The Rabbit Steals the Elephant's Dinner
A Central African Tale
Kalulu the rabbit was one day watching the children of Soko the
monkey playing in the trees, and saw one monkey reach out his
tail and catch his brother round the neck, holding him a helpless
prisoner in mid-air.
Kalulu thought that this was splendid, and though he had no long
tail, he could twist forest creepers into a noose. During the
next few days numbers of animals were caught in this way and held
fast in the forest thickets, only escaping with difficulty. They
thought that it was only an accident, but had they known, it was
Kalulu who was experimenting with his noose.
At last Polo the elephant decided to make a new village, and,
being king of the animals, he called every living thing in the
forest to come and help him build it.
All came with the exception of Kalulu. He had caught a whiff
from the delicious beans which Polo's wives were cooking for his
dinner, and when the beans were cold Kalulu came out of the bushes
and ate them up.
Polo was furious when he reached home and found that his beans
had been stolen. Whoever could have taken his dinner?
Next day he told the lion to lie in wait nearby, and to pounce
upon the thief if one appeared. Now Kalulu was hiding in the bushes
and heard the plan, so he spent that night in twisting a big noose,
which he set in a side path close to the cooking pots.
Next morning, when the animals had gone to work on the new village,
Kalulu strolled out into the open and began to eat Polo's beans,
with one eye on the place where he knew that the lion was hiding.
Having finished his meal Kalulu ran off, when, as he expected,
Ntambo the lion leapt out in pursuit. Kalulu bolted through the
noose that he had set, and when Ntambo followed he was caught
and swung into mid-air, where he wriggled and squirmed till evening,
when the animals returned to the village and set him loose. Ntambo
was too ashamed to saythat he had been fooled by a little rabbit,
so simply said that some unknown animal had ensnared him.
Next day Mbo the buffalo was set to watch the beans of his chief,
but Kalulu had set a great noose between two palm trees. When
Kalulu had finished his meal of the chief's beans and was strolling
away, the buffalo burst out at him, but the rabbit ran between
the two palm trees, and when the buffalo followed he was caught
by the noose and swung into mid-air, where he wriggled and squirmed
till evening, when the animals returned to set him loose.
Mbo the buffalo was so ashamed that he would not say how he had
been outwitted, merely remarking that there must be some misdoer
dwelling among them.
The leopard, the lynx, the wart-hog and the hunting dog were
all fooled in the same way, and still Kalulu stole Polo's daily
bowl of beans.
At last Nkuvu the tortoise, wiser than the rest, went privately
to King Polo the elephant and said, "If your wives will smear
me with salt and put me into your dinner of beans tomorrow, I
will catch the thief."
Next day Nkuvu was secretly smeared with salt and hidden in the
beans. The worthless rabbit again determined to get his dinner
without working for it, and having set his noose, he sauntered
up to the cooking pots when all the animals were out at work and
began to eat. He thought that the beans were even nicer than usual.
They were so deliciously salty. But before Kalulu could finish,
Nkuvu had bitten tightly on to his foot.
The rabbit screamed, he pleaded, he threatened and offered bribes,
but all to no purpose. Nkuvu said nothing, but simply held on
to Kalulu's foot, and when the animals returned from the building
of the new village Kalulu was still a prisoner.
At once the animals saw who the thief really was, and they determined
to pay him back exactly as he had treated them. For six days he
had to do without any dinner, and every day they went off to work
leaving Kalulu tied by a noose to a tree. By the time that this
punishment was finished the rabbit was so thin that the animals
took pity on him and let him go, warning him that it was better
to work for his food than to steal it, and that though a thief
may escape for a time, he will at last surely be caught.