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Personal Challenges

Often when a personal challenge is great, so too are the rewards for success and the penalties for failure. In the tales you are about to read, characters face personal challenges that test their inner strength. These characters and the challenges they face relate closely to similar characters and challenges in Unit Five.


Kelfala's Secret Something

retold by Adjai Robinson

The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya, a nation in east-central Africa. The Kikuyu are predominantly farmers who have a strong work ethic. Among the Kikuyu, the traditions and instructions of parents and elders are binding, almost like laws. Arranged marriages are the custom in this society that forms the backdrop of "Kelfala's Secret Something!"



How Odin Lost His Eye

retold by Catherine F. Sellew

Scandinavia is the name given to a group of countries in northern Europe that includes Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. In these countries much of the land away from the seas is covered with snow. According to Norse (Scandinavian) mythology, the giant tree that supports all creation has three roots. One of the roots extends to a misty underworld. Another goes to Asgard (ăs'gärd), the heavenly realm where the gods dwell. The third root reaches Jötunheim (yō'ten-hīm"), the icy realm of the frost giants. From his throne in Asgard, Odin, the mightiest Norse god, keeps watch on all the lands of creation.


Note which behaviors are viewed as virtuous in each culture and how they are rewarded.

Note which behaviors are viewed as negative.

Identify the message or theme about love that each culture conveys.

Determine how the events in the stories foreshadow future actions.


Pumpkin Seed and the Snake

retold by Norma J. Livo and Dia Cha

The Hmong (hmông) people live in the mountains of Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. Since they did not develop a written language until the 1950s, they relied on strong oral and artistic traditions—such as pieces of cloth with elaborate needlework—to pass their cultural traditions from generation to generation. After the Vietnam War, many Hmong emigrated to the United States.




Once when the world was still very young, Odin sat on his throne in the most beautiful palace in Asgard. His throne was so high that he could see over all three parts of the world from where he sat. On his head he wore a helmet shaped like an eagle. On his shoulders perched two black ravens called Memory and Thought. And at his feet crouched two snarling wolves.

The great king gazed thoughtfully down on the earth below him. He had made the green land that stretched out before his eyes. With the help of the other gods he had made men and women who lived on that earth. And he


felt truly like the All-father he was called.

The fair elves had promised they would help his children of the earth. The elves were the tiny people who lived between heaven and earth. They were so small that they could flit about doing their work unseen. Odin knew that they were the artists who painted the flowers and made the beds for the streams. They took care of all the bees and the butterflies. And it was the elves who brought the gentle rain and sunshine to the earth.

Even the ugly dwarfs, who lived in the heart of the mountains, agreed to help. They forged iron and metals, made tools and weapons. They dug gold and silver and beautiful jewels out of the earth. Sometimes they even cut the grain and ground the flour for the farmers on the earth.

All seemed to be going well. Odin found it hard to think of evil times. But he knew that the frost giants were only waiting for a chance to bring trouble to his children. They were the ones who brought cold and ice to the world and shook the earth in anger. They hated Odin and all the work of the gods.

And from high on his throne Odin looked down beyond the earth deep into the gloomy land of his enemies. He saw dark figures of huge men moving about. They looked like evil shadows. He, the king of the gods, must have more wisdom. It was not enough just to see his enemies. He must know more about them.

So Odin wrapped his tall figure in a blue cloak. Down from his throne he climbed. Down the broad rainbow bridge he strode and across the green earth till Ile came to one of the roots of the great evergreen tree. There, close by the tree, was a well full of clear water. Its surface was so still it was like a mirror. In it one could see pictures of things that had happened and things that were going to happen.

But beside the well sat an old man. His face was lined with the troubles of the world. His name was Mimir, which means "memory." No one, not even the great Odin, could see the pictures in the well unless he first drank some of its water. Only Mimir could give the

magic drink.

