How the Hare Tricked the Elephant

Here is a story:

There once was a Hare and his wife who wanted to be wealthy. This is how they got rich. The two of them lived together in a small temporary hut near their field where there was nobody else. One day, the Hare’s wife began to argue with her husband, saying: I can’t live like this any more! Maybe it would be better to find myself another husband. I have to wear fur! Look at the others in the village when you are going for a walk. They wear beautiful clothing. It looks as though I am going to have to leave you but I took vows in front of my parents because I love you even if it means I have nothing to wear. So there is no problem now. But please try to do something about it as you are the man.

The Hare did not know what to think and said to himself: This could be a disaster. If I don’t do something clever, this woman will leave me. Then he said: O.K. my wife, do not worry. After thinking for a while, he said: Grind some flour for a journey so I may go and find some work. His wife replied: Of course I will give you the flour but are you going to go off and leave me here all alone? Then the husband said: Just give it to me! What you have just told me has hurt me very much. Stay here alone, so I can go and make a fortune and you can dress well. All I want is the flour for a journey and then let me go. The Hare’s wife grounded a small basket of flour for him and she filled it up to the brim. The husband then put it on his shoulder. Then, because the Hare had nothing to cover the flour with and he could not carry it on his ears, he went off with the basket on his back.

The Hare then went on until he crossed the large river. On the other side of the river the Hare discovered a massive house which had everything people longed for: cars, motorcycles, shirts, dresses, fabrics, blankets… everything. In front of the house the Hare met its owner, a great Elephant, who was sitting outside the house drinking from a calabash reserved for special occasions only. The Hare approached the Elephant with great respect, clapping his hands and saying: How are you, master? The Elephant said: O.K., O.K. How is life at your place? The Hare said: I come from a nice and quiet place, but there is one thing I would like to say: I am to wed very soon. By the end of this week I am going to marry but I have nothing to make my wedding beautiful. The Elephant said: Do not worry, my friend, I have many beautiful things, but first put down your bag. And he did so. So he sat down nearby, prepared mush and ate. After this the great Elephant said: Come and choose what you want in order to make your wedding beautiful. The Hare chose a suit with a shirt, hat, trousers, some socks and shoes, a bow with arrows and a fly-switch. The great Elephant said: Put them on so you may see how beautiful they are. After the Hare put the things on he said: Wonderful! When the woman I am going to marry sees it she will like it very much. Then he spoke of the things he intended for the girl: I bought them for her a long time ago and they are keeping them at her place. What I’m really missing is the wedding suit. Then he took everything.

In the morning, when he was going home, the Hare said: What bad luck – I live in my house in misery and there is a rich man so close by! The Hare took his flour since the Elephant had no need because he doesn’t eat mush; he eats only bread and other things. So he went back home and when he arrived, he said: You, my wife, look at what I have, just look. You must do exactly what I tell you. If you do your own will, you will get scared and we will have to revert to wearing our bare skins. His wife said: All the things you have taken without working for them will bring misfortune upon us because you will either be jailed or you will be beaten up. The Hare said: Just watch what I will do!

Two days passed after the appointed date on which he agreed with the Elephant. He said to himself: Didn’t the Hare say: ‘I will bring it back to you just after my wedding’? I will go myself. As the Elephant was approaching the temporary hut, the Hare and his wife heard the stomping of an Elephant’s heavy feet on the ground: kata kata, so the Hare said to his wife: My wife, just tell him: my husband has gone to work. And she went to the veranda and sat there. The Elephant said: Hello there! May I come in? The Hare’s wife said: Welcome! The Elephant said: Where is our friend? The Hare’s wife said: Sir, he is at work. The Elephant said: Oh! I don’t like this! I will come back tomorrow and I expect to find all of my things waiting for me. The Hare’s wife said: Yes Sir, I understand. Then the Elephant went back to his house.

Early the next day, the Elephant came to the Hare’s house with a loud stomping sound: Kata kata. The Hare said: What can I do? I want you to tell him that I am sick and am keeping warm by the fire. The Hare began to cry out: Oh man! What a fever! What a fever! When the Elephant arrived, he said: What bad luck, I can’t expect him to give me back my things if he is so sick. I will give him some time and will come later.

The day after, when the time of recovery was over, the Elephant returned. When the Hare heard that familiar sound: Kata kata, he said to his wife: Hide me in your arms. When the Elephant showed up he said: May I come in? The Hare’s wife said: Please come in. The Elephant asked her again: Where is your husband? The Hare’s wife said: I’m terribly sorry, but my husband went to the forest to pick bark. The Elephant said: For many days you have both been causing me nothing but trouble. In that case, I will take your child so when your husband comes back he will come to say: ‘Oh! Me, I should return his things so that I can get my child back’. The Elephant put the child on his back. Making Kata kata sounds, he arrived at the river and was thirsty, so he said to himself: Let me put my trunk in the river and start to drink. As the Elephant was drinking, the small child slipped off into the water with a splash. The Elephant put his trunk into the deepest part of the river all the way down to the rocks looking for the child, but he found nothing. In the meantime, the child walked along the bottom of the river onto the other side and went home. The Elephant looked all around the river, saying: Where has that child gone? The Elephant searched everywhere with his trunk but found nothing. Where has that child gone? He searched and searched but found nothing.

The Elephant got exhausted from looking in the river. The Hare gathered all of the Elephant’s things. Meanwhile the Elephant who was still going round in circles searching the deep part of the river and saying to himself: Maybe here I will find it, but failed to do so, when the Hare met him. The Hare approached the Elephant and said: What are you doing here in the middle of the river? The Elephant replied: I was standing here drinking water and the child I was carrying slipped off into the river. The Hare asked: What child? The Elephant replied: It was your child. The Hare said: You should never lose my child. My child, you lost my child? I want you to tell me exactly what happened . The Elephant said: I thought to myself I will have a drink of water…… The Hare said: I want you to look for it immediately and give me back my child. The Elephant looked everywhere but he could not find the child. Then the Hare said: Let us go to your house immediately. The Elephant went in front but was very weak from all the searching. The Hare said to the Elephant: If I do not get my child back you will see what will happen to you!

When they got to the Elephant’s house, the Hare, on seeing the great stores of the Elephant, said: Sit just here. The Elephant sat. Then he said: Bring me some things that would make me happy after having lost my child. The Elephant went into his stores and brought out some fabrics, nice trousers and many other things that he put in a pile. The Hare said: Can this be equivalent to my child’s life? A child is a great treasure. Maybe my child would have much more than you have now, so bring more out and we will see. The Elephant went back into his house and gave the Hare everything he owned. He put it in one place. The Hare said: I will show mercy on you, is that everything you own? The Elephant said: It is truly everything I own. There is nothing left. The Hare said: O.K.! How can I possibly take all of this back on my own? The Elephant said: I have a piece of iron which I wear on my finger and it is called a ring. If I call its name, everything will go into it. The Hare said: Say it and we will see what happens. The Elephant said: My dear ring, take all these things which are here into yourself. In that instant the ring swallowed everything. The Hare said: Let me try it myself. So the Elephant gave it, the Hare said: My dear ring take all these things which are here into yourself. And they went in. The Hare said: Be careful, I warn you, do not dare ever come to my house again and do not complain about the things I have taken with me. For it can happen I will never have a child like this one again or never have any child at all.

The Hare went back to his house and said: My wife, first of all, take off what you have on. And she replied: how can I take everything off if you do not tell me what you have brought? The Hare gave his wife a fragrant oil and when she smelled it she said: This is very nice, and what other wonderful things will come next? The Hare embraced her in both arms and said: Now I can dress you in anything you want. The Elephant was left with a broken heart. He said: I used to have so much, and I have lost it all to a little thing like that? The Elephant went and got four of his friends together and told them: Since we are big and strong, you can help me out. The others said: When we get back all the goods we will divide them among ourselves and we will carry them one by one, bringing them back to you, the owner.

The Elephants set off on their way to the Hare’s house. In the evening, the Hare heard some loud stomping kata kata. He said: Welcome, welcome! So they arrived. How are you? The Hare replied: O.K.! and you? They said: It’s O.K.! It is peaceful. Then the Hare asked: Where are you going? They replied: We are going to sleep here and in the morning we will go to the mountains to gather rocks. The Hare noticed the Elephant that had just bestowed on him all of its wealth, but he just said: Very well, you may stay here.

They all went to sleep and in the morning the Hare said: You are too big to go to those mountains which you want to get the rocks from, and the mountains are too high. Let me then make some cuttings on your hide. The Elephants said: Go and do it for us. The Hare said: If you let me cut some of your hide and your meat off, it will be much easier for you to climb because you will be much lighter. The Hare then cut pieces of meat out of one of the Elephants. Immediately, the Elephant moved a little bit and said: I am lighter. So in this way the Hare cut the other four Elephants. Then he told them: Now you can go, but when you get your rocks, please come back to my place. The Hare knew, however, that the Elephants would be able to climb up the mountain but would die coming down. The Elephants went towards the mountains with a stomping sound: Kata kata. They went to the mountain and climbed up it very well. The Elephants began to gather rocks, but as they were coming down their wounds began to blister with pain in the backside of the knee joint which became very weak. The Elephants fell down and began to roll down the mountain head first. They fell and got so badly wounded that they all soon died. The Hare took their corpses and began to cut them up and started to eat.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: this story teaches that gaining wealth by tricking others is not a good thing. A person who is taken up by the desire to own more and more is ready to make ever new attempts aimed at gaining more goods. A person taken up by greed also becomes the slave of his possessions which take up his whole mind. This story warns against greed also by emphasising the dangers that are born of inordinate desire for earthly belongings. Greed which fuels jealousy and aims at taking goods away from others is particularly dangerous. In fighting greed, it is important to cultivate respect for the belongings of others and to counter jealousy.

The Mambwe proverbs say: Let us pound the leaves (to make a relish of gluey appearance), let us not think of the meat which belongs to others (Tuponde kumbi, tutatwala mwenzo mu nyama zya yantu); The flour which is not yours is like ashes (Usu, usi umwako, itwi).

Subjects: greed – jealousy – respect – ownership – wealth – trickery


Told by Bernard Kungula from Kapufi village (recorded).