Oral Literature: The Leopard’s House

The leopard, lord of the jungle, which is the domain of the animals, wanted a new house for himself.

All the animals said that they would help build it. The tortoise dug the foundations; the lion cut the posts to the right size; the hyena placed them in the post-holes which the tortoise had dug; the hare tied the roof beams together; the serval-cat filled in the walls with wattle; the donkey cut reedgrass; the goat plaited it and, finally, the chimpanzee thatched the roof.

When the leopard returned from a successful hunting expedition, he found the house all ready for him. But do you think he thanked the animals for all their hard work? Not at all! He simply told the chimpanzee to go away as he did not want to be disturbed.

The animals then held a council, made up of all those who had worked so hard building the house, and they all complained bitterly. The goat said, “I am a magistrate, so I will send my servant to summon the leopard to appear before this council.”

So, the dog was sent to summon the leopard who, far from listening to him, leapt on the dog and ate him up. This was too much. Quite apart from not thanking his workers, he had not even offered them some of the game he had hunted, and worst of all he had eaten one of their number.

That night the elephant went to the leopard’s house and knocked it down. As for the leopard, he fled into the jungle where he can still be heard, snarling and growling. The animals then appointed the elephant as lord of the jungle. The chief must be the one who fears none of his subjects.

(Folktale form Zambia)

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