Oral Literature: The hare and the baboons

The day was very hot. The hare was on his way to a distant water-hole to quench his thirst when he met a party of baboons hurrying along the path towards him.

“Where are you going? – The baboons asked -. Are you ill, that you look so miserable?”

“I am well, thank you, but I am greatly troubled by the heat and very thirsty. The last two water-holes that I visited were dry, and the one I am going to now is very far away, said the hare.

“Then come with us, friend Hare – they said -. We are on our way to a beer party. Surely it is better to quench your thirst with beer than with water!”

“It is, indeed – agreed the hare -. I‘ll gladly accompany you, for it is a long time since I attended a good beer party.” And he turned about to join them.

Before long they reached a very tall tree at the side of the path, up which the baboons lost no time in climbing. Halfway up they joined several more baboons. “Come along up, friend Hare! –  they called down -. What are you waiting for? Can’t you see what a splendid supply of beer pots we have up here? We thought you said you were thirsty!” And they rocked with laughter at the trick they had played on the Clever One.

The hare ground his teeth in anger, but said nothing. Thirstier than ever, he had to begin his search for water all over again. The further he went, the angrier he became, and the more determined to take his revenge on the baboons. He thought arid thought, and eventually decided on a plan.

It was not long after that he met the same party of baboons again. He greeted them warmly. “Good day to you, my friends, – he said -. I have been hoping to meet you, because my wife has made a particularly fine brew of beer, and I would like you to come and sample it. As you know, her beer is famous throughout the land.”

“That is very good of you,” the baboons replied -. “We’ll gladly come.”

“Then come tomorrow at noon when the sun is hot to the open place next to the forest, – said the hare -. My friends, we shall have a fine party!”

The baboons were delighted. Thanking the hare for his invitation, they hurried home to gather their families and go to join him. The hare prepared for the baboons by burning a large patch of dry grass, leaving an unburnt circle in the centre, where he placed the beer pot.

The baboons arrived on time the following day. They were hot, weary and thirsty after their long journey. “Come, my friends, let us enjoy ourselves!”  welcomed the hare as they drew near. “Never have I tasted a finer brew of beer!”

At this the baboons raced across the burnt grass and took their places round the beer pot. But the hare said, “My friends, you must first wash your hands, because this pot belongs to an acquaintance. It must be kept clean and not handled with dirty hands. Besides, it is against the law for anyone to eat food with unwashed hands, and I see that yours are very black. You will have to go down to the river and wash them.”

The baboons looked at their forepaws, which were indeed black from the burnt grass they had walked over, and had to admit that they were far from clean. So down to the river they ran to wash.

On their return they again had to cross the burnt grass to reach the beer pot, so their paws became as black as before. When they held them up to the hare for inspection, he shook his head and said, “But my friends, they are as dirty as before! You must go again to the river to wash them.”

Back to the river the baboons went to wash away the blackness, but by the time they got to the beer pot, their paws were as dirty as before. Over and over again the hare sent the baboons back to the river to wash the soot of the burnt grass from their paws until, by the time the sun began to set, they were so tired that they went sadly home, while the hare called his family to join him round the beer pot. Amidst much merriment and laughter at the discomfiture of the baboons, they drained the beer to the last drop. “Aha! –  Laughed the hare -. So they thought they could make a fool of me – but who are the fools now?” (Folktale from Tanzania)

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