"Aged Mimir," Odin said to the old man, "you who hold the knowledge of the past and future in your magic waters, let me have but one sip. Then I can know enough to protect the men and women of the earth from the hate of the giants."

Mimir looked kindly at Odin, but he did not smile. Although he spoke softly, his voice was so deep it reminded Odin of the distant roar of the ocean.

"The price of one drink from this well is not cheap," Mimir said. "And once you have drunk and gazed into the mirror of life, you may wish you had not. For sorrow and death as well as joy are pictured there. Think again before you ask to drink."

But once the king of the gods had made up his mind, nothing could change it. He was not afraid to look upon sorrow and death.

"What is your price, aged Mimir?" Odin asked.

"You are great and good, Odin," answered Mimir. "You have worked hard to make the world. Only those who know hard work may drink from my well. However, that is not enough. What have you given up that is very dear to you? What have you sacrificed? The price of a drink must be a great sacrifice. Are you still willing to pay the price?"

What could the king of the gods sacrifice? What was most dear to him? Odin thought of his handsome son, Balder, whom he loved most in the world. To give up his son would be like giving up life and all that was


forge (fôrj) v. to shape metal by heating it and pounding on it with a hammer

sacrifice (săk'rə-fīs') v. to give up something highly valued for the sake of something or someone more valued


wonderful around him. Odin stood silent before Mimir. Indeed that would be a high price!

Then Mimir spoke again. He had read Odin's thoughts.

"No, I am not asking for your dear son. The Fates1 say his life must be short, but he has time yet to live and bring happiness to the gods and the world. I ask for one of your eyes."

Odin put his hands up to his bright blue eyes. Those two eyes had gazed across the world from his high throne in the shining city of the gods. His eyes had taught him what was good and beautiful, what was evil and ugly. But those eyes had also seen his children, the men and women of the earth, struggling against the hate of the giants. One eye was a small sacrifice to win knowledge of how to help them. And without another thought, Odin plucked out one of his blue eyes and handed it to Mimir.

Then Mimir smiled and gave Odin a horn full of the waters of his well.

"Drink deeply, brave king, so you may see all that you wish in the mirror of life."

Odin lifted the horn to his lips and drank. Then he knelt by the edge of the well and watched the pictures passing across its still and silent surface. When he stood up again, he sighed, for it was as Mimir had said. He had seen sorrow and death as well as joy. It was only the glorious promise at the end that gave him courage to go on.

So Odin, the great king of the gods, became one-eyed. If you can find Mimir's well, you will see Odin's blue eye resting on the bottom. It is there to remind men and women of the great sacrifice he made for them.

1. Fates: goddesses who decide the course of people's lives.

Catharine F. Sellew


Myth Lover As a child, Catharine Sellew loved to listen as her mother read myths. Sellew later studied mythology and published a collection of Greek myths, Adventures with the Gods. She also retold Norse myths in Adventures with the Giants and Adventures with the Heroes.

A Skilled Writer Sellew also retold stories from the Old Testament and wrote a novel for teenagers, entitled Torchlight.






Once long ago, in another time and place, in a small village, there lived a widow and her two daughters. The older daughter was named Pumpkin Vine and the younger one was named Pumpkin Seed.

The family had a garden near the river. They had to work hard to prepare the field for the coming growing season. But they had a prob­lem, because in the middle of the garden was a huge boulder. One day as she was working around the rock, the widow said to herself, "If someone could remove this rock from the middle of my garden I would let him marry one of my daughters."

At the end of the day, the family went home. The next day, the three women went back to work in the garden and found that the rock was gone! The widow started to laugh and said out loud, "I was only joking. I wouldn't allow either of my daughters to marry whoever removed that rock." The widow thought that was the last of the giant rock. But the next day when the widow and her daughters went back to the field to work, there was the rock, in its original place in the middle of the garden.

Once more the widow said to herself, "If someone would take this rock from the middle of the field I would let him marry one of my daughters." The next day the rock was gone again, but the widow said, "I did not mean it. I wouldn't allow either of my daughters to marry whoever removed that rock," as she laughed.

