Why Tortoises Have No Hair, a Kenyan Folktale

Why do tortoises have no hair? You’ve probably wondered where tortoises’s hair has gone. Here, in the illustration below, is where his problem started, with the scent of the frying mandazi. (East African doughnut.) You’ll see he has hair.

Illustration by Maxwell Abwamba in his digital book, Why Tortoises Have No Hair published in the African Storybook project

The tortoise tale is written and illustrated by Maxwell Abwamba. He graduated from high school in 2014 and now works for Vibrant Villages in Luanda, according to my friend Mark Bean, founder of Amesbury for Africa. Maxwell is also a freelance artist and illustrator in his western Kenyan town. He wrote the book in his local language, Lunyore. Through the digital African Storybook project, the book is available internationally both in Lunyore and English. Click on the title to read Why Tortoises Don’t Have Hair. Maxwell and I are messaging over Facebook as I write this, and he just wrote, “It was told to me by my grade one teacher. We used to learn mother tongue which was later removed out of Kenyan Syllabus.” These stories are working to keep local languages alive and also to give us on the other side of the world a chance to see the words in languages we may never have the chance to hear or know.

African Storybook brings to us “picture books in the languages of Africa.” There are stories in 111 languages, ones spoken in sub-Saharan countries. It’s a project of Saide, Enabling Successful Open Learning for All, located in Johannesburg. African Storybook also has an app that can be downloaded free to make a storybook.

African Storybook app

Finally, here’s a recipe for mandazi, and if you smelled these light, flaky doughnuts frying, you’d almost understand why the tortoise would sacrifice his hair for them.

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