LISTEN LIVE: Loading...



'Catching Fire' | Ep. 146

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Has anyone ever told you you were too small to do something?

Too small to go on an amusement-park ride? Too small to join the bigger kids in one of their games?

Well, as we’ll learn in today’s tale, sometimes being small can bring big rewards!

Story continues below

Subscribe to the podcast

    Our story is called “Catching Fire.” Versions of this tale come from what’s now known as the West African country of Benin.

    Voices in this episode include Edward Hong, Jefferson A. Russell, Alexia Trainor, Melissa Victor, Lilli Cooper and Chuck Cooper.

    Tony Award nominee Lilli Cooper has wowed Broadway audiences in such shows as "Spring Awakening," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Tootsie," and "Wicked." Lilli will next be seen on November 10th at Carnegie Hall in "The Eyes of the World: From D-Day to VE Day." She’s also the founder of the Places Please Project, which provides rent relief for theatre workers. Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper has starred in numerous Broadway shows, including "Chicago," "Choir Boy," "The Cherry Orchard," and "The Life." Chuck will next appear in the Broadway production of "Trouble In Mind," at the "American Airlines Theatre." Previews start October 29th.

    This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Supervising Producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

    Coloring Page

    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

    ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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

    What’s one little thing you can do to make a big difference? Maybe you can plant a tree in your yard, head to the local park to pick up trash, or donate clothing you don’t wear anymore.

    It may seem small, but the results can be huge!

    Musical Spotlight: The Djembe 

    The djembes originated in West Africa and have a rich cultural history. (courtesy of Celestinesucess)
    The djembes originated in West Africa and have a rich cultural history. (courtesy of Celestinesucess)

    The goblet-shaped drum known as the djembe is one of West Africa's best-known instruments. Historians believe it dates back 400 to 800 years. Traditionally you carve the djembe from a single piece of African hardwood, then stretch animal skin over the top as a drumhead. It’s been said the djembe contains multiple spirits: (1) the tree from which it was made, (2) the spirit of the animal whose skin created the drumhead, and (3) the spirits of the woodcutter, carver and people who assembled the drum.


    NARRATOR: Long, long ago... when Mawu, the Creator Goddess, first brought the world into being… she sculpted mountains, valleys and deserts. She planted flowers, grasses and trees. She poured water into rivers, lakes and oceans.

    There was just one thing… missing.


    You see, Mawu kept all the fire for herself, fiercely protecting the crackling, blazing flames in her kingdom above the clouds.

    Back in those early times, the animals of the earth all spoke the same language. And one day Lion called his fellow creatures together.

    LION: Friends, for as long as any of us can remember, our nights have been dark and cold. Once the sun goes down, we have no way to see, or to keep warm! If one of you could journey to Mawu’s kingdom and fetch us some fire, you would be a hero! So! Who would like to volunteer?

    NARRATOR: Lion’s bright amber eyes traveled from animal to animal. At last, they rested on Panther.

    LION: Panther! You are brave and fierce. Could you travel to Mawu’s kingdom and bring us back some fire?

    NARRATOR: Panther arched her sleek black back.

    PANTHER: I sure can try!

    NARRATOR: In a flash, Panther raced to the top of the tallest mountain and launched herself into the sky.

    When she broke through the clouds, she found herself in Mawu’s kingdom.

    And what did her emerald-green eyes spot when she got there...

    PANTHER: Oooooh!

    NARRATOR: ...but a raging, blazing fire!

    Pressing her sinewy body low to the ground, Panther skulked over to a bush and broke off a branch. She clutched the branch in her teeth, then crept toward the flickering flames. But just as she was about to set the branch afire...

    MAWU: Hey! You there!

    NARRATOR: … a voice stopped her right in her tracks.

    And do you know who that voice belonged to?

    You guessed it!


    MAWU: How dare you try and steal fire from my kingdom!?! After all I’ve given you earth creatures, this is how you show thanks!? Be gone at once!

    NARRATOR: Panther dropped the branch and sprang away from the fire. When  she dove back down to earth, Lion and the other animals were waiting with bated breath.

    LION: Well, Panther...? Where’s the fire?

    NARRATOR: Panther tucked her long black tail between her legs.

    PANTHER: I’m sorry, Lion. I couldn’t bring any fire! I tried to be all sneaky and stealthy, just like when I hunt, but Mawu caught me in the act!

    NARRATOR: Lion gave Panther’s shoulder a friendly pat.

    LION: That’s okay, Panther. That’s okay. At least you gave it a go, right? But we really need this fire, friends! Perhaps someone else could take a crack at it?!

    NARRATOR: Lion gazed around, then nodded his shaggy head toward Antelope.

    LION: Antelope! How about you? You’re nimble and swift! I’ll bet you could nab some fire and come back to earth without Mawu even noticing!

    NARRATOR: Antelope flexed his long, lean legs.

    ANTELOPE: I guess it’s worth a shot!

    NARRATOR: So now Antelope leaped from the top of the tallest mountain and broke through the clouds. And when he reached Mawu’s kingdom…

    ANTELOPE: Wowwwww!

    NARRATOR: ...he, too, saw the crackling, roaring fire!

    Without missing a beat, he grabbed a branch from the bush, clenched it between his teeth, then bounded toward the flames. But before he could set the stick alight...

    MAWU: Oh no! Not another one!

    NARRATOR: ... he found himself staring into the enraged eyes of Mawu.

    MAWU: Why are so many of you earth creatures trying to steal my fire? This fire is mine and mine alone! Now beat it!

    NARRATOR: Trembling with fear, Antelope dropped the stick, plunged through the clouds and sailed back down to earth.

    LION: Antelope! That was fast! Where’s the fire?

