Oral Literature: How the hare lost his tail

One day in the long, long ago the hare was walking through the forest. He was a good farmer and was on his way to inspect his mealie lands. In those days he was like all the other creatures of the wilds: he had a long tapering tail, a well-formed nose and a strong, sturdy figure. He was, in fact, extremely proud of his appearance.

On this particular occasion he had stopped for a brief rest and was sitting on a fallen tree-trunk, when a man came hurrying along one of the many paths that crossed and cris-crossed the forest. He looked at the hare with relief. “I am going to my marriage dance at the village across the river – he said -, but I have lost my way among all these paths. Can you show me how to get there?”

The hare was always ready to oblige when the chance of a party or a beer drink was in the offing. “With pleasure – he replied – . Follow me.” And he set off at once with great leaps and bounds.

He covered the ground at such a rate that the man found great difficulty in keeping up with him and gradually fell further and further behind. Finally he lost sight of the hare altogether. To crown all, he fell into a well-concealed game-pit and was unable to climb out again.

After a while the hare noticed that the man was not behind him anymore, and turned back to find out why he was not following. “Whatever happened, friend?” he asked when he found the man struggling to get out of the hole. “Here, catch hold of my tail and jump out!” And the hare sat down at the rim of the hole so that the man could use his tail as a rope.

The man took a firm hold on the tail and gave a tremendous jump, but in doing so he lost his balance and fell backwards. He was such a heavy man that the hare’s tail broke off right up near his body.

“Dear, dear, dear!” exclaimed the hare, more concerned about missing the wedding party than losing his tail. “This will never do. We must get you out, or we shall miss the party. Put your arms around my waist and I’ll see if I can pull you out.”

The man did as he was told, and after a great deal of pulling and struggling the hare finally got the man out. They both fell to the ground, exhausted by their efforts. Then the hare realised that the man had squeezed his waist so tightly that it was much, much smaller than before.

“Dear, dear, dear!” exclaimed the hare again, still more concerned about missing the wedding party than his now ridiculously slender waist. “We must be quick, or we shall miss the party.”

The wedding party was already in full swing when the hare and the bridegroom finally reached the village. The hare lost no time in making himself at home. It was not long before he started to push other would-be partners aside so that he could dance with the bride, who was renowned throughout the country for her beauty.

The hare was very light and nimble, and danced on the very tips of his toes. This pleased the bride to such an extent that she refused all other partners, to the great annoyance and jealousy of her groom.

Earlier that evening, while the bride was on her way to the wedding party, she had slipped on some stepping-stones while crossing a river, and fallen into the water. As the evening wore on, her wet skirt began to shrink and became shorter and shorter and shorter. Noticing this, many of the guests covered their mouths with their hands to smother their laughter.

This annoyed the hare, so he went in search of some cloth. Eventually he found a braided goatskin in one of the village huts. He stripped a couple of pieces of bark from a tree and held the two ends firmly between his teeth. Then he began to twist them together to make a girdle with which to tie the skin around the bride’s waist. But he twisted with such vigour and speed that one of the pieces of bark shot up and cut his upper lip right through to his nose.

Although the bride was very sympathetic and did all in her power to comfort him, the flesh never joined up completely; and this has left not only the hare, but his descendants as well, with a split upper lip.

The bridegroom was so angry at the hare for depriving him of his bride at the wedding party that he was delighted at the hare’s misfortune, declaring that it was his just punishment. And the hare was wise enough to return to his farm without delay, before the bridegroom had time to carry out the revenge that he was planning.  And that is why all hares have a very short tail, a ridiculously small waist, and a harelip to this day. (Folktale from Zambia)

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