Jump to Content or Main Navigation

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

This content is available in Spanish Print

Why People Are Hairy

Central America and Mexico, Panama
Folk Tale


There once was a little old man who was known here on the island as Old Grandfather. Every morning at dawn he would set out in his canoe and paddle to the mainland, where his fields were. Old Grandfather always kept to himself and wouldn't allow anyone to come within a mile of his land. No one caught sight of him until evening, when he paddled back to the island with his canoe so loaded with bananas, corn, squash, yams, and coconuts that he almost sank straight down to the ocean floor.

All the people scratched their heads. How could little Old Grandfather harvest so much every day? No one could figure it out.

His nephews wondered most of all. They begged Old Grandfather to take them with him to his fields. But the old man shook his head, saying, "No, I work alone. You boys make too much noise."

Now, the nephews weren't the type to just sit still and take "no" as the final word. They decided to follow Old Grandfather to the mainland and find out his secret.

The next day, Old Grandfather got up at dawn and walked down to his canoe. His nephews were wide awake, but lay quietly in the dark, listening to the old man's every move. As soon as they heard his paddle hit the water, they jumped up, ran to their canoe, and headed out behind him.

Old Grandfather paddled to the mainland with his nephews hot on his trail, keeping their heads down low in the canoe and trying hard to keep from talking.

Old Grandfather turned into a bend where the river meets the ocean and began paddling upstream. The nephews didn't have a clue where they were, so they kept bobbing their heads up from the floor of the canoe to make sure they didn't lose sight of Old Grandfather up ahead.

They passed through mango and coconut groves, which looked really tempting to the nephews since they didn't have it in their plan to pack some food. Just as the nephews were about to jump up and grab breakfast, Old Grandfather pulled his canoe onto a patch of land and took out his machete and bag. Then he walked off into the jungle.

The nephews held their breath, waiting under the cool shade of the mango groves for Old Grandfather to clear out of sight. Then, oh-so-quietly, they pulled up their canoe alongside the old man's and followed him.

They climbed over weeds and thorns and rocks and streams. Seeing that they were coming to a clearing up ahead, the nephews crept behind a bush and peered out through the leaves. There in front of them was Old Grandfather, lying down against a tree and snoring as if he had a horn blowing through his nose.

And he was bald!

All the hairs from Old Grandfather's head were strutting across the ground. One hair was swinging the machete, another was planting new yams. A third hair was carrying bananas. Other hairs were harvesting squash and hauling coconuts. And all the while, bald Old Grandfather kept on snoring under the tree, sound asleep.

Seeing all these hairs marching around Old Grandfather's fields scared the living daylight out of the nephews. They might have kept still, but the hair with the machete started swinging it in their direction. The two nephews let out one big walloping yell!

Old Grandfather jumped up and started shouting, "Oh no, little hairs! They've found our secret! Come, quick! Come, quick!"

The little hairs dropped their machetes and seeds and bananas and came leaping back toward Old Grandfather. But they were rushing so much that instead of all landing on his head, some jumped onto his arms, some onto his legs, others onto his chest, and a great big bunch got stuck in his armpits.

So that's why, today, people have hair all over their bodies—because of crazy Old Grandfather.

About the Author

Stacy G. Mates

"Why People Are Hairy" is told by Stacy G. Mates (Peace Corps Volunteer, Panama, 1994–1997). "One day, my host mother, Ruth, and I went to her friend's house to play bingo. Ruth told us the tale 'Why People Are Hairy,'" says Stacy.

"This tale is told in a spirit of fun and draws attention to certain values of Kuna culture: hard work and children learning from their elders."

Stacy worked as an agricultural Volunteer on the island of Nargana with Ruth and her family.

World Wise Speakers

Invite a Peace Corps volunteer into your classroom to share what it's like to live a global life by sharing stories, cultures and knowledge.