The next morning the rock was back in its spot, and the widow again promised one of her daughters in marriage to the person who could remove the rock.

Just like the other times, the rock disappeared from the field and the widow again teased, "I did not mean it. I wouldn't allow either of my daughters to marry the person who moved the rock."

The next morning the widow went to the field alone and found the rock back in its place. Giggling a little, the widow whispered, "If someone would take this rock from the middle of the field I would let him marry one of my daughters."

This time, a snake that was nearby said, "If you promise not to lie anymore I will remove the rock."

The widow was so startled that she promised not to lie anymore. The snake slithered from the edge of the garden, laced his tail around the rock, and threw it into the river. Since the widow's two daughters hadn't come to the field with her, the snake followed the widow home.

When they got home the widow called from outside to her daughters. She told them what had happened and said that one of them would



have to marry the snake. Pumpkin Vine and Pumpkin Seed didn't want to marry the snake. They refused to open the door and let the snake into the house.

The snake and the widow waited and waited until it was dark, but the girls wouldn't open the door. Then the mother whispered through the door to her daughters, "I will kill the snake when he falls asleep." Even though her mother had said this would work, Pumpkin Vine, being the older one, still refused to open the door. It was very dark outside by this time. Pumpkin Seed, on the other hand, thought that things would go as easily as her mother said, so she opened the door.

When the snake got into the house, Pumpkin Vine and Pumpkin Seed were frightened by its huge size and ugly shininess. Pumpkin Vine protested bitterly when her mother asked her to marry the snake. The widow finally convinced Pumpkin Seed to marry the snake. The snake followed Pumpkin Seed wherever she went. It curled up beside her feet when she sat down. When she went to bed, the snake slid into her bed and coiled up beside her.

That night, with a sharp knife in one hand and a candle in the other, the widow crept into Pumpkin Seed's bedroom to kill the snake. But she discovered it was not an ugly snake sleeping beside Pumpkin Seed, but the most handsome young man that she had ever seen. She couldn't kill him.

The next day when Pumpkin Seed woke up, the snake was still alive. She cried and demanded to know why her mother hadn't kept her promise and killed it. "I'll kill the snake tonight, Pumpkin Seed. Please trust me," begged the widow.

That night, the snake again slid into Pumpkin Seed's bed and coiled up beside her. The widow came into the room with her sharp knife and the candle and crept up to the bed to kill the snake. Again, though, instead of an ugly snake sleeping beside Pumpkin Seed, it was the handsome young man. Once more, she just couldn't kill him.

The next morning Pumpkin Seed woke up and there the snake was in her bed, still alive. She cried and cried and demanded to know



why her mother hadn't killed it. "I'll kill the snake tonight, Pumpkin Seed. Please give me one more chance. Please trust me," pleaded the widow.

When the sun rose the next morning bright and warm, Pumpkin Seed woke up and there was the snake—still alive. Now Pumpkin Seed had no choice. She had to go with the snake to his home. On the way they came to a lovely clear stream. "Pumpkin Seed, I will go take a bath over behind the rocks. You wait here while I am gone." "All right," Pumpkin Seed agreed.

"When I am gone, you will see lots of colorful bubbles pouring down the stream. You must not touch the green bubbles. You can play with the white and yellow ones, but do not touch the green bubbles," warned the snake. Pumpkin Seed nodded in agreement.

The snake had been gone for a while when, sure enough, Pumpkin Seed noticed a variety of colored bubbles floating down the stream. She stood in delighted amazement as the bright, glittering bubbles traveled smoothly down the clear water. She eagerly pulled out some of the yellow bubbles. To her surprise the bubbles turned into gold jewels in her hands. Then she gathered some white bubbles, and they turned into silver jewels. Pumpkin Seed was so happy. She had never had such beautiful riches. She gaily put them on her neck, her wrists, her ears, and her fingers.

