The Songbird's Silence: a fairytale of our times
This Christmas the FT commissioned Booker Prize winner Ben Okri to write a children's short story. The Songbird's Silence is based on the very real issue of deforestation and endangered species. And the animated film is part of the FT Appeal for conservation charity the Zoological Society of London
Directed and produced by Juliet Riddell and Nicola Stansfield; illustrated by Angelina Birkett; animated by Russell Birkett; music and sound design by Tristan Cassel-Delavois
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
NARRATOR: The Songbirds Silence, a nearly true story. Not that long ago, there was a forest where you could hear the birds singing, the tiger's growling far away, and the insects trilling. Then, human beings began to capture the creatures of the forest. The creature they wanted most was the songbirds because its song was so beautiful.
There was a little boy called Duba, who loved listening to the mysterious noises of the forest. As he went to sleep at night, he imagined the turtles tell him one another's stories, the birds in singing competitions, the Tigers talking to the moon, this helped him sleep well at night. On Duba's birthday, his parents gave him a songbird. It came in a big cage.
He was grateful for it. He'd never had a pet before. He grew very attached to the songbird.
He was only really happy when it was singing. But sometimes when the bird sang, he was so moved that he would start crying. And because of this, Duba wanted to know what it was singing about. He asked everyone he met if they knew.
His parents didn't know. The elders couldn't tell him either. Then one day, he met a wise old woman.
Oh, wise woman, do you know what the songbird is saying, he asked? That songbird is wiser than me, said the wise woman. Why do you say that? Because it's song made you ask many questions.
How can I find out what it's saying? Since that bird is wiser than me, you should ask it. How? I don't speak its language. I won't understand what it says.
How do you know? I've tried. Ask the question in a different way.
How? You'll know when the time comes. I hope so.
You should listen in a different way, too. How should I do that? You should listen with more than your ears.
What else should I listen with then if not my ears? Perhaps, said the wise old woman, you should listen with your heart. When Duba got home, he forgot to listen to the bird song because he was thinking about how he could listen with his heart. That night tossing and turning, he slept very badly.
He was aware that something that made his sleep lovely was missing. He fell asleep just before dawn. And he had a dream.
In his dream, the songbird spoke to him. Do you want to know why my song is so beautiful? Yes.
Do you want to know what I'm singing about? Yes, no one could tell me. I'm the only one who can tell you. But you have to ask the right question. You have to listen with your heart.
Did I ask the right question? Yes. How? You asked it with your soul.
You asked it from the part of you that really cared. But what's the answer? Have you noticed anything different about the world?
No, what's different? Have you noticed that something is missing? Yes, but I don't know what it is. No one does.
What is it? The forest is silent. Is it? Why?
Because people have been treating the animals and birds badly. Do they? Yes.
Take me for example. Do you think I'm happy? You must be. Your songs are so beautiful.
That's because I'm unhappy. My songs are telling of the terrible things people are doing to the forest, the pangolins, the beautiful birds, the tigers. Because people are not protecting them, the forest is silent. Really? Yes, the forest is dying.
What can I do? Listen with your heart. I like having you as a pet.
I know. But I don't like being a pet. I'm made to be free.
My song is beautiful in your cage. But you should hear me sing when I am free. What's it like?
Then, it's as if all nature is singing-- the sea, the sky, the trees, the majestic creatures. It's as if God is singing through me. My song when I'm free is a million times richer than my song in a cage.
The only song I sing in a cage is a song of tears, the song of the silent forest. I'm so sorry. If you're really sorry, you'd do something for me. What's that? Wake up.
Duba woke up suddenly. It was still dark. He listened.
It was true. The forest was still and silent. He didn't hear the tigers or the insect noises. He went to the cage.
The songbird was silent. Nothing he did would make the songbird sing. Then he realised that the songbird would not sing anymore.
He woke up his mother and father. They were surprised that he was waking them up. Mum and dad, he said, we have done the songbird a terrible wrong. We have taken it from his home in the forest.
And now it will not sing. Because of the songbird, the forest is silent. Have you not noticed?
His mother and father listened. You're right, they said. The forest is silent.
How is it we never noticed? We have to help our forest live again, said the boy. First, we must carefully return the songbird to its home. Then, we must protect the creatures of the world, or one day we too will fall silent.
How do you know these things, asked the father? I just started to listen, he said, with my heart.