Journey With Story


Journey With Story

Why the Leopard has Spots


Why the Leopard has Spots

Folktale from Ghana

January 18

E 255

How would you feel if you had spent a lot of time storing up a stock of your favorite snacks or treats to enjoy on a special day with your friends, only to discover that…someone has eaten them all up and there are none left?

Hello everyone, I’m Kathleen Pelley.  Welcome to Journey with Story.  Well today’s episode is a folktale from Africa about a Leopard who does just that – he eats up all the yams that the animals have been storing for a special feast – a very naughty and greedy thing to do, right? Let’s see how that all turns out for him.

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Now let’s take a journey with Why the Leopard has spots.

There once was a time, long, long, long ago, when Leopard had no spots.  His fur then was simply many different shades of chestnut brown, which helped him to blend into the colors of the forest, and made it easy for him to glide silently in and out of the trees without being noticed.  Leopard loved his cloak of invisibility.

Now, one year a terrible drought came across the land turning the earth brown and parched.  All through the summer the crops dried up in the scorching heat, and food became scarce.

Some of the animals were wise enough to store up food so they would be able to celebrate the annual Harvest Festival with their usual grand feast that they held in the middle of the forest.  But Leopard was not one of the wise ones.  He was lazy and let others do all the hard work.

On the day of the Festival, there was a long procession of all the animals marching, singing and dancing their way into the forest with Lion leading the way.  A firepit had been dug and yams had been laid out for everyone to eat and celebrate.  As they made their way through the forest, Leopard walked quietly behind.  He was in no mood to sing nor to dance.  All he wanted to do was – eat.  He hadn’t eaten for days.   He was ravenous, and he knew it was going to be a while before he could eat because this procession was taking a long time with all of the animals stopping to dance and sing and make merry.  How he wished they would just hurry up and start the feast.

But all the other animals were enjoying themselves.  Monkey was riding on Elephant’s back, and singing loudly, while Lizard scurried along behind Snake.  

And all the while, Leopard looked at them miserably with his tummy rumbling.

Finally, they reached the middle of the forest and Lion let out a loud roar for everyone to form a circle so the dancing could continue.

As Leopard hung back, feeling too grumpy to join in, the earthy smell of roasted yams drifted towards him.  “Oh, those yams must be close, “ thought Leopard and he decided to search them out.

Blending into the trees with his light brown fur, Leopard wandered off into the forest with his nose sniffing in the air.  He followed the scent until he came across the roots of a giant fig tree.  Piled up high at the foot of the tree were the roasted yams for the harvest feast.  There were so many yams and they smelled delicious.  Leopard licked his lips longingly.  He couldn’t resist the temptation.  Surely no one would miss just one yam, he thought, looking around to see if anyone was watching.  And of course, since his brown fur blended completely into the forest, no one could see him grabbing a yam between his jaws.  It was delicious.

I will just have one more, he thought, as he reached out for another.  This one was even tastier than the first.  “There are far too many yams here for everyone,” he said to himself.  “I will just have a few more and then I’ll stop.  

And so Leopard carried on eating yam after yam, gorging himself with the sweet, juicy taste, until before long, he had swallowed every single yam and his tummy was bursting.

Now Leopard stared in horror at the empty space on the ground which had been full of yams.  He felt a flood of shame wash over him, but it was too late.  The yams were all gone.  He was too ashamed to tell anyone his secret and so he quickly joined the other animals and pretended that he had been watching the dancing all the time.

Soon the dancing reached ended, and it was time to relax and share the harvested yams.  Lion headed off the feasting area.  When he saw the empty spot, he frowned and wondered if this was the wrong spot and so he walked a little further on, thinking that all that dancing had made him tired and forgetful.  But still he found no yams and so he called to ask Zebra for help.

“Zebra, where did you put the yams?”  I thought your herd had carried them here.”  

Zebra scowled and said, “Yes, of course we did.  They are in the clearing behind where we were dancing.”

Zebra now entered the spot where the yams had been piled up and saw that it was empty.  She spun around in anger and cried loudly.  The other zebras came in answer to her call, and stood in shock upon seeing all of the yams had disappeared.

“Someone must have taken them,” piped a voice from the back.  Lion let out a loud roar which bellowed through the canopy of trees.

“Who has eaten our yams? Which one of you has done this?”

All the animals looked at one another, shaking their heads in disbelief.  Leopard blended into the undergrowth of the forest with his chestnut brown fur.  He hid in plain sight, hoping that no one would notice the guilt on his face.  

Everyone stared suspiciously at their neighbours, wondering who the thief was and feeling angry at being accused of such an act.

“I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into some sweet yams,” moaned Hyena, his mouth watering as he spoke.

“Well, I definitely didn’t eat the yams.  The entire forest would have seen my stripes, huffed Zebra, shaking her dark many indignantly.  Leopard was starting to feel a little sick.  Perhaps it was because he had eaten too many yams, or maybe it was because he regretted what he had done.

“:Everyone knows where I was, you all saw me dancing,” said Monkey.

“I was dancing too,: said Elephant.

“Me too,” said Lizard.

“And me,” said Snake.

“Somebody wasn’t,” roared Lion.  “Who was it?”