As she was admiring them, she thought, "Why shouldn't I have some of the green bubbles?" So she reached down and scooped up some green bubbles, and before her startled eyes they turned into twisting snakes in her hands. They even stuck all over her hands. She frantically tried to remove the snakes, but they wouldn't come off.

A moment later a young, handsome man came toward her, and she quickly hid her wriggling hands behind her back. "Why are you hiding your hands?" asked the man.

Her voice quivered as she told him, "Oh, my husband is a snake. He went up the stream



to bathe and he told me to keep my hands like this."

The young man smiled and said, "I am your husband...." Pumpkin Seed interrupted him. "No, you can't be!"

The man smiled and said, "Look at this!" He raised his arm and showed her the remaining snakeskin in his armpit. She believed him when she saw the skin and felt ashamed when she showed him her hands. But he simply blew on her hands and the snakes fell off and disappeared like magic. Then they went home and lived happily for the rest of their lives.

Norma J. Livo

born 1929

"No matter what side of the family got together, music and storytelling were important."

Family Traditions Raised in Appalachia, Norma Livo says she grew up with her mother's "folklorish" stories and her father's "tall tales, music, and ballads full of mischief." When one of Livo's sons was diagnosed as having a learning disability, she returned to school to learn how to help him. She earned a doctorate in education and began using her own stories to teach her son to read.

Storytelling Scholar Livo introduced storytelling into elementary and secondary classrooms and designed storytelling courses for the University of Colorado, Denver—from which she retired as professor of education in 1992. Livo has also written many books on storytelling and folklore. She worked with Dia Cha, a Hmong immigrant, to retell "Pumpkin Seed and the Snake" and other tales collected in Folk Stories of the Hmong: People of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.






But the story . . .

On the steep slopes of the Kilimanjaro1 stood a tiny village of very hardy people. Mountain climbers were they all, and their gardens of tea and pyrethrum2 and coffee were as dear to their hearts as the cap of snow shielding the head of their father mountain. The men and women had strong hands and great mountain strides. They were a happy people with warm hearts. And they were a people faithful to their traditions.

The young fellow, Kelfala, was one of these. Kelfala, the clown. People used to say that he was funny from the time he entered his mother's womb. He could make a thousand and one faces with his one fleshy face. His lips, he could twist and curl, and even if you wanted to hiss, your hissing would turn to laughing. If you listened to Kelfala's stories,

I tell you, you would see and hear all the animals in the forest in this one Kelfala. And he sprang surprises as fast as he spinned yarns, on everything around.

Kelfala, the clown, was like his grandfather before him. He was funny. He was clever. Oh, he was a charming darling. It seemed that nothing or no one could resist Kelfala.

No one, except the beautiful Wambuna. She would not even turn his way.

Before, as children, these two had played together, laughed together, teased together. But Wambuna had gone into the girl's society, as all girls of the village do. There, the old women had taught her how to wash and care

1. Kilimanjaro (kil'ə-mən-järō): the highest mountain in Africa.

2. pyrethrum (pī-rē'thrəm): a showy flowering plant.


hardy (här'dē) adj. in robust good health


for babies, how to prepare leaves and herbs for simple cures, how to sing the village songs, how to cook meats and yams and vegetables. Her roasted peanuts were always brown and tasty. And, if you ate her sauces, you would lick your fingers as if you were going to bite them, too. Her graces were admired even by other young girls. And when she came out,3 she was given the oath: that from that time on, if she talked to any man outside her family, she was bound to marry him. That was tradition.

Kelfala would sit in the bush and watch this darling Wambuna. Her skin was as smooth as a mirror. Her mahogany-brown arms swayed gracefully by her sides, keeping time with her swaying hips. When she laughed, she showed ivory-white teeth. And just a smile from Wam­buna sent warm thrills through clownish Kelfala. Her head, she carried erect, and the rings sat on her neck like rows of diamonds on a crown. The more Kelfala watched, the more he wanted Wambuna for his own.

