[From Kiungani, or: Story and History from Central Africa by Arthur Madan, 1887. See item #130 in the Bibliography. The photograph of the chameleon is by Charles J. Sharp at Wikimedia Commons.]



One day a frog spoke to his fellow frogs and said, “I have heard that there is a chameleon about. The day I see him, he shall be my friend.”

Well, one day they met, the frog and the chameleon, and they at once wished each other good morning, and after wishing each other good morning, they made mutual inquiries. First the frog asked the chameleon, “How are you getting on?”

“Capitally,” replied the chameleon. “And how are you — well or badly?”

“Excellently,” said the frog, “and how have you been this long time past?”

“In peace and quietness,” answered the chameleon, “passing all understanding.”

“My friend,” said the frog, “you have given me an answer, but it has a fatal flaw. Peace cannot pass all understanding, unless you ascribe it to Almighty God, who created us, me and you. You, my friend, speak to me of a peace passing all understanding without naming your Creator, yours and mine, the Creator of all things, Almighty God.”

“Quite true,” answered the chameleon. “You have a very fine sense of propriety.”

Well, the frog and the chameleon clung to each other as the ring to the finger, and so remained for many a day, the frog and the chameleon.

At last the frog got up and said to the chameleon, “My friend, we are still unmarried. Let us go and look for wives, and so marry.”

“By all means, my friend,” said the chameleon, “let us go in search of wives.”

So off they went to search for wives, and they traveled for many a day without finding what they were in search of. However, one day they saw a town and said, “Suppose we enter this town. It is possible we shall get them here.”

So they entered the town and were at once made welcome — “Welcome, welcome, strangers.” They sat down, and food was brought in abundance, and they made a meal on the spot. In the morning they were asked, “How are things going in your parts — well or badly?”

“As well as could be,” answered they. ” But there is just one thing to mention: we are in want of wives.”

“What do you say?” rejoined the people of the town.

“Wives,” said they, “simply wives.”

Now in that town there was a certain man who had two children, both girls, and just at that time the two daughters of this man appeared and passed in front of the frog and the chameleon, who noticed that they were fine girls, and they asked the people of the town, “Where is their father?”

The people answered and said, “He is the man you were just now talking to here. They are his daughters.”

“We should like,” they said, “to marry his daughters.” Their father and their mother were at once called. The frog and the chameleon said, “We should like to marry your daughters.”

The man had a little conversation with his wife. “Well, what do you think, my dear? Our daughters are asked in marriage by the frog and the chameleon. Now what do you think, my dear? Are they to marry or not marry?” “Just as you like, my dear,” replied his wife. “Well,” said he, “for my part, I should think they had better marry. These are gentlemen of quality, and I really cannot say no to them.” Then the wife remarked, “I won’t have my children live in want. I won’t have my children find life all worry and trouble.”

So the husband replied to the frog and the chameleon, “Is it really the case that you have the means to provide well for your wives?”

The frog and the chameleon answered and said to the father, “We have, sir, never fear. We have, we have indeed, sir.”

Then the mother put in her word, “I want sons-in-law who know how to dig.”

“We will try,” replied they, but the frog added a boast on his own account and said, “I have no doubt, madam, I can dig, no doubt at all.” But the chameleon only said, “I will try, but I do not think I can.”

So the wedding of the frog and chameleon was celebrated, and it was as grand as could possibly be, the wedding of the chameleon and the frog. Fifty days lasted the wedding festivities of the frog and the chameleon, with slaughter of oxen and slaughter of sheep and goats. As to chickens, they were beyond counting. So a very grand affair was the wedding of the frog and the chameleon.

Well, when the wedding festivities were over, the father-in-law said to them, “Well, sons-in-law, what line of life will you take up now?”

“In this country,” said they, “we are strangers,” and they added, “We want spades and axes and sickles. We will do field-work.” They said further, “Of course we are going to dig. Should we take your daughters and do nothing for it?”

Their father-in-law bought spades, axes, and sickles — everything required for field-work their father-in-law bought. He gave them the things and said, “I want you to farm. Only support your wives, and I won’t take a single sixpence from you.”

“By all means,” they replied, and the frog said, “For my part, one spade and one axe are by no means enough for me. I require twelve spades and ten axes and nine sickles. Then I shall do rare work.”

“Gently, gently,” interrupted his friend the chameleon. “Are you speaking the truth, my friend? How do you propose to work with twelve spades?”

“Oh! Oh!” cried the frog. “Just because the chameleon is a rare stick-in-the-mud —  he’s a whole year getting anywhere; he just crawls one foot at a time — I won’t have you make me out a do-nothing, Mr. Chameleon! I want twelve spades. None of your nonsense for me. Out of the road there!” The chameleon moved off, and then the frog was given his twelve spades, and he said, “Now I shall do rare work” — and he was given spaces, and axes too, and sickles, just as he had requested.

But the chameleon was given one spade and one axe and one sickle. And his father-in-law said, “The frog has told me you are a thorough idler. That’s why I gave you one spade and one axe and one sickle, because you are lazy.”

