The Bird of the Most Beautiful Song

©2012 Christopher Agostino      — re-telling a fable from the Pygmy people of the Ituri forest

A young boy was walking through the forest when he heard a song, a song so beautiful that he followed the sound to see who was singing and he discovered a bird—the Bird of the Most Beautiful Song in the Forest. He asked the bird to come home with him, and when he returned to his house he asked his father to let the bird join them at their meal. The father was annoyed to have to give food to a mere bird, but he agreed. After the meal, the bird flew away.

The next day the boy again heard the singing in the forest, and again he brought the bird home for a meal. The father was more annoyed than before, but again the bird was fed. 

Then a third day, and again the song was heard! This time when the boy returned home with the bird, the father decided it was enough, their food was too precious to share. So he sent the boy off on an errand, and when the boy was gone, the man took the bird into the forest and killed the bird, and with the bird the song died as well, and with the song the man died—for the bird was gone forever; and with the bird, the most beautiful song of the forest was gone forever; and with the song, the man was gone, gone from the forest forever.

I have been wanting to tell this tale ever since I came across it, and I performed it for the first time this past Sunday at the North Hempstead Ecofest at Clark Botanical Garden. It is an unusually serious tale for a family performance and I chose to tell it at this venue as a parable for our relationship with Nature and what we are in danger of losing when we place too much value on the material things in our modern lives.

It is based on a tale from the Pygmy culture of Africa, which I found in Joseph Campbell’s Historical Atlas of World Mythology: Vol. 1 Pt. 1 p.103., and it was collected by Colin Turnbull, on one of his stays amongst the Pygmies of the Ituri forest in central Africa. Turnbull also writes that they see the forest as alive, and that it is “father and mother” to them and gives them all they need. He quotes one individual, Moke, talking about how their singing fits into this relationship:

“Normally everything goes well in our world. But at night when we are sleeping, sometimes things go wrong….So when something big goes wrong, like illness or bad hunting or death, it must be because the forest is sleeping and not looking after it’s children. So what do we do? We wake it up. We wake it up by singing to it, and we do this because we want it to waken happy….when our world is going well then also we sing to the forest because we want it to share our happiness.”

I haven't yet to come to the final face design I will use to illustrate this fable as I tell it. This design is my starting point, and as I tell the tale I want to develop it to illustrate the song as well as the bird.


Learn more about my  StoryFaces: Transformations — Storytelling  performances

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2 comments on “The Bird of the Most Beautiful Song

  1. Mary Dessein says:

    Laura Simms tells an amazing version of this story that she calls The Most Beautiful Bird. She recorded it many years ago when cassettes were the deal, I do not see it on her website now. It is gorgeous, where the boy restores his father and bird to life by re-telling the story and singing the song.

  2. […] Finally there is the Pygmy folktale, “The Bird With the Most Beautiful Song.” A boy who finds the bird singing the most beautiful song and wants to feed it to keep the song alive. When the father of the boy refuses to listen to the beautiful song or to keep feeding the bird there are dire consequences.  […]

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