But she had an endless stream of suitors. (If you could have seen her, you would not mind even being last, as long as you were in line.) Some of these young men went to her father to ask for Wambuna. That was tradition. But many had heard his loud "No-No" and tried to trick Wambuna, instead. But do you think she talked to the young men around? Well! You wait and see.

Always, they paid their visits to her at the garden, always when the elders were having their rest from the hot midday sun.

"Wambuna, let me get you water from the stream."

"Ay'ee, Wambuna, I hit my toe against a stone. It is gushing out blood!"

"Wambuna, your plants are not growing at all. You are so lazy. Yambuyi's plants are better than yours, lazy you!"

"Wambuna, hear your father? He is snoring so hard under this hot sun, he has driven all the animals away!"

But Wambuna's lips were sealed, and all this teasing and coaxing only kept her lips tighter. She would not even raise her head to smile. She worked in silence, and if she talked at all, she only whispered kind things to her plants.

Now, Kelfala joined the line, too. And— tradition or not—he would not risk the father's "No-No." Why? He, Kelfala, the clown? Kelfala, who could coax words and

3. when ... out: when she was officially regarded as having reached adulthood.


laughter out of trees? He would get Wambuna to speak!

He tried his hippopotamus face, to get her to shout in fear. He turned into a leopard, springing into Wambuna's path when she was alone, so she would cry for help. He hid behind a clump of trees and became Wambuna's mother, asking questions and questions and questions that needed answers.

But Wambuna's lips were sealed.

The stream of suitors grew smaller, like the village stream itself, shrinking and shrinking in the dry season when the rains have stopped. But Kelfala did not give up. Finally, he confided in two friends that he had a something that would win Wambuna for him. A secret something. (He did not tell them what.)

For two weeks Kelfala and his two friends, Shortie Bumpie and Longie Tallie, trailed Wambuna and her family as they went to the farm. Then Kelfala's day came. They spied Wambuna going alone to the farm with her basket balanced on her head. He and Shortie Bumpie and I,ongie Tallie set out behind her, kunye, kunye, kunye as if they were treading on hot coals. They stood behind the trees and bushes, unseen by anyone but themselves, and waited.

On this day, Kelfala had put on his best dress. But if you had seen him, you would think that he was the most unlikely suitor for a young girl. His dress was rags and tatters. He had rubbed grease all over his body, mud on his head, and funny chalk marks on his face. He also had painted his front teeth with red-black clay.

The birds were twitting happily as they caught worms on the dewy grass. Nearby the stream was flowing by, its waters dazzling in the early morning sunlight. From time to time Kelfala opened his sack, touched his something, and smiled to himself.

Wambuna started working hard and fast. Indeed, she was racing the sun. By the time the sun got halfway on its journey, she hoped to have gotten to the end of hers. She only stopped her work for a moment, went to the stream with her calabash4 for water, then returned and kindled a fire. She took some yams from her little basket, put them on the hot coals, and returned to her plants. She was weeding the new grasses on her tea beds.

Kelfala's opportunity had come. Soon, Kelfala, the clown, Kelfala, the funny one, would be married to the most beautiful, the most gentle, the mildest lady on Kilimanjaro. At least, that is what Kelfala thought.

Kelfala spied here, there, and everywhere from his hiding, stepped out into the open, and hopped and skipped to the fireplace. Out of his sack he pulled his something and placed it on the hot coals beside Wambuna's yams. Then he squatted on the largest firestone and poled the red-hot coals. Shoving Wambuna's yams aside, he uttered a throaty chuckle, which he quickly trapped with his hands. He glanced again at the fireplace, and like a cock ready to peck at the yams, he tittered quietly to himself. But again he quickly stopped himself.

