Chameleon’s Contest | Ep. 181

Download Audio
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about some of your talents. Do you write poetry? Play soccer? Maybe you can make up tricky riddles or make other people laugh!

We all have special skills and strengths. And in today’s story, one character uses his talents to help another character meet her match!

Our story is called “Chameleon’s Contest.” Versions of this tale originally come from the Igbo people of Nigeria in West Africa.

Voices in this episode include Feodor Chin, Mike Smith, Dawn Ursula, Jonica Booth, and Jay Pharoah.

Grown-ups, check out Jonica Booth in Issa Rae’s new HBO Max show, Rap Stuff. Jay Pharoah stars in the new Comedy Central film, Out of Office. The Saturday Night Live alum is currently on a comedy tour, coming to a city near you.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s supervising producer Nora Saks. 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

How can you use one of your special skills to help others?

Maybe you love doing art, and can create a handmade card for a neighbor who’s been under the weather. Perhaps you can do magic tricks, and can entertain your family on a rainy day. Or maybe you’re a really good listener, and you can help a friend who’s going through a tough time.

Think about your skill, then think about how you can use your talent to bring a smile to others. Once you’re done, you’ll no doubt be smiling, too!

Musical Spotlight: The Balafon 

Eric Shimelonis playing the balafon, an African idiophone. (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)
Eric Shimelonis playing the balafon, an African idiophone. (Courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)

Originally from West Africa, the balafon (a.k.a. bala or balphone) is the ancestor of the marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. This tuned percussion instrument usually has 16 to 27 keys made of very hard wood. Beneath the keys are small gourds which vibrate and buzz to create a distinctive sound that’s both percussive and melodic.


NARRATOR: Long, long ago, in the very beginning of things, the Great Spirit decided to create the earth and sky.

GREAT SPIRIT: I shall create mountains and trees! Rivers and oceans! The sun, the moon, and stars!

NARRATOR: From there, he created other spirits – gods and goddesses – to watch over the things he had brought forth.

GREAT SPIRIT: Earth Goddess, you shall watch over all the land!

EARTH GODDESS: It would be my honor, Great Spirit!

GREAT SPIRIT: Sky God, you shall watch over all the heavens!

SKY GOD: It would be my privilege, Great Spirit!

GREAT SPIRIT: And Sea Goddess, you shall watch over all the waters! Sea Goddess? Sea Goddess!

SEA GODDESS: Ah! Here I am, Great Spirit! You called?

GREAT SPIRIT: Yes, Sea Goddess! I was giving you your role as watcher of all the waters!

SEA GODDESS: Oh! That would be amazing! The waters of this earth are so beautiful! And the oceans!?! They’re filled with all these amazing shells and corals and pearls! I can hardly wait to work them into my outfits! I’m thinking shells for my crown, coral for my bracelets and necklaces, and maybe a long, luxurious robe studded with pearls…?

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess, as you can tell, was quite the fashionista – obsessed with clothing and jewelry and looking chic and stylish at all times.

GREAT SPIRIT: I’m glad you appreciate my creations, Sea Goddess. Does this mean you’ll take on your new duties?

SEA GODDESS: You bet, Great Spirit! I can hardly wait!

NARRATOR: Right off the bat, Earth Goddess, Sky God, and Sea Goddess assumed their tasks dutifully. They knew the Great Spirit was the supreme being who created everyone and everything. And they knew better than to disobey the all-powerful one.

But as time went by, Sea Goddess began having second thoughts.

SEA GODDESS: Hey, Earth Goddess? Sky God? Can we talk for a sec?

EARTH GODDESS: What is it, Sea Goddess?

SKY GOD: Is everything alright?

SEA GODDESS: Yes, Sky God. Everything’s fine. Especially my new coral necklace! See how it glitters and gleams? Isn’t it fantastic?

SKY GOD: It’s great, Sea Goddess.

EARTH GODDESS: Very nice. But why did you call on us?

SEA GODDESS: Well, It’s just that I’ve been thinking.

EARTH GODDESS: About the waters?

SKY GOD: After all, the Great Spirit created you to watch over all the waters!

SEA GODDESS: I know that! And I love my job! I do! And it’s not just about treasures like shells and corals and pearls. I love how the fish in my rivers, lakes, and oceans feed so many creatures! And how magnificently my waves crash against the shore! And have you seen those incredible whirlpools I can make? I mean, basically? I am amazing!

EARTH GODDESS: You’re humble, too.

SKY GOD: You can say that again!

SEA GODDESS: Listen. I know we always say that the Great Spirit is the supreme being and all that. But I’m thinking, maybe I should be the supreme being!

