Oral Literature: Elephant and Hare

There was once a herd of elephants who went to gather honey to take to their in-laws.

As they were walking along, they came upon Hare who was just about to cross the river. She said to one of them: “Father, please help me get across the river.” The elephant agreed to this request and said to Hare: “You may jump on to my back.”
As Hare sat on the elephant’s back, she was quick to notice the two bags full of honey that the elephant was carrying.

She started eating honey from one of the bags, and when she had eaten it all, she called out to Elephant saying: “Father, please hand me a stone to play with.” When she was given the stone, she put it in the now empty bag of honey and started eating the honey from the second bag.

When she had eaten it all, she again requested another stone saying: “Father, please hand me another stone for the one you gave me has dropped, and I want to throw it at the birds.” Elephant handed her another stone, and then another, as she kept asking for stones on the pretext that she was throwing them at the birds, until she had filled both bags with stones.

When Hare realised that the elephants were about to arrive at their destination, she said to the elephant which was carrying her: “Father, I have now arrived, please let me down.” So, Hare went on her way.

Soon afterwards, the elephant looked at his bags, only to realise that they were full of stones! He exclaimed to the others: “Oh my goodness! The hare has finished all my honey!” They lifted up their eyes and saw Hare leaping away at a distance; they set off after her. They caught up with Hare within no time, but as the elephants were about to grab her, she disappeared into a hole. But the elephant managed to catch hold of her tail, at which time the skin from the tail got peeled off. Elephant next grabbed her by the leg.

Hare laughed at this loudly, saying: “Oh! You have held a root mistaking it for me!” Thereupon Elephant let go of Hare’s leg and instead got hold of a root. Hare shrieked from within and said: “Oh Father, you have broken my leg!” As Elephant was struggling with the root, Hare manoeuvred her way out and ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Elephant had by this time managed to pull out the root only to realise that it was not Hare’s leg. Once more he lifted up his eyes and saw Hare leaping and jumping over bushes in a bid to escape. Elephant ran in pursuit of her once more.

As Hare continued running, she came across some herdsmen and said to them: “Hey you, herdsmen, do you see that elephant from yonder, you had better run away, for he is coming after you.” The herdsmen scampered and went their separate ways. When Elephant saw the herdsmen running, he thought they were running after Hare; so, he too ran after them.

When he caught up with them, he said: “Hey you, herdsmen, have you seen a hare with a skinned tail passing along here?” The herdsmen answered: “You have passed her along the way as she was going in the opposite direction.” While Elephant had been chasing the herdsmen, Hare had gained some time to run in the opposite direction.

Next, Hare came upon some women who were sewing outside the homestead and said to them: “Hey you, mothers who are sewing, do you see that elephant from yonder, you had better run away for he is coming after you.” On hearing this, the women scampered for the safety of their houses immediately. But soon the elephant caught up with them and asked: “Hey you, honourable ladies, might you have seen a hare with a skinned tail going toward this direction?” The women answered: “There she goes over there.”

Hare kept running and this time she came upon antelopes grazing and she said to them: “Hey you, antelopes, you had better run away for that elephant is coming after you.” The antelopes were startled, and they ran away as fast as their legs could carry them. But soon the elephant was upon them, and he asked them: “Hey you, antelopes, have you seen a hare with a skinned tail going in this direction?” They pointed out to him the direction that Hare had followed.

Still on the run, Hare next came upon a group of other hares, to whom she said: “Hey you, hares, do you see that elephant coming from yonder? You should all skin your tails for he is after those hares with unskinned tails.” Thereupon all the hares quickly skinned their tails.

At the same moment the elephant arrived and asked them: “Hey you, hares, have you seen a hare with a skinned tail going towards this direction?” The hares replied: “Don’t you see that all our tails are skinned?” As the hares said this, they were displaying their tails confident it would please Elephant. On noticing that all the hares’ tails were skinned, Elephant realised that Hare had played a trick on him. Elephant could not find the culprit, for all the hares were alike. And there ends the story.

(Folktale from Maasai people, Kenya)

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