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African-American Storytelling: "The Jackal and the Dog"

Storytelling can be used to teach children usefule life lessonsA simple story can be a teaching tool. And it may speak to larger life issues than are used as the actual focus of the story. The African-American folk story, "The Jackal and the Dog," tells the story of the different lives led by a dog living with humans and a jackal living in the wild. In the oral storytelling tradition, it is a tale about life choices and the responsibility that comes along with those choices. If, for instance, a students chooses to listen to their teacher and work hard in school, that choice brings with it the responsibility to continue on, to learn more, and to ultimately be rewarded for the good work. If, however, they choose to be disruptive in class and not study, they are also responsible for the consequences of that decision—not excelling, and not being rewarded.

The story of "The Jackal and the Dog" addresses the circumstances of slavery in the 1700s and the life or death choice between freedom (the jackal) or slavery (the dog).

Now, take a moment and listen to "The Jackal and the Dog" as told by Art Johnson, a historical interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. A transcription of the story is as follows:

This is the story of the jackal and the dog.

One day the jackal and dog were walking together side by side when the dog looked over to the jackal and said, "How sad for you!"

And the jackal looked back at the dog. "Why so sad?"

And the dog said, "I don't have to hunt for my food. I have my food given to me in the village. I would not like to have to hunt for my food. Man gives me my food."

And the jackal looked back at the dog. "You have food given to you by Man? You do not have to hunt?"

And the dog said, "Yes, Man gives me my food. If you do not believe, come to the village tonight."

And with that, they parted. Dog, he went to the village, but Jackal, he had to go to the forest. You see, that's where he would get his food. He would have to hunt for hours to get something to eat. And if he did not catch anything, he would have to eat berries and vines and roots.

Well, darkness fell, and he went to the village where he could use the darkness to cloak himself. And there, in the village, he saw the dog running around and yelping: "yelp!" and "yelp!" And the more the dog yelped, the more Man would throw him a bone or throw him a piece of meat.

Well, the dog kept on yelping and running around 'til, at one moment, the dog kicked over one of the milk buckets, for, you see, that's what they would drink. And when the milk bucket was kicked over, one of the men of the village kicked the dog. And when he kicked the dog, the dog rolled out of the village on to the feet of the jackal.

Well, the jackal looked down at the dog, and the jackal said, "I may have to hunt for my food, but nobody, but nobody kicks me."

And with that, the jackal left, leaving the dog on the ground where he was.

I ask you, what would you like to be? The dog, and having to yelp and go around and letting Man feed you 'fore you would get your food? Or would you rather be the jackal, where you would have to hunt for your food, but nobody, but nobody would kick you or tell you what to do?

This is the story of the jackal and the dog.