4. calabash (kăl'ə-băsh'): the dried, hollowed-out shell of a gourd, used as a bowl.


tread (trĕd) v. to walk on, in, or along


But only for a moment, for suddenly more chuckles escaped, and Kelfala howled like a ruffled owl. He hooted the monkeys out of the treetops. He rolled himself into a hall as he rolled and rolled with laughter. Kelfala, the laughing clown. He laughed and he laughed and he laughed.

Now, the hush came alive. Shortie Bumpie and Longie Tallie poked their heads out to see what was happening. At first they twitched their faces and cocked their cars. But as Kelfala rolled on and on, and the laughter rolled on and on, it dragged the two young men with it.

Wambuna—who had to poke her fire—tried to sneak past the hooting trio, but the loud roars quickly sank into her bones. Oh, how silly those three idle friends! Kelfala, that clown Kelfala! But as she watched them, her grin turned into a broad smile, her smile turned into a shy laugh, and without realizing it, she became one of the howling trio. She was all fits of laughter. Oh! How the tears ran down Wambuna's eyes.

All four laughed and laughed, laughed and laughed and laughed.

When all at once Kelfala stood, with arms akimbo5 and stomach shot forward, and pointed to Wambuna's fireplace.

"A beautiful girl like you," he laughed, "proud as the cotton tree and the greatest cook in the village, you, you roast a Gituyu with your yams!"

Wambuno turned around.

There by the giant firestone, on the ashes, was Kelfala's something. A shrunken, old, burnt Gituyu!

Wambuna caught her breath, looked from Kelfala to his friends, and cried out between tears and laughter. "A Gituyu! It cannot be. It cannot ..."

But, at that Kelfala threw up his arms. "Aha! You have spoken to Kelfala. Kelfala, the great, Kelfala, the clown! Kelfala, the cunning one. Kelfala, the proud husband of a proud wife!"

"Wait a minute, Kelfala," one of his friends said. "Kelfala, I tell you now, she doesn't belong to you."

5. akimbo (ə-kĭm'bō): with hands on hips, and elbows bent outward.


"Oh, no, you Shortie Bumpie? The trick was mint, see?" and with that, Kelfala hopped.

"The plan was mine, see?" and with that, Kelfala skipped.

"The secret was mine, see?" and with that, he jumped.

"The Gituyu was mine, see? My secret something! And the laughter was mine, see, I started it." And with that, he laughed and laughed and laughed ...

Wambuna stood, amazed, but she soon found support in Shortie Bumpie and Longie Tallie.

"I know that a man has had three wives, but never on this whole mountain has ever a woman shared three husbands," retorted Shortie Bumpie.

"Yes, Kelfala, this girl either belongs to all of us ... or none of us," cried the other friend.

You could see Kelfala's heart heaving. "What did you say? You, Longie Tallie?" Wambuna lifted her eyes.

"Yes," Longie Tallie went on. "Wambuna laughed at you. She cried at you. She mum­bled, she grumbled at you. She laughed-cried. She laughed-mumbled-cried at you. But she talked to all three of us!"

Wambuna pressed her lips together in a quiet, sly smile and looked into Kelfala's eyes. Then she walked back to her plants with her head raised up like a large pink rose in early spring.

Kelfala just looked, his head bowed like a weeping willow. But then, he tapped his hag and grinned. "Today is only for today. There is still tomorrow. There will always be another secret."

That was tradition, too.


retort (rĭ-tôrt) v. respond to a comment, such as an insult or argument, with a reply of the same type, often quick, sharp, or witty
Adjai Robinson

born 1932

"Each book that I have written for boys and girls is also a book I have written for myself"

Folk Heritage Adjai Robinson was born in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. He grew up listening to local

storytellers recount wonderful tales. Years later, Robinson continued the tradition by becoming a storyteller for radio and retelling African folk tales.

Back to Africa Robinson came to the United States to lead workshops about African folklore and to attend Columbia University in New York. In 1975, he returned to Africa, where he became the principal education officer at the Nigeria Teachers Institute. Robinson has published a number of children's books.


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