Oral Literature: the Leopard and the Dog

It once happened that a leopard and a dog were very great friends; the leopard was, however, the owner of the house in which they lived; the dog was treated more as a servant than a friend by the leopard.

When the rainy season began, the leopard said to the dog, “Let us go and see our ant-hillocks, whether the ants are about to swarm, because the year is ended.” The dog agreed, and they went to look at the hillocks and found them showing signs of swarming. They, therefore, got ready and soon caught a large quantity of ants, which they took home. The leopard’s wife cooked them, and they had a very fine meal. Those which they could not eat they fried and dried in the sun.

The leopard afterwards said, “I will take one bundle of these ants we have dried in the sun to my wife’s relatives.” The dog agreed, and they set the day upon which they should go. Early in the morning of that day the leopard dressed in his best clothes and took his harp, because he was an expert player, and said to the dog, “You carry the ants.” The dog made the bundle into a load, put it on his head, and started off after the leopard.

On the way they met some people they knew and greeted them. Their friends asked them where they were going, and the leopard replied, “I am going to see my wife’s relatives.”

They asked him to play a tune on his harp, which he did, and sang, “I have a load of white ants like that which the dog carries; I have a load of white ants like that which the dog carries.” Their friends thanked the leopard for the tune and song, and took leave of him, and went on their way; and the leopard and the dog went on their way.

After a time, the dog said, “Sir, I feel unwell; I must run aside into the grass.” The leopard said, “All right, go,” and waited in the road for him. While in the grass the dog ate all the ants and filled the packets with dry grass, and returned after tying them up as before. They then went on their way.

After a time, the dog said to the leopard, “Sir, lend me the harp that I may play and sing as we walk.” The leopard did so, and the dog played and sang, “A load of rubbish for my wife’s relations; a load of rubbish for my wife’s relations.” The leopard thanked the dog for his song, and said, “You played very well.” To which the dog replied, “Thank you, sir.”

When they reached the home of the relatives of the leopard’s wife, the leopard greeted them and asked how they were. They also asked how the leopard and his wife and relatives were, but they took no notice of the dog. The leopard’s relatives then brought out their pipes and gave the leopard one to smoke, but they did not give one to the dog.

After a time, the dog walked away, and as soon as he got out of sight he ran away as fast as he could. After a while the leopard said he had brought them some ants to eat, and began to untie the parcel, but to his surprise and disappointment he found nothing but dry grass. He was very angry and ashamed, and called for the dog; but the dog had gone.

When the leopard discovered how the dog had played him a trick and escaped, he went to the deity and consulted him about what he should do. The deity answered, “When you beat the drums for twin dances the dog will come.”

Sometime later the leopard’s wife gave birth to twins, and the leopard’s friends and relatives came together and beat the drums for the twins, and danced; the sheep also came to the dance. As they danced, they sang, “Who will show me the dog? Who will show me the dog?” Others took up the refrain and waved their tails, saying, “There is no dog here, there is no dog here.”

Late in the evening the sheep went home and told the dog about the dance, and what a wonderful entertainment it was. The dog replied, “I am sorry I was not there to see it all.” The sheep said, “In the morning I will put you into my tail and take you.”

The next morning the sheep put the dog into his tail, and they went to the dance. When the drums beat, they all sang, “Show me the dog. Who will show me the dog?” Others answered, “Here there is no dog, here there is no dog.”

In the evening, when the drums were sounding loudly, the sheep became excited and danced and sang, and waved his tail so violently that the dog slipped out and fell to the ground. He immediately ran away, and again escaped. The leopard was very angry and caught the sheep and killed him. The dog ran off to man and lived with him.

Now, whenever a leopard meets a dog, he kills it if he can. From that time, too, there has been enmity between the leopard and the dog, and also between the sheep and the leopard because the sheep shielded the dog.

(Folktale from Kenya – photo: CC BY-SA 4.0/Arturo de Frias Marques)

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