'The Magic Bowl' | Circle Round 68

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This episode is the third in a special three-part pop-up series performed live with musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, in front of a very excited audience of children and grown-ups.

If you’ve been listening to Circle Round for a while, think back to all the stories you’ve heard where a character receives a magical gift.

There’s Luca, with his coin purse in “The Hat, The Horn and the Purse,” Casper and Clara get their “Three-Legged Pot,” and Hugo gets his gaita in “The Dancing Goats.”

In those stories, our characters used their magical gifts for good. But in today’s tale? That isn’t quite the case!

Our story is called called “The Magic Bowl.” Versions of this folktale have been told in the West Indies: a region of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The main character is Anansi: a trickster figure who originally comes from Ghana, in west Africa.

Joining us on stage was a trio of musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra — second bassoonist Suzanne Nelsen, flutist Cindy Meyers, and second horn Rachel Childers — plus a quartet of all-star actors: Lauren Ambrose, Jane Kaczmarek, Thomas Sadoski and Campbell Scott.

Grown-ups, you might recognize Lauren Ambrose from Six Feet Under; in 2018 she nabbed a Tony nomination for My Fair Lady. Jane Kaczmarek received seven Emmy Award nominations for playing Lois in Malcolm in the Middle and is starring in "Tell Me I’m Not Crazy" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Stage and screen star Thomas Sadoski is another Tony Award nominee; he’s starring in another Williamstown show, "Grand Horizons." And Campbell Scott is an award-winning actor and director, who’s starred in everything from Singles to House of Cards.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and edited by Katherine Brewer. Original music and sound design by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn. Laney Ruckstuhl adapted this story for web.

ADULTS!  PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

If you were Anansi, what would you do differently from now on? Find a grown-up and talk with them about how Anansi might change his ways, now that he’s learned his lesson.

NARRATOR: Times were hard in the village, and everyone was struggling to make ends meet, including Anansi the trickster, and his wife, Aso.

One day, Aso sent Anansi to fetch dinner, while she stayed home and took care of their young daughter.

ASO: Well, as usual, there isn’t much food in the kitchen. But we do have a couple of onions and peppers lying around. How about if you catch some fish from the river, Anansi? When you get back, I can cook up a nice fish stew.

NARRATOR: Before we go on, something you should know about Anansi: He loved playing tricks, but he also loved to eat.

Thing is, he hated hard work. And the idea of standing by the river, sweating in the sun, casting his line until a fish bit? That wasn’t very appealing.

ANANSI: (to audience) Ugh. If only there were an easier way to get food! One that didn’t involve any work! Like, you picture what you want to eat, you say the magic words and then boom! You’ve got a nice, big bowl of fish stew! Mmm, mmm, mmm. That would be amazing!

NARRATOR: The river was on the other side of a deep, shady forest. As Anansi daydreamed his way through the dark woods, all of a sudden...

ANANSI: (stumbling) Yikes!

NARRATOR: …he tripped over something!

ANANSI: What was that? Wait — is that a bowl?!?

NARRATOR: Indeed, it was! A massive, clay bowl ... tall enough to reach Anansi’s knees!

ANANSI: Well, this is weird. What’s a big bowl doing in the middle of the forest?

BOWL: (slowly) Fill the bowl!

NARRATOR: Anansi froze.

ANANSI: What? Who said that?

BOWL: I did! I said, “fill the bowl!”

ANANSI: (confused) “Fill the bowl?!"

BOWL: Exactly! Here you go!

NARRATOR: Anansi’s eyes grew wider and wider as the bowl filled higher and higher with...

ANANSI: … fish stew! No way!

BOWL: Yes way! It’s just like you said! You pictured what you wanted to eat, you said the magic words, and now — boom — a nice, big bowl of fish stew!

NARRATOR: As the stew’s tantalizing aroma filled Anansi’s nose, he couldn’t help himself. He plopped down on the ground and began gobbling it up.

ANANSI: (eating) Mmmm! This is delicious!

But tell me, bowl, what if I wanted to eat something else?

BOWL: Easy! You just say the magic words! Picture what you want, say “fill the bowl,” and your wish is granted. I should tell you, though, there is one catch.


BOWL: You must never, ever wash me. The least bit of cleaning and scrubbing, and my magical powers are kaput.

NARRATOR: Anansi shook his head.

ANANSI: Aw, don’t you worry about that, bowl. I’m not a fan of washing dishes. Or washing anything, really. All that hard work tires me out! Speaking of which...

NARRATOR: He let out a yawn.

ANANSI: (sleepy) …all that fish stew in my belly is making me drowsy! I think I’ll take a little nap. But first, gotta make sure nobody else gets their hands on this magic bowl!

NARRATOR: Anansi shoved the bowl beneath some bushes. Then he curled up on the ground...

ANANSI: (sounds of settling, getting comfortable)

NARRATOR: ...and went to sleep.

ANANSI: (snoring)

NARRATOR: An hour or two later...

