The common ant, a tiny insect that lives in underground colonies and gathers food, is credited in North African myths with teaching the first humans about the uses of plants and grains, among other things. The Berber and Kabyl tribes have a myth that tells the story of the wise ant that helped the first humans. According to the myth, the first man and woman lived underneath the earth. One day, they noticed little piles of seeds and grains on the ground. Looking closer, they saw a tiny ant struggling to remove the husk from a grain of wheat. After a long time, the ant finally ate the grain. The woman wanted to step on the ant, but the man persuaded her to study it further. The man remarked that the ant seemed to be working too hard for such little reward. He asked the ant why he couldn’t just eat the grain with the husk on. The ant 10 animals replied that the tenderest part of the grain was inside the husk. The best way to eat grain, the ant confided, was to cook it in some spring water from the Earth’s surface. The humans had never heard of a spring. The ant offered to take them to the Earth’s surface to see it. When they came to the spring, the man and woman knelt down and tasted the water. They smiled, because it tasted so good. They sprinkled some grains in the water and then tasted the grains. They made faces. The ant laughed, explaining that it wasn’t ready to eat. He led them to two flat stones and gave them directions for grinding the grain into flour. The woman and man tasted the flour and grimaced again. The ant laughed, explaining that it still wasn’t ready to eat. Next he showed them an empty gourd and gave directions for mixing the flour with water in the gourd to make dough and then kneading it until it was smooth and elastic. The man and woman tasted the dough, and once again each made a face. The ant laughed again. It still wasn’t ready to eat. Next he showed them how to start a fire with stones, dried grass and wood, and a flint stone. He explained how to clear the ashes away, lay the flat cakes of kneaded dough on the hottest spot, and then cover them up again with the hot ashes. All the while, the man and woman wondered why so much work was needed to cook the grain, when it was easier to eat leaves and berries. But when the ashes were cleared away and the hot cakes of bread had cooled, the man and the woman each broke off a piece and chewed it slowly. Smiling at the delicious taste, they ate every last crumb. The ant gave the humans one last piece of important advice. While baking their daily bread, the woman had carelessly spilled seeds on the ground, which was wet from the rain. Later, the man found green shoots growing on the spot. The shoots grew into tall stalks of barley and wheat. The man and woman picked the grains and then threw handfuls of seeds all over the ground, hoping to grow more. But it was the dry season, and the hot sun scorched the seeds. No green shoots sprouted. No barley and wheat grew. The man went to the ant and explained what had happened. The ant explained that it was the wrong season for growing. He gave them directions for saving the seeds in a dry place until the rainy season, when seeds sprout. The man and woman followed the ant’s advice and soon harvested an entire field of wheat and barley.
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