Why the crab has no head


Kofi Dorvlo

Ewe people story from the Volta region in Ghana, Wijsheidsweb, August 7th 2019

Grandfather crab is an artisan who carves heads for all animals.
The grandson was very obedient and he sells the head to the animals and he accounts to the grandfather regularly to his appreciation.
Because the grandfather appreciates the good work, he has carved a beautiful head for the grandson and advised him to keep it for very important occasions.

He took the advise and continued with the sales for the grandfather. He was very faithful with the salesmanship and did not spend any time on learning the carving which the grandfather was very good at.

Drawing Josee Tesser

One day, he went on a journey to sell the head and many animals bought the heads and all was finished.
When he returned, a good friend from the community came to him for a head for an important ceremony. He noted that there was an important wedding and the time was already fixed. Crab had sold all the heads and he was left with only one.
The one the Grandfather told him to leave for himself. He thought about the whole situation for a long time. He then decided to sell the head to his friend.

He brought the friend to the house and gave this head which he was told not to sell to the friend and collected the money.

After a while, a messenger came to him with the information that there was a serious incident in the grandfather’s house and he was to proceed. He rushed to the house and found medicine men and Diviners consulting the oracles for what needed to be done to bring the Grandfather back to life.

Everything possible was done, but the Grandfather passed on to the ancestors.
The burial took place the following day as prescribed by the oracle.

It is apparent that the young Crab has no head of his own and he does not know how to carve one even though the Grandfather’s tools are in the house.

He has been selling heads but he has no head himself.


This etiological narrative establishes the crab’s origin and its moral signification for the present.
Narrated to children, it is a cautionary story that suggests identification — to be averted — between the audience and the ‘young crab’ character that does not know how to handle correctly when relationship with and feelings for his bosom friend are involved.
According to Denise Paulme’s model, this narrative has a cyclical form, ascending from lack to amelioration for animals in general, and descending to definitive deterioration for crabs in specific.

See more: the complete text analysis of the story “Why the crab has no head
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was a Ghanaian former visiting research fellow of the African Studies Centre Leiden (2019). He was awarded his PhD in 2008 at Leiden University for his study on the documentation of the language and culture of the Logba population in Ghana: A grammar of Logba (Ikpana).

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