World of Tales
Stories for children, folktales, fairy tales and fables from around the world

Tale of Silk Cotton

African Folktale
to David Brailsford and Sharon Barcan Elswit

You used a horn,
Spearing my auntie,
But you can't kill me.
Utilised your four hooves,
Trampling brother Kwesi,
But you can't kill me.
You think you're invincible,
Gashanami;
So let me tell you,
I am the fearless one:
You cannot kill me.

So sang a young man from a silk cotton tree; taunting, incensed at the carnage of the dreaded bull and its calves, rampaging through his village. They had charged down from that part of Kingston we now know as Gordon Town, into Papine, ferrying devastation: Hurricane Gashanami. From the square in Gordon Town, where the statue of Miss Lou stands, to the square in Papine, where a few vendors sit, alongside the watchers of the world going by. They came storm trooping through, mashing down trees and houses. It was the time when the soil sang Uprooted Blues; the mango sang a verse of early removal and the blossom of the flame tree, cried a cascade of orange. In other parts of the city, people began to board up and barricade, in case the bovine

regiment came stomping through. And you know how it is with all the stories about shape- shifting; here and there, people began to see things, to hallucinate, lose consciousness or

bring down damnation on the rest of the community. As well as physical destruction, there was also damage to the mind.

And the young man Kwame, can't rid his mind of the death of Afia, killed by the hated bull, while washing clothes in Hope River. Everyone loved her. She was the unofficial princess of the village, because she was gentle and generous to all. In many cases, I think her death affected some mourners, more than their personal ones. Young and old loved to be in her company; she was almost like a talisman to them, a little totem; the elders called her the ''Cherished One.''

What would you use in your defence? What item would you choose, as your bulwark against the bull? Our emerging hero chose a silk cotton tree; as have many others, down through the ages. For the Caribs, when they descended from their home on the moon, it was the tree of survival - bearing all kinds of fruit - in the time of famine, during first residence on earth.

In one of the great stories of the Hausa, Zankallala, who is escorted always by birds who sing of him, uses one of these trees, to hide the boy being chased for food, by the monster that is called Dodo. And Ozidi, the hero of the eponymous epic of the Ijo, uproots one, to

bring fire wood to his mother! So Kwame, from his chosen bastion against the bull, challenges him in song. And as you can imagine, the taunting enrages the bull. He begins to charge, using himself like the battering ram of medieval times. And with each charge, he grows bigger like the guy going back and forth to prison - and the tree begins to bend. So Kwame sings another song...

This is no time to falter, To stumble and fall: Raise your head silk cotton tree.

I need you, We need you: Help me end our misery. This is no time to bend, To stagger and drop: Raise your head silk cotton tree. Hear my plea, Our request, Help me kill monstrosity.

The tree appears to listen to the chant, straightens up and the bull begins to tire. Anyway, battling with a silk cotton tree, isn't like the momentary skirmish with a banana tree! He's got all those buttresses to deal with, as well as the main body. I wonder, did his hooves sometimes slip on those massive roots? Did a horn get stuck in the trunk? They battled for two days; through the firefly nights and the john crow days. After two days of battle, Gashanami exhausted, fell: prison bully can't batter the prison wall. With an axe, Kwame finishes him off.

Anyway, Gashanami should have known better, than to mess with a silk cotton! It's name might not sound like much, but its one of the trees I wouldn't tangle with: the other three being the baobab, iroko and the fig. You're never going to defeat those buttress brigades! So after lamentation, they sang. No longer would their homes - of whatever material - be susceptible to such an onslaught again. Their ackee and jackfruit trees will now be safe, from attack worse than canker and blight.

All over Gordon Town and Papine, people sang, like at the Homowo Festival in ancestral Ghana, where the Ga people hoot at hunger after surviving famine; so the people from a part of Jamaica, jeered at the passing of their nemesis. They sang two songs: for an old tree known as silk cotton and a young man called Kwame.

And while the people sang, Kwame went down by Hope River; reflecting and giving thanks. For rescue and for the blessings that can still be counted. Giving thanks as the Caribs did, to Kabo Tano, their word for the Creator. There will be a commemoration annually, on this the day of deliverance. While the sun plays her glinting melody on the water, he sits in the shade of other trees, writing the first part of a song of eternal gratitude.

I could kiss a butterfly,
Dance with a hummingbird;
Write a poem for coconut water,
Ballad for bougainvellia.
And I'll continue writing,
Anthem for a Silk Cotton Tree.
Friendship bracelet for tody,
Luncheon date with oriole;
Blessings from cold sorrel,
Benediction of ginger.
I'll be composing always,
Anthem for a Silk Cotton Tree.


@Natty Mark Samuels, 2023 African School

Author: Natty Mark SamuelsLicense: All rights reserved


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