The Tortoise that doesn’t Forget

Here is a story:

There was an Elephant, a Hare, a Duiker and a Tortoise. The Elephant was their king. One day the Elephant became alarmingly sick and the animals of his kingdom knew that he was very ill.

One day, a Monkey came to see the Elephant and he discovered how sick the Elephant really was. So the Monkey asked: Sir, is there any medicine you know that could save you and cure your illness? The Elephant didn’t know of any. So the Monkey said: My Lord, send someone to the swampy places to dig up some roots of the umunkolonghondo tree. This is the right medicine.

They sent the Duiker antelope and said: You can run very fast and will come back quickly. The Antelope ran there and when it arrived, it dug the roots of the medicine it had been sent for. As it was coming back, it was running so fast that it tripped over a termite hill, bumped its head, and forgot everything it was sent to do. The antelope returned to the king and said: I’m sorry but I must have lost it.

So the Hare was the next one to go. The same accident that had happened to the Antelope happened to him.

The Tortoise said: What if I go and get it? They all refused and responded: All of the real animals went and tried and failed. What makes you think you can do any better? The Tortoise said: I’m going to bring it! And so he went. The Tortoise found the umunkolonghondo tree, dug up some of its roots for medicine and began the journey back singing:

Umunkolonghondo*, munkolonghondo,

Umunkolonghondo, munkolonghondo.

On the way back the Tortoise passed by many small termite hills in the meadows and he returned to the kingdom with the medicine he had been sent to dig out.

The animals, in reward, gave the Tortoise succession to the kingdom because the Tortoise never forgot what he was sent to do.

And that is the end of our story.

The moral of the story: it is wiser to work thoroughly and slowly than hastily and carelessly. One must not rush to get good results. Wisdom requires you to calmly think through the work to be done and then carry it out. God favours those who work solidly and reliably.

The Mambwe proverbs say: Skill (intelligence) in playing the impeta game (shows in) spinning the top lazily (Amano umwiweta, ukunanghanya); It should not have been dug in a hurry: when it is dug in haste, it gets left (undone) (Cisiimbwa lwilo, wacimvilu lwilo, wacisile); A child slave must be sent on an errand twice (Muzya mwance, akaituma liili); “You-who-are-going-to-pay-me-this-moment” receives a fowl; had he waited for the favourable moment, he would have received an elephant (Umandipila ilelo kwene, yamupili nkoko: alolelela, nga yamupili nzovu). English equivalent: Make haste slowly; Haste makes waste; More haste, less speed.

Subjects: patience – perfection – solidity – work  – success – due diligence – wisdom – well-thought out preparation


* Munkolonghondo it is a name of a tree which bears edible fruits, round and dark brown.


Written by Pascal Ntenga, 07th of September 1994.