In Your Hands, a Folktale adapted by Lynn Wing

Storyteller Lynn Wing showed her talent during Wildcat’s interview with her on Nov. 12, 2020, for our feature story, A Story for the Ages, by telling our interviewer a story. Her story, In Your Hands, is an adaptation of a Western African folktale.

Many years ago, there was a village where there lived an old woman who was called the Grandmother. The Grandmother was considered to be a fountain of wisdom. All of the adults would tell their children again and again, “Listen to the Grandmother. She knows much. Perhaps, she knows everything.”

Storyteller Lynn WingThere were children that would obey and would listen to the Grandmother, and they learned wonderful lessons. But there were children who were a bit more rebellious. “No one can know everything,” they’d say. “Besides, she is old, what can she teach us?”

One day a group of boys were gathered together admiring a small bird that an older boy had captured. The oldest boy said, “See this bird, let us take it to the Grandmother and I will hold it behind my back and ask her if she knows what I have in my hands. If she says it’s a bird then perhaps she might know everything. But if she does not know what it is then we will expose her, and everyone will know the truth. That she is not all-knowing.”

The other boys thought this was very clever and as a group they walked to the edge of the village to the home of the Grandmother. As they approached the door, they all became shy and just stood there until the Grandmother stepped outside of the doorway, and seeing them, she smiled.

The Grandmother was old. Her skin was like a brown, wrinkled parchment. She had very little hair on her head, and her smile was toothless. She leaned against her walking stick and said, “What can I do for you?”

The boy with the bird stood tall and said, “I am holding something behind my back, what is it?” The Grandmother stood for what seemed the longest time watching the boy and then she noticed a feather filtering between the boy’s legs down to the ground. “Ah,” she said. “You are holding a bird in your hands.”

“Ohhhh…” The other boys were impressed. “She does know everything. How else could she possibly know about the bird?”

But her answer only angered the older boy, and he said, “Yes, but is the bird alive or is it dead?” For if she said it was dead, he would hold out the live bird, but if she said it was alive, he was going to break the bird’s neck and hold out its body.

The smile faded from the Grandmother’s face and she looked at each of the boys one by one until her eyes rested upon the older boy. “Ah, my son, the answer to that question is in your hands.”

Wing is a regional storyteller in the 2021 WSU Storytelling Festival. Read about the festival in our feature story, A Story for the AgesFind links to attend the festival, running Feb. 22–March 18, at