Miniature 20: Okra, Sorghum, Yam

By Bruce Holland Rogers
Read by An Owomoyela

In his vegetable garden, Old Kwaku planted collard and okra and cowpeas. He showed the second princess how to cut the weeds down with a sharpened stick.

“I don’t think I’m learning any wisdom,” she said. “And look at my hands! Imagine what they’ll look like at the end of the summer!”

“Here is part of wisdom,” Old Kwaku said, and he began to rearrange some okra pods while they were still on their mother plants. He pulled one and nudged another and coaxed a third. He moved this one and that one together and tied the pods together in the shape of a little green person.

“That doesn’t look like wisdom to me,” the princess said. “Oh, I’m going to go home and die in my father’s house, an old maid!”

Rated G. Contains three princesses.

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13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Atricaudatus said,

    November 10, 2008 @ 4:56 pm


    Apparently there is a moral in here somewhere; but I confess I didn’t get it. It just went over my head.

    Someone care to clue me in on what the ending here was supposed to mean? Whatever it was, it was too subtle or highbrow for simpleton’s like me.

    Thumbs down on this one.

  2. 2

    Rachel said,

    November 10, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

    “Someone care to clue me in on what the ending here was supposed to mean?”

    Many fairy tales follow the formula of three sisters or brothers who are all faced with the same task that tests their character — such as being kind to an old woman. The first two siblings fail, proving their character is not good. The third sibling, the youngest, succeeds.

    “Okra, Sorghum, Yam” details the story of the second sister, one of the ones who fails.

  3. 3

    Dawn said,

    November 10, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    Yes, and I can see that each of the three plant-people represented a complaint the second sister made, but… well, it just seems incomplete to me. Presumably the third sister learned from the plant people, whereas her sisters just observed without learning anything. But, well, what’s the point?

    If I were to guess at the “moral” of the story, I would have to say it means that life is short.

  4. 4

    Atricaudatus said,

    November 10, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

    “Many fairy tales follow the formula of three sisters or brothers who are all faced with the same task that tests their character — such as being kind to an old woman. The first two siblings fail, proving their character is not good. The third sibling, the youngest, succeeds.”

    Alright. If you say so, Rachel. But if such is the case here, then shouldnt the story have been about the third sister? What was told in this story gave us nothing to explain why the third sister should succeed in gaining wisdom after her siblings failed. There was nothing to contrast the second with the third that I could discern.

    I agree with Dawn. The story just seems incomplete. Truncated. There just wasnt enough exposition or explanation. Not for me, anyway. I was left simply confused and very unsatisfied with the ending.

  5. 5

    phignewton said,

    November 10, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

    …see, thats the point…. you allready know the end of the story, the third daughter gets wisdom by ums… no, am clueless, all i know is that ol quakoo issa pimp yo, gettin paid by his bitches.

  6. 6

    skcll said,

    November 11, 2008 @ 1:12 am

    This reminds me of the Chinese legend of Miaoshan. The first two sisters are interested in getting married and living a Confucian life where they’re concerns for wealth and whatnot are fulfilled. The third one (Miaoshan) does not want to get married (the king has no sons, so he wants his children to marry so that his grandchildren can rule). Anyways, she realizes that everything in this life is ephemeral and that struggle to achieve material wealth is just an illusion that hinders you like the author of this story tries to illustrate with each of the concerns of the little people who die in a day.

    for more on the legend of Miaoshan than what I gave in my awful summary of it, go to:

    and scroll down.

  7. 7

    scatterbrain said,

    November 12, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

    “I don’t think I’m learning any wisdom.”
    “Shut up bitch, I’m working on it!”

    Don Ysidro, also by Rodgers, is my favourite fantasy story, but this just dosen’t do it for me.

  8. 8

    Hyperion said,

    November 13, 2008 @ 1:43 am

    I can’t believe people would miss the point of this story, but then again, after Disney’s criminal bastardization of Fairy Tales, maybe it’s not so mysterious.

    The point of a Fairy Tale is not for the protaganist to succeed, or in this case, “gain wisdom,” the point is for the listener to gain wisdom. As such, Fairy Tales can be stories of overcoming obstacles, or they can be cautionary tales.

    Or, to use Editor Swirky’s archetype, WE are the third sister.

    The actual wisdom that we (and for that matter, the princess) can glean from the situation is immense. It is also both philosophical and practical.

    Our lives are short, and to live them in fear, in constant desire of something better, and with constant anger over our present is to miss what’s going on.

    And if THAT’S not enough, we could miss a meal!

    And if THAT’S not enough, at the very least we should learn that you’re never going to get the long end of the stick from a man who can make Dancing Yams.

    Words to live by.

    What these “adults” have missed kids would grasp intuitively.

    Bloody well done, Mr. Bruce Holland Rogers. Olk Kwaku would be proud.

  9. 9

    yicheng said,

    November 14, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

    Preachy and simplistic. I can read Deepak Chopra, thank you very much. I don’t need a pointless story to ram pop psych down my throat instead of being good.

  10. 10

    GrnEgz said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 3:08 pm

    I would agree with Hyperion. The story is well written in the style of old myths and legends. The is not a modern story and is written as such. But just because the story was not what many wanted to hear does not mean there is anything to learn from it.

    I found that while listening to this story I imagined being a youngster in centuries past, sitting around a fire with an old wise man telling this story as the firelight danced across his face, teaching us lessons of humility and, yes, wisdom.

    Excellent story, thanks.

  11. 11

    Wiz said,

    November 19, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

    Basically, it’s a shaggy dog story. Unfortunatrly, unlike those, it wasn’t funny. It’s a shame, too, because I was enjoying the story and the reading, but then it just ended.

    Reminds me of “No Country for Old Men” actually, in that sense. All the post-literalist pseudointellectuals loved how it “defied narrative conventions” and so forth. Unfortunately for them, “narrative conventions” actually exist for a reason.

  12. 12

    LaShawn said,

    November 25, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

    Personally, I thought this story was AWESOME! It reminded me a lot of African folktales. It’s true, the second sister as protagonist did seem odd, but I think if the story was done with third sister as protagonist, it really would be the ‘moral’ tale Disney’s so fond of doing, and thus, it would be goody-goody and boring. I liked hearing about the second sister’s attempts for wisdom. There was a point when she seemed on the verge…but ultimately failed.

    I’m definitely going to play this for my son. I think he’ll learn a lot from it.

  13. 13

    Blaine Boy said,

    November 30, 2008 @ 3:44 am

    Wiz and Hyperion both have it right. It does defy normal conventions which can be annoying sometimes (but sometimes, like in this case, it is nice to get a change of scenery), but it also has something important to say that is intriguing new take on the Fairy Tale. The moral is fairly simple: avoid the personality takes of the plant people (all of which are part of the princess’), don’t overthink it in searching for wisdom (some of the answers are there for you, that cigar MIGHT just be a cigar) but also don’t underthink it (the answers won’t be handed to you on a silver platter, a cigarette is not a cigar), the wise guru master is called that for a reason, your work is always for a reason, etc. Take your pick, there’s plenty there to be found.

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