“Very good, father-in-law,” said the chameleon, “you will see if I am lazy. Thank you, thank you; one spade and one axe and one sickle will do for me, father-in-law. Thank you. Let the frog there have your spades.”

So the matter ended, and they went off to work.

Well, whenever the frog went out to work, he used to cover himself with sand and cover himself with mud, and when he came home to his father-in-law’s house, he bragged, “I have done a fine stroke of work today; I want a good pile of food on my plate today.” His mother-in-law cooked for him, and he took his meals by himself, and the frog was very greedy and would go presently to his mother-in-law and say, “I have worked hard today, mother-in-law, but as to the chameleon, he does not do a single stroke of work — he goes off a ramble without you seeing him; he carries off his spade in the morning, but don’t you believe that he is at work. He is a liar and a do-nothing.” Then the mother-in-law got to hate the chameleon heartily, because he was lazy. The frog had made mischief, and he said to her, “Keep your love for me, I who work like a man, while the chameleon does nothing.” When the frog came from his fields it was always the same thing: he covered himself with mud so as to get a name for hard work and be praised by everybody.

When the chameleon came from the fields, he would oil himself and bathe himself and go back to his house, and when he goes indoors, his wife sees him, and flies into a passion, and demands of her husband, “How much digging have you done today?” and the chameleon answers his wife, “I have fine games. I don’t dig. The frog is the great digger; he has it all to himself — no one else has a chance with him in digging.” His wife would answer and say, “You are an idle do-nothing, you! Everyone tells me you are. Is there a man in the world who comes from the fields and all to oil himself? Where did you ever see one? Tell me.”

“No, I never did,” said the chameleon. “But still, suppose it is a way a man has; what are you to do?” His wife made no reply. At last she said to him, “Just try to dig a bit. Don’t be lazy, my dear. Look at your friend the frog; when he comes from his fields, does he oil himself or not?”

The chameleon said to his wife, “No, he does not.”

“Well,” said his wife, “then you are an idler; you do not dig.”

“Just so, an idler,” was his answer to his wife.

So the chameleon went off to his fields. The fact is, the chameleon was uncommonly industrious at digging, while the frog never put spade to the ground. The frog was the regular do-nothing. Every day it was just the same. The frog would go to his field and stay a long time, doing nothing but amuse himself; then he would spatter himself with mud and come home, bragging to his wife, “Ah, my dear! I have done a fine day’s work. I trust Almighty God may send down rain tonight, and then tomorrow I will go and sow my field. A very large field it is, too.” So bragged the frog.

Well, that night there was a heavy fall of rain. In the morning, the frog said to his wife, “Go to your mother and say I want seed.” She went and cried, “Mother, mother, may I come in? My husband wants seed to sow.” “Oh! By all means,” said her mother. Then the daughter asked, “What sort of seed do you want baskets of, my husband — maize or millet?” The frog replied, “I want eighteen baskets of maize, and ten of millet, and nineteen of rice.” And the frog got all his seed of all kinds together.

Then the chameleon was asked, “How many baskets do you want?”

“Just what you can supply me with,” said he. “I shall make no fuss, mother-in-law.”

“Quite right,” said his mother-in-law, and she produced some baskets of maize, and of millet, and of rice. And of each kind of seed his mother-in-law gave him two baskets only, because, thought she, “The chameleon knows nothing about digging.” The chameleon went off to sow his seed.

What did the frog do but carry off his baskets of seed, and go and dig a hole and put all his seed in the hole — that was all the field the frog had. But the chameleon went to his field and sowed the seed which his mother-in-law had given him — the chameleon sowed his seed until his seed was all gone. As to the frog, his seed, too, was all gone, of course — the frog’s seed being simply put in a hole.

Then the frog lodged another request for seed with his mother-in-law. “I want,” said he, “nineteen more baskets of maize, and the same of millet and the same of rice, nineteen baskets — of each kind of seed nineteen baskets.” His mother-in-law did not like to be outdone, so she procured the seed and conveyed the seed to her son-in-law the frog, and oh! oh! oh! — the frog was overjoyed, and he went again to dig a hole and put in it the whole lot of seed which his mother-in-law had given him. Then the frog said, “No, that is enough now; I don’t want any more seed. What you gave me is sufficient. Now I have only got to keep the ground clear of weeds.”

Then the chameleon was asked, “Do you want any seed?”

“I am a mere do-nothing,” said he. “I want none of your seed, mother-in-law. I will get seed myself.”

“Very good,” said his mother-in-law. So the chameleon sowed his field and kept his eye on it till the seed sprouted and came up, and he kept the ground clear of weeds, and in the chameleon’s field things were uncommonly flourishing. In his field there were bananas, in his field the maize was past all reckoning, and so was the sugar-cane in his field, the chameleon’s.

Harvest-time came, and the frog was summoned by his mother-in-law, who said to him, “I want to go and see your fields, son-in-law. It is harvest-time, you know.”

“Indeed it is, mother-in-law,” he said. “It is harvest-time.” But the frog quaked with terror at deceiving his mother-in-law. However, he said, “Certainly. Suppose we go tomorrow morning early?” And his mother-in-law said, “By all means.” They slept till morning, and then his mother-in-law went to the frog’s house and said, “Well, what say you? Are we to go to your field, son-in-law?”