EARTH GODDESS: Okay, slow down there, Sea Goddess!

SKY GOD: Yeah! I mean, as the Sky God, my rain provides the water that fills your rivers, lakes, and oceans. And my thunderstorms and tornadoes can be devastating!

EARTH GODDESS: And as the Earth Goddess, I grow crops and provide fresh air and shade with my trees! Plus, I can wreak havoc with my earthquakes and avalanches!

SKY GOD: But neither Earth Goddess nor myself would ever challenge the Great Spirit as the supreme being!

EARTH GODDESS: Never! Think about it, Sea Goddess! The three of us wouldn't even be here if not for the Great Spirit!

SEA GODDESS: Details, details! All I’m saying is that at the end of the day, I believe that the real “Great Spirit”… is me!

NARRATOR: Well, as you can imagine, when the Great Spirit caught wind of Sea Goddess’s boasting, he was not pleased.

GREAT SPIRIT: So, Sea Goddess really thinks she’s more powerful than I am, eh? I’m too busy keeping the universe going to head to the bottom of the sea. So I shall send down a messenger to set her straight. One who will show her what’s what.

NARRATOR: Now, the Great Spirit could have sent anyone to be his messenger. So you might be surprised as to whom the supreme being chose. It was none other than…

GREAT SPIRIT: Chameleon!

CHAMELEON: Yes, Great Spirit? What can I do for you?

GREAT SPIRIT: Chameleon, the Sea Goddess is challenging my supremacy and I want you to go down and visit her and set her straight!

CHAMELEON: That’s mighty kind of you, Great Spirit. I’m very flattered! But you do know I’m only like a foot-and-a-half long, right? And of all the lizards in the world, I am by far the slowest? A family of snails crawling through honey can move faster than I do!

GREAT SPIRIT: Of course I know those things, Chameleon! I created you, after all! But I chose you for one of your strengths. Something you can do that no one else can.

CHAMELEON: Ohhhh! You mean move my eyes in two different directions? Check this out!

GREAT SPIRIT: That is quite special, Chameleon. But no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your ability to change colors! To blend in with your surroundings!

CHAMELEON: Ohhhhh! That! Yeah, my ability to camouflage is pretty cool, isn’t it? Sure comes in handy when I’m trying to avoid a snake or bird who wants to eat me! I just match the colors and patterns of whatever I’m near – like a rock, a plant, whatever – and they think I’ve vanished! But, uh, what does any of this have to do with Sea Goddess?

GREAT SPIRIT: You’ll find that out when you go and visit her, Chameleon. If all goes as I hope it will, your ability to match your surroundings will show that impertinent goddess that she’s no match for me!

[Theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think the Great Spirit is planning?

And how will Chameleon’s camouflage skills help him with Sea Goddess?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[Theme music out]


[Theme music in]

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

[Theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, Sea Goddess – the chic, stylish watcher of all the waters – was getting a little big for her britches. She declared she was more powerful than the Great Spirit: the supreme being who had created the earth and sky, plus all the gods and goddesses!

So the Great Spirit sent Chameleon to the bottom of the sea to set Sea Goddess straight. As the scaly lizard sank down past fronds of seaweed and schools of fish, he found that thanks to the Great Spirit’s magic, he was able to breathe beneath the water!

CHAMELEON: Well, that’s a relief! Of course, I’m still not sure how my ability to camouflage will help when I talk with Sea Goddess. But surely the Great Spirit knows what he’s doing!

NARRATOR: When Chameleon reached the sandy bottom of the sea, his bulging eyes grew wide.

CHAMELEON: Wooooahhhh! Check out Sea Goddess’s palace! The whole thing is studded with jewels and shells! She’s got quite the abode!

NARRATOR: Chameleon floated through the palace’s massive front door. After zigging and zagging through hallway after hallway – each one more shimmery and glimmery than the last – he reached a cavernous room, where Sea Goddess sat high on a glistening throne.

SEA GODDESS: Chameleon! You’re not one of my sea creatures! What are you doing here?

CHAMELEON: Greetings, Sea Goddess! I come here as a messenger… from the Great Spirit! He heard you questioning his power… and saying that you should be the supreme being.

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess waved a hand covered with bracelets and rings.

SEA GODDESS: Well, can you blame me for saying I should be supreme?!? Look at this room! Look at this palace! Look at me! I am fabulous!

NARRATOR: Chameleon could hardly disagree. Sea Goddess was fabulous. But she was also full of herself! Suddenly, the crafty little lizard knew just how he’d bring the vain goddess down to size.

