Oral Literature: Lion and the Spider

0ne day Spider went to the river to fish. It must have been Spider’s lucky day, for the fish swarmed around him until at last he had a large pile lying on the muddy bank beside him.

“Now for a fire to cook my supper, “exclaimed Spider in delight, and quickly collecting a few sticks, he made a fire and began roasting his fish.

As everybody knows, the smell of roasting fish is not only delicious but it travels quickly through the air, and so it happened that a passing lion stopped in his tracks, sniffed appreciatively once or twice and then followed his nose. He found Spider just about to eat the first of the fish he had cooked, and roared, ‘Give that to me,’ so fiercely, that Spider handed it over without a word.

“Delicious!” exclaimed the lion, smacking his lips and half-closing his eyes, while he sat down beside the fire and said, “Now cook me some more!”

Spider was too frightened of the large, fierce lion even to think of disobeying him and he certainly could not run away without abandoning all his fish. So he set to work to cook some more, hoping that the lion would soon have had enough and that there would be a few left for him. After all, he had done all the hard work and was aching with hunger.

One by one the savoury, sweet-smelling fish disappeared down the lion’s throat while poor Spider was run off his feet collecting firewood. He got hotter and hotter as he stood over the fire, and sadder and sadder as he watched his pile of succulent fish getting smaller and smaller. In his despair the tears began to stream down his face and the lion laughed scornfully to see him weep.

“Ah no! I am not crying, – lied Spider proudly -. It’s the smoke from the fire making my eyes smart.”

As he said this he handed over the last of his precious fish to the lion, who swallowed it in one gulp without a word of thanks. At that moment a beautiful brown bush-fowl ran past them and called out in surprise: “Kuker! Kuker! Kuker!”  Then she disappeared into the long grass and all was silent.

“Well, what do you think of that? –  Asked Spider – . She didn’t even pass the time of day with me. Never have I known such a rude and ungrateful bird. I expect shell soon be telling her friends that it was not I who gave her delicate spotted plumage.”

The lion looked up and asked: “Did you say you gave her those spotted feathers?” “Yes, of course I did, “replied Spider. Didn’t you know that?”

The lion looked wistfully at his plain brown body and said, “I should like a spotted skin too. Could you change mine for me?”  Spider half closed his eyes and looked critically at the lion’s fur. “Well – he said slowly and doubtfully – it would be a very difficult business.”

“Oh please do it for me, – begged the lion, rising to his feet -. I could help you with the difficult part of it. Tell me what to do.”

Spider almost laughed with delight at how easily he had tricked the lion, but he managed to keep a serious face and replied: “We need two things. First of all a big bush-cow, and then a well-grown kazaura tree.”  “I can soon get you the first – said the lion – . Wait here.”

Although the lion was so big, he slipped off into the bush without a sound, scarcely disturbing the grasses as he passed through them. For a long time all was quiet and Spider had nearly dropped asleep, when suddenly the lion re-appeared, dragging the body of a bush-cow with him.

“Now we must skin it, – explained Spider – , for I need many strips of hide cut from the bush-cow’s skin before I can make you as beautiful as the bush-fowl.”

The unsuspecting lion ripped the skin from the dead animal with his sharp claws, and then tore it into strips like pieces of rope.  “Splendid!’ exclaimed Spider when he had finished – . “You’ve made a neat job of that. I should think that your spots will be far handsomer than the bush-fowl’s.”

“Well, tell me what to do next, – said the lion impatiently.  “You must find me the toughest kazaura tree in the bush – explained Spider – . “When you see a kazaura tree that you think will do, rush at it and knock into it with your chest. If it gives the slightest shake or seems to have weak roots, then that is no good. You must find a tree so strong that it stands as firm as a rock when you knock into it.”

The lion tried several times and gave himself a number of bruises during the process, but at last he came upon a kazaura tree with such a thick trunk that it did not shake at all when he dashed into it.  Spider looked at the tree and pronounced it suitable and told the lion to go and fetch the strips of hide, and the bush-cow’s carcass.

Meanwhile Spider collected a large pile of firewood and built another fire while the lion made a rack above it for roasting the meat. “Now we come to the most difficult part of all – declared Spider -. You must lie down at the foot of this kazaura tree, and let me bind you tightly to it. The tighter you are bound, the better will be the final result.”

The foolish lion lay down and Spider began to truss him up with the leather thongs, until he could scarcely move, but the lion kept pointing out where the bonds were not tight enough, saying: “It’s loose here too, –  and – I can still move my back legs. Surely you ought to tie them tighter than that!”

Spider could scarcely conceal his amusement as the stupid lion allowed himself to be tied up to the tree until he could not move at all. At last the lion cried: “Well done! Nobody could tie me tighter than this. Now, let’s get on with the spotting and then you can release me, for I don’t want to stay like this longer than necessary.”

“Right! –  Exclaimed Spider triumphantly – . You asked for it and now you shall have it.”

He put a number of metal skewers into the fire, and as soon as one became red-hot he would seize it and plunge it into the poor lion’s skin, saying: “Certainly not – expostulated the lion – . Would I repay good with evil?”

“I think you would if you had the chance – replied the ant – . But I will help set you free all the same,” and it began to gnaw its way through the leather that tied the lion, until at last he was free. Carefully he stretched his cramped limbs and lay still until he had the strength to stand up and stagger away from the kazaura tree. He was ravenously hungry and would certainly have gobbled up the white ant had not that little creature already made good his escape.

Several days later when the lion had begun to recover and had managed to find a few small animals for food, he decided that Spider must be taught a lesson. “Now where is that cunning Spider? –  he roared – . If I catch the villain I’ll soon make short work of him,” and striding through the forest he loudly demanded of everyone he met, whether they had seen Spider.

Presently he saw a scrawny-looking gazelle in the distance and shouted to him: “Have you seen Spider? I’ve a score to settle with him.” The gazelle seemed to tremble as it answered, ‘No. Allah be praised! I have not seen Spider, and should I see the evil creature I would hide immediately.’

“Surely you’re not afraid of a mere spider?” asked the lion. “Do you see how thin and wasted I have become? –  Said the gazelle -. It is all the fault of that evil Spider. I quarrelled with him and in return he pointed his finger at me, cast a spell, and I wasted away.”

“How can that be?” asked the lion. “I do not know, – replied the gazelle -. But of one thing I am certain. If anybody displeases Spider, he does not strike him. He just points his hand at him and he wastes away even as I am wasting away.”

The lion was terrified. He had no idea that Spider was so powerful. “Then please do not tell him I was looking for him,” he begged, as he hurried away.

Now it was not a real gazelle. It was Spider inside an empty skin and it was he who had carried on the conversation with the lion. So he threw off the skin, and laughing heartily to himself, he followed the lion and caught him up.

“Somebody told me that you were looking for me,-  he said arrogantly – . Might I ask what you want?” The lion threw himself down on the ground and prostrated himself before the spider. “Oh no! Oh no indeed, – he stammered- . You have been misinformed. I was not looking for you.”

“I should hope not – said Spider -. If I hear again that you are following me, you’ll regret it as many another animal has done. And what’s more, I am in charge of the bush now and all animals have to obey me, so don’t you forget it!” The frightened lion ran away as fast as he could, and from that day Spider was king of the animals and none dared to disobey him. (Folktale from Nigeria)

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