Once Upon a Time in Africa – Stories of Wisdom and Joy (2004) By Joseph G Healey – A Review

This is a unique and intriguing book that remarkably captures the essence of African society in response to and in cooperation with Christianity, other religions, and foreign society. But this is not an academic book laden with complex and boring theories. Rather, the book contains close to 100 short stories that convey experiences of east Africans with christian missionaries from the west. Each story is unique and can convey an African parable, an abridged African story, an encounter with a group of Africans, missionary work in African schools, African response to death and dying, the extent to which Africans compete with each other relative to other world societies, the importance of Africans sharing and running together, how Africans perceive Christianity and foreign behavior, etc. Many of the stories are humorous, but the value message does not become lost. A Maasai moran wonders how great Jesus was. Relating to the Maasai aspect of recognizing greatness and manhood, the moran questions whether Jesus ever killed a lion and how many wives he had.

In a running competition, a nun wonders why the schoolgirls keep crossing the finishing line together. They tell her that they do not want to leave anyone behind, they want to finish together. Many of these stories convey African society as highly cooperative, not heavily dwelling on a person outpointing and crushing the other and taking the spotlight. Africans traditionally do not want to be separated from each other, and will work hard to stay together even when threatened by differences in religious belief. They are far less materialistic than many other societies of the world, they can achieve joy and happiness in the face of poverty and misfortune; they are generally not imbued with that western spirit of materialism, monopoly, and selfishness.

Africans believe in re-incarnation, believing that the spirit of a good person always returns to earth through a newborn, dead ancestors are guardian angels. African societies are shown to have their accounts of creation. African proverbs are numerous and tell a lot about Africans. In the book, Africans are portrayed in their homes, the gardens, in church, in prayer, in hunting, at work, etc. This is indeed a book about African joy and wisdom concisely illustrated with short significant stories, tales, proverbs, encounters and happenings.

Father Joseph Healey, who is originally from the United States and has operated in east Africa for several decades, managed to compile a gem of a book that one never gets tired of reading. Healey’s extensive practical familiarlization with many African languages and ways of life made him the ideal candidate to compile this heart-warming and objective volume. More than any other text, the book illustrates joy and wisdom in the day-to-day basic lives of Africans and their response to a new world that gets smaller and smaller and becomes more connected. The contents also illustrate how people from other parts of the world practically respond to and perceive African life. The stories in this book are short, but their messages are very powerful. Lessons on Africa are conveyed through aspects of adventure, ministering, religion, folklore, prayer, stories, African culture, poetry, spirituality, and tales.

How the Wisdom of God Alone Can Sustain Us – Short Story

Alpha the rugged ship was taking a tour of the seas.

He dreamt of sailing into pirated lands full of wonder, danger and challenge.

He dreamt of saving people from flaming volcanoes, and wrecked out on shore crying S.O.S.

He was a freak wannabe, a lover of games and fun

He loved the people as they rested under the sun.

The rough seas were his lifeline, he trusted them to sail on

Winds or turbulence or hailstorm, he was all too sure to go on.

A novice though in life, he feared no harm would ever touch him.

He was built real tough, strong and hardy

And not one could match his punk

The day he sailed the first time was a cool one

But the day was getting filled with troubles one-by-one

The water loomed, they lashed, they furled

Alpha braved on, he wouldn’t bat an eyelid

His confidence only stood up, oh this was a real boon

He was fit as a tambourine, to drum the finest tune.

I’m so ravishing, an eagle would be my only match

I have eyes so sharp for combat, to see the enemy afar

My sails are sturdy to take me a million miles

I wonder if I were an eagle, I would reach the ancient stars

My charisma is unparalleled, I love to rant and rave

Show me if you can even come as close

But an eagle came close to the sails,

And rent it in two…

Alpha panicked, he wasn’t hoping for that

He travelled on as fast as he could

But could not go much ahead

His sails could no longer

Keep him sailing on

Oh what doom, he didn’t need a raging storm

Only placid waters and a destiny

To show him the place he feared.

Oh what pity a giant ship like Alpha

Was pulled out of sea by a bird

Even the mighty come down to tatters

Even the swift and the smooth come to loss

The main thing is always wisdom

It will be the answer to all doom

Alpha would have mattered

If he’d used a crew to guard him

He relied instead on his strength

His power and poise and avarice

Couldn’t withstand the test

His motives weren’t lofty or noble

He was just prideful and ignoble.

So little children, be wary

Be wise and be cheery

Be sure to make wisdom your friend

And you will be quick and fast to zoom

Hedged in and well-protected from doom!