Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is known famously as the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, philosopher and president, who spent 27 years in prison. He was, however, also a curator of culture, who helped to gather African stories, myths and legends. He once said, “It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all the children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories.” Below is one among Mandela’s favorite stories.
The Mantis and the Moon (San people – Southern Africa)
There was once a mantis who wished to catch and sit on the moon so that all other animals would look at him on the moon and think him a god and revere him. The mantis waited to target the moon, and the moment the moon rose and got caught in the acacia tree branches, the mantis hurriedly climbed the tree and pounced, but he missed. The moon was now in the baobab tree branches, and the mantis tried again, and again, he failed. The mantis then tried variously to use a noose to trap the moon and a sharp stake to pierce it, but the moon escaped both times.
Later, the mantis came across a water hole, and in its depths was the moon. He dove in to catch it and missed. Angrily, he threw a rock into the water, which shattered the reflection, and a thousand splinters of moonlight pierced the mantis’s eyes. Afterward, everything he saw was brilliant beams of light. He was blind with pain and unable to sleep. He no longer wished to be a god and wondered how he could have ever hoped for that. Small and humbled, he folded his front legs and prayed to the moon, begging the moon to return his sight. The moon finally restored the sight of the mantis. To this day, descendants of the mantis hold their forelegs up in praise of the moon, who forgave and restored the sight of their ancestor.
By Rahim Mawji