and were playing a game.
Annoyed that they would not answer him, Tikenekene called out some more insults. He threatened to tell their father about how he had done all the work of getting the figs.
Afudohwedehwe yelled back,
“If you’re so concerned about having enough figs, why don’t you look for yourself, Big-Head!”
Tikenekene lowered his head to look at the pile of figs at the bottom of the tree. His head was so big and so heavy, that the weight of it made him lose his balance. He fell head-first and landed on the ground with a loud, kum!.
Afudohwedehwe took a deep breath to yell, but his big belly burst open with a loud, toh!
Nankonhwea began to run as fast as he could to get help, but his skinny legs broke off with a loud, krak-krak!
It just so happened that nearby was a chicken, a big strong rooster who could help. He had just finished doing a ceremonial cleaning of his soul. And, as custom required, had traveled far from home to throw away the waste from the event.
You would think, that after such an important ceremony, the rooster would be kind and helpful. Well, you would be wrong. Because, even though he saw everything, he did not help. Instead, he stood there and laughed.
A hurt child is not a thing to laugh at, but the rooster found it all very funny. As he stood there laughing, his mouth began to change. It shrunk, it hardened and then it shaped itself into a point.
The rooster was horrified because he was very proud of his looks. He begged Nyankupong, the sky-god, to give him back his old mouth. Nothing changed. Since then, all roosters and their children have had hard, pointy beaks.
So, that is how it happened. A long time ago, chickens had beautiful mouths. It was on account of a heartless rooster, that they now have hard pointy beaks, that are not so beautiful.
“Why Chickens Have Beaks” is an Asante folktale retold by A. Sakyiama. It is free on this website for a time.
You will find the story in How the Elephant Lost his Bottom and Other Ananse Stories which is currently available in ebook stores including: