Oral Literature. The Rabbit and the Elephant

Once upon a time, there were two friends – an elephant and a rabbit. There had been no rain for a long, long time and there was a great famine in the land. So, the two friends decided to sell their skins to raise enough money to buy cows.

The market was in a far-off land, which they had to go through a thick forest and cross a deep river, to reach.

On the market day, the two friends set out very early, before the sun, had risen, each carrying his own hide. They passed through the thick forest and came to the river.

Since the Elephant was huge, he had no difficulty at all in crossing the river. “Hey Rabbit”,  he shouted across the river, “I am waiting to see how you cross the river with your promised hide. I can help you cross, if you promise to give me half of the money you make from selling your hide.”

What the Elephant did not know, was that his friend, Rabbit, was very clever. Rabbit had spread his hide out on the water, and jumped on it to sail across to the other side. This was something Elephant had not expected. He was very angry that Rabbit had had no difficulty in crossing. “I will see how you cross the river on the way back with your cow”, he scolded. At the market, everyone wanted to buy Rabbit’s soft hide. No one was interested in the hard, rough hide of Elephant. Rabbit got a good price for his, and was able to buy a nice fat cow. Elephant was very embarrassed with his cow and annoyed that Rabbit’s was better than his.

On the way home, Elephant said to Rabbit “since you are small and I am big, if anyone asks whose is the fat cow, say it’s mine”. But whenever people did ask, Rabbit replied “It’s mine”. This annoyed Elephant so much that he parted company with Rabbit, knowing that Rabbit would never reach home, with his cow, having to cross the river and go through the thick forest where there were lions, leopards and hyenas.

At the river, Rabbit led his cow into the water and then jumped onto its back and crossed to the other side.

In the forest, the first animal Rabbit met was Lion, who had not had meal for days. “Is that your cow, Rabbit?”, Lion asked salivating. “No, it is for the King. He is preparing a feast and has invited you all” Rabbit replied. All the animals in the forest feared and respected the King. Lion could not dare touch the King’s cow. So, he followed. They met Leopard and Hyena, and Rabbit told them the same story, and they too followed.

On arrival at Rabbit’s house, Rabbit told them to wait outside while he went inside to tell the King that he was back. “Your majesty, I have brought them for the feast”, he said loudly, so that the animals outside could hear. The animals heard someone reply in a deep voice, and assumed it was the King. It was actually Rabbit talking through a horn.

When Rabbit came out of the house he said, “the King has given the following instructions. You Lion should cut some banana leaves on which to put the meat, but you must only bring those which fall in your eyes. Don’t bring those which fall on the ground”, said Rabbit handing him a panga. “You, Hyena, are to slaughter the cow, but you should not eat any meat, nor even swallow saliva, or even the one who falls down”, said Rabbit giving him a knife. “You, Leopard, are to collect water to prepare the meat”, said Rabbit and handed him a basket.

Each animal went about his duty thinking of nothing out the meat he would eat later. Rabbit gave them those tasks knowing that none of them would fulfil them.

He followed the Lion to the banana plantation. He hid behind some bush watching the Lion cut leaf after leaf, trying to get at least one to fall in his eyes, but in vain. It was to be reported to the King, that he had failed his task. So, he threw down the panga, and ran away.

Meanwhile, the Hyena was busy cutting meat and by accident, a tiny piece fell on his nose. He tried to shake it off but it stuck there. Hyena, who had not eaten for days, and seeing nobody about, licked it off and swallowed it. “I have caught your red handed”, said Rabbit. “I am going to report you to the King”,  but before Rabbit could reach the house, Hyena had  already run away as fast as he could.

At the river, Leopard was busy collecting basket after basket of water. But every time he reached the bank, the baskets would be empty. But by the time he went for the tenth basket, he felt exhausted. He could not face Rabbit to tell him that he had failed the King’s order. So, he threw away the basket, and ran away before Rabbit could find out what had happened.

Rabbit, who had been hiding behind a bush, could not hold back the laughter anymore. He laughed and laughed and laughed. Then he went home and prepared a feast from his cow, all for himself and his family.  (Folktale from Uganda)

Subscribe to our mailing list!

Recent Posts