The Africa Classroom Package: Lessons and Activities

The Wages of Good

The content and activities on this page relate to the traditional African story, The Wages of Good.

There are many versions of this story found throughout Africa. In this one, I took the liberty of changing the introduction in order to avoid some violence. In the version I first learned in Africa, the king was rich but not greedy, and he had a beautiful daughter. Instead of his golden crown falling in the mote, his daughter fell in. The rest of the plot in my version follows the original. In the conclusion of the original, instead of answering the query about the wages of good directly, Rabbit responds with incredulity, claiming he can't believe a small boy like that could carry a crocodile on his head. Diassigue tries to convince Rabbit that the story is true and urges him to answer the question. Rabbit replies that he won't believe it until he sees it. Flustered, Diassigue has the boy demonstrate and as soon as the crocodile is rolled up in the mat and back on the boy's head, Rabbit asks the boy, "Does your family like crocodile soup?" to which the boy replies, "Yes." Rabbit concludes, "Then take this ungrateful animal home and have him for dinner. That is how to treat someone who doesn't know how to respond to kindness."

In a version found in Alex Haley's novel, Roots, the boy grabs "the hare" and takes him home for dinner, too - to reiterate the point that kindness doesn't always beget kindness. So, to allow for a nonviolent ending, I decided to have the readers "follow African tradition" (see A Changing Tradition) and create their own conclusion.

Note that the name, Diassigue, found in the original version I heard in Africa but not in the Roots version, indicates a Francophone West African origin and dates the version to post-colonization.

Rhythm is a key feature of the poem. Repetitive song refrains, rhyme and consistent line length all serve to produce a repetition of sounds which give the poem a meter and a beat.

Activity Idea: Have the class tap a one-two beat with stress on the one beat. Then challenge students to read a stanza or two so the words fit inside the rhythm. Tip: while it might take a quick tongue for certain lines, the whole poem can fit with the rhythm. If your students are good at it, you can easily turn the poem into a rap. Add percussion instruments and accent with other instruments for a nifty presentation.

Lesson/Activity Idea: Listen to a variety of songs, carefully observing how the lyrics fit into the rhythmical pattern of the music. Note uses of rhyme, alliteration, repetition of words and phrases (refrains), and patterns in the line length. If you want to take it a step further, make copies of the lyrics and, using assigned symbols, have students identify and label the various rhythm producing techniques. Next, take some poetry that your class had previously written. Choose poems with rhyme and a consistent pattern of line length. Challenge students to create simple melodies and rhythm patterns that match the poems, turning them into songs. Even if you are not musical yourself, you'll find that some of your students are. If this is the case, your role in this lesson will be facilitator and you might be amazed how some of your students catch on immediately and almost effortlessly attach music to the words. Other students may have difficulty. Include them by having them play percussion instruments or tap out a simple beat. Have your music teacher create a score. If any students in your class play instruments, let them accompany. Make a tape and perform the original pieces for other students or parents.

Discussion: The A Changing Tradition section introduces a very powerful educational concept: One of the best and most exiting ways to learn is to interactive creatively with the contents of our world (or with the content of a lesson, as the case may be). People have been doing this since long before history - and history, art, culture, literature, religion and science are just a few of the more obvious results. And what better place to reinforce the process than inside the walls of your classroom!

Taken from The Culture Connection Newsletter, © Paul Hurteau.

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