The Drongo Bird
As told by Adella Gautier
Adella Adella the Storytella
Drawing by Leon Sun
New Orleans, Louisiana
This story comes from the continent of Africa, well, actually from an island off of the East Coast of Africa, do you know the name of that island? Yes, Madagascar. Now a long, long time ago in Madagascar, all was well, and there was a boy whose name I no longer remember who lived on that island in a village that was a very, very happy place, and all was well. And the boy had a baby sister who never ever cried – can you imagine having a baby brother or sister who never ever cried, yeah? Well, anyway, this boy had a little sister who never cried, and all was well on that island. Now, the old woman once said to the children, “Children, beware, beware of the Drongo Bird for the Drongo Bird is evil, do not befriend the Drongo Bird. The butterflies carried the spirits of the ancestors, they are beautiful winged creatures, but beware of the Drongo Bird, he only brings evil.” Now the Drongo Bird was a little blackbird with a crest atop its head and a long tail that was split in the middle. And one day a Drongo Bird flew into the village. Now the boy, whose name I no longer remember, befriended the Drongo Bird because you see the Drongo Bird could imitate any sound that it heard, the sound of the children laughing, hahahahaha, the Drongo Bird could make that sound; the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, whseeeee, the Drongo Bird could make that sound; and the sound of the women pounding the rice, tap, tap, tap, the Drongo Bird could make that sound. And all was well on the island. And the boy, whose name I no longer remember, started to spend a lot of time with the Drongo Bird, and the other children would tease him and say, “Oh, we’re going to tell on you, you’re befriending the Drongo Bird, you’re befriending the Drongo Bird, we’re gonna tell, we’re gonna tell on you. But the boy and his little baby sister who never ever cried would sit and make sounds for the Drongo Bird to imitate.
Now one day, into this village there came a merchant from the outside world, and the merchant told a story, he told a story of men with pale faces and hair growing from their chins who were going into villages taking the men, the women, and the children and putting them on boats and taking them to no one knows where. Now the boy, whose name I no longer remember, listened to that story as did all of the other villagers, and everyone thought that the merchant was a great storyteller, but the boy said, “Do you think that the men with the pale faces and the hair growing from their chins will ever come here?” “Oh my child, do not bother our guest, that is only a story that he is telling.” “But do you think that he’ll ever come here, do you, do you think, do you think?” And the merchant answered with a proverb, “My child, the crocodile, even when it is asleep, still has teeth” “I don’t understand that…I asked you if the men with the pale faces and the hair growing from their chins will ever come to this village?” “My son, go to bed, do not bother our guest, sleep my child, sleep.”
Now that night the boy, whose name I no longer remember, did not sleep well – he couldn’t help but think about the story that the merchant had told. Now the next day the children in the village began to play a new game – one of the boys put white clay on his face and he stuck a straw into that clay right around his chin, and he would chase the other children and they played a game called Slave Catcher and Slave. But the boy, whose name I no longer remember, would not play that game, he didn’t like that game at all, and he went to the Drongo Bird, and he said: “Drongo Bird, you’ve flown near and far, have you ever seen or heard of men with pale faces and hair growing from their chins?” And the Drongo Bird made the sound of a village burning, kch, kch-oo, kch, kch-oo. “What? I don’t understand, I asked you have you ever seen or heard of men with pale faces and hair growing from their chins. And again the bird made the sound of a village burning, kch, kch-oo, kch, kch-oo. “Oh Drongo Bird, I don’t understand you today, I’m going fishing, and the boy went down to the shore, and he cast his nets and he pulled them in, but he didn’t catch any fish so he threw them out again, and as he was pulling them in, he looked up and he saw a boat with men with pale faces and hair growing from their chins coming towards the shore. And he ran to warn the others – “The slave catchers are coming, the slave catchers are coming, run, run.” “Oh, get away boy, you just want to play with us, we’re not going to let you play the game, I thought you didn’t like this game, now get away.” ‘No, I saw them, I really did.” “Oh, go and talk to the Drongo Bird.”
Now the old woman was watching and listening, and she called the boy, “Come, my child, come, what is it?” “The slave catchers are here, the…” “Oh, my child, hahahahaha, what an imagination you have, that was only a story that the merchant told, there’s no such thing as men with pale faces and hair growing from their chins, come, let us…” “No, I saw them, I did, I really did.” Now the old woman knew that the boy never ever lied, and she said, “Come, my child, we must hide. Children, run and tell your parents that the slave catchers are here and we must hide!” And the children continued to play their game. But the old woman, the boy whose name I no longer remember, and his baby sister who never ever cried went to hide in the bush. And the other children continued to play their game of slave catcher and slave when one of the boys looked up, and standing in the village were the men with the pale faces and the hair growing from their chins. And all of the children began to run to warn their parents. Now when the men with the pale faces and the hair growing from their chins reached the center of the village, it was empty. And they noticed the tracks that the boy and the old woman had left behind…and the men followed the footprints of the old woman and the boy whose name I no longer remember, and his baby sister who never ever cried, and those footprints led them right to the spot where they were hiding. And that baby who never ever cried, “Wahhhhhhhh!” A thorn or something must have pricked her foot and the men were about to go eat, when suddenly they heard, “Wahhhhhhh, wahhhhhh, wahhhhh!” The sounds of crying babies surrounded them and they ran throughout the bush trying to find where the sound was coming from, but to no avail, and they went back to the village and set it afire. And all that you could hear was the sound of the village burning, kch, kch-oo, kch, kch-oo. And flying above the smoke and the flames were a tiny black bird with a crest atop its head and a long tail that was split in the middle, and the men with the pale faces and the hair growing from their chins left the village without taking any of the men, the women, and the children. And they got on their boats and sailed away.
Now after a while, the people of the village returned and saw that their village had been burned to the ground. But they worked together to rebuild their homes and again all was well in this village on the island of Madagascar. And one day, into that village flew a little black bird with a crest atop its head and a long tail that was split – the Drongo Bird. And the old woman ran out – “Welcome, welcome the Drongo Bird – he is no longer considered evil, the Drongo Bird will forever be sacred in Madagascar.” And that is the story of the boy whose name I no longer remember and the Drongo Bird, a tale from Madagascar.
Now, do you think that that’s a true story? Maybe.
This story, The Drongo Bird comes from Madagascar and is based on the story of Ricoto the Drongo Bird. It is available on a cassette tape by Adella, Adella the Storytella called Stories to Bring Friends Near.
Photo by Nic Paget-Clarke
Published in In Motion Magazine – July 30, 1995.