    NARRATOR: Antelope hung his long, curvy antlers in embarrassment.

    ANTELOPE: I couldn’t get any fire, Lion! I tried to be quick and nimble, just like when I sprint across the wide open plains, but Mawu took me by surprise!

    LION: I understand, Antelope. Thanks for trying.

    NARRATOR: Lion slumped his tawny-brown shoulders.

    LION: I don’t know, friends. Maybe we should just give up. Maybe we should just get accustomed to cold, dark nights! Maybe we should just --

    TORTOISE: Lion, wait!

    CHAMELEON: There’s no need to give up!

    TORTOISE: The two of us know exactly how to bring fire back from Mawu’s kingdom!

    CHAMELEON: You just have to trust us!

    NARRATOR: Who’s the mysterious pair that spoke up just now?

    And can they really bring fire down to earth?

    We’ll find out, after a quick break.


    NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “Catching Fire.”

    NARRATOR: Before the break, the creator goddess Mawu was keeping all the fire in the universe up in her kingdom above the clouds. She guarded it fiercely, and wouldn’t share it with anyone. So when brave Panther and nimble Antelope tried to steal it, Mawu frightened them away.

    The animals were about to give up… and resign themselves to night after night of squinting in the dark and shivering in the cold… when two voices piped up, saying they could help!

    Lion lowered his fuzzy head until he came eye to eye... with Tortoise and Chameleon. The pair of pint-sized creatures wore big old grins on their tiny little faces.

    LION: Tortoise…! Chameleon…! You two are so tiny I didn’t realize you were here!

    TORTOISE: Yeah… that happens a lot, doesn’t it Chameleon.

    CHAMELEON: Sure does, Tortoise.

    TORTOISE: But what you larger animals don’t realize is that even though Chameleon and I are small

    CHAMELEON: ...we’ve got some big ideas.

    TORTOISE: Huge!

    CHAMELEON: Like how to get fire from Mawu’s kingdom!

    NARRATOR: The other animals were quiet for a moment, until...

    NARRATOR: ...Panther and Antelope burst out laughing.

    PANTHER: (laughing) Oh come now, you two!

    ANTELOPE: (laughing) Stop pulling our legs!

    PANTHER: (laughing) If big brave animals like us couldn’t get Mawu’s fire…

    ANTELOPE: (laughing) ...there’s no way you pipsqueaks can!

    LION: Panther! Antelope! Please!

    NARRATOR: Lion fixed Tortoise and Chameleon with a steady gaze.

    LION: Alright, you two. You really think you’re up for this?

    TORTOISE: Oh, we don’t think we're up for it, Lion.

    CHAMELEON: We know it!

    NARRATOR: And with that, the two teensy critters set off for the top of the tallest mountain.

    It took them a while to get there… seven whole days, in fact. But when they finally reached the peak, Tortoise gave Chameleon a nod.

    TORTOISE: Ready, Chameleon?

    CHAMELEON: Ready, Tortoise! See you soon!

    NARRATOR: Chameleon pushed off his stumpy legs, then broke through the clouds to Mawu’s kingdom.

    Just like the other, bigger animals before him, Chameleon immediately snatched up a stick and made his way toward the popping, spluttering fire.

    But unlike the other, bigger animals before him, Chameleon did it without Mawu noticing!

    And can you guess why?

    Well, Chameleon had a smaller body, of course. But he also had a special ability. The ability… to camouflage! He could change his color to blend in with everything around him! So as he scuttled over to Mawu’s fire, he was basically invisible!

    Quick as a wink, Chameleon set the stick ablaze. But as he scurried away, he heard a voice that made his cold reptilian blood turn even colder.

    MAWU: What’s this I’m seeing?!? A flame?!? Escaping from my fire?!? All by itself?!?? How is that possible?!

    NARRATOR: As Mawu lunged toward the burning stick, Chameleon didn’t waste a second. He dove through the clouds and sailed downward, until he reached the top of the mountain… where his buddy Tortoise was waiting.

    CHAMELEON: Here’s the fire, Tortoise! But be careful. Mawu’s on to us!

    TORTOISE: Not to worry, Chameleon! I’ve totally got this covered! You can count on --

    NARRATOR: Tortoise’s words were drowned out by a massive clap… of thunder.

    NARRATOR: And next thing she and Chameleon knew, the skies darkened, the wind picked up, and the clouds unleashed sheet after sheet… of rain!

    NARRATOR: You see, back in Mawu’s kingdom, the moment the enraged goddess discovered some of her fire escaping down to earth, she used her powers to whip up a storm...

    NARRATOR: … in hopes that the rain would snuff the fire out.

    But guess what?

    The rain did not snuff the fire out!

    And do you know why?

    Because clever Tortoise had stuck the blazing stick... inside her shell!

    So now the fire was safe… but Tortoise was sweltering.

    As the stick smoldered and smoked under her thick outer covering, Tortoise began to sweat...

    TORTOISE: (sweating) Oy!

    NARRATOR: ...and pant...

    TORTOISE: (panting)

    NARRATOR: ...and then… just when she thought she would pass out from the heat...

    NARRATOR: … the rain stopped.

    High above the clouds, Mawu’s flashing eyes had been scouring the earth for signs of her missing fire. But thanks to Tortoise, she didn't see any! So the Goddess finally gave up, and called off the rain.

    Now that the skies were clear, Tortoise breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled the burning stick out from her shell. Then she and Chameleon took turns carrying the flame back down the mountain, where the other, bigger animals greeted them with cheers and smiles.

    That was the last time the animals ever shivered through the night, or squinted to see each other in the dark. It was also the last time they ever mocked Tortoise and Chameleon for their size. Because now they knew that sometimes, to come up with a big idea, you have to start small.

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



    Listen Live