Leopard stepped forward.  Everyone looked at him, waiting in hushed silence.  He opened his mouth to speak up.  “There’s no way to settle this.  What’s done is done,” he said.  “Let’s put it behind us and carry on dancing.”  He looked up hopefully at Lion, wondering if he could throw everyone off the scent before they suspected him.

“There’s a way to settle this,” growled Lion.  “Somebody is lying and I am going to find out who.”

Leopard shrank back in fear.  He knew he should admit what he had done, but instead, he just hoped Lion would let it go.

“Very well, “ said Lion in his I AM IN CHARGE voice.  “We can all take part in a test to see who is lying.”

Most of the animals nodded enthusiastically, but. Antelope looked confused.  “How can you tell who has eaten our yams when they are already gone?” she asked.

Lion cleared his throat to make sure they all could hear him, and replied, “We can do the test of fire.” He smiled triumphantly, for this was a well-known test among the animals.  Lion reminded them about how it would work.

“We will make a small fire in a hole in the ground.  This will be our firepit and everyone will take turns to jump over it.  Whoever is telling the truth will land safely on the other side.  Whoever is lying will be so full of shame and yams that they will fall into the pit.”

They all agreed to this test except Snake, who slid up to the feet of Lion, stretched his long neck up high to face. Him, and said, “What about you, Lion?  How do we know that you are not the yam thief?  You must jump the pit assss well,” he hissed.

Lion did not like being challenged, but still, he agreed to jump over the fire like everyone else.

So now all the animals lined up one behind the other to take their turn.  Hippopotamus went first.

Hippo is so big and heavy, he might fall in the pit anyway, Leopord thought.  Hippopotamus took a deep breath and trotted over to the firepit, letting his stubby legs fly through the air.  He landed heavily on the other side and everyone cheered.  Next it was the turn of the zebras.  They shook their manes to limber up and galloped at full speed toward the fire.  With their eyes fixed firmly on the other side, one by one, they jumped over the flickering flames.  Their legs stretched out like leaping ballerinas and everyone admired their grace and 


The monkeys lined up next, giggling and singing loudly as they each took their turn.  They knew they had nothing to fear.  One by one they sprang into the air with their tails curling behind them.  

When it was Lion’s turn, he took his time, strolling proudly up to the pit.  Because this test was his idea, he wanted to show off his jumping skills.  He stopped right before the fire, leaned backwards onto his legs and then catapulted himself over the flames.  He landed on all fours as if he was used to doing this every day.

All the rest of the animals flew swiftly over the flickering flames until it came to Snake,  He slowly crawled up the trunk of a tree which hung just above the firepit.  Everyone wondered where he was going.  Snake slithered along a branch and then pushed himself forward off the tree.  His body bounced over the fire like a coiled spring until he landed head first with a THUMP on the other side.

Leopard was the last to jump.   He could feel all the yams heavy in his belly.  He started to sing in an attempt to calm his nerves and hoping to pluck up enough courage to jump.  He finished a chorus and then sang again.  The animals began to wonder why he was taking so long.  Why wouldn’t he jump over the flames?

“Jump, Leopard!  Jump!” they all sang in chorus.  “Jump, Leopard, jump!”

Leopard’s stomach felt heavier and heavier from all of the yams he had eaten.  He stared at the flames of the fire, then finally ran as fast as he could, trying to lift his body inot the air in a big jump.  His legs stretched out over the lfames, but his tummy was too full and he landed straight in the fire, falling onto the hot coals.  “Ouch!  Ouch!” he yelled as he jumped out of the fire and rolled over onto the grass.

But it was too late.

His fur had been burned off in patches and now he had dark spots all over his body.

“You are the thief!” shouted Lion.  The warthogs raised their tusks in anger, squealing loudly.  “How could you do this, Leopard?” they cried.

From the treetops you could hear a cacophony of noise rise up from all the animals who were outraged at Leopard.  Jackal howled.

Hyena screamed.

Elephant trumpeted.

Snake hissed.

Baboon barked.

Leopard hung his head low and stared at the ground.  “Im very sorry fo reatiing all of the yams.  I couldn’t help myself,” he said.

“You did help yourself,”cried Hippopotamus.  But secretly he was pleased that someone else was greedier than him.

Leopard was very ashamed of what he had done.  “I’m sorry  I didn’t tell you it was me.  I knew you would be angry and I didn’t want to be punished, “ he said.

“Yes, we are angry,” said Lion, “but it is better to be punished for telling the truth than to be rewarded for telling lies.  Now all that remains is to decide what your punishment should be.”

Lion and the other animals turned away from Leopard and discussed his fate in hushed voices.  A few of the animals suggested that he be banished from their land forever.  He had stolen their feast and lied, afger all.  

But Lion took pity on Leapard.  “No,” he said.  “Leopard has been punished enough.  I think he has learned his lesson.  Do you all agree?”

The animals nodded in agreement.  Then Lion turned back to Leopard and proclaimed, “We will not punish you further.  Your brown fur is now marked with spots for ever and will remain with you and your descendants as a sign of your guilt.”

And that is why Leopard can no longer blend into the forest.  To this very day,, he still has spots on his fur as a reminder of his greedy behaviour.

What do you think about Leopards’s punishment?  Do you think he got what he deserved?  Do you think another kind of punishment would have been better?Don’t forget to send us your drawings at – click contact button and fill in the form and attach your drawing.

Cheerio then, join me next time for Journey with Story.

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