Oral Literature: how Giraffe acquired his Long Neck

Long, long ago, Giraffe did not have the long, elegant neck that he has now. In those days his neck was short and squat, resembling Rhinoceros’s powerful neck.

It was a time of drought and famine. The waterholes had dried up, the land had been scorched by the sun and the grazing was threadbare. The grass that remained was dry, brittle and tasteless.

One day, when he was out looking for grazing, Giraffe met Rhino and said: “The grass everywhere has turned bitter. I long for the sweet pastures that grow after the rains.”

“You are right, Giraffe,” conceded White Rhino, plucking a tough clump of grass from the ground in front of him with his strong muscular lips. “But it has been too long since we have seen rain.”

“Too long,” agreed Giraffe.

“There are too many animals grazing this land and there is nothing left” observed Rhino. “It would be so good to be able to eat the fresh young leaves that grow on the top of that tree over there.”

“We are far too short to reach them,” observed Giraffe. “Yes,” said Rhino. “But I have a plan. Let us find Man and see if he can help us.”

So, Giraffe and Rhino travelled through the savanna lands, grazing by day and resting by night until they encountered Man. Resting in the dappled shade of an acacia tree, they told him their problems and waited impatiently as he considered their dilemma.

“I think I can be of assistance to you,” said Man. “Come back here tomorrow at noon and I will give you some herbs.” Giraffe and Rhino went their separate ways. Rhino travelled far in search of grazing, while Giraffe remained nearby.

The next morning, the sun rose in a dry sky and when it was directly overhead, Giraffe presented himself to Man. Looking at Giraffe’s coat, which resembled blotchy patterns of dark brown leaves, Man said to him, “Where is Rhino?”

But Rhino did not return at the appointed hour, so Man gave all his herbs to Giraffe telling him that the herbs would enable his neck and legs to grow so long that he would be able to reach the tallest trees.

Giraffe ate the herbs and watched in awe as his neck and legs began to grow longer. He was amazed by the fact that his limbs just continued to grow longer and longer just like the growth of his neck. As his neck stretched, he moved further and further away from the dusty, hard earth and he was so delighted when he was able to twist his long tongue around the tender shoots that grew at the top of an acacia tree nearby. From that moment, Giraffe became a browser, preferring to eat the young branches and leaves of trees and shrubs, rather than graze the grass on the ground. It was his long neck that now enabled him to do that.

Rhino arrived late, long after midday. “Where are my herbs?”  asked Rhino indignantly. “You are too late,” said Man. “I have given them all to Giraffe. See how his neck and legs have grown, Rhino.”

Giraffe continued browsing, relishing the sweet leaves of the thorn tree. Rhino kicked up the dust with his thick, heavy legs and demonstrated his anger. He was so angry because he thought that Man had deceived him. In fact, he lost his temper completely. To this day, Rhino has a very bad temper and when he sees Man in the bush, he charges him.

(Folktale from Kenya)

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