CHAMELEON: You’re right, Sea Goddess. You are fabulous. But I’ll bet I can prove that I’m every bit as fabulous as you are. I hereby challenge you to a fashion contest.

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess looked Chameleon up and down, and laughed.

SEA GODDESS: A fashion contest?!? With you?!? No offense, Chameleon. But how can a sluggish, scaly lizard possibly win a fashion contest against a goddess?

CHAMELEON: There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?! Unless, of course, you’re not up for it…

SEA GODDESS: Oh no! I’m up for it! Wait right here and I’ll come back wearing an ensemble that’ll knock your socks off!

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess drifted from the room. When she breezed back in, she was wearing a bright green dress covered with pieces of radiant sea glass that glinted like a mirror.

SEA GODDESS: What do you think of this nifty number, Chameleon? There’s no way you could possibly – (Gasps.)

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess stopped short. Because when she looked down, by her side was Chameleon and the little lizard appeared to be wearing the exact same dress she was! Same green color, same pieces of sea glass, everything!

CHAMELEON: What were you saying, Sea Goddess? ‘There’s no way I could possibly’ what? Because clearly, I am every bit as stylish as you are! (beat) Perhaps you’d like a rematch?

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess blinked her eyes.

SEA GODDESS: Yes! Let’s have a rematch! I’ll head out and change again, and when I come back, there’s no way you can top me!

NARRATOR: For the second time that day, Sea Goddess floated out of the room. Chameleon could hardly wait for her to come back, so he could once again imitate whatever she was wearing – and match it, color for color, jewel for jewel!

This time when Sea Goddess swept back in, she was wearing another gown. It was sparkly silver, with iridescent shells and coral woven throughout.

SEA GODDESS: Feast your eyes on this fantastic frock, Chameleon! It’s absolutely one-of-a-kind, personally made for me by the tailor fish who live in the – (Gasps.)

NARRATOR: Once more, Sea Goddess fell silent.

And do you know why?

Because, again, Chameleon had swum to her side and blended in with what she was wearing! So it appeared that he, too, was dolled up in a silver gown flecked with shells and coral!

CHAMELEON: What were you saying, Sea Goddess? The gown ‘was personally made for you’...? Because somehow I’m wearing the exact same one! Maybe we should go another round?

NARRATOR: Sea Goddess clenched her fists.

SEA GODDESS: Yes! Let’s go another round!

NARRATOR: So for the third time, Sea Goddess swam out of the room. When she returned, she had on yet another gown – this one a dark steely blue like the sea during a storm, and fringed with red, orange, purple, and pink starfish.

SEA GODDESS: Haha! Get a load of this glamorous get-up, Chameleon! Only I could possibly own a creation as gorgeous as – (Gasps.)

NARRATOR: Once more, Sea Goddess froze in her tracks.

Because, as you may have guessed, Chameleon seemed to be wearing a steely blue gown lined with starfish, too!

CHAMELEON: What were you saying, Sea Goddess? A creation as gorgeous as what now…?

NARRATOR: The fashion contest continued all day. The determined deity would change into yet another glorious garment…

SEA GODDESS: Have a gander at this one, Chameleon!

NARRATOR: …only to discover that Chameleon was wearing the exact same thing!

SEA GODDESS: (Ad-lib reactions.)

NARRATOR: This happened over…

SEA GODDESS: (Ad-lib reactions.)

NARRATOR: …and over…

SEA GODDESS: (Ad-lib reactions.)

NARRATOR: …and over!

SEA GODDESS: (Ad-lib reactions.)

NARRATOR: …until… at last…

SEA GODDESS: I give up! You win!

CHAMELEON: Are you sure you want to throw in the towel, Sea Goddess? Because I could keep doing this all day! There’s no limit to the dapper duds I can wear!

SEA GODDESS: I can see that! You’re just the lowly lizard messenger of the Great Spirit! Yet you can dress every bit as fabulously as I do! Clearly I’ve been bested, and clearly the Great Spirit is the most powerful of all. So what can I do but wave the white flag? Though personally I’d look much better with a blue flag. Or maybe green…? Or silver…? Or even orange, like coral? Though I do look amazing in red and yellow, too…

NARRATOR: Well, that was the last time that Sea Goddess – or any god or goddess – challenged the Great Spirit.

To this day, the Igbo people of Nigeria call the Great Spirit “Chukwu” – from the Igbo words “chi,” meaning “spiritual being,” and “ukwu,” meaning “great in size.”
Yet if we believe this story, then the great spiritual being didn’t prove his power alone. He had help along the way… from a little lizard who overcame a big challenge with flying colors.

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



More from Circle Round

Listen Live