Oral Literature: The Lion, the Monkey and the Clever Bird

A young lion fell into a deep hole and could not get out. He had nothing to eat on the first day, nor on the second day, nor on the third day.

“I shall die,” said the lion to himself. “I shall die of hunger.” But on the fourth day he saw a monkey high above the hole. The monkey was jumping from tree to tree. “Monkey, monkey,” cried the young lion. “Please help me.”

The monkey stopped jumping and looked down at the lion in the hole. “Certainly I shall help you,” he replied. “What do you wish me to do?” “Put your tail down into the hole,” said the lion. “Then I can hold your tail and climb out of the hole. Please save me.”

The monkey agreed to this plan and jumped to a branch of a tree which was directly above the hole; he put his tail down into the hole and told the lion to take hold of it. The lion caught the tail and climbed up from the hole whereupon he seized the monkey’s body with his two front paws.

“Now I am going to eat you,” said the lion. “Why are you going to eat me?” cried the monkey. “Because this is the fourth day on which I have not eaten any food,” replied the lion. “But you should not eat me,” the monkey protested, “considering that it was I who saved you. You ought to thank me.”

At that moment a big black bird flew down to join the lion and the monkey. “What are you talking about so angrily?” the big black bird asked. The monkey told the bird the whole story: how he had lowered his tail into the deep hole to save the lion, and how, instead of giving thanks, the lion had said he was going to eat him.

Then the bird said to the lion, “It is wrong for you to eat the monkey. He saved your life.” “But I am very hungry,” said the lion. “If I do not eat the monkey, I shall die of starvation. This is the fourth day on which I have not eaten.”

The clever bird decided to try to save the monkey’s life and she thought of a plan. “Let me ask you three questions before you eat the monkey and please give me three answers.” “Very well,” agreed the lion. “You may ask me three questions and I will answer you.” “My first question is this,” said the bird. “Is it true that this monkey saved your life?” “Yes, that is true,” answered the lion. “My next question,” the bird continued, “is this.

“Is it true that this is the fourth day on which you have had nothing to eat?” . “Yes, that is true,” answered the lion. “My third question,” the bird said, “is this. Did you thank the monkey for saving your life?” “No,” replied the lion, “I didn’t. “The bird said, “It was wrong of you not to thank the monkey. Before you start to eat him, you should thank him for his kindness.” “Very well,” the lion said, “but how shall I thank the monkey?” The wise bird had her answer ready. “You must thank him by holding your head down on the ground.”

Then the lion took his paws from the monkey and held his head down to the ground while he was giving thanks. “Monkey, escape. You are saved,” cried the big black bird as she flew away. “I’m saved,” cried the monkey, jumping up quickly and climbing the nearest tall tree.

The ungrateful lion saw the monkey escape. However, the monkey himself had learnt a lesson: he would never help lions again. (Folktale from Tanzania)

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