Oral Literature – Crocodile Tears

Long ago, Nile Crocodile was in charge of all the water creatures, and it was his duty to ensure their well-being. So, one year, when no storm clouds formed and the land was ravaged by drought, Crocodile grew worried about the animals, as drinking water had become scarce.

When the river became a dry sandy bed, Crocodile made a plan to relocate to another river that was over the next hill.

Otter was sent on a reconnaissance mission to the other river and Crocodile was delighted when he returned, saying that there was in fact plenty of water. Crocodile then summoned Tortoise and Alligator: “I want you to take Lion a report. It will take you a couple of days to reach your destination and you must prepare yourself well for the journey as the countryside is parched and dry and you might not find any water on the way.”

Tortoise and Alligator looked out at the hot, dry landscape and the air that shimmered above it and felt daunted by the prospect of their journey. “We have to make peace with Lion and the animals of his kingdom,” said Crocodile, “Otherwise, we shall all die. We need Lion and his animals’ assistance to move over to the other river, especially when we pass by man’s farm.”

Tortoise and Alligator agreed with their leader. “We water creatures can be very helpless on the land,” said Crocodile. When he received the report, Lion was surprised by it. “I need first to have a consultation with Jackal,” he told the messengers sent by Crocodile.

After deliberation, Lion said, “Tomorrow night my advisors and I will be at the appointed place near the willow tree. The one that is at the furthest end of the waterhole – the place where Crocodile resides.”

Crocodile was delighted with the news that Alligator and Tortoise brought him from Lion. He arranged for Otter and a few other water creatures to be present, and organised mounds of fish and other food for the guests at their meeting by the willow tree.

As the last light of the day drained away and darkness fell on the dry land, Crocodile and his water creatures warmly welcomed Lion and his entourage of Jackal, Wolf, Baboon, and a few other animals. Crocodile was so overcome by the joyous occasion that every so often tears formed in his eyes and ran down his snout and onto the sandy ground.

When all the animals had feasted on the fish and the other fine food, Crocodile discussed his plans with them, stating that harmony and peace amongst all the animals was needed otherwise they would destroy each other. Lion also expressed his fear that, in time, the man would destroy them as well. The man had already placed irrigation pumps at the river to water his lands and drinking water was becoming scarcer every day. Also, because the water level of the river that once flowed strongly had dropped drastically, the animals were vulnerable as they were had to live in very shallow water.

“We are here to give you support,” said Lion, who on this occasion was sympathetic to Crocodile and his water creatures. “I give you my word that we will escort you from the dry riverbed, past man’s farm to the river where there are sea-cow pools.” “But what can we expect in return?” asked cunning, sly Jackal.

Crocodile thought carefully, then responded. “Peace will be a great asset to both the water and land creatures as they will not kill each other. Also, when you land creatures arrive at the water to drink, I shall not attack you, and in turn, we will be spared Elephant’s antics.”

At that point, Lion and his advisor Jackal walked away from the scant shade of the willow tree for a consultation. Then Jackal said, “Crocodile, what security will you offer to ensure that you keep your side of the agreement?”

“My word stands,” said Crocodile, as a few more tears fell into the sand. “I think that we should trust each other”, said Baboon “We shall all benefit from such an agreement. What is more, the water creatures’ lives are vulnerable at this time. All we need to do, Lion, is commit everything to the written word.”

Sly Jackal did not agree with Baboon, and Wolf, who had satisfied himself with such generous helpings of fish that he was in a good mood, instructed Lion to settle the matter with the agreement. Lion gave a speech to all assembled, announcing that they would cooperate with Crocodile and support him, as the water creatures’ lives were threatened. A document was created, and it was decided that the migration should start before midnight.

All the water creatures were summoned from far and wide, and Lion not only organized an escort party for the animals, but he mapped the journey to the new river as well. Lion then appointed Jackal as the spy and quietly said to him, “I am suspicious of all this. I will also be a spy until everyone reaches the Sea-cow pools, but I will not be found there when you arrive.”

Elephant was delegated the role of leader because of his soft tread and a good sense of smell and hearing. He was followed by Lion with one section of the animals and then Crocodile’s water creatures who had protection on both sides. Wolf was at the tail end of the migration.

While travel plans were being finalized, Crocodile took the Yellow Snake into his confidence and said to him, “It would be better for us if these animals were captured by the man. I want you to remain here and when I arrive at the sea-cow pool I will shout loudly so that you know that we have arrived at our destination.”

Snake slithered closer to Crocodile. “Snake”, said Crocodile “When I scream, you must irritate the man’s dogs and we’ll see what happens next.”

The migration continued slowly in the dark and the pace was determined by many of the water creatures who were not used to travelling long distances on land. They ventured safely past the man’s farm and by the time it was dawn, they were all safely at the sea-cow pool.

The water creatures relished in the full river and quickly disappeared beneath its muddy surface. However, before Crocodile took to the water, he thanked Lion profusely for his help, crying crocodile tears of joy. Then he asked if he might scream to let off his tense, anxious feelings that had accumulated over the journey. The mountains shook as he shouted and he gave a lengthy speech, outlining the advantages of the new agreement.

Just as he was about to depart, Lion heard the first shot that caused Elephant and a few other animals to keel over. “I warned you to be cautious”, said angry Jackal “Why did you allow Crocodile’s tears to deceive you?”.

Crocodile and his water creatures were safely beneath the surface of the muddy water when a fight broke out among the animals, which made them an easy target for the Boer. Most of them survived, however.

Not long after that, Crocodile was blasted by a driver who let off some dynamite. And it is said that even to this day, whenever Elephant is given the opportunity, he throws Crocodile’s descendants into the forks of trees as high up as possible.

(Folktale from South Africa)

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts