The Hare that Took a Field from an Elephant for Want of a place to Live

Here is a story:

The Hare lived with his wife in a small temporary hut near the field. The two of them started running out of strength to tend the field on their own. The wife said to her husband: Oh man, we will die of hunger! Can you please think of something we can do? The husband said: The only thing I can do is use the little finger millet to make a bit of beer and thus we can hire some men to work our fields. One day, the wife took some finger millet grain and left it to germinate in order to make some beer. The Hare went to the bush and hired all the animals he could to work his fields.

When the morning came, the animals came to the Hare’s house. The Hare pointed to the place and said: I want you all to begin cultivating here. The animals wasted no time and went right to work; they dug and planted a vast field which had no end to the naked eye. The Hare said: You have all worked very hard so come into my house. Even though he built a very big home, he said: Since there are so many of you we can drink outside. But my friends, before we drink my beer, I beg you to respect this noble place: behave yourself. Nobody should leave his remains wherever he wishes. If any of you leave your remains in my home, you shall never be forgiven. They replied: Dear sir, we will behave ourselves. And then they began to drink the beer. They all drank a great deal of beer and had a very good time, but none of them forgot what was said to them. When they finished drinking the beer, it was too late to go home. Since all of the animals were drunk, he said to them: You may all stay here, and then you can all go back in the morning. They all went to sleep, along with their hoes.

After this, the Hare said to his wife: Do you see the field we have made? It is very impressive but we are very small animals. The ones who came here are all much bigger than ourselves. What can we do so that they do not come back and take it away from us? There is no doubt, seeing that the field is so big, that they will try to take it away from us. We all know women are intelligent, so the Hare asked: You, my wife, what shall we do? The wife said: I will show you. Let me make some flour leaven and we will allow all of the animals here to fall asleep. When all of them are sleeping I will show you what to do next. The wife went and began to grind a lot of flour and made a great flour leaven. Next, the Hare husband said to himself: Let me look inside through the window. He noticed they were all asleep and were snoring. No one was moving or stirring. He said: My dear wife, everybody is asleep. The wife said: Allow me to get the leaven. She brought the leaven and they went inside. They started with the Elephant which was the captain of all of the animals. The Hare got some of the leaven and covered the Elephant’s buttocks in it, with some of the leaven spilling on the ground. In that same manner, the rest of the animals were covered in the leaven and each time some was spilled on the ground. Afterward the Hare went out and sat by the window.

When his sleep was over, one of the animals woke up and said: How could I sleep so much? The effect of the beer was then beginning to wear off. The Duiker antelope said to itself: I will now get up. As the antelope tried to get up, it could not because it was stuck to the ground. The antelope said to the Bushbuck antelope: I have made a mess! The Bushbuck: You are stupid to say such things. The Bushbuck then said: I will get up, and I will tell off my friend. The Bushbuck then said: I, too, am stuck to the ground and have also made a mess. The Lion said: You’re making too much noise! What you are all talking about? I’m coming over. I hate it when someone disrupts my sleep. I wonder if the Elephant has woken up? The Lion said to itself: I will now get up. But he, too, was stuck to the ground. The Lion then said: Oh gosh! How am I going to save myself from this? The Hare was there and stuck its ears out to hear what was being said. I am also very ashamed of myself for my actions, said the Elephant. The Hare heard noises coming from inside so he said: What is going on in there? The animals replied: We are just talking. At the time, the Hare was preparing a whip (sjambok), saying: I am coming inside to see what you are all yelling about. The Hare went in the house and first approached the captain: You Elephant, I thought I told you to make sure that everything here remains in order. Let’s have a look at the way you were sleeping. The Hare looked at the Elephants buttocks and said: Well, you are old and you do such things? Disgusting! Then the Hare took a whip and began to strike the Elephant with it, and the Elephant said: I’m not the only one who made a mess, take a look at the others. Wherever the Hare went, he had to beat the animals, until finally he beat them all. Because all of them were in the house there was no way to escape, so they wrecked the house.

The animals all escaped and divided up and ran in different directions. The Hare came back to his wife and said: They have all gone their own ways because I have beaten them. It doesn’t matter what I do; there will always be those that will be jealous and will come back here. What shall we do then? His wife responded: I’m afraid my female intelligence cannot think of anything. Since you are a man you should be the one who thinks of something. The Hare said: I will go to the undergrowth by the river because when we worked, the Monkey did not join us. When the Hare got to the undergrowth, it yelled out: Monkey! Monkey! The Monkey replied. The Hare asked: Sir I have come to see you. Listen to what I have to tell you. The Hare told the Monkey everything about how the vast field was prepared. Please take my side because I am very small and the other animals won’t listen to me. I have a suspicion the bigger animals will come and take my field away. What shall we do? The Monkey said: I am only a Monkey, but you talk to me as if I were a God. I will climb the tree by your field and it must be a pretty high tree so I can climb it. You have to come and sit under this tree. While sitting I want you to say: ‘God, does this field belong to the Elephant or does it belong to me? Then I will answer you. The Hare went home to his wife and said: I have got the advice I needed. Then he said: We must be ready for tomorrow.

As the Hare finished talking to his wife, the Elephant approached and said: You have made fools of us! How can you, being so small, cultivate such a large field pretending to be as mighty as me? Let us go to the field and see! The Hare said: Forgive me, but it is my field and you yourself saw I made it into what it is. The Elephant said: But this does not work like that. The Hare said: God who is in heaven will listen to us. Injustice is not good. Let us all go there and talk about it, I have a witness. And where was the Monkey? It was sitting in the tree.

They arrived at the tree. The small Hare said: My Lord God, he wants to cheat me and do me injustice by trying to steal this field from me. Am I not the one who made this field thanks to my beer and the work of the people I have hired? The Monkey from above said:Yes ndiyo shamba lya sungula! [Which means: This field belongs to the Hare (in Swahili)]. Hearing Yes ndiyo shamba lya sungula, which means: this field belongs to the Hare, all of the animals who came to the field agreed this field belonged to the Hare. The Elephant said: I have brought misfortune upon myself because God himself spoke to me. Where can I find a hiding place? I will certainly never come back here again. It has remained that way to this day. That is how the Hare lived on peacefully, with God on his side.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: good fortune is not everybody’s lot: some people are rich, some poor; no one has a right to what is not his, because the right of ownership is sacred and violence cannot prevail against it. The story encourages us also to be persons of ideas because ingeniousness and cleverness often lead to a fortune.

The Mambwe proverbs say: There are some oxen in the Mfipa country but they have their own masters (Nghombe uku Mfipa, zili na ene nghombe;Nghombe uku Mfipa, zili na eneco); The belongings of others can bite somebody (Vya mweneco, vil’akalumwa); A thing cannot be forced from the hands of its owner (Kasilwilwa, na mweneco).

Subjects: cleverness – prosperity – fortune – unpredictability – inequality – wealth – ownership – sacredness


Told by Bernard Kungula from Kapufi village (recorded).