Where Animals Talk; West African Folk Lore Tales/Part 2/Tale 20

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TALE 20
 

Leopard's Hunting Companions

 

Persons

Njâ (Leopard) and His
Nephew
Nyati (Ox)
Njâku (Elephant)
Etoli (House-Rat) Ko (Wild-Rat)
Ngomba (Porcupine) Kudu (Tortoise)
Ihĕli (Gazelle) Indondobe (Wagtail)
 

Leopard and other Beasts, with a son of Leopard's sister, were residing in the same town. One day, Leopard said to the others, "I have here a word to say." They replied, "Tell it." "We must go to kill Beasts (not of our company) for our food, at a place which I will show you a number of miles away." And they made their arrangements.

After two days, he said, "Now, for the journey!" So they finished their preparations. And Leopard said to his nephew, "You stay in the town. I and the others will go to our work."

They began their journey, and had gone only a part of the way, when Leopard exclaimed, "I forgot my spear! Wait for me while I go back to the town." There he found his nephew sitting down, waiting. Leopard said to him, "I have come to tell you that, every day, while we are away, you must come early to where we are killing the animals; and secretly you must take away the meat and bring it here to my house." The nephew heard and promised.

Leopard returned to the others who were awaiting him on the road, and told them to come on. They went, and they arrived at the spot which he had chosen. There they hastily built a small house for their camp. The next day they said, "Now, let us go and make our snares for the animals." They began making snares; and set their traps early in the afternoon. A few hours later, they returned to the camp. Later still, before sunset, they said, "Let us go to examine our snares." They found they had caught an Igwana. They killed it and put it on the drying-frame over the fire in the house.

Then the day darkened. And they went to their sleep.

And then the day broke.

And Leopard said, "While we go to the snares, who shall remain to take care of this house?" They agreed, "Let Etoli stay at the camp." House-Rat assented, "All right." So the others went away together.

The camp had been made near a small stream. At that same hour, Leopard's nephew came to the camp, according to his uncle's directions. He had in his hands a plate and a drum. He came near to the house cautiously. With the plate he twice swept the surface of the water, as if bailing out a canoe. Rat heard the swish of the water, and called out, "Who is splashing water there? Who is dabbling in this water?" The nephew responded, "It is I, a friend." And Rat said, "Well, then come."

The nephew came to the house. After a little conversation, he said to Rat, "I have here a drum, and, while I beat it, you dance for me." Rat was pleased, and said, "Very well." So, the nephew beat the drum, and Rat danced. After a while, the nephew said to Rat, "Go you, out into the front, and dance there, while I beat the drum here." As Rat went out, the nephew snatched the dried meat and ran away with it, suddenly disappearing around a corner of the house. He came to the town, and placed the meat in his own house.

Rat waited a while in the front, and, not hearing the drum came back into the house, and called out, "Chum! where are you?" He looked about, and his eyes falling on the drying-frame, he saw that the dried meat was not there. He began to mourn, "Ah! Leopard will kill me to day, because of the loss of his meat."

While he was thus speaking, the company of trappers, together with Leopard, came back from their morning's work. Leopard told Rat all that had occurred to them in the forest at their traps and snares; and then said, "Now, tell me what you have been doing, and the happenings of this camp." Rat told him, "Some one has come and taken away the dried meat, but I did not see who it was." Leopard said, "You are full of falsehood. Yourself have eaten it while we were away in the forest." So, Leopard gave him a heavy flogging. Then they put on the drying-frame the animal they had trapped that day.

The next day they went again to the forest; and Wild-Rat was left in charge of the camp. The nephew came, as on the day before, with his plate and drum, and did in the same way at the water. And he deceived the Wild-Rat with his drumming, in the same way as he had done to House-Rat.

When Leopard and the others came back from the forest, Wild-Rat told him of the loss of the meat; and said that he had seen no one, and did not know who took it. Leopard said to him, "You, Ko, have eaten the meat, just as your relative Etoli ate his yesterday."

Thus Leopard and his company went each day to the traps. On the third day, Porcupine was caught; on the fourth Gazelle; on the fifth. Ox; on the sixth, Elephant. Beast after beast was caught, killed and dried; and, day by day, the meat of all was stolen. The last to be thus caught and stolen was Tortoise.

The nephew in Leopard's town, looked with satisfaction on the pile of dried meat that had been collected in his own house. He said to himself, "My uncle told me to gather them; and I have done so. But, I will not put them in Uncle's house."

In the camp, there was left only one animal of Leopard's companions that had not been placed on guard. It was a Bird, a water Wag-tail. It said to Leopard one day, "While you all go on your errand today, I will remain as keeper of the house." Leopard replied, "No! my friend, I don't wish you to remain." (For, Leopard knew that that Bird was very cautious and wise, more so than some other animals.) Nevertheless, they went, leaving the Bird in charge of the house.

The nephew came, as usual, with his plate and drum. He splashed the water of the stream as usual, to see whether there was anyone in the house to respond. And the Bird asked, "Who are you?" The nephew answered, in a humble voice, "I." He came on through the stream, on his way, catching two cray-fish. He entered the house, and he said to the Bird, "Get me some salt, and a leaf in which to tie and roast these cray-fish." When the Bird gave him the leaf, he tied them in it, and laid the small bundle on the coals on the fire-place. But he at once took up the bundle, opened it, and ate the fish, before they were really cooked. The Bird said to him, "Those fish were not yet cooked. Your stomach is like your Uncle Njâ's. Both you and your Uncle like to eat things raw."

The Bird at once suspected that the nephew was the thief. When the nephew said, "I have here a drum," Bird at once, as if very willing, replied, "Drum! I want to dance." The nephew was standing in the front with his drum, and he said to Bird, "Come and dance out here; for, the drum sounds much better outside." But the Bird said, "I will not dance in the same place with you." The nephew then said, "Well, then; change places; you come here, and I go into the house." But the Bird refused, "No! I stay in the house."

Most of the morning was thus spent by the nephew trying to deceive the Bird, and get into the house alone. Finally, the nephew wearied, and gave up the effort and left.

Soon the company of trappers with Leopard returned from the forest. He told the Bird all the news of their forest work. Looking at the drying-frames. Leopard saw that the dried meat was still there. He thought in his heart, "My nephew has not come today to get this meat."

The Bird then told Leopard all the news of the camp, and how the nephew had been acting. At the last, he exclaimed, "So! it is your nephew who has been coming here every day to take away the dried meat!" And all the animals agreed, "So! so! that's so!" But Leopard replied, "I don't believe it. But, let us adjourn and examine." (He supposed the meat was hidden in his own house, and would not be discovered.)

They all scattered, and hastened to their town. There they entered the nephew's house; and there they found a great pile of dried meat. They proved the theft on Leopard himself, pointing out, "Here is the very meat in the house of one of your own family. We are sure that you yourself made the conspiracy with your nephew for him to do the stealing for you." And they all denounced him, "You are a thief and a liar! You shall not join with us any more in the same town."

Leopard went away in wrath saying, "Do you prove it on me? Well then! all you beasts, whenever and wherever I shall meet you, it will be only to eat you!"

So, leopards are always enemies to all other animals, and they kill them whenever they are able.