“But,” replied the frog to his mother-in-law, “are you sure you are equal to a very long walk? It is a very long way to the place where I have worked, mother-in-law.”

“Never mind,” said his mother-in-law. “Let us start and take it quietly, and we shall get there at last.” The frog was at his wits’ end, and his mother-in-law said, “Alright, come along.” His mother-in-law carried a basket with her, thinking she would take some of the maize.

Well, they went on, and on, and on, and his mother-in-law kept asking, “Son-in-law frog, son-in-law frog, where are you going to?” The frog uttered an ejaculation, which meant, “Come along, mother-in-law; come along, mother-in-law.” So they went on till it was mid-day, and the frog said to his mother-in-law, “We have left the field behind us. Let us go back, mother-in-law.” His mother-in-law was fatigued, and so were the people who were with her, and she said, “What have you given us all this trouble for nothing for?”

The frog quaked at the voice of his mother-in-law. The frog was at his wits’ end for an idea. “I had better say the seed was devoured by swarms of vermin. Yes, rats in swarms. I had better say that, and my mother-in-law will let me off.” The frog racked his brains. “I had better say it.” So he said to his mother-in-law, almost beside himself with terror, “That seed you gave me was eaten by rats and vermin. They came in swarms and devoured it wholesale, and the rats routed up all the seed I planted, and here’s the rats’ hole.” Well, his mother-in-law simply could not bear the sight of this wicked waste of seed. She could not call him her son-in-law, but said to him, “Frog, you are no friend of mine. You have given me all the trouble of a laborious hunt after seed, and now you have spoiled it all in this way. And then you have worried me with a hunt after spades and axes — everything, indeed, I had to hunt up, and now I should like to know, where are your fields?”

“I couldn’t dig,” whimpered the frog, “because I was all by myself.” And the frog was terribly ashamed; he could not look his mother-in-law in the face. Then his mother-in-law said, “Frog, you are no longer my son-in-law. You have done very wrong.” So they went back to the town in a ferment, the frog not having a word to say for himself and only expecting to be summarily expelled.

The next day the chameleon was summoned. “Well, chameleon, how are you? Have you not been digging either?” The chameleon answered his mother-in-law, “Come to my field and see. But I am a sad idler, I am, just as you said yourselves, just like the frog said. However, come along and see the results of my idling.” So they went to the chameleon’s field, they went on and on, and at last they reached it. When she set eyes on the chameleon’s field — and that field was something enormous — then his mother-in-law gave a cry of surprise and said, “Well, I never! Son-in-law chameleon, who has dug here? All this field, you by yourself?”

“Oh! I’m a lazy dog,” said the chameleon. “You see how lazy I am.” His mother-in-law was quite astounded. Then in a moment the chameleon gave orders for a house seven stories high, and there it stood in a moment. Then in a moment he gave orders to his maid-servants to convey his mother-in-law upstairs, and she was carried up. The news spread to the town, and a man was sent off to bring the father-in-law from the town. Very soon he was brought to the chameleon’s residence. The father-in-law was astounded too, and said, “How have you managed to dig all this ground by yourself?” The chameleon gave orders to his men-servants to convey his father-in-law upstairs to a room, and people began to come into the chameleon’s house, and he received them in state. The chameleon went to his field, and plucked some half-ripe maize, and gave it to his servants. “Make haste and cook this for my guests to eat.” His father-in-law was in the seven-storied house, and he was in raptures and said, “I have got a fine son-in-law.” And he added, “Now I will not have another son-in-law, only the chameleon now, and no one else. As to the frog, I will have nothing to do with him whatever.”

So he sent people, saying, “Tell the frog to take himself off. Don’t let me see him when I come to the town. Don’t let me see him a single moment.” The people went to the town, and the frog was told, “Your father-in-law is at the chameleon’s house, and he says, ‘Take yourself off this very day! Don’t stay here today; go away.’ Now then, you are a do-nothing, you frog, you! Hit him! Hit him!”

Off the frog ran into the forest, and he was never seen again.

When the father-in-law came back to the town, he asked, “Has the frog gone?” The people of the town replied, “Yes, he has run off into the woods. We were going to kill him, but he ran away.”

Well, the frog’s wife was given to the chameleon, and so the chameleon had two wives. And the chameleon said to his father-in-law, “Come now, let us walk about my fields.” So they walked about till the father-in-law was tired, and then he rested. When he was ready, he got up and went away. The father-in-law told everyone, “I have got a fine son-in-law indeed.”

So the chameleon lived with his two wives in the house of seven stories, and they lived in peace and quietness. His father-in-law died, and the mother-in-law only was left, and presently she died too. Then the chameleon was left and his two wives and a number of servants, male and female. They had nothing to do but eat and drink.

This is the story of the chameleon and the frog. And the frog ran away into the woods — that was what became of the frog. As to digging, the chameleon handed that all over to his servants.

This is the end of the story of the chameleon and the frog.


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A Reader's Guide to African Folktales at the Internet Archive Copyright © 2022 by Laura Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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