The Story of the Orphan Snail


Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Zambian Fireside Stories

Once upon a time, there was a snail whose parents died shortly after he was born. He was homeless. During the day, he would wander aimlessly, looking for food. At night, he would look for a place to curl up and sleep. He led a lonely life.

One morning he was woken by the sound of laughter and shouting nearby. He slid out from under a rock and went to see who was making so much noise. Through the tall green grass by the river bank he saw a snail playing with a butterfly. The butterfly had the largest wings he had ever seen with two big spots that made it look as though two giant eyes were watching you. Each time the butterfly landed on his shell, he screamed in delight and rolled over to shake the butterfly off.

As he came closer, he saw that the snail was about his age. He had clean stripes along the side of his body. His shell was so shiny that it reflected the sunlight like water in a pond.

“Hello” said the orphan, peeping from his shell.

“Hello my friend,” said the striped snail, still giggling. “What is your name?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” said the orphan. “I have heard people call me Nkola. I think that is my name.”

“We are all called Nkola because that is what we are. Everybody calls me Kapekesa. What does your mum call you?”

“I have no parents. They all died when I was a baby.”

Kapekesa moved closer to the shy little snail and touched him with one of his tentacles without saying a word. Then he smiled and said, “Are you hungry? My mum prepared some pumpkin leaves for me. Come and join me. I live behind that big Mukwa tree.”

Nkola was not sure if Kapekesa’s parents would let him eat at their house, but he was hungry. He decided to follow his new friend.

To Nkola’s surprise, Kapekesa’s parents welcomed him like an old friend. They even started telling their favourite snail jokes. They made sure he had as much food as he could eat. When they heard the story about his parents, Kapekesa’s dad said, “Young snail, you are not going anywhere tonight. You can stay with us and you can play with your friend every day.

Nkola and Kapekesa became good friends from that day.

One day, as a big cloud began gathering in the sky, Kapekesa’s dad called them and said “My sons, when you are playing in the open and you see a big cloud like that, you must hurry and find shelter under a stone or in a hollow tree. Such clouds bring heavy rains which can sweep an adult snail away.”

Kapekesa paid no attention, but Nkola listened very attentively to the old snail’s advice.

A few weeks later, while Kapekesa and Nkola were out in the open, Nkola pointed to the sky and shouted to his friend, “Look, Kapekesa. There is a large dark cloud just like your dad showed us. Quick, let’s hide in this tree.”

“My dad is always saying things like that,” he said. “I can’t go running every time I see a cloud.”

Nkola tried to persuade his friend but he just kept on playing. Nkola decided to run for cover and hid in a hollow tree.

There was a sudden loud thunder clap and the skies opened with a heavy downpour of rain. Nkola closed his eyes and held on as tightly as he could. By the time Kapekesa saw the current of rain water sweeping towards him, it was too late to hide. He was swept away and was never seen again.

The moral of the story is that you don't need to have parents to benefit from the teachings of the elders. If you pay attention, you will save yourself a lot of trouble. 


Do you know any traditional stories? Send in your comments and share your favourite story with us.


For more Zambian folk tales, visit Lubuto Library Collection


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