ASO: Anansi, my love! Welcome home.

Where’s the fish?

DAUGHTER: Yeah, Daddy! Where’s the fish? We’re hungry!

ANANSI: (evasive) Oh, the fish! You know, I just couldn’t catch any today!

But hey, you said we had some onions and peppers lying around, right? Why don’t you make some nice vegetable soup?

None for me, though. Somehow, my belly is completely full!

NARRATOR: The next day, Aso asked Anansi to go out again. This time, to gather mangoes and papayas.

But when Anansi reached the forest, do you think he got right to work, searching for plump, ripe fruit to pluck from the trees?

Of course not!

Instead, he waltzed over to the bushes where he’d stashed the bowl. He dragged it out from its hiding place, then said those three magic words. Do you remember what they were? Anyone? (waits for audience response)

That’s right! All together now: (with audience) Fill the bowl!

Once again, before Anansi’s very eyes, the bowl filled up with food. This time: a sweet, juicy fruit salad! Just like he did yesterday, Anansi scarfed down every bite. Then he curled up for a nap.

ANANSI: (snoring)

NARRATOR: A few hours later...

ASO: Welcome back, Anansi!

Where’s the fruit?

DAUGHTER: Yeah, Daddy! Where’s the fruit? We’re starving!

ANANSI: (evasive) Oh, the fruit! You know, I just couldn’t pick any today!

But we always have something lying around, right? Surely you can scrape together some dinner.

I’ll pass, though. Strangely, my belly is totally full!

NARRATOR: The next day, Aso asked Anansi to go out and pick coconuts.

Well, you can probably guess what Anansi did instead. He went to his hiding place in the forest, dragged out the magic bowl, and said what three words?

(with audience) Fill the bowl!

Then he pigged out on slice after slice of fresh coconut bread and conked out, right there on the ground.

ANANSI: (snoring)

NARRATOR: Meanwhile, back at home...

DAUGHTER: Mommy! I’m hungry!

ASO: (kind) I know, honey. Your daddy’s gone out to get us some food. He should be back soon.

DAUGHTER: But is he actually going to bring us anything? Haven’t you noticed that when he goes out, he comes home with nothing?

ASO: (sighs) Yes, I have.

DAUGHTER: And then, when he does come home, he says he’s full! Like he spent the whole day eating! Have you noticed that?

ASO: (getting angry/suspicious) Yes, I have.

DAUGHTER: And now, his belly is getting bigger and bigger, while our bellies are getting smaller and smaller. Have you noticed that, too?

ASO: (even more angry/suspicious) Yes, I have.

NARRATOR: When Aso married Anansi, she knew he could be sneaky. She’d heard plenty of stories about the many, many tricks he’d played on people through the years.

But Anansi wouldn’t play a trick on his own family ... would he?

There was only one way to find out.

NARRATOR: What do you think Aso is cooking up?

We’ll find out what happens after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to Circle Round, live with the Boston Symphony Orchestra! Our story is called “The Magic Bowl."

When we left off, trickster Anansi was stuffing himself silly with a magic bowl instead of fetching whatever food his wife, Aso, had asked him to get! So, at the end of each day, Anansi came home with empty hands — and a very full belly! Aso started to suspect something fishy was going on. And now, back to Tanglewood!

The next day, Aso asked Anansi to go out and pick plantains. As soon as her husband started down the road, Aso grabbed her daughter by the hand.

ASO: Alright, kiddo. Let’s go!

NARRATOR: Quiet as mice, they followed Anansi to the deep, shady forest. They crept behind a stump, and watched with puzzlement as Anansi knelt down on the ground, and reached beneath a bush.

DAUGHTER: Mommy! Why is Daddy dragging a big bowl out from under that bush? And wait — is he talking to it?

ASO: (puzzled) I think he is! But I can’t hear what he’s saying!

NARRATOR: (to audience) Well, we know what he was saying, right? What were those magic words again?

(with audience) Fill the bowl!

Now, Aso and her daughter may have been too far away to hear what Anansi was saying, but they sure could see what he was doing: eating fried plantains, straight from the bowl — handful after handful, until the bowl was empty.

DAUGHTER: Mommy! How did Daddy get all those fried plantains? Is he a magician?

ASO: (knowing) Well, it’s obvious he has some tricks up his sleeve...

NARRATOR: When Anansi finished eating, he curled up for his nap. As soon as he started snoring…

ANANSI: (snoring)

NARRATOR: ...Aso tiptoed over and grabbed the bowl. She and her daughter carried it out of the shadowy forest and set it down in the sunlight.

ASO: My! What a great big bowl! You could cook an awful lot of food in there.

(a-ha moment) Daughter! I’ll bet we could get a nice price for this bowl at the market!

DAUGHTER: (delighted) Yes! And then we’ll have enough money to buy food and fill up our bellies!

ASO: That’s right, honey. Now, let’s just take this bowl home and --

BOWL: (interrupting) Fill the bowl!

