The Vingananee and the Tree Toad

VingananeeThis fabulous story came into our home via my mother.  It was ex libris – a discard from the Brookings Public Library, and it had already been rebound and was an ugly book.

But what a beautiful story.

This Liberian folk tale, retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Ellen Weiss tells the tale of four friends  – Spider and his three workers Buck Deer, Lion, and Rat. They live and work together, each with a job that best suits them, and after a hard day’s work, the tree toad who lives in the yard sings them to sleep.

Into their orderly life come chaos in the form of a giant hairy monster named the Vingananee.  He demands the stew from Rat, and threatens to eat Rat for noncompliance. Rat fights for the stew and ends up tied to a tree behind the house.

“I’m the Vingananee,/and I am hungry./ Give me your stew,/Or I will eat you!”

Each of the friends agrees in turn to defeat the Vingananee and literally save their dinner. And each day the Vingananee eats their stew.

Typically in a trickster story (when there is a spider), the trickster is the spider, but in this story Spider is not even interested in trying after Lion and Buck Deer end up tied to a tree.  It’s the little tree toad who thinks that he might be able to defeat the Vingananee.

What I love about this story are the conventions of the storyteller. There is repetition, escalation, and great onomatopoeia – Rat sweeps – fras fras fras; the Vingananee walks, pusu pusu pusu; and the tree toad sings them to sleep, tau au au au aut – among other sounds.

And I love it when the little guy wins.

The Vingananee and the Tree Toad by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Ellen Weiss, but I think this lovely book is out of print. Snatch it up at a used book store if you can find it.

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