NARRATOR: Aso gazed at her daughter.

ASO: I’m sorry, darling — did you say something?

DAUGHTER: It’s wasn’t me! I think it was the bowl!

ASO: (good-natured) Nonsense, dear. There’s no way a bowl could say anything!

BOWL: Yes, there is a way a bowl could say something! I said, “fill the bowl!”

NARRATOR: For a moment, Aso was confused. But then, she thought back to Anansi’s fried plantains, and the words she and her daughter couldn’t hear him say and she began putting two and two together.

ASO: (to the bowl) Huh. So, tell me — if I say, “fill the bowl,” what happens, exactly?

BOWL: Well, you picture something you want to eat, you say, “fill the bowl,” and — boom — your wish is granted! It’s just like I told your husband, Anansi!

NARRATOR: Aso was about to say something when her daughter began jumping up and down.

DAUGHTER: Mommy! Mommy! Now we know why Daddy has such a big belly! He’s been using the magic bowl to get food! Whatever food he wants! But wait.

NARRATOR: She peered inside the bowl and made a face.

DAUGHTER: (confused, grossed out) If you’re really a magic bowl, why are you so dirty inside? It looks like nobody’s washed you in years!

BOWL: That’s because they haven’t! Nobody must ever wash me. It’ll ruin my magical powers! Didn’t Anansi tell you about me?

NARRATOR: Aso took a deep breath.

ASO: (controlling her anger, formulating a plan) No. Anansi didn’t tell us anything. In fact, I’m going to pretend that you haven’t told us anything, either.

BOWL: (confused) What? I don’t understand! I just told you the secret to unlimited food! All you can eat!

ASO: I know you did! But I’m going to pretend that this conversation never happened. Especially the part about you not being washed.

NARRATOR: Aso motioned to her daughter. They lifted the bowl off the ground, then began moving toward the river.

BOWL: Wait a minute! You’re not really going to wash me in the river, are you?

ASO: (calm, measured) Yes, yes we are.

BOWL: But I don’t get it! Anansi was thrilled to find me! With me around, he never would have to work another day in his life!

ASO: (calm, measured) I know.

NARRATOR: They paused at the water’s edge.

ASO: And now, Anansi will have to work. Just like all the rest of us.

NARRATOR: Aso smiled at her daughter. Her daughter smiled back. Then, the two of them lifted the bowl high and plunged it into the cool, clear, cleansing river.

BOWL: Nooooooooooo!

NARRATOR: That night, as usual, Anansi came home with empty hands and a full belly. But as he stepped through the door, he stopped right in his tracks.

ANANSI: What is that smell!?

NARRATOR: Anansi followed the scent to the kitchen, where his wife and daughter were laying a huge meal out on the table: fish stew, fruit salad, coconut bread and fried plantains.

ANANSI: (confused, impressed, not yet the least bit suspicious) Aso! Where did all of this wonderful food come from?

NARRATOR: Aso flashed an innocent grin.

ASO: (faux-innocently) Well, Anansi, after so many days of you coming home empty-handed, the girl and I went to the forest, where the mango and papaya and coconut and plantain trees grow. And there — (playing it up) tell Daddy what we found, honey!

DAUGHTER: (proudly) We found a bowl!

ASO: (faux-innocently) That’s right! A great, big bowl! Right there in the middle of the forest! (laying it on thick) Have you ever seen such a thing, Anansi?

NARRATOR: Anansi began to sweat.

ANANSI: (worried/avoiding her question, but trying hard to play it cool) A “great, big bowl,” you say? “In the middle of the forest?" Wow! And, uh, what did you do with this “great, big bowl?”

DAUGHTER: (faux-innocent) Well, when we looked inside, it was pretty gross. Right, Mommy?

ASO: (faux-innocent) It sure was! Filthy!

DAUGHTER: (faux-innocent) So, we gave it a bath! In the river!

NARRATOR: Anansi began to tremble.

ANANSI: You mean, you washed it!?

DAUGHTER: Yup! (excited) Then — tell him what we did next, Mommy!

ASO: (relishing this moment) Well, once the bowl was all clean ... we sold it!

NARRATOR: Anansi nearly dropped to the floor.

ANANSI: (shocked, horrified) You what!?

DAUGHTER: We sold it! And look at all the stuff we bought with the money we made! All this delicious food, plus bags of corn and rice. We even got some chickens for the backyard — a big, fat rooster, too! I’m gonna name the big, fat rooster after you, Daddy, because of your big belly!

NARRATOR: Anansi felt his heart sink into his stomach — his very full stomach.

Thanks to his deception and trickery, he’d lost his magic bowl. And now, he realized, he’d lost his family’s trust, too.

Because his love for playing tricks and avoiding hard work and, yes, eating himself silly, well, they’d all finally come back to bite him.

So what did Anansi do?

Well, he swallowed his pride and apologized. And it was the humblest pie he